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Blasts from the past

The Mexican is currently inside a trunk trying to sneak back into the United States after the Christmas holiday. Meanwhile, here are some oldies-but-goldies:

A friend of mine calls Mexicans "wabs" but, being a menso, doesn't even know what it means — except that it's not P.C. What's it mean?
Thesaurusaurus Mex

Dear Gabacho:
"Wab" is a slur that assimilated Mexicans use to describe and deride recently arrived Mexicans. It can be used as a noun ("Refugio is such a wab"), a verb ("Look how that idiot Refugio wabbed up his truck with a bull sticker!"), or even an adjective ("Refugio's mustache is so wabby"). The etymology of "wab" is unknown — could either be a mongrelization of "wetback" or "wop."

Details

Got a spicy question about Mexicans? Ask the Mexican at garellano@ocweekly.com. Those of you who do submit questions: they will be edited for clarity, cabrones. And include a hilarious pseudonym, por favor, or we'll make one up for you!

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But what's most fascinating about "wab" is that it seems to be a distinctly Orange County term. When I asked Oscar Garza, editor of the fine glossy Tu Ciudad Los Angeles, if he knew the word's meaning, Garza replied that it "draws a blank." Freelance reporter Ben Quiñones didn't know what a wab was either. And Lalo Alcaraz, the dean of Chicano comedy, thought it meant "white-ass bitch." Pinche racist pocho.

The final word on wab comes from Dr. Armin Schwegler, a professor in UC Irvine's Department of Spanish and Portuguese who specializes in dialectology and Spanish in the United States. He's taught at the school for 20 years and drops language trivia like some people default on their car payments — did you know, for instance, that the area from Denver to the Pacific Coast is the largest dialect continuum in the world, meaning Western American English is one boring tongue? But Schwegler has never heard of "wab." He's not surprised the epithet exists, though. "People always think naively that language is just for communication," the good doctor told the Mexican. "But language is so important because it's also an identifier. With wab, you can see this tied into the question of nationhood. It's rooted in social discrimination. You coin a word, and it circulates around."

So rejoice, Thesaurusaurus Mex! "Wab" is all ours! It can now join Barbara Coe; the Costa Mesa-based, Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review; and ¬°Ask a Mexican! in the Orange County section of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch.

Why do my employees who are chúntaros (Mexican immigrants) seem to have a distaste for my employees who are pochos (Mexicans born in the United States) and vice versa? Is there any truth to this perception, or is it all in my deluded Italian-American brain?
Damn Abruzzese Guinea business Owner

Dear DAGO:
You discovered what the Democrats refuse to acknowledge and the Republicans strangely refuse to exploit — the pocho-chúntaro divide. Mexican immigrants ridicule their pocho cousins for losing their mexicanidad; Mexican-Americans hate chúntaros because . . . well, they're Mexicans. But intra-ethnic hatred is not exclusively ours. Northern Italians spat on your swarthy forefathers, DAGO, when southern Italian immigration to the United States began in earnest at the turn of the 20th century. Similarly, the established Protestant Irish community of the mid-1800s brawled with the Catholic Irish (as aptly fictionalized in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York), while German Jews shunned their Eastern European juden brethren. The great thing about America is how quickly our tired, huddled masses become snarling, rabid immigrant-haters — right, Alberto González?

 
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