The Origin and History of the Term ‘Chapín’ in Guatemala
The word chapín in Guatemala is the proud slang term used by the majority of the population who identify as Guatemaltecos.
Similar to how people from El Salvador call themselves cheros, or people from Nicaragua call themselves nicas, you’ll find people from Guatemala call themselves chapínes.
These slang nicknames and identifiers are well-known and have transformed a word like chapín in Guatemala into a beloved staple of the country’s identity and culture.
Most Guatemalans use it loud and proud, but even with the word being so popular and loved, the majority of chapines are unfamiliar with how the term chapín in Guatemala came to be.
Join me in this amusing blog post as we examine the origin, history, and evolution of the term chapín in Guatemala.
The Arrival of the Word Chapín in Guatemala
The word chapín is originally from Spain and refered to a type of shoe that was widely used by nobles in the fifteenth century.
These fashionable shoes were highly uncomfortable and still were the latest fashion trend. They had tall platforms and a lined interior of silk, velvet, or leather, and a wooden plate on the sole. The chapines made a particular noise when walking that made whoever wore them stand out. The sound of “chap chap” that the heels made against cobblestone ultimately led to them being called chapines.
Wearing chapines was customary of the hierarchy residents of Spain—the shoes were a symbol of status. When brought to Guatemala by Spanish settlers, they became a must-have among Spanish and criollo women (those of Spanish origin born in Guatemala).
The platforms on the shoes could sometimes go up to 50 centimeters tall, making Spanish women stand out from the Indigenous women who seemed shorter compared to them. However this was a matter of illusion, as Spanish women only seemed taller because of their choice of footwear.
The Origin of the Term Chapín
Different theories have been explored by several authors and historians who’ve taken on the task of unraveling the origin of the word chapín in Guatemala. First, I’ll focus on the research done by Spanish author Francisco Peréz de Antón and other literary works from Spain that dive deep into the roots and evolution of the word chapín in Guatemala.
According to Francisco Peréz de Antón, the nicknames chapín and gachupín were once synonyms. Gachupín is the nickname given to peninsular Spaniards during the sixteenth and seventeenth century in Mexico and Central America. It derives from the Spanish last name Cachopines and it was mockingly used to refer to an overbearing person.
The nickname gachupín wasn’t only used in the new continent at the time, other Spaniards used it to refer to their compatriots who became rich in America and returned home feeling superior to others.
Peréz de Antón also claims that the word chapín in Guatemala was synonymous to the word chapetones which referred to the Spaniards that moved to America at the time and wore the flashy but uncomfortable chapínes as shoes.
The author’s research concludes that gachupín, chapetón, and chapín were all interconnected phonetically and were not the best nicknames to be called at the time. Political changes and the independence from Spain eventually transformed this and made the word chapín in Guatemala the identifier we know and love today.
An Identity for Guatemalans
At the time of the colonization, Guatemala was the center of the Kingdom of New Spain. All the important decisions and the economy were controlled by chapines, gachupines, or chapetones.
Other countries under the rule of Spain adopted the word chapín to refer to the Guatemalans in charge. After becoming independent from Spain, the criollos of Guatemala proudly adopted the word chapín. For them it was a reflection of their lineage and social status.
As many Spaniards returned to Spain, they were still called gachupínes in the same mocking tone. This led to the terms chapín and gachupín to become antonyms.
Over time, the term chapín in Guatemala stopped being a reference for elites and became the pride of every Guatemalan.
Learn more curiosities about Guatemala in our blog post about 20 unusual Guatemala facts that will shock you.
Other Mentions in Literature
The first literary work to mention the roots of the word chapín is Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. The roots of the term first appear in the sentence “Aunque el mío (el linaje) es de los Cachopines de Laredo…, no le osaré yo compararlo con el del Toboso de La Mancha” (“Although my lineage is from the Cachopines of Laredo…, I will not dare to compare it with that of Toboso de La Mancha”).
This part of the book tells the passage of when Don Quixote encountered two noblemen who compared their lineage to his. The author would often mock those Spaniards who claimed their lineage was superior.
Read more: History of ‘Don Quixote’ Author Cervantes and His Buried Remains
In 1874, the novelist José Milla y Vidaurre published three volumes under the name “Un viaje al otro mundo pasando por otras partes” (“A trip to the other world passing through other parts”). The character that stands out in his work is named Juan Chapín and is ironic, joyful, naive, and sometimes devious. According to the author, Juan Chapín is a representation of the people from Guatemala City.
Guatemalans are Proud of Being Chapines
Guatemalans today have fully embraced their roots and heritage in a completely different way. Being a chapín in Guatemala is honoring the authenticity and rich heritage shared with the many ethnicities of the country. It doesn’t have anything to do with those uncomfortable shoes, gachupínes, or chapetones.
Instead, it’s a nickname used with care and admiration for Guatemalans void of relation to social status or lineage. Calling a person a chapín in Guatemala or abroad is well received and is the most common demonym used. It’s also part of the collection of particular and unique Guatemalan slang words like chilero, chinchilete, and chunche.
Are you curious about Guatemalan slang words? Read the Top 20 Guatemalan Slang Words You Should Know.
Learn Spanish from a Certified Chapín Teacher
Chapines certainly stand out for being warm and welcoming people. At Homeschool Spanish Academy, we take pride in having a team of expert, certified, native, Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala. Our ten years of experience prove they are the best for elevating your Spanish skills and boosting your confidence.
Sign up for a free trial class and don’t miss out on the opportunity of improving your fluency and confidence in the Spanish language. Our teachers can’t wait to teach you more slang and show you plenty of fun facts and curiosities about Guatemala.
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Spent 2 1/2 summers in Guatemaka in early college years 1971 ,1972 & a January term in 1972 as well
That’s amazing! I’m sure you had a great time in Guatemala.