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Considering The Midget

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Written by Matt   
Sunday, 04 March 2007 19:38
My evenings are often spent socializing with young Panamanian men and women who enjoy hanging out with me because, clinic for lack of a better reason, I speak English. Their efforts at my language—much like my efforts at theirs—are usually disjointed and raw, the sort of mush you might hear leak out from under the cushion of an ESL couch; where strings of garbled mispronunciations rarely resemble a cogent thought. One of my Panamanian friends, Julie, is a great example. Her enthusiasm and confidence sometimes gets the best of her resulting in this hilariously imprecise fluency characterized by nonsensical rambling. She seems to think that to compensate for a limited vocabulary it is OK to blather on like no one notices. “Did you have a good Carnaval?” was the question that started it all.

“Well, the fun for Carnaval is always very nice to me. Well, we have parties in the streets until the sun goes below my feet. All of my friends is dancing, all of my dogs is dancing around the town. For thanks to my grandmother and her cooking, my stomach gets very large. For this Carnaval I leave for my home town Chiriqui where my family and me have fun all the time and well, you can drink the beers and watch the midgets attack strangers.”

Up until the midget comment, everything seemed to make sense, to a certain degree. “I don't think you meant to say that part at the end” I commented, noting “a midget is actually a small human being.”

“No, yes. The midgets, we call them the chicken tenders, and for Carnaval they attack people. They hit people and smash people and they run from the people to stay alive!”

Consider the midget. In a country of childlike political incorrectness, where seemingly derogatory terms for minorities are about as common as the cold, there apparently exists a small group of small men who have, for better or worse, made a name for themselves. They're a group of midgets who go by the name The Chicken Tenders, and they might be the funniest thing I have ever come across in Panama.

Some consider it belittling, being the names that Panamanians slap on minorities. Chinese people for example, a very noticeable demographic in Panama, are referred to as Chinos. Fat people, against all standards of decency and respect, are called gorditos (translates to little fatties). People with dark skin are blackies, people of Indian descent—no matter their religion—are called Hindus, and so on. These are terms we would never think of using in the States, because we are simply too up tight and edgy, but in Panama they are somehow transformed from hateful, disrespectful, and damaging words, into ones of endearment; seemingly a reward for their frankness and lack of guile.

After some research, I discovered that in fact, just like Julie said, there is a well-known group of little people that fits snuggly into Panama's swatch of minorities. The midgets are television stars of sorts—characters on a segment of a local TV show called La Cascara, sort of Panama's variety hour. And just as Julie claimed, this group of midgets are commonly known across the country as Chiquitenders. For Panama Carnaval, and their segment of the show, the army of midgets selects a town which to terrorize—this year it was Las Tablas—where their main objective was to wreak havoc and piss people off.

I came across a number of clips on You Tube (search for La Cascara). The Chiquitenders always seem to be doing something unusually hazardous: see the episode when they set off fireworks in people's bedrooms while they're sleeping. They go by a variety of individual nicknames, my favorite being the tough black guy called El Martillito or The Little Hammer. He, and his little friends, have one prank that I like the most, where a full sized person throws them, like human sacks of rice, into large crowds of drunk people bowling over handfuls of partiers with each toss.

This entire shtick to me is so very Panama: the bare essence that as a population, people here don't take themselves too seriously. It's a refreshing sense of ease that you don't find much in the states anymore, between court battles and political correctness disputes. Sure it's probably offensive to some people, but as a whole, Panamanians seem to have no problem calling each other the first and easiest thing that comes to mind.

“I told you” Julie said to me after I conceded her statement about midgets had indeed been correct. “You did not believe me and you thought I was speaking bad English!" Julie then stopped, looked at me with this confident twinkle in her eye and said, "and now you are going to be pregnant.”

I decided to leave it at that.
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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 23:12