¡Ask A Mexican!
By Gustavo Arellano
Dear Readers: I was supposed to deliver this column to ustedes for Cinco de Drinko, but Arizona’s reprehensible S.B. 1070 bill had to rear its ugly head. I could devote this column to the issue again, but Mexican-hating is a national sport, and we must darle chingazos wherever it pops out. Big shout-outs, though, to the Phoenix Suns for coming out en masse against the resolution, and the city of Tucson for suing its home state over the pendejada. Root for the former, and eat a bacon-wrapped hot dog in honor of the latter—and don’t boycott either of them.
The issue before us: regional anti-Mexican slurs. I asked ustedes a couple of weeks ago to share with me your home region’s unique way of insulting Mexicans—in other words, hyper-local synonyms for wetback, beaner and other anti-Mexican slurs. My theory was that I would receive many, and my theory was proven correct. But, like any good Mexican, I pirated my theory from someone else. “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.
Below are some of the better ones in alphabetical order, the region from where it originates, and its etymology, if any. If your hometown’s way of hating Mexicans isn’t listed, email it to me, por favor!
Brazer: Chicago. Shortened version of bracero (“fieldworker”), a term most famously known in the United States under the auspices of the Bracero Program. This agreement between the American and Mexican governments, lasting from 1942 through 1964, officially brought cheap Mexican labor into the United States and helped kick off in earnest the Reconquista. Made famous in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.
Bronc: Santa Barbara. No known etymology.
Bully: Inland Empire. Refers to the bull decals wabs put on trucks.
Cheddar: Denver. An Anglicized shortening of ‘chero, itself an elided way of saying ranchero (“farmer”).
Chicali: Coachella Valley. A shortened version of Mexicali, the Mexican city two hours away.
Chook: I received this word from readers across the border region spanning New Mexico to McAllen, Texas. Short for pachuco, a slur against Mexican youth during the 1940s that was eventually appropriated by them and turned into the iconic zoot suit-wearing chuco suave.
Chopa/Chopita: The former spans California’s Wine Country, from Sonoma to Napa; the latter is more prominent in the San Francisco Bay Area. Etymology unknown.
Fronchis: El Paso, Texas. An abbreviation derived from “Frontera Chihuahua,” the legend printed on license plates for cars in the Mexican state of Chihuahau, just across the United States-Mexico border.
Jagger: California’s Central Valley. One theory says it’s a badly mispronounced version of llegar (“to come”), and refers to recently arrived wabs.
Mojarra: I received multiple entries for this word from the Dallas area, but I’ve heard mojarra uttered in other areas as well. The word is a play on mojado (“wetback”), as mojarra is the Spanish word for tilapia.
Paisa: American prisons. Short for paisano (“countryman”), this is actually a widespread slur but has a distinct definition in our prison system, referring to inmates born in Mexico to differentiate them from the Mexican cons born in the United States (“raza”).
TJ: Oxnard, California. Acronym for Tijuana.
Wab: Orange County, California. No known etymology—theories range from it being an acronym for “went across border” to wab deriving from the classic anti-Italian slur, “wop.” The only problem with the latter explanation is that la naranja historically has had little Italian immigration and thus has as much reason to hate guidos as Know Nothing Arizonans does the Klan.
Webber: East Los Angeles. Though comments on UrbanDictionary.com suggest it derives from “wetback,” the Mexican theorizes that it’s probably related to “wab.” After all, until Arizona beat us last month, who knew how to hate Mexicans better than Orange County?
Ask the Mexican at firstname.lastname@example.org, be his fan on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or ask him a video question at youtube.com/askamexicano!