In recent days we have heard that FIFA is investigating fans of the Mexican national soccer team, El Tri, (and perhaps Brazilian fans) for the use of the derogatory word "puto."
Amazingly, Mexico's coach Miguel Herrera has allegedly defended the use of the word as "not that bad." That attitude is shocking and so too is the fact that neither FIFA nor Mexican soccer have done more about this issue, and sooner. In fact, Conapred, the Mexican agency that investigates discrimination, has taken a stand saying the use of this word is not "a custom," it's irresponsible.
Over the years, I've heard a lot of explanations from people who want to defend the use of this word beginning with 'gringos don't understand -- it's cultural.' My answer is 1) I'm Latina and I do understand and 2) being discriminatory is not part of any 'culture,' but it does exist in all cultures, unfortunately, until the public is made aware of and understands the power of words.
In many countries the use of totally racist words were once also defended as 'cultural.' But people of different ethnicities and religions, including African Americans and Jews said 'no more, enough with the jokes and derogatory words.'
That's why to all those who want to defend the use of this word I propose this, when they say "The use of 'puto' is cultural. It's very Mexican" to substitute the following "Racism is cultural. It's very Mexican (or Argentine or British or?" Let's see who wants to go out and defend racism.
The other excuse that I hear quite often is "I didn't intend to insult anyone." As if the intention behind the action was more important than its result. The intent of the people using a word or taking an action is not what's relevant. What's relevant is the actual impact that the word or action has on someone else.
It's downright depressing to hear the excuse of "culture" or intention to defend the desire to continue to use a word that hurts us so much.
And it does hurt. Those words have a sad place in the lives of many of us, because we grew up listening to them, tolerating their use, hiding our hurt, smiling when really we wanted to cry. Those words have affected many of us (some would say haunted) from childhood.
Too bad it had to come to this because, not only in Mexico but also in other countries, homophobia and transphobia are sadly common.
How great would it be that the legacy of this World Cup were not solely new buildings or stadiums, but rather a new awareness not just in Brazil or Mexico but throughout the whole world of the power behind words--and not just when used during fútbol games, but also at home, where young people learn everything about the world from their parents.
I know that one day soon our children and grandchildren will ask us "Is it true that people used to say those words openly in stadiums and other places?'' I, at least want to be able to answer 'yes but I did my best to eradicate homophobia.' Instead of looking for excuses.
To learn more about slurs, please visit http://www.glaad.org/worldcup.