Ask A Mexican on Being 50 Years Behind; Plus, Vague Colloquialisms

As an old gringo who calls himself a gringo (not a gabacho), I study Mexican culture and ask myself, "Where have I seen this before?" The answer invariably is: 1950s America, that's where. Current Mexican culture in the United States is about 50 years behind current American culture. Back in the 1950s, Americans had large families, were overtly racist and sexist (the only jobs a woman could get were secretary or nurse). Macho men kept their women pregnant in the kitchen. There were lots of transient day workers because the Great Society social programs hadn't been implemented yet. Americans were in love with their Bel Airs and Thunderbirds. Movies were hyper-macho (both A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront came out in the 1950s). Film noir was big. Television had lots of variety shows featuring circus acts and dwarves. Soap operas started to flourish. Polka was big. There were motorcycle gangs and Mafia families. I could go on and on. The parallels are striking, ¿qué no? So, I'm guessing that the future for Mexicans means a "counter-culture" forming around 2010 that will drag Mexicans through all the crap Americans just went through the past 50 years. Scary.

Gringo from the Future in Tucson

Fascinating chrono-analysis, but what you describe are the pathologies most every immigrant group in this country faced in their dumb-ethnics phase, not just the gabacho class. And you also fail to account for the millions of pochos whose ancestors suffered such assimilatory lumps, pochos who are now essentially well-toasted white-breads, almost indistinguishable from their gabacho neighbors save surnames and a bunch of illegal cousins. But I do salute you for being one of the few gabachos who remember the 1950s as the hellhole era it was instead on viewing it through the Vaseline-smeared lens of an MGM musical like too many Know-Nothings.

I've been reading your articles for a while, and have always wondered why you respond using Spanish words and terms for which I can't find a translation. For example: que no, pendejo, raza cósmica, mariposa, chula, verga, gabachos, negritos, primeramente, migra, etc. Perhaps the translation books I'm using need to be replaced by a more complete dictionary of words. If you have a recommendation please let me know.

Webster's Wishing We Weren't Wimps

As I frequently menciono in this columna: pa' educational razones, but siempre in un way that even the biggest Arpayaso can understand y thus aprender some nuevas words. If you insist on a translation book, buy ¡Ask a Mexican!: released in paperback form by Scribner in 2008 and available at your cheaper bargain bins everywhere.

What got the panocha name first: the sweet pudding or the sweeter vagina?

Pablo the Pervert

Neither. Panocha comes from the Vulgar Latin panucla, which refers to the ears of cereal grain such as corn, millet, and wheat. Its literal Spanish definition is just that, and the New Mexican pudding called panocha refers to its sprouted wheat origins. This panocha also contains brown sugar, however, and panocha also became a name for this sweetener. I wish I could say that all these treats were named in homage of Mother Panocha, but I'm afraid that the word's sexual connotation is just another example of Mexican men turning everything into a sexytime opportunity. In our defense, though, other Latinos do the same: our innocent, delicious concha (the most famous of Mexican pan dulce, the one with all the rivets of sugar covering its crust) means panocha to Cubans, much to my mami's eternal dismay.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano