Soccer fans' epithets symbolic of Latin America's ethnic tensions


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- To learn what Latin Americans think about each other, listen to the chants at soccer stadiums around South America.

At the recent America Cup tournament in Uruguay, Argentine fans belittled their Chilean counterparts as "sons of Pinochet" (translation: Chile is full of militarists).

In a match against Bolivia, Chilean fans yelled that no country with a standard of living equal to Uganda could beat them.

And finally, when Uruguay took the championship here, thousands of Uruguayans took to the streets to celebrate their victory not by mocking Brazil, the closest contender, but by shouting their joy at having humiliated the continent's most prideful nation, Argentina.

Gleefully, they cursed the "portenos" of Buenos Aires, a moniker that connotes hopeless arrogance.

In Latin America, stereotyping is alive and well. Latin Americans say this makes them more direct and honest than, for example, North Americans, who even while struggling to make their own society speak more tolerantly still tend to lump all Latin Americans in one stereotypical mass.

On the other hand, it also means that Latin Americans accept stereotypes, of their own compatriots as well as of other Latin Americans, that would make most North Americans cringe.

In doing so, they build elaborate pecking orders in their minds (usually with one's own country at the top, of course).

Bolivians, for example, think of themselves (and are thought of by many other Latin Americans) as a kind-hearted nation. But kind-heartedness isn't what applies when many Bolivians think about Chileans, their neighbors to the southwest.

Bolivians view Chile as an expansionist country not only militarily but also culturally -- a notion that was confirmed in many a Bolivian mind when Chile recently hired away the Bolivian soccer coach who had taken Bolivia to the World Cup competition last year.

Latin Americans are also very frank in their dealings with others ,, on a personal level. A fat person is openly called "gordito" or fatty, and people of dark skin color are called "negrito" or blacky ("ito" usually shows affection). Such references would be unthinkable in the United States, but they are not meant or taken as disparaging.

Without a doubt, Argentines, who are mainly of European descent, are the most universally loathed group in South America.

"Argentines are hated because they are arrogant," said Luigi Manzetti, a senior researcher at the North-South Center at the University of Miami. "They see themselves as an outpost of European civilization, and they think the rest of Latin America envies them."

Argentine disdain for anything different is often expressed within the country for the lower classes and people of mixed blood.

For example, during Argentine league soccer games, fans who are rooting against the popular Boca Juniors like to sing that Boca fans are "all dirty Bolivians and Paraguayans who never bathe."

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