The first thing that I have to address is that Chileans, and to my experience Latin Americans in general, tend to be very free-flowing with nicknames, diminutives, and terms of endearment. I’ve got a lot of titles under my belt stemming from my time in South America. If you’ve lived in Spanish speaking countries, or even just made friends with people who are from Latin America you’ve probably realized that they can be pretty blunt, at least by U.S. standards.
The first time I told my roommate about some guy at a party who called me “gordita” or “fatty”, she was promptly scandalized. Even more so when I informed her that it didn’t bother me, one of my host sisters is “la gorda”, in my family along with “la negra” and “la suca”, the dark one and the blonde one, respectively. Along with “gorda”, I’ve been called gringa, flacca (skinny), loca (crazy) , equatoriana (ecuadorian), suca (blonde), chilena (chilean), altita (tall), coqueta (flirt), and many more.
Now I get to add Tía to that list, and it’s probably my favorite one so far (coqueta gunning for a not-so-close second). Tía is a Spanish word that means “aunt” and is used as a term of respect for someone who is older than you are, they don’t have to be a blood relation. I’ve got to say, it’s pretty neat being called Tía, it’s more personal than being called “miss”, and more respectful than a simple name. It’s basically a representation, at least from my perspective, of the space I occupy here. Being a Tía means that I have to be an example for these kids, the hardest part so far for me is curbing my colorful assortment of swearwords (both in Spanish and English).
And it’s so cool to be a witness to these guys having the time of their lives. We went surfing today with a group from Montedonico, a barrio of Valpo that gets a pretty bad rap for being sketchy at best, but the kids are amazing. They warmed up to us immediately, we spent a good amount of time doing flips off of surfboards and having sand fights. One of my favorite moments today was when one of the boys, Juanito, was getting ready to go into the ocean and he yelled at me, “Tía, venga conmigo!”, Tía, come with me! I took an inordinate amount of pride in the fact that this ten year old kid wanted to hang out with me. And we had a blast. Its probably one of the best things ever to help a kid catch a wave, see them stand, jump off their board, and immediately look back for your approval with a huge grin on their face, “Usted me miró, Tïa?!“, did you see me, Tía?! The proper response, of course, being to jump around and holler compliments like it was the coolest thing you’ve ever seen in your life, and not to be super corny, but it kind of is.