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Gustavo Arellano will now take your questions

Ask a Mexican

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  • Courtesy National Hispanic Media Coalition
  • Gustavo Arellano

I was hesitant, back in 2007, to introduce Gustavo Arellano's satirical Ask a Mexican column in Larimer County, where I was editing another altweekly. Not because of the often incendiary column topics. I was concerned readers in the mostly Caucasian county, helmed by the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland, just wouldn't get the Mexican-ness of it all. Worse, I was downright sick over the possibility of inciting the racists on the fringe of those communities. (Years of prior reporting on issues of race and social justice had exposed plenty of them. After one investigation outed a local neo-Nazi pastor and his congregation, we arrived at our offices one morning to find a bullet had been shot through the front door. The incident was followed by a crank caller who'd shout "Kikes!" and "Beaners!" before hanging up.)

But it was all for naught. Ask a Mexican launched to occasional grumbling — mainly on the political left — but Arellano's insights and intellect were quickly embraced. Eleven years after the column's debut in the alternative Orange County Weekly, where Arellano is chief editor, I suspect the response will be similar here in southern Colorado. For those who say El Paso County is too conservative for Ask a Mexican, remember that Orange County is California's most conservative county, which was Arellano's primary motivation for launching it. For those who wonder how relevant the content is to El Paso County, start by examining the etymology of "El Paso," "Colorado," and just about every other street sign you pass in downtown Colorado Springs. Make your way to the 21st century, and you'll find plenty of questions to ask this Mexican. He's waiting to hear from you.

— Vanessa Martinez


October 2004 | Why do Mexicans call white people gringos?

Dear gabacho: Mexicans do not call gringos gringos. Only gringos call gringos gringos. Mexicans call gringos gabachos, which has its etymological roots in the Castilian slur for a French national and does not have anything to do with Don Gabacho, the main character in the classic 1960s Japanese puppet show Hyokkori Hyotan-Jima (Happenings on a Gourd-Shaped Island). So, next time you want to look cool in front of your Mexican friends, say, "I don't want that gabacho Mexican food they make at Taco Bell — I want the real pinche deal!"

February 2009 | I believe that the words people use to describe other people, intentionally or unintentionally, reflect their political values. But I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, so I write to you. In a previous column, you described Cesar Chavez as hating "illegals" and as being ethnocentric early in his career.

This isn't the first time you've used the word "illegal" to describe undocumented immigrants, and I have problems with that. Now, if we are going to use that term to describe undocumented immigrants, then a lot of U.S. citizens who have committed crimes such as drug trafficking, corruption, murder, embezzlement, rape, warrant-less wiretapping, harassment, stealing, and many, many others, including the ones perpetrated by our departed president, are really the ones who should be called ILLEGALS.

Using this term only plays out to the right-wing agenda (the Minutemen, Rush Limbaugh, The Real Housewives of Orange County, the wackos in Congress, etc.) and contributes to the bashing of immigrants and Latinos in general, whether they are documented or not. You must realize that Latinos, especially if they are poor and uneducated, are perhaps the last "safe" target for bigotry and scapegoating in our land of the free and home of the brave. — Saw You Once Moderate a Panel Discussion

Dear Pocha: This was the question I fished out of your ramble: "Why do you use the term 'illegal immigrant' in your column, when it's such a hateful term to describe human beings?" The easy answer is that this is my column, and why aren't you upset that I regularly call Mexicans, wabs; gabachos, gabachos; African-Americans, negritos; Asian Americans, chinitos; Muslims, Mohammedans; and bash Guatemalans (the true last acceptable target for bigotry) every couple of weeks?

Read a bit more closely, and you'll realize any slur used against a group of gente in ¡Ask a Mexican! is for satirical, reappropriating reasons; the only sacred vaca I'll never slander is undocumented college students. On a more fundamental level, however, I use "illegal immigrant" to make a point. As it stands, it's the most moderate term to describe those millions of folks who live in this country in violation of immigration law. Think about it: Know Nothings love to use "illegal alien" because it allows them to describe Mexicans as an invading menace. Aztlanistas, on the otra hand, use "undocumented immigrant," as gratuitous a bit of P.C. pendejada as Chicana/o.

For leftists such as yourself, Saw You Once, to avoid using "illegal" in describing someone's immigration status implies that something is shameful about the word and that person's status, and we should all therefore avoid using it. Not this Mexican. On that note, I'll always use "illegal immigrant" and "illegals" with pride and turn the question around: As the iconic Chicago Chicano punk group Los Crudos asked long ago, Ilegal, ¿y qué?

May 2014 | Can you enlighten me regarding something I am curious about? Why are flour tortillas available in 6-, 8-, 10- and 12-inch diameter sizes, but corn tortillas are available in only 6-inch diameter sizes?Worth the Girth

Dear Gabacha: Easy — flour tortillas can get bigger because of their gluten, of which corn tortillas have next-to-none. Corn tortillas generally have a maximum size before disintegrating like the U.S. border. The largest such tortillas I've ever seen didn't get bigger than 8 inches, but as I told the Charleston City Paper last year, tortilla sizes are like penis sizes: It's not the size of the ship, but the motion of the masa that matters. Or to paraphrase another penis aphorism: Once you go maize, you'll always sing its praise. Or better yet: Once you learn to like corn, it'll always be your porn. No?

July 2015 | I've been on sex-offender-registry websites a couple of times, and it seems there are a lot of names ending with -ez. Is there an elevated rate of sexual deviancy among Mexicans? If so, why? — Güero Guapísimo

Dear Readers: This is the first time in ¡Ask a Mexican! history I've ever changed an answer, but only because the situation deserves it, as Mexicans-are-rapists is the new black right now. I answered the above pregunta in 2007 this way:

Methinks you doth look for brownies too much. But I don't blame you. Turn on the television and radio, and you're likely to hear anti-immigrant pendejos screech about how Mexicans will rape you while stealing your job and playing banda music really loud. You'll probably hear them invoke the work of Dr. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin.

Her 2006 paper, "The Dark Side of Illegal Immigration: Nearly 1 Million Sex Crimes Committed by Illegal Immigrants in the United States," came to some startling conclusions, including that there are 240,000 illegal-immigrant sex offenders in this country — and that 93 of these cretins enter this country daily. Know-nothing politicians and even the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Investigations have cited Schurman-Kauflin's paper in arguing against amnesty.

She based her findings on a 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) survey that showed 2 percent of illegals in federal, local or state prisons had committed a sex crime. She then applied that percentage to the illegal-immigrant population at large — voila! Instant endemic perversity! But this statistical sleight-of-hand withers by employing the very stats she uses. GAO data for 2003 (the most recent year available) showed about 308,000 criminal aliens (legal as well as illegal immigrants) were in American prisons; they constitute about 3 percent of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants. If only 2 percent of incarcerated illegals committed a sex crime, then it's intellectually misleading to arrive at the 240,000 figure for all illegals, ¿qué no?

For the Mexican, a more telling number is the percentage of criminals arrested for sex crimes. So, let's compare apples to manzanas: In 2003, gabachos incarcerated for such crimes represented about 18 percent of all gabacho inmates in state prisons; perverted Hispanics, conversely, made up just 11 percent (strangely enough, the U.S. Department of Justice doesn't keep the same statistics for federal prisons). According to this comparison, gabachos are more likely, as a group, to sexually assault you than Mexicans — but betcha you won't hear Lou Dobbs repeat that factoid ad nauseam.

Now, the update, which I'm pirating from my recent Politico article on the same subject: A 2011 U.S. Government Accountability Office study, "Criminal Alien Statistics: Information on Incarcerations, Arrests and Costs," found that of the 3 million arrests of immigrants, legal or not, examined by investigators, only 2 percent were for sex offenses — 2 percent too many, but hardly an epidemic.

It didn't break down the ethnicity or legal status of the offenders, but the Bureau of Justice Statistics' (BJS) National Crime Victimization Survey breaks down such stats by victims. For 2013 (the most recent year available), it shows that whites accounted for 71 percent of all sexual assaults documented (above the total percentage of 63 percent of the U.S. population), while Latinos accounted for 9 percent, far below the total percentage of 17 percent. And as a percentage of all "serious violent victimizations," sexual assaults represent 11 percent of the violent crimes against Latinos. For gabachos? It's 18 percent.

The BJS also noted that for the period from 2005 to 2010, about 66 percent of sexual-assault victims knew their perp and that whites had strangers commit violent victimizations against them at a rate of 9.2 per 1,000 people, compared to 9.8 per 1,000 for Latinos — so much for the notion of an army of faceless Mexicans stalking their fair-skinned prey.

For those who don't comprende: White American citizens are far more rape-y than Mexicans can ever hope to become. So when are gabachos going to jump on that pandemic?

Gustavo Arellano's first book, Ask a Mexican, was published in 2007, followed by Taco USA in 2008 and Orange County in 2012.
  • Gustavo Arellano's first book, Ask a Mexican, was published in 2007, followed by Taco USA in 2008 and Orange County in 2012.

March 2014 | I'm a U.S.-born Latina whose family has lived in Colorado for generations. Over the past few years, I've noticed that more Latinos from the Caribbean and Central and South America are moving to our beautiful state. I've also noticed how pendante many of these newcomers are. One Puerto Rican executive is giving presentations to public-relations firms in Denver, telling Anglos that not all Latinos are "poor or brown or Mexican." Why is it okay for every new group that moves to this state to use Mexicans as scapegoats? — Colfax Chica (But Not the Streetwalking Kind)

Dear Wabette: Because that's the American way, chula. If there's one thing that new immigrants quickly learn after bus routes and how to get on welfare, it's to hate Mexicans. It gets particularly heated with Latinos, though, because many of them want to assert their own ethnic identity in a country that, outside of Washington, D.C., Florida, and parts of the East Coast, is almost exclusively Mexican when it comes to Latinos. Then again, while I don't blame the boricua for wanting to let people know he's not Mexican, but rather Puerto Rican, I must also wonder why he wants people to know he's Puerto Rican in the first place...

March 2006 | When I was in the Marines, Mexicans comprised most of the non-gabacho jarheads. I served with Gunny Ramírez, Sergeant Major Sánchez, Captain Guzmán and so forth. In the midst of anti-immigration sentiments, why does the Armed Forces run Spanish-language recruiting ads? Do Mexicans make better soldiers and Marines? — Ignorant Immigrant Marine

Dear Pocho: Uncle Sam loves poor boys or girls, especially if they're immigrants — and no inglés is necessary! "Immigrant soldiers have always been an important sector of the U.S. military, going all the way back to the U.S.-Mexico War, when Irish immigrants made up a large part of the American army," says Jorge Mariscal. He's a Vietnam War vet, literature professor at the University of California San Diego, and editor of the 1999 collection Aztlan and Viet Nam: Chicano and Chicana Experiences of the War. "Today is no different. Immigrants have limited economic and educational opportunities, and many have a desire to 'prove themselves' as patriotic citizens."

Mariscal told the Mexican that the Department of Defense devotes about $27 million of its $180 million recruitment budget to Spanish-language ads and bilingual personnel; these ads use the double-edged sword of familia and machismo to convince Latino recruits that a life of death is for them.

The strategy is working: according to a Feb. 9 [2006] New York Times article, the number of Army Latino recruits rose 26 percent in the past four years, while the number of Latinos in all military branches rose 18 percent. And it doesn't matter whether the immigrants are legal — remember that Orange County's first Iraq War martyr was 21-year-old Costa Mesa resident José Angel Garibay, a former illegal immigrant who received American citizenship only after his April 2003 burial.

March 2010 | When I was in high school, everyone called Mexican students like myself "cheddars." I'm not sure where this originated from or what it has to do with Mexican culture. When I have asked other Mexicans what this means, they are not sure, either. "Cheddar-packing" is a term used to describe a car full of Mexicans. I hope you can answer this for me — muchas gracias! — Denver Doll

Dear Cheddar: "Cheddar" in the context you heard it has nothing to do with the sabrosísimo cheese, but is rather the Denver way to call a Mexican a wab — which is to say, it's a regional ethnophaulism (otherwise known as an ethnic slur) used to deride Mexicans as wetbacks. It's a mongrelized form of the word 'chero, itself a contraction of the word ranchero, literally meaning a rancher but in Mexican Spanish also denoting someone from the countryside.

"Cheddar" is a prime example of how Mexican-hating is such an art form in the United States that it even has provincial variants — for instance, the "cheddar" of Chicago is "brazer" (short for bracero); nosotros in Orange County call our backward Mexicans wabs; and cabrones in Oxnard, California, deride wabby cheddars as TJs, the English acronym for Tijuana. "The number and nature of nicknames and particularly derogatory nicknames for particular ethnic groups in America is a reflection of the strengths of the ethnic conflicts in which they have been involved and the kinds of ill feeling that such conflicts generate," wrote Christie Davies in her 2002 study of ethnic humor, The Mirth of Nations.

What's most amazing about this American regional Mexi-bashing phenomenon is that these words find their most enthusiastic usage among the Mexican community. Even our intellectual giants play the juego — "What difference does it make, he was not anything but another brazer that could not speak English," wrote Chicana author Sandra Cisneros in The House On Mango Street, her classic, semi-autobiographical collection of vignettes about growing up Mexican in Chicago. Everywhere the Mexican travels with his trusty burro to lecture, he asks the audience what's their version of wab — and everywhere the Mexican goes, he learns a new anti-Mexican ethnophaulism.

So, gentle readers: What do ustedes call the unassimilated Mexicans — the wabs and brazers and cheddars — in your city or region? Please mention the slur and where it's used, and please refrain from nationally used slurs such as beaner, wetback, cockroach, Mexican't, mexcrement and Guatemalan.

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