Ask a Mexican

The Mexican Dismembers History

Dear Mexican: What is it with the Mexican hangup on body parts? When General Antonio López de Santa Anna was struck by a cannonball in one of his 8,000 wars, his right leg was removed from the knee down. When he returned to Mexico City, he ordered that a state funeral be held for his leg. Everyone in the city was ordered to attend. Later, when Santa Anna fell out of favor with the public (he was president eleven times), the aroused populace dug up his leg and paraded it in the streets. The last it was seen, a pack of wild dogs was carrying it across the Zócalo (see The Eagle and the Raven, by James Michener). Also, General Álvaro Obregón's arm — blown off in battle — was enshrined in a huge bottle of preservative in the basement of a monument to him in Mexico City until about fifteen years ago, when his family suddenly realized it was embarrassing. A tattoo on the arm read "Lowriders rule!"
Gringo Solo

Dear Gabacho: Relying on James Michener for history is like relying on Mexico to stop illegal immigration. So, readers: Gringo Solo's assertions about lowrider tattoos, embarrassed family members and feral dogs are nothing more than damned lies; every other wild detail is true. And Solo forgot to mention Mexico's other fetishized, chopped-off body parts: Pancho Villa's missing skull, the decapitated head of patriot Miguel Hidalgo, Emiliano Zapata's mustache and the pickled remains of Mexico's first president, Guadalupe Victoria (legend has it that two gabacho soldiers during the 1848 Mexican-American War tried to drink the liquid that preserved Victoria's innards and promptly died). I could cry double standard, given America's love for breasts, skin color and Britney Spears's panocha, but I'm not going to dodge your point, Gringo Solo. Mexicans do obsess a bit much about the body parts of dead people, but that phenomenon is better understood when placed in the context of two mexcellente traits: the Catholic tradition of relics and megalomania. "The use of messianic imagery [in celebrating chopped-off body parts] was significant on two levels," Columbia University professor Claudio Lomnitz writes in his essay "Passion and Banality in Mexican History: The Presidential Persona." "It was a way of identifying the presidential body with the land, and it cast the people as being collectively in debt to the caudillo for his sacrifices." Lomnitz concludes that passage rather wryly: "Sovereignty, that ideal location where all Mexicans are created equal, has been a place that only the dead can inhabit, which is why we sometimes fight over their remains." And ain't that the pinche truth.

Dear Mexican: Can you please explain the pecking order among Spanish-speaking peoples? And don't deny that there is one.
Curious Gringo

Dear Gabacho: Sure — Mexicans on top; everyone else is a bunch of Guatemalans.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano