What About Wab?

Getting to the root of the word.

 Dear Readers: The Mexican is inside a trunk, trying to sneak back into the United States after the holiday. In the meantime, here are some golden oldies:

Dear Mexican: A friend of mine calls Mexicans "wabs," but being a menso, he doesn't even know what it means -- except that it's not PC. What's it mean?

Thesaurusaurus Mex

Dear Gabacho: "Wab" is a slur that assimilated Mexicans use to describe recently arrived Mexicans. It can be used as a noun ("Refugio is such a wab"), a verb ("Look how Refugio wabbed up his truck with a bull sticker!") or an adjective ("Refugio's mustache is so wabby"). The etymology is unknown; it could be a mongrelization of "wetback" or "wop."

But what's most fascinating about it is that it seems to be a distinctly Orange County term. When I asked Oscar Garza, editor of Tu Ciudad Los Angeles, if he knew the word's meaning, Garza replied that it "draws a blank." Freelance reporter Ben Quiñones didn't know what it was, either. And Lalo Alcaraz, the dean of Chicano comedy, thought it meant "white-ass bitch." Pinche racist pocho.

The final word goes to Dr. Armin Schwegler, a professor in the University of California-Irvine's Department of Spanish and Portuguese, who specializes in dialectology and Spanish in the United States. He's taught at the school for twenty years and drops language trivia like some people default on car payments. Did you know, for instance, that the area from Denver to the Pacific Coast is the largest dialect continuum in the world, meaning Western American English is one boring tongue? But Schwegler has never heard of "wab." He's not surprised the epithet exists, though. "People always think naively that language is just for communication," the good doctor told the Mexican. "But language is so important because it's also an identifier. With 'wab,' you can see this tied into the question of nationhood. It's rooted in social discrimination. You coin a word and it circulates around."

So rejoice, Thesaurusaurus Mex! Wab is all ours!

Dear Mexican: Why do my employees who are chúntaros (Mexican immigrants) seem to have a distaste for my employees who are pochos (Mexicans born in the U.S.) and vice versa? Is there any truth to this perception, or is it all in my deluded Italian-American brain?

Damn Abruzzese Guinea Business Owner

Dear DAGO: You discovered what the Democrats refuse to acknowledge and the Republicans strangely refuse to exploit: the pocho-chúntaro divide. Mexican immigrants ridicule their pocho cousins for losing their mexicanidad; Mexican-Americans hate chúntaros because...well, they're Mexicans. But intra-ethnic hatred is not exclusively ours. Northern Italians spat on your swarthy forefathers when southern Italian immigration to the U.S. began in earnest at the turn of the twentieth century. Similarly, the Protestant Irish community of the mid-1800s brawled with the Catholic Irish, while German Jews shunned their Eastern European brethren. The great thing about America is how quickly our tired, huddled masses become snarling, rabid immigrant-haters -- right, Alberto Gonzalez?

 
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