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Ask a Mexican on Mexicans Who Can't Speak Fluent English

I teach writing at a local community college. My students are writing their final essays on a local problem; I have one student who has decided to write about illegal immigration (specifically Mexican). We were discussing, as a class, each student's project, and this student made a comment that I wish I had reacted to differently. He said that he encounters a number of Mexicans who can't speak English fluently, and since speaking English must make it easier to gain legal citizenship/entry, he assumes that all (or most) or the Spanish-speaking Mexicans must be illegals. My response was to skip over the racism and move on to another student. What should I have said to help aware this student of his racist assumptions?

Troubled Teacher

Grow some ovaries, mujer! It's your job as a profe to call out your students on their reliance on Wikipedia, on their horrendous grammar, and especially on any racist assumptions they may have. Of course, you also want to be constructive, so this is what you should do: Call out the student on his assumptions in front of the class, saying that while it's okay to have opinions (seriously, Aztlanista professors: don't excoriate a conservative student just because they're conservative. Conservatives are people, too), it's not okay to make blind assumptions — that's not the scholastic way. I'd have him explicitly state why he thinks any Spanish-dominant Mexican is a mojado, and ask for proof in the form of stats and him procuring someone. Then I'd ask him to explain why foreign languages have been a part of the United States since its founding, and why immigrant enclaves never fully disappear. Make it a teachable moment — that is your job, after all. And if he can't do any of the above, call him a pinche pendejo baboso on Facebook so all your fellow profes can laugh — it is a teachable moment, after all.

I came here as a mocoso from Michoacán. As a child in the motherland, I was raised to believe in los reyes magos. When I came to the U.S. I started to hear about a fat man in red suit, called Santa Claus. Why do you think many Mexicans here forget about The Three Wise Men and adapt to Satan's Claws?

Navidad en el Barrio

It's not just Los Reyes Magos Mexicans forget about. Other Christmas traditions that historically didn't make it across the Chevy crossing la frontera include real posadas (instead of doing nine days of reenacting Mary and Joseph's search for lodging and going from house to house, many Mexicans up here celebrate one day), Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass on Christmas), a nacimiento (Nativity scene) that takes up the entire living room, the December 28 celebration of Los Santos Inocentes, which commemorates all the kiddies King Herod had killed, and your aforementioned Reyes Magos feast day, which gabachos call Epiphany. But that's not surprising: actual Mexican culture in the U.S. is always watered down because of assimilation, a tale as old as the myth of Quetzalcoatl. That said, the Reconquista has brought up many Mexican celebrations in the past generation, like Día de los Muertos, Día de los Niños, and the baking of rosca de reyes (our version of the King Cake served during Mardi Gras) during Christmas. Gabachos: Save this column so when your half-Mexican grandkids read this 40 years from now, you'll have proof that Mexicans once actually did gabacho things.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano