Ask a Mexican

Like a Virgin of Guadalupe, dissed for the very first time

Dear Mexican: As a Chicano/Mexican, I have lost my faith in God. While they take pride in their country like everyone else and like to make frequent jokes, Mexicans are generally very humble (poor) people. Isn't God supposed to be on the side of the poor and humble? Why is it that Mexico always loses soccer matches to a generally rich and arrogant people (Americans) who don't even care about fútbol, we start the swine flu epidemic that can be the next bubonic plague, and get natural disasters all the time? This reminds me of this saying: "Poor Mexico — so far from God, so close to the United States." Do you think Mexicans are coming up as God's next "chosen people" and are going to get it as bad as the Jews have over the centuries?

Still Believing in the Virgen de Guadalupe, but Not So Sure About the Big Papi Upstairs...

Dear Wab: We are the Chosen Juans — have been for generations. After all, the Jews never got away with calling their boys Guadalupe or Salvador and their girls Jesusita — hell, the more orthodox of them don't even have the huevos to say G-d! And there are more anti-Mexican slurs used by gabachos in the present day than there are against judíos, necessary lumps God forces upon the meek — or did you already forget the Sermón on the Mount? But you really think we're going to get it as bad as the heebs? Ever hear of the Holocaust? Pogroms? Henry Ford? The genocide of America's indigenous was horrendous, as are modern-day deportations suffered by our undocumented — but Jews have been dealing with that crap since the days of Pharaoh, so they're centuries ahead of us in the persecution game. And it's not one we really want to win, you know? I am glad, however, that you compared Mexis to Jews and not Palestinians, like most Chicano yaktivists do, since the Palestinians' plight is its own demented chingadera that nosotros wouldn't be able to comprehend even if the U.S. went on to steal Mexico up to San Luís Potosí.

Dear Mexican: I recently learned the meaning of güero, which until that point I only knew as a Beck album. I started calling some of my whitish Mexican friends güero/a, and they seemed displeased. Is the term offensive?

The Korean, Employer of Mexicans, Therefore Partners in Crime

Dear Chinito: Not really. Güero technically means "blonde" in Mexican Spanish but also refers to a light-skinned person and, by association, gabachos. All Mexicans want to be güero; anyone who claims otherwise does it in the face of the country's topsy-turvy racial history, where white made might and prietos (dark-skinned folks) were little better than Guatemalans. The most twisted part about güero, however, is that it was originally a slur. Sebastian de Covarrubias Horozco's 1611 Tesoro de la Lengua Castellana o Española (Treasury of the Castilian or Spanish Language) defined it as a "rotten egg" and added that Spaniards used it to describe a family's sickly, pale child. Güero, in turn, comes from the medieval Spanish guerar, which describes when a chicken goes broody.

Interesting, fascinating etymology, right? Except...the official dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, the world's foremost expert of español etymology, says güero originates from an American Indian language. The only indigenous language in which the Mexican could find güero is in Arawak, as listed in Antonio Vázquez de Espinosa's 1628 Compedio y Descripción de las Indias Occidentales (Compedium and Description of the West Indies). Here, guero (no umlaut) is described as a wine, which ultimately makes more sense to signify "blonde" than "rotten egg" when one considers sorority girls.

Dear Mexican: How did Looney Tunes characters enter the Mexican cultural pantheon along side la virgencita as an image to wear on your T-shirt, glue to your dashboard or tattoo on your skin? Don't get me wrong — I was into cartoons when I was a kid, but it's just weird to see grown men and women sporting cartoon characters on their jean jackets and bracero biceps. Is it that they just always have little kids running around, so that cartoons are the only thing on TV? Moreover, this is something Mexicans seem to share with certain sectors of the gabacho lower class. What explains this strange adult fascination with Looney Tunes?

Gabacho Loon

Dear Gabacho: As I've written before, Mexicans love the Warner Bros. stable of caricaturas (custodians of Cervantes: I know this isn't the exact translation of the Spanish word for animated cartoons, but this is the word mami y papi used to describe them, so vayanse a la chingada) because they personify the Trickster, the universal archetype who uses mayhem and wits to wile his way through tough situations. But that doesn't explain the almost-as-popular use of Disney characters such as Winnie the Pooh, Goofy and the various princesses among wabs. I would offer a Mexican-specific response, but your final point regarding similarities between wabs and rednecks, coupled with the disturbing popularity of anything Disney by too muchos adults in the United States, shows that this is a small mundo after all. Sorry to offer such a Mickey Mouse response, readers, but when it comes to el ratón, the more you can disparage him, the better.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano

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