Ask a Mexican

Why do people think adding an -o at the end makes it Spanish?

Dear Mexican: Where did the notion of adding an -o to the end of an English word and assuming it makes it a Spanish word come from?


Dear Wab: "Anglos have long held power in making Spanish and Spanish-speaking culture invisible," writes University of South Florida assistant professor of foreign-language education Adam Schwartz in his excellent essay "Mockery and Appropriation of Spanish in White Spaces: Perceptions of Latinos in the United States," published in 2011's Handbook of Hispanic Sociolinguistics. "But Spanish can be made selectively visible for the purposes of Mock Spanish," a term popularized by legendary University of Arizona anthropologist Jane H. Hill to refer to what gabachos have deemed acceptable Spanglish (think of terms like "vaya con Dios," "cojones," "mañana, mañana"). As Schwartz points out, the addition of the masculine -o suffix to Mexicanize English arose both from its widespread use in popular culture (think "No comprendo" or "Drinko de Mayo") and by gabachos only remembering one part of the language's grammatical structure from high-school Spanish class to bend for their racist needs. "This reclamation by Anglo monolinguals of the Spanish language itself is indeed a fashionable act," observes Schwartz. "There is something oddly chic and cool about embracing the stereotype of the ignorant gringo." And full disclosure: He was kind enough to cite this columna in his essay, which we find awesome-o!

Dear Mexican: Being one of two gabachos in my neighborhood on Federal in Denver, I'm wondering exactly how many Mexicans can fit in one car. This is a broad question, so assume that in a two-parent family there are six kids, three of which have three kids. The age range will be from around fifty to five months. We'll also assume that it's Sunday, and as many family members as possible need to get out on Federal. The car would most likely be a two-door Chevy truck, or a Saturn sedan on twenty-inch rims.

Craving Some Chubby's

Dear Gabacho: Depends on the situation. A Mexican car expands and contracts according to need like the Mexican male's panza. Car goes to church? Only women can fit in — and since they're prim and proper, the max is ten. Going to a party? 25. To school? Just one adult and all the neighborhood chamacos that can fit themselves in the foot-rest part of the carro. And if a car is going to a Republican function? It magically doesn't fit anyone other than the vendido cousin driving it.

Dear Mexican: Like my Mexican co-workers, I'm a migrant to the City of Angels. In my home state of Louisiana, there is an integral distinction to be made among folks as to whether one is Protestant or Catholic. But ask a Mexican what a non-Catholic Christian is, and they will tell you "Christian." But a Catholic is a Christian. I've inquired, and Mexicans don't seem to have a word for "Protestant." In fact, there are many words basic to my vocabulary that don't seem to translate into Spanish — e.g., "self-esteem" and "desk drawers." Why is this?

Gabacho Religioso

Dear Gabacho: Of course a Catholic is a Christian. Can you tell that to evangelicals? As for your translation queries: a Protestant is a protestante, desk drawers are cajones del escritorio, and "self-esteem" is tequila.