Is the word "Chino/a" in Spanish a general term for Asians?

One of our non English speaking Mexican cooks referred to a Vietnamese waiter as Chino. The waiter was offended and corrected to cook. “I’m not Chinese I’m Vietnamese.” The cook called him “Chino” once more, thoroughly pissing of said waiter.

Trying to calm him down, another waiter who knew a little Spanish said that “Chino” in Spanish is a general term for all Asians, and that the cook was not deliberately trying to piss him off.

Was he correct?

According to the Wikipedia article on Alberto Fujimori (formere presiden of Peru):

It’s commonly used that way… technically it does mean Chinese and there are words for the different nationalities as well as a general word for Asian: asiático. But at least among the poor, uneducated Latin Americans that live around here I almost never hear the word asiático actually used, it’s always chino/a.

It’s similar to white Americans referring to all Latinos as Mexicans. Ironically, their culture hasn’t developed to the point yet that they understand/care how it could potentially be offensive to an Asian person to refer to them as Chinese when they’re not. I don’t know whether more educated Latinos are sensitive to it or not.

In my experience, it also may be used for anyone who looks kind of Asian, even if not actually of Asian ancestry.

It’s kind of like “gringo” in that although it can be used derogatorily, it is usually just used as an identifier without offensive intent.

Now I feel obligated to clarify that the cook was actually Mexican:)

Thanks for the feedback ya’ll.

Yeah, he was. And as Colibri said, it’s also used for people with “Chinese eyes” or with jaundice. Wasn’t Chino the (nick)name of one of the Hispanics in West Side Story? Yep, it was. Check out his looks.

Nowadays we know it’s politically incorrect, but, well… it certainly is a lot shorter than “someone who looks like his/her foreparents were from the Easternmost areas of Asia”, you know? In general, if you have more-accurate information it’s best to use this, but if you don’t know, well, you don’t. Calling the waiter “Chino” twice was impolite on account of disregarding the actual more-exact information available.

We do the same with other groups. In Spain, “Dominicana” is shorthand for “a female domestic worker from Latin America, country of origin unknown”, “Ecuatoriano” and “Andino” are both shorthand for “a guy from Latin America with a lot of Amerindian blood, actual country of origin unknown” and well, I’m sure Uruguayans are up to here of being called Argentinians on account of the very-similar accents. And when I go Over There, I get called gallega. It’s all right so long as we all agree that’s how it works, the problem is when (as in the OP), you get culture clash.

Here in Panama, colombiana is shorthand for “prostitute.”:wink:

My insurance agent has the nickname “Chino” but he told me it meant “small boy” and that his relatives have always called him that (his given name is Anselveno). Come to think of it, he does have vaguely Asian features.

Both myself and my very-Americanized Filipino husband were shocked when one of his young cousins (age 5 or so at the time) was referred to by his parents as “Chinky-eyed”. :o

True enough. I knew of a Puerto Rican guy with Asian-looking features, and his co-workers (soso Puerto Rican) called him Chino.

Here the term for someone who looks like are mostly Amerindian is “cholo.” I’m not sure how widespread the term is. I have heard it used in police reports, as the suspect has “cholo hair” (straight and black). It can be derogatory; on the other hand I have seen a baseball team that was called Los Cholos and met guys who had it as their nickname.

Colibrí, have you been blessed (?) to listen to the song “Lean like a cholo”? :wink:

Was about to say… Colibri, I know you don’t live in the States but around here, “cholo” means (roughly) “gangster”.

Dunno, I found that that stupid stupid idiotic song is referring to a cholo acting like a gangster. At least, that is what I want to believe.

He lives in Panama. Cholo doesn’t have one single meaning.

:mad: :mad: :mad:

Actually, in the Caribbean, the feminine form (china), is used as a term of endearment, similar to negro or negra for men or women.

i don’t think so. it’s just that europeans knew of the chinese ahead of other peoples in the far east. spanish explorers called various peoples specific and descriptive names (ladrones, indios, moros.)

More often to refer to someone with “Chinese” eyes is to indicate that they have a strong indigenous appearance, rather than illness. In this song by El Gran Combo, it implies attractiveness:

They’re not saying she’s actually Asian, and certainly not jaundiced. Really, it’s that she looks more Native American.


Look how pretty are the darling’s (“chinita’s” lit.= Chinese girl’s) eyes
One little wink from her just makes me red
So cute my little darling (chini)
So adorable, so adorable
[Literally, “So Chinese, so Chinese…”]


the Pope

I once had a misunderstanding with a Costa Rican woman who referred to a rather large black man who was also her boss as “negrito” (-ito being a diminutive suffix.) I understood it to be disrespectful at best and racist at worst, but she had another Costa Rican back her up that it was an acceptable term of endearment.

Yeah, Spanish is generally much less PC than English.