Society and Culture

Call Me Mongol

Recently, I was speaking with a friend about wanting to be called Mongol (versus Mongolian), but how when I say it in English, it sounds… wrong. She quickly reminded me of an episode of 30 Rock, where Jack Donaghy, played by Alec Baldwin, and Elisa Pedriera, played by Salma Hayek, have a similar conundrum:

Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin): It’s not because you’re a…I’m sorry. What…do you call…yourself ?

Salma Hayek (Elisa Pedriera): A Puerto-Rican.

Jack: No, I know you can say that but what do I call you?

Elisa: Puerto-Rican.

Jack: Wow. That does not sound right.

On Macongolia, we have been interchanging the terms Mongol and Mongolian to mean the same thing – someone or thing from the country Mongolia. But also in a subtle effort to take the term, Mongol, back.

Historically, ‘mongol’ and ‘mongoloid’ were labels used to describe those with Down’s syndrome. Francis Graham Crookshank, author of The Mongol in Our Midst (published in 1924) and John Langdon Down, author of the 1866 paper Observations on an Ethnic Classification of Idiots, as well as other physicians and doctors from Europe and America popularized using the terms to describe Down’s syndrome.

Down explained in his paper that it was possible to classify different types of conditions by ethnic characteristics, and he used ‘mongolism’ and ‘mongoloid’ to describe those who had what we now call Down’s syndrome, because of specific facial characteristics. Crookshank wrote in his book that those who were categorized as ‘mongolian imbeciles’ had an ancestor who was from Mongolia, essentially asserting that those who have Down’s syndrome have a Mongolian ancestor.

Obviously, using the term ‘mongoloid’ to describe those with Down’s Syndrome is immensely offensive and derogatory. But the term has worked its way into being a modern day insult.

Even though there are still instances of people using the terms “Mongol”, “mong”, and “mongoloid” or variations of these in order to offend and insult, for many, it is a point of pride and love of our culture. As Ch. Chimid, the famous poet whose work all elementary school children tirelessly memorize, wrote: “Bi Mongol khun” – I am Mongol.


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