2006-03-23

Gorillas in the desert

Here's a story about an anthropologist working among the Yaqui, an Indian nation in northern Mexico. In New World Spanish, the word indio 'Indian' has two senses, one neutral, one derogatory, and it is all too commonplace for speakers to slip between the meanings without really being aware of it.

On this particular occasion, the anthropologist was sitting around a fire with some Yaquis. One of them, who was rather large and rather drunk, got up suddenly and began to circle the campfire, beating his chest and shouting "Soy indio ... soy indio ..." (as much as to say, "I'm an [epithet], and what are you going to do about it?").

The anthropologist felt a bit intimidated by this, and decided he had to do something to deflect possible violence. So he too got up, began to circle the fire, beat his chest, and shout "Soy judeo ... soy judeo ...". It all ended happily.

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