Dear Mexican: I was flipping through television when I noticed the Spanish-language channel showing a man in a red suit with yellow pants, antennae on his head and a heart with the letters "CH" on his chest. It appeared to be a sitcom, and all the characters related to the insect guy as if he were normal. What really blew my socks off, though, was a part where the insect guy and his cohorts dressed as Confederate soldiers in the antebellum South. At one point, Insect Guy is suddenly in blackface! What's the story of this sitcom? Tree Huggin' Hippie Liberal Gabacho
Dear Gabacho: You're referring to El Chapulín Colorado (the Red Grasshopper), a Mexican television icon and the character Matt Groening acknowledges was the inspiration for The Simpsons' Bumblebee Man. El Chapulín Colorado first appeared in a sitcom of the same name in the 1970s, and nearly every episode had the same plot: Someone in distress would call Chapulín's name, Chapulín would appear and proclaim, "¡No contaban con mi astucia!" (They didn't count on my astuteness!), then save the day in a bumbling manner. Seems childish, but Mexicans continue to love Chapulín because the show contained all that's brilliant about Mexican humor: satire (the narrator always introduced him as "more agile than a turtle, stronger than a mouse, nobler than lettuce"), a working-class perspective, slapstick, self-deprecation, surrealism, muchos puns and double entendres, and a slew of racial caricatures. El Chapulín is so popular that many Mexicans in los Estados Unidos dress their children (including me, right) as him for Halloween.
Dear Mexican: My wabby friend wants to be called Spanish instead of Mexican. Thing is, his last name is Navarro. If I remember my UCLA Chicano Studies classes correctly, Navarro is a Basque surname. So my friend is basing his "Spanish" heritage on people who hate Spaniards! I told him this, but he seems oblivious to the Basques and insists he's Spanish. Who's right? Spaniards aren't the same as Basques, are they? We bet $100 on this.
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Dear Wab: Prepare to collect your Benjamin. Navarro is indeed a Basque apellido. In fact, many common Hispanic surnames -- Gamboa, Aguirre, Salazar, Garza -- are actually Basque. But those wabs who insist they're Spanish don't realize that their Spanish blood is the hereditary equivalent of mud. Many of the New World's original Spanish settlers came from provinces (the Basque country, Galicia, Andalusia) or religious minorities (Jews, Muslims) where they faced persecution in the Castilian-dominated Kingdom of Spain. Once here, they dropped their cultural heritage in favor of a faux-Spanish identity -- not because they suddenly pledged fealty to Madrid, but because Torquemada's disciples would send them to the rack if they didn't. A similar phenomenon occurs with Chicanos: Mexican historians emphasize the country's Aztec heritage so much that newly radicalized Chicanos tend to immerse themselves in Aztec culture at the expense of other indigenous groups. So next time some Chicano yaktivist drops his "Spanish" surname in favor of a long, consonant-filled Nahuatl name, tell him he's no better than a conquistador.