Ask a Mexican

They may serve seafood cocktails, but mariscos restaurants are not for men only

Dear Mexican: During the late 1960s, I worked a summer job in southern Arizona, where most of my co-workers were Mexicans from the state of Sonora. Their favorite expression when something was broken was no vale verga, literally "not worth dick," but actually meaning "totally fucked up." What happened with this expression? Forty years later when I use it around Mexicans living in Southern California or in Mexico, they look at me like I am a gabacho tonto. Pregunta: Was this expression limited to a northern Mexico dialect, or simply a colloquialism that went away with the hula hoop?

Gabacho Confundido

Dear Confused Gabacho: No, vale verga is still very much around, and you forgot to mention its use as a noun to denote someone who is a valeverga — who doesn't give a shit about anything. I'll admit that vale verga isn't as popular as you might remember it, but only because it's in a curious realm of the Mexican Spanish vulgarity galaxy. Por one, vale verga's interjectional meaning is overshadowed by its synonym, vale madre ("worth mother"), because Mexicans have an Oedipal complex that would've made Freud forsake cocaine in favor of mezcal. And the use of the penis as the object of ridicule in Mexican Spanish slang is very rare; la verga is more commonly the object used by the insulter to harass the insultee — witness "Chupa verga" ("Go suck dick"), mamón ("cocksucker," and not the delicious Filipino sponge cake), or "(Object of derision) pela" (object of derision peels back the foreskin of a penis so he can chupar verga). Contrast the status of penis in Mexican Spanish cussing, for instance, with that of the boys below: Huevón ("big-balled") signifies a lazy mamón. And since we're on the topic of cussing and you mentioned Arizona, I'd be derelict in my duties if I didn't urge all of ustedes to repeat after me: ¡A LA CHINGADA CON ARPAYASO!

Dear Mexican: For a summer, I lived with a half-Mexican, half-Irish kid whose mom (the Mexican side) went lesbian after his birth. This family taught me to drink tequila and got me laid for the first time by white women. I am part Native American and Jewish. Am I officially Mexican for this? If so, am I the most oppressed person in America?

Looking for My Place in Line

Dear Injun Heeb: No to the first part. And if by "oppressed," you meant "pendejo," then yes on the latter!

Dear Mexican: Mexican seafood cocktails look like the perfect summer lunch for a girly girl like me — cool, light, high in protein, low in carbs — but every time I go to a real Mexican place (the kind where Mexicans are actually customers and not cooks), the only people eating them are Corona-slamming, 250-pound bruisers in trucker caps and wife-beaters. I've never seen a woman eat one of those amazing-looking seafood cocktails. Why? My main question for you is this: Would it be a major faux pas/potential threat to someone's masculinity for me to order one of these?

La Chinita

Dear Chinita: No, seafood consumption in Mexico is enjoyed by men and women alike, but the place you're referring to is a specific genre in Mexican restaurants in los Estados Unidos: the mariscos joint, where women usually exist only as servers with too-low blouses and too-high skirts, and the men are there to slurp down food and knock back beers while ogling said servers at all times. You won't get too many stares if you enjoy dinner here, but such a mariscos place is the domain of men, just as certain types of restaurants in other immigrant communities (Vietnamese coffee shops, Middle Eastern hookah lounges) play the same role. But stay away from seafood for a while — or at least make sure that shrimp you eat comes from the Pacific and not the pinche Golfo...

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano