Spanish Basketball Team Ad, Blind Racism or Misunderstanding or both?

Note:  Let me preface this post by stating that I want to analyze this from an anthropological and cultural perspective.  I really want this to be a conversation discussed fully about the implications, especially during a world event.

The ad in question:

From Yahoo! News:

Spain‘s Olympic basketball team posed for an advertisement prior to the Games which appears to show all its players slanting their eyes, a move that could offend its Olympic hosts in Beijing. The ads, for a Spanish courier company, appeared in the Spanish-language newspaper La Marca.

Where does one begin with this ad?

I’ve actually had many discussions about this with friends of various cultures and ethnicity, one in particular with a friend of Vietnamese descent.

We both agreed that this was offensive in our immediate context, especially because it took place during the Olympics.  Even more, there’s been a history of cultural insensitivity, with national head coach for the Spanish soccer team, Luis Aragonés, having his own controversy with words to French soccer player Thierry Henry.

Nevertheless, this got me wondering why the reactions of many members of the team were:

“We did it because we thought it was going to be something nice, something with no problem,” Calderon told Yahoo! Sports. “But somebody wants to talk about it. It is too much of a big deal with you guys (the media) and everybody talking about that.”

Could it perhaps be that this is blind racism or cultural misunderstanding or both?

From previous trips to Spain, I’ve encountered both, having some African American classmates be publicly taunted with words that would be shunned in the U.S. while walking to class.

However, I’ve also encountered that some Asian cultures and Latin cultures use physical appearance as a term of endearment.

Example:  If you’re Latino,  you probably have a family member with the nickname “Gordo” or “Flaco” (literally “fat” or “skinny”).  Trust me, every family has one.

or, you may have heard someone of Latin descent refer to Asians as “chinitos”, which is translated to “little Chinese.”

But, the friend I mentioned earlier told me that many Vietnamese use the word “” (translation:  Mexican) to describe anyone from Latin America.

So when does cultural nuance get lost in translation?  Or when does it go too far?  Or does it go far depending on the context?

There’s more to this story, and I’ll post it in a follow-up.