Ask a Mexican

Mexicans know I'm black -- what gives?

Dear Mexican: I am a mocha-skinned woman with long, curly hair and dark-brown eyes. Puerto Ricans always ask if I am Puerto Rican; Dominicans just come and start speaking Spanish; Cubans ask if my abuelita made good arroz con leche -- but Mexicans know I'm black. What gives?

La Morena

Dear Negrita: The countries you mentioned (along with Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras and other Latin American paises) have significant Afro-Latino communities of various gradations of skin tone and a general acceptance of said people. Mexico, however, likes to pretend that our Afro-Mexicans are limited to Veracruz and Guerrero. If only! But because our population of negritos is tiny compared to other Latin American countries, and because skin tone continues to matter in Mexico, Mexicans can never just accept a black person as just a person -- they identify them by different synonyms for "black," whether moreno (from moro, or Moor), prieto, (from apretar, to tighten), azabache (black amber, from Arabic) and the good ol' diminutive negrito -- or negrita, in your case. But as I've argued before, this isn't a type of racism on the level of how Americans treated African-American in the Jim Crow days, as Know Nothings would have you believe. For one, we didn't systematically lynch our negritos: that would've been the Chinese during the Mexican Revolution.

Dear Mexican: My husband is a Chicano and his parents are from Mexico. Why do Mexicans eat tortillas with every meal? My husband eats a tortilla with anything you put in front of him. I also noticed he uses his tortilla as an eating utensil. Do Mexicans purposely teach their children to not use forks and spoons? Do all Mexicans use tortillas as little shovels? I guess even when they're eating, they're working.

The Tortilla Shoveler's Wife

Dear Gabacha: I'll wax more poetic about tortillas in my coming book about the history of Mexican food in the United States (out May 2012, cabrones: start saving those pesos!), but the short answer is simple: Cucharas y tenedores are fine, but few pleasures are better than tearing off a piece of a tortilla, grasping it with your fingers and using it to shovel down food. Tortillas have been part of Mexican culture for thousands of years, the one constant throughout our turbulent millennia. They're nutritious, utilitarian and don't need washing. Only Jesus is more perfect -- and why do you think He likes to show His face on tortillas?

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano