Steer Clear!

Dear Mexican: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Mexican-Americans have the highest proportion of DUIs and alcohol-related traffic fatalities of any ethnic group (60 percent, as opposed to 40 percent for Caucasians, and substantially higher than any other Latino group). I apologize that my question isn't wisecracky, but that statistic is terrible. What's with all the boozy driving and carnage?
Sick of Sangre

Dear Gabacho: You're right about the horridness of the above stats, wrong about the stats. The NHTSA doesn't regularly keep track of ethnicity and alcohol-related crashes: Its last comprehensive report was Ethnicity and Alcohol-Related Fatalities: 1990 to 1994, and that survey found that Native Americans were the ethnic group most likely to die in a drunk-driving accident, with Mexicans following. The proportions you cited were also wrong: The correct figures are 54.6 percent for Mexicans, and 44.2 percent for gabachos. Don't think I'm splitting hairs here — alcoholism among Mexicans is a blight as terrible as Carlos Mencia — but I wanted to at least establish the facts before moving on to theories.

Why more drinking and driving among Mexicans? I can toss out ideas — culture, peer pressure, the sirenic taste of Herradura tequila begging for one more shot before calling it a night — but they're all lacking. One explanation that definitely isn't valid is machismo, at least as a uniquely Mexican phenomenon. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "Close examination of machismo among White, Black and Mexican American men...has shown that machismo is related to alcohol use among men irrespective of ethnic group and that it is not a valid explanation for the high levels of drinking among Mexican Americans." There is no answer for your pregunta: Alcohol and logic repel each other like "border" and "enforcement."



Dear Mexican: I'm wondering if güero is related to gwailo, the Cantonese slur for a white person (the word means "ghost man"). A Chinese-language site defines a related word, waigwailo, as gringo. Another mystery: Is chingao Cantonese?
Secret Asian Man

Dear Chinito: Interesting similarities, which reaffirm my belief in the Jungian concept of universal archetypes. Alas, it's wishful thinking on both our parts. Güero comes from the medieval Spanish word guerar, which referred to brooding chickens and originally had nothing to do with color (side note: Guerar shares the same Indo-European root word as warm, güow!). And chingao is the past participle of the verb chingar (which can mean many aggressive things, from "to fuck" or "fuck up" to "to fuck someone up"), put through the ol' elision máquina. The Royal Spanish Academy, the world's preeminent body for the study of Spanish, says chingar is derived from a Romany term meaning "to fight." I appreciate the intercultural goodwill, Secret Asian Man, but unfortunately, any Chinese influence on Mexican Spanish is mostly contained to the schoolyard refrain "Chino, chino, japonés: come caca y no me des (Chinese, Chinese, Japanese: eat shit, and don't give me any)." And we Mexicans wonder why more chinitos don't march alongside us during amnesty rallies...


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