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Word of the week: Caramba!

Dear Mexican: For as long as I can remember, Mexicans were known for doing three things: Drinking lots of cerveza, having lots of niños, and saying "¡Ay, caramba!" While I can vouch for the first two, I've never, ever personally heard a Mexican utter those famous two words. Is this an urban myth or what?

Armenian Andy

Dear Armo: Now, ¡Ay, caramba! might not be as popular or as peculiarly Mexican a swear as, say, "pinche puto pendejo baboso," "¡Cu-le-ro!" or the many epithets derived from the word mamá (mother), but Mexicans do say it — but nowadays not as often as gabachos would love to believe, Bart Simpson catchphrase notwithstanding. Caramba is a euphemism for carajo, which means "penis" and is a preferred curse word for those fey South Americans and Spaniards, and the bowdlerized ¡Ay, caramba! roughly translates as "Darn it!" But how it became the most-cited Spanish minced oath in American literature (you can find citations in newspapers dating back to the 1850s) is an academic research paper waiting to be written, one the Mexican will theorize thusly: Since caramba doubles for a vulgarity but was uttered much more frequently in genteel days, since it's a printable expletive, and since gabachos have always wanted their documented Mexicans spicy and foul-mouthed, writers published the interjection as often as possible (an 1889 New York Sun story ridiculously quoted the Italian patriot Garibaldi as mouthing it) until it became a saying inextricably linked with Mexicans in the gabacho imagination for decades, à la "Vaya con Diós" and "Poor Mexico — so far from God, so close to the United States." Ah, for the days when gabachos merely thought we took siestas under cacti and used funny catchphrases instead of our present-day status as illegal-alien savages!

Dear Mexican: I live in Houston and find it depressing to see beggars in the middle of most busy intersections. I'm equally irritated when I am accosted for change when I leave a drugstore. (I always fish the receipt out of the bag and call the store from the car to report the panhandler.) Why is it I never see a homeless Mexican or a Mexican panhandler? (I haven't noticed any Asian or Middle Eastern homeless or panhandlers, either.) Is there a lesson in responsibility to be shared here?

Bring Back Warren Moon!

Dear Gabacho: Because Mexicans all get free benefits, welfare, subsidized housing and health care. Don't you pay attention to Lou Dobbs? Of course there are homeless Mexicans and panhandlers, and I'm sure more than a couple such chinitos and Mohammedans. But you're correcto to question the seeming lack of Mexicans living on sidewalks or asking for your spare change. The 2004 Encyclopedia of Homelessness refers to this phenomenon as the "Latino paradox": "Despite their socioeconomic position, Latinos are underrepresented among the homeless population in the United States," writes contributor Gregory Acevedo. He noted researchers have frequently attributed such a contradiction to perceived cultural traits — you know, how Mexicans are all about la familia and comunidad, and that we don't let raza fall so far down the socioeconomic scale like gabachos do to their own — but argues such theories "do not adequately explain" it and warns that increased assimilation means Mexis will become more like gabachos — ergo, more Hispanic homeless. But don't be a carajo, Bring Back: If you see a homeless person, call your local Catholic Worker.

Reminder to Mexicans: Keep sending in your fifty-word essays on your favorite mariachi tunes so gabachos can carry a cheat sheet while they drinko por Cinco! Deadline is April 28.

And a shout-out to: The University of Texas, Arlington's Center for Mexican American Studies, which graciously allowed the Mexican to give its Distinguished Lecture last week. A packed house had a bueno old time as I shared stories, read my favorite columns and stole white women from their esposos. Colleges: If you want the Mexican to invade your campus, e-mail me below!

 
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