March 21, 2006
For Immediate Release
MOUTH OF THE BORDER
Stumped by the raging immigration debate? Wondering what’s up with all this Virgin of Guadalupe stuff? Fed up with “cultural sensitivity” lectures, yet still curious about how to cuss properly in Spanish?
There’s only one thing to do: Ask a Mexican. And now you can.
“¡Ask a Mexican!,” the hotter-than-a-habañero column from OC Weekly staff writer Gustavo Arellano, is now available for print syndication through Village Voice Media.
The weekly Q&A column emanates from Arellano’s home in Orange County, California, the center of Mexican culture in the United States. (Ridiculous, you say? Refry this: Orange County is home to the border-patrolling Minuteman Project and Santa Ana, demographically the most Latino city in America.) But Arellano’s plain talk about Mexicans can’t be contained by geography any more than the Border Patrol can nab your Oaxacan nanny. Already, his enlightened takes on America’s fastest-growing minority have drawn attention from the Los Angeles Times, The Today Show, and radio talk-show hosts from San Diego to Louisville. And his willingness to educate America on the ways of the Mexican without the burden of political correctness makes the column the perfect antidote to the meek bleating of the mainstream media.
Not just any Mexican you can pick up from Home Depot, Arellano has lectured at various Southern California universities about the column, has participated in debates about the column’s purpose before uptight journalist panels, and will speak at Smith College this April as part of the school’s Latin Heritage Month festivities. He will teach a course this summer on Latino issues in journalism at the University of California at Irvine.
But there’s nothing stuffy or academic about “¡Ask a Mexican!” Instead, it’s a journalistic Molotov cocktail, served with salt and lime but sans the worm.
Tired of Latino activists who say your paper does a bad job of covering the Mexican community? Don’t send a muchacho to do an hombre’s job. America needs new blood. America needs the Mexican.
To learn more about print syndication opportunities, please contact:
Village Voice Media
A sample column appears below. Others can be found at:
For decades, I’ve heard mexicanos refer to one another as güey. For example, the other day I overheard one mexicano refer to his amigo as “pinche güey,” and the amigo responded with, “Ay, güey.” What’s up with güey?
Cuss ‘n Hoots
Here’s my request: I would like to ask for translations of all the smutty street-Spanglish put-downs my courtly maestros de español wouldn’t have dreamed of teaching me. Pendejo-I’ve long assumed it means “hanging one,” as in, “can’t get it up”: a pansy, contemptible cake boy. Is that right? What does gabacho mean? What does cabrón mean? Something relating to a goat?
Dear Pocho and Gabacha,
Welcome to the wonderful world of Mexican-Spanish swearing, where words assume different meanings according to placement but ultimately reference gonads! Güey is derived from the word büey, which is an ass-not a hooved ass, but an ass ass. It’s the Swiss Army knife of Mexican-Spanish cussing-we use it affectionately (“¡No mames, güey!” translates as “Don’t suck dick, ass!” but actually means “Don’t bullshit me, brother!”), in anger (“Eres un pinche güey” is “You’re a fucking idiot”) or as a boast (“No me haces güey”- “You won’t make an ass out of me”). Pendejo and cabrón, meanwhile, are synonyms for “idiot,” but their actual definitions are “pubic hair” and “castrated goat,” respectively.
But Mexicans rarely use büey, pendejo or cabrón literally-instead, we forge them into some amazingly baroque insults. To wit: when a Mexican tells his friend, “¡Güey, no seas pendejo, cabrón!” we’re saying, “Man, don’t be an idiot, jerk!” but it literally translates as “Ass, don’t be a pubic hair, ball-less goat!” So much better than the English “stupid-ass fucking faggot,” no? As for the meaning of gabacho, Pommie . . . to paraphrase Louis Armstrong, if you gotta ask, you’re one.
Why do Mexicans love public restrooms so much? It seems like any one you visit in SoCal has a minivan-load of Mexicans waiting to get into it. Also, why do Mexicans wipe after a No. 2 and then throw the crappy toilet paper into the trash can rather than flushing it away? So gross! Let’s try to put an end to that madness.
¡Felicidades! You have just stumbled upon the most surefire way to tell if a Mexican is fresh from the border-or, as Mexicans who have lived in this country for years like to describe them, “si tienen un nopal en la frente” (“If they have a cactus growing from their forehead”)! See, flushing toilets remain a novelty in rural Mexico, so Mexicans new to this country treat public restrooms with the same anticipatory awe Japanese tourists save for the Matterhorn-hence, the long lines. Regarding the popó-gunked Charmin: those precious few ranchos that do have indoor plumbing suffer from inferior pipes installed on the cheap by Mexico’s government. Anything heavier than last night’s menudo would rupture the sewage system and ruin the rancho’s water supply, so used toilet paper must go in the wastebasket. Nopal-wearing Mexicans keep this tradition long after emigrating here, though . . . can you do me a favor, gabacho, and tell nopaleros that here in los Estados Unidos, we’re much more sophisticated with our No. 2-we flush it into the ocean.
As an Asian person, would I be considered a gabacho? Or do I fall into the yellow bucket labeled chinito, even though I’m not Chinese?
Like Americans assume all Latinos are Mexican, Mexicans think all Asians are chinos-Chinese. When I used to go out with a Vietnamese woman, my aunts would speak highly of mi chinita bonita-my cute little Chinese ruca. When I’d point out she was actually Vietnamese, mis tías would think about it for a bit and respond, “¡Que chinita bonita!”
But just because a Mexican calls you a chino doesn’t necessarily mean we think you’re Chinese, OC Asian. “Chino,” like so many of our swear words, has multiple negative meanings. In the colonial days, a chino was the offspring of a half-Indian/half-black and an Indian. This association with race also transformed chino into a synonym for “servant” and “curly.” The term “barrio chino” (Chinatown) also became a euphemism for a town’s red-light district. And a popular schoolyard refrain that all Mexican kiddies eventually chant at their Asian classmates is “Chino, chino, japones: come caca y no me des” (“Chinese, Chinese, Japanese: eat shit and don’t give me any”).
So why the Mexican chino-hate? After all, Chinese were the Mexicans of the world before there even was a Mexico, migrating to Latin America a couple of decades after the fall of Tenochtitlán. And our most famous native dress, the billowy, colorful costume worn by baile folklórico dancers known as a china poblana, was supposedly first worn by a 17th century Mexican-Chinese woman. Bigotry is bigotry, though, and since Mexico’s Asian population is still small and overwhelmingly Chinese, we lump Asians into the chino category-makes the racism easier, you know?
Why is it that from my personal, thoroughly unscientific observations it seems blue-collar, illiterate Mexicans are more prone to cheating on their wives than other races? Almost every other Mexican I have known seems to brag about how they got it on with their mamacitas while their wife and daughters of 7 and 8 were busy at the Sunday church.
Cheatie Cheatie Bang Bang
You’re right-sort of. In the landmark 1994 Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, researchers from the University of Chicago interviewed a random sample of 3,500 Americans and found that 25 percent of married men had strayed from their vows. Latino rates of infidelity were about the same, and lead researcher Edward Laumann told Hispanic Magazine that “he believed the stereotype of Latinos being more unfaithful than other people was overstated.” But there weren’t enough funds to create a Spanish-language questionnaire, meaning most of the 300 or so Latinos surveyed were pochos and not immigrant Mexican men. In the mother country, though, male infidelity is as Mexican as the tricolor-condoned by the church, tolerated by women, lionized in song. My favorite paean to cheating remains “Las Ferias de las Flores” (“The Flower Fairs”), a Chucho Monge composition immortalized by Trio Calavera that uses flowers as metaphors for mujeres and includes the immortal verse “And although another wants to cut her/I saw her first/And I vow to steal her/Even if she has a gardener.” So the question isn’t why Mexican men cheat, Cheatie, but rather why we tone down our tools upon immigrating to this country. Notch another victory for Manifest Destiny, which since the days of Cotton Mather has labored long and hard to turn this nation’s virile ethnic men into pussy Protestants.