Ask a Mexican

Dear Mexican: Why don't many Mexicans smoke?

Dear Mexican: I noticed that Mexican people don't generally smoke. I'm not condoning smoking, but it's interesting to see how some groups do or don't smoke, and I have yet to see a Mexican person smoke cigarettes. Does the tobacco industry not target Latinos?
Fulminating Fumador

Dear Gabacho Smoker: American Lung Association stats show that Latinos have the second-lowest rate of smoking among ethnic groups, with only 15.8 percent of Latinos smoking in 2008, compared with 21.3 percent of negritos and 22 percent of gabachos. And in the Latino category, Mexican immigrants had an astoundingly low rate of 11.6 percent. (Chicanos, on the other hand, smoke at a 20.1 percent rate — go, assimilation!) And it's not a new trend: Studies going back to the 1980s cite the low smoking rate of Mexis. Reasons? Catholicism, mostly: The Church forbade smoking back when it ruled Mexico, and the stigma resonates to the present day. Besides, Mexicans need their lungs for the Reconquista. Our livers, on the otra hand? Meh...

Dear Mexican: I'm a longtime reader, first-time writer. Why do you think that the second and/or third generations of Mexicans born in this country don't know about their history? What makes parents not teach their kids? My father is Mexican and my mom is of Latino descent. When I was a small boy, I was always taught about my heritage, and I embrace it. I know that it has to do with where I was brought up: I was raised in a predominantly Mexican area of Houston. When we moved away from there, I came to reside in an area with more gringos than anything. Now my brother, who is thirteen years younger than I am, knows a small amount, if anything, about his heritage. Damn it! I'm proud to be brown, and I think that the younger generations should be, too. Just so you know, I am not some cholito with tattoos and a lowrider; I'm just a regular guy in his twenties who happens to know where he comes from.
El Niño Confundido

Dear Confused Boy: It's not just the second- and third-generation Mexicans who forget their history; as you noted in your own family story, even younger siblings within familias forsake their traditions, even if they live in the brownest sections of town. But everyone in this country forgets, from the Know Nothings who are currently demonizing Central American and Mexican kids coming across the border, to Mexican-Americans who rail against new arrivals from southern Mexico despite being más darker than pressure-treated redwood, to the neo-cons who want us to invade Iraq anew. I wish I could end this answer on a funny note, but our collective historical amnesia is the biggest threat to the U.S.'s future since...a yak in heat!

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano