Ask a Mexican

Cheese Quiz

Dear Mexican: I was born in beautiful El Paso, and my parents are from Juaritos. I always wondered why Mexican restaurants en los Estados Unidos use queso amarillo — which I associate with los Estados Unidos — on their food instead of queso asadero or queso Oaxaca, which taste so much better. And who came up with Tex-Mex or New Mexican food names?
El Minero de Albuquerque

Dear Albuquerque Miner: Silly chuco! You and your ilk are so advanced in the Reconquista que se le olvidan that most non-Latinos still don't know Spanglish! So first, a translation note for non-wabs: Juaritos is a nickname for Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, queso amarillo is yellow cheese, a chuco is someone from El Paso, and los Estados Unidos means the United States. For the rest of the answer, I forwarded your query to Robb Walsh, food editor of the Houston Press, author of The Tex-Mex Cookbook, and one of the most Mexican gabachos since Charles Bronson. Walsh traces the yellow-cheese phenomenon to America's eternal headache: Texas. "The Texas exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 was a re-creation of a San Antonio chili stand," he tells the Mexican. "It served chili con carne and other Mexican-style foods to Midwesterners for the first time. The food caused a sensation, and the buzz at the fair created a rush to market 'Mexican food' products" across the country that were really Tex-Mex grub. Thus, most of what passed as Mexican food in the United States until recently was really Tex-Mex food, Walsh says, and "Tex-Mex is known for its gooey melted cheese."

But why the queso amarillo, gabacho? "Mexican white cheese doesn't melt very well," Walsh continues, adding that he interviewed older chefs for The Tex-Mex Cookbook who told him that "during World War II, the 'Wisconsin' — as cheddar was known in those days — wouldn't melt, either. That's when Mexican cooks started using American cheese." As for the language portion of your question, Minero, Walsh responds thus: "The term 'Tex-Mex' was originally used to describe the half-English, half-Spanish patois spoken on the border — hence the bilingual food names. When you say 'cheese enchiladas,' 'beef tacos,' 'chips and salsa,' 'guacamole salad,' 'cold cerveza' and 'Hey, baby, qué pasó?,' you are talking Tex-Mex."

Dear Mexican: Mexicans complain that corporate America places obstacles on the brown man's ability to succeed. However, when I speak with Mexican-American law students and inquire as to what type of law they want to practice, the vast majority express an interest in criminal, plaintiff, government or a non-profit type of law. It's rare that I speak with a Mexican who wants to tackle corporate law. ¿Qué no tiene hambre la raza — or what is the deal?
Hot for Scalia

Dear Gabacho: Your assertions will come as a surprise to the chingo members of the dozens of Hispanic/Latino/Chicano/Mexican-American/whatever-wabs-like-to-call-themselves-in-a-particular-region bar associations across America, and to the many vendidos who learned long ago that the quickest road to assimilation is a six-figure salary and a blonde from Wellesley.