Ask a Mexican on Racial Identification and Tortilla Shovels

I am a mocha-skinned woman with long, curly hair and dark-brown eyes. Puerto Ricans always ask if I am Puerto Rican, Dominicans just come and start speaking Spanish, Cubans ask if my abuelita made good arroz con leche, but Mexicans know I'm black. What gives?
La Morena

The countries you mentioned (along with Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras and other Latin American países) have significant Afro-Latino communities of various gradations of skin tone and a general acceptance of said people. Mexico, however, likes to pretend that our Afro-Mexicans are limited to Veracruz and Guerrero. If only! But because our population of negritos is tiny compared to other Latin American countries, and because skin tone continues to matter in Mexico, Mexicans can never just accept a black person as just a person—they identify them by different synonyms for "black," whether moreno (from moro, or Moor), prieto, (from apretar, to tighten), azabache (black amber, from Arabic), and the good ol' diminutive negrito — or negrita, in your case. But as I've argued before, this isn't a type of racism on the level of how Americans treated African-American in the Jim Crow days, as Know-Nothings would have you believe. For one, we didn't systematically lynch our negritos — that would've been the Chinese during the Mexican Revolution.

My husband is a Chicano, and his parents are from Mexico. Why do Mexicans eat tortillas with every meal? My husband eats it with anything you put in front of him. I also noticed he uses his tortilla as an eating utensil. Do Mexicans purposely teach their children to not use forks and spoons? Do all Mexicans use tortillas as little shovels? I guess even when they're eating, they're working.
The Tortilla Shoveler's Wife

I'll wax more poetic about tortillas in my coming book about the history of Mexican food in the United States (out May 2012, cabrones: start saving those pesos!), but the short answer is simple: Cucharas y tenedores are fine, but few pleasures are better than tearing off a piece of a tortilla, grasping it with your fingers, and using it to shovel down food. Tortillas have been part of Mexican culture for thousands of years, the one constant throughout our turbulent millennia. They're nutritious, utilitarian, and don't need washing. Only Jesus is more perfect — and why do you think He likes to show His face on tortillas?

Good Mexican of the Week: More like a town. Consider the following letter:

Last fall, Flagstaff's Museum of Northern Arizona hosted the seventh annual Celebraciones de la Gente, partnering with the local organization Nuestras Raíces, which is based around the historic Hispanic families of Flagstaff. The weekend focused on the celebration of Día de los Muertos, but included music, dance, art, and even formal presentations:  Zarco Guerrero on the artist Lalo Guerrero, and discussions by Carlos Velez-Ibanez (director of the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University), and Miguel Vasquez (anthropology professor at Northern Arizona University). I particularly enjoyed the ofrendas set up around the museum courtyard by Flagstaff families. These were attended by family members (often three generations) who answered questions and told their family histories — a wonderful opportunity to learn some history and culture not from professors or books, but from our neighbors.

So . . . a shout-out to our Museum of Northern Arizona, and only somewhat less directly to our little town of Flagstaff. It ain't utopia here, but we're really doing pretty well as a pocket of sanity in a state sporting the meanest gun-slinging sheriff in America, a governor dumber than Palin, and a state Legislature bent on taking us down the road to madness.

One Old, Straight, White Man that Still Thinks We're all in This Together

Gracias for the reminder that sane people do live in Arizona, because between Arpayaso, Brewer, and Russell Pearce, your state is a couple of beans short of a burrito. I would also add that the Flagstaff City Council voted to oppose SB 1070. Book a vacation up there, folks, and people who are interested in the Museum of Northern Arizona can visit them online at

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano