Ask a Mexican


Dear Mexican: We were in a restaurant the other day, eating refried beans and green chile, when I overheard some gringos in the next booth making fun of Mexicans. One thing they said that really made me mad was, "Why do Mexicans refry their beans? Stupid Mexicans! Don't they know they already fried them once? Why do they have to fry them again?" Then they all started laughing really loud. I got up to tell them off, but then I just stood there frozen and felt like a stupid Mexican because I couldn't think of an answer to shut them up. It made me sad and ashamed to be a Mexican. As we walked out, I couldn't even answer my five-year-old daughter's question: "Daddy, why are those men laughing at us?" And now I still hear their laughter every night in my dreams. Please, give me a good reason why Mexicans refry their beans so I can have some ammunition next time for these pinche gabachos.
The Magical Fruta

Dear Wab: Cabrón, tienes que work through some psychological issues before firing off questions to the Mexican — I suggest Cazadores. Y can you get a Mexican-Spanish dictionary while you're at it? Refrito, when combined with frijoles, doesn't mean "twice-fried"; it signifies that the beans are cooked longer than usual. The mistranslation is common among both wabs and gabachos and originates in the assumption that the prefix re- means the same in inglés for "refried" as it does for frijoles refritos: repetition. It doesn't. In the Latino legume case, re- indicates an intensification of a situation, the transformation of once-humble beans after a date with tubs of lard into a mashed, delicious wonder. At least, that's what my mother, sisters and chica caliente tell me. The only cooking I do is to pour some Tapatío on my Cup o' Noodles.

Dear Mexican: Why do Mexicans sell themselves short? Why are they willing to do jobs other people don't want to do, and for so little? Why are they willing to settle for so little when they could have much more? Why go through all the trouble of coming to America just to earn minimum wage for the rest of your life?
Eating the Welfare Queso

Dear Readers: This is the último time I answer a letter with more than one pregunta. I often get rants from Know Nothings who pack as many queries into an e-mail as Mexicans into a Chevy trunk. But Welfare Queso is relatively polite, and his questions really refry down to the idea that Mexicans can do better than just come here illegally.

Of course they can, Welfare Queso, and they do. As tough as the attainable jobs are for illegal and English-deficient Mexicans in the States, as low as the minimum wage is here, it's still mucho better than what's available in Mexico. The average minimum wage there (for some bizarre reason, the government sets three separate minimum wages, each corresponding to a particular region — and we wonder why it's so inept!) is $49.06 per day in pesos. That translates to a measly $4.51 in American dollars A DAY. Most Mexicans can make more than four times that in the United States by picking up loose change after a matinee — really, is that such a mystery? And millions of Mexicans would love to even earn minimum wage in Mexico. There's a reason Mexicans continue to pour into the U.S. — and it ain't for Lou Dobbs's love.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano