Ask a Mexican

Cross Purposes

Dear Mexican: Why do you suppose Mexico has such a hard time getting its act together? It has vast natural resources, good climate, natural ports, super-generous and good-looking neighbors, and plenty of laborers who seem to be willing to do all sorts of crappy jobs. But instead of having a thriving economy and an embarrassment of abundance like us whiteys, Mexicans have rampant poverty, pervasive sexism and prejudice, grotesque corruption and drug wars. Mexico forces so many of its residents to drag their butts up here and take all the good jobs, like selling oranges and flowers on street corners. Is it because Mexicans blew their dominant wad early with the Mayans and Aztecs? Or is there some cultural value that says you can only work hard north of the Rio Grande? Or maybe it's the filthy, filthy Spanish blood?
Señor Whitey Gets It Done

Dear Gabacho: Your last point nails it. But before I explain how, refry this, America: When you get down to tachuelas de latón, Mexico really isn't that bad of a country. A 2006 World Bank study found it boasts the world's fourteenth-highest gross domestic product rating, ahead of countries such as Australia, Norway and Argentina (Guatemala, though, is número 69 — toma, chapines!). The United Nation's Human Development Index for 2007 lists Mexico as 52nd among nations for standard of living — not the best slot, but good enough to rank as "High" on the HDI. And have you ever visited the Aztec pyramids? So inspiring!

I'm giving you an apologist answer, Señor Whitey, but only to make a point about perspective. Why are there problems in Mexico? Same reason there are problems anywhere: a host of razones ranging from economics to geopolitics to religion and the penis size of males. Yet gabachos toss aside any consideration of such salient factors when focusing on Mexico — because of a visceral reaction to the Reconquista, sure, but I'd also argue due to the Black Legend, the train of Western thought dating back to the Age of Discovery that views anything the Spaniards touched as cruel, ungodly and forever a failure. So no matter how much Mexico improves, no matter how many wabs learn English and attend college stateside, many gabachos will continue to dismiss Mexicans with the same vitriol their European ancestors flung against Imperial Spain — and if you don't think centuries-old historical events influence the present, go ask a Southerner about Sherman.

Dear Mexican: Why do Catholics of Latin descent kiss their thumbs after making the Sign of the Cross? I'm a Catholic myself, and I have never been able to get a good answer from my Latin friends.
Holy Mole

Dear Gabacho: I answer questions about Mexicans — what's a Latin? Fortunately, Mexicans do what you described as well. The Catholic Encyclopedia has noticed this fascinating genuflection; an entry describes it as "prevalent in Spain and some other countries." So why do Mexican Catholics and their Hispanic primos — and not other Papists — practice the custom? I've used this joke before, and I'll use it again: Mexicans will always go the extra step — whether buying toxic votive candles, kissing thumbs or forgoing contraception — to ensure that we're the Chosen Juans.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano