Swing Low, Sweet Migra
Dear Gabacha: You're right. How dare yaktivists compare Elvira Arellano (a recently deported illegal Mexican immigrant who earned national attention by seeking sanctuary in a Chicago church) to Rosa Parks! Everyone knows that the better historical counterpart is Jesus. Think about it: Like Jesús, Arellano was a brown-skinned alien who sparked equal parts rage and praise while promoting her movement. Both lived in defiance of authorities who obsessed over laws that ignored the Segundo Coming. Arellano and the Nazarene knew their ultimate martyrdom, yet met grim destiny with serenity, asking followers not to react angrily but rather allow God's will. I already hear the gnashing teeth of Know Nothings — What about the fake Social Security number? The breaking of federal law? The fact that illegal is illegal? — but let the record show that no matter how you spin it, Arellano's tale is biblical in its intentions, and she sure as hell ain't Jezebel. Only time will tell if her efforts will convert the Pharisees or cause the exile of her people to Babylon — er, Mexico.
Dear Mexican: I'm African-American. At our restaurants, nobody comes to your table to sing to you. At your restaurants, this does happen, and I love it. I love picking out a song (usually something from Luis Miguel's Romance II; it's the best I can do with my limited "ballads en español" repertoire), I love listening to the singer and imagining how many times the group has had to play "La Bamba." Mi problema es I haven't the slightest idea what I should be doing while they're playing. I've usually got a plate of hot food in front of me — or, as was the case last Friday night, a waiter trying to wait out the song so he could come take our order. Is it rude to sing along? Do I tip when they're done? How much? Help me not be a clueless tourist when I want to enjoy a little "Media Vuelta" with my #4 combo.
I Wanna Cantar
Dear Want to Sing Negrita: Tips? Always. How much? Depends on how good the mariachi plays. Rude to sing along? Never. Indeed, it's a time-honored tradition among Mexicans to have the musically inclined members of la familia belt out a couple of corridos at weddings, quinceañeras, baptisms or any other celebration (shout-outs to my Tío Ezequiel and cousin Lety!). The dynamic changes a bit when mariachis perform at restaurants, but don't be afraid. Although the crowd will stare and sneer at any non-Mexicans trying to sing mariachi tunes, all you have to do is shout "¡Viva México, cabrones!" at some point and the wabs will go wild.