More Ethnic Observations

7 07 2008

And: Can you pass my test?

Recently, AG and I saw the film, Ladrón que roba a ladrón  (To Rob a Thief), which is a delightful comedy with some interesting plot twists. I was all the more pleased to see it since it had a number of Spanish soap opera stars that I recognized though the action actually takes place here in the United States. This viewing started to get me thinking about other interesting differences that my Anglo brethren are perhaps clueless about when it comes to those of Mexican descent living in this country. Three things in particular stand out.

I. If you’ve seen it on Mexican television, don’t buy it!  :This of course was the lesson of the movie mentioned above: a conman taking advantage of gullible Latinos who’ll buy anything that offers itself as a quick fix to their problems. From magical creams that cure foot fungus and help you lose weight to bracelets that center your energies so that you can “seguir adelante” (get somewhere in life), an informed Mexican-American can ask himself whether or not his people are really that stupid. My favorite, however, are the commercials for psychics:

Piensa Ud. que alguien le está haciendo daño? Quizás alguien está pensando malas cosas de Ud.?” (Do you think that someone is doing you harm? Do you think someone is thinking bad things about you?)….

And it goes on from there: tarot cards, limpias, the works. I mean, I’m glad that my people take hustling to another level (I once saw a guy, probably from Oaxaca, trying to peddle porcelain horses on the street corner like they were fruit or ice cream.) But please, have some self-respect!

II. White people wanting to “be something”: How many times have I heard some suburban white person prattle off their ethnic make-up with much pride, as if they still had some vital ties to those groups:

“Oh, on my mom’s side, I’m Polish, Italian, Irish, Portuguese, French, Russian and a little bit Cherokee Indian…”

After about five minutes of this, my great temptation is to just say, “Uhhh, you’re nothing. You’re just a mutt.” Which is cool with me, since we Mexicans have been doing the miscegenation thing for half a milllenium. The strange thing, however, is that even in my family this used to happen: my great-great grandfather was French, and my grandmother’s maiden name, Mottu, is a deformed Hispanicized version of a lost French last name. My grandmother used to try to tell us with much pride that we were part French. Oh, well, pot meet kettle…

III. Hugging: What’s with white people and hugging? I don’t know you, and I certainly don’t want to hug you. I mean, I have hugged white people who were near perfect strangers when I haven’t hugged any of the male members of my family, including my father, since I was a little boy. I hugged these white people because I didn’t want to be rude. But I still felt really weird when I did it. Maybe it’s machismo, or false Mexican stoicism, but white people seem to touch way too much.

(Not all Latin peoples are like this. Argentines are always trying to grab you and smooch you all over the face. When I was a seminarian, I would of course go everywhere in cassock like a real seminarian should. Once my other seminarian friend introduced me to two young female friends who were quite attractive as Argentine women tend to be. Well, they didn’t care, cassock or no cassock, they both gave me two firm kisses on the cheeks. I was probably red as a turnip from all that blushing. It’s probably all of the Italian influence.)

Anyway, to prevent further confusion, I have decided to devise my own (now cliché) top ten list so that you can know if you are Mexican-American or not. If you score an “8” or above, you might have cause for worry.

You know that you are Mexican American if…

10. As a child, you could curse in two languages before you could form a complete sentence.

9. Christmas dinner only consists of one dish (mmmm, tamales!), but no one seems to mind.

8. Your idea of self-improvement means a week in Tijuana where you might end up marrying someone you met while drunk.

7. Everytime you pick a fight with someone, fifty of your cousins appear out of nowhere to “back you up”.

6.Your grandfather blames all of your troubles in life on not eating enough beans.

5. Your idea of riding first class is not having to ride in the trunk.

4. As a child, your uncles sent you on the beer run.

3. Your cousin’s wedding ended in a knife fight and fifteen arrests.

2. Your family spent virtually all of your childhood convincing you that your real hometown is some rundown village in Mexico that you have only been to three times.

1. You have more than fifteen pictures of the Virgin of Guadaulpe in your home.

I’m out. As my grandmother says, que Dios les ayude.



8 responses

1 09 2008
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14 07 2008
M.J. Ernst-Sandoval

“1. You spend much of you life screaming at Anglos: ‘No, I’m NOT MEXICAN!!!!’”

Very true! LOL.

14 07 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Oh, and on my top ten list, these were a few of the runners up:

The phrases: “a woman too pretty”, “a man too rich”, and “a car too close to the ground”, all seem equally non-sensical to you.

You carry a bottle of Tapatio or other hot sauce everywhere you go, even to fancy French restaurants, because you find Anglo food, “too bland”.

Your mother only stands 4’9″, but she can still take you out if you get her angry.

14 07 2008
Arturo Vasquez

I thought number one on the nuevomejicano list would be:

“1. You spend much of you life screaming at Anglos: ‘No, I’m NOT MEXICAN!!!!'”

At least the few nuevomejicanos I have known were ultra-sensitive about this. I, as a certified mestizo whose family hails from nothern Mexico, am not offended by this. New Mexico had its own culture for centuries, and distinctions should very much be made.

14 07 2008
M.J. Ernst-Sandoval

Haha! Great list. The funny thing is that with some slight tweaking it could also be “You know that your family is from New Mexico when…” Here’s my tweak:

10. As a child, you were recruited into being an altar server by the sacristan of your parish a.k.a. your grandfather.

9. The yearly making of tamales requires an assembly line of aunts, that appear out of nowhere, named Candelaria and Evangelina.

8. When someone asks you the question “red or green?”, you know that they’re talking about New Mexico chile.

7. Everytime someone tries to pick a fight with you, twenty of your cousins, half of whom are blonde and have Eastern European last names, appear out of nowhere to “back you up”.

6.Your grandmother blames all of your troubles in life on not having said enough novenas.

5. A family party often means renting the church hall and hiring a band to play ranchera music.

4. As a child, you were often forced to test taste your grandfather’s homemade mistela (brandy).

3. At your cousin’s wedding, the ‘Chicken Dance’ is always played after ‘Cielito Lindo’.

2. Your family spent virtually all of your childhood telling you that you are descended from noble, Spanish conquistadores who settled the Southwest and that when you get older you should write to one of the cronistas de armas in Madrid (which they pronounce as ‘Madril’) to get your coat-of-arms.

1. You had more than twenty santos (saint statues) in your house growing up, one of which is of Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos.

9 07 2008
Robert Thomas Llizo

“And you’re right-the cassock means NOTHING!!!! More than once, sressed in my subdeacon’s cassock , I got two big ones on both cheeks by more than one Argentine woman (in this case, a half Russian, half Argentine woman from Buenos Aires, so I guess I got “Double the fun”).”

Oops, I guess that sounds a bit incoherent, and a bit embarassing. How about this: More han once, Dressed in my subdeacon’s cassock, I got two big ones (kisses) on both cheeks (facial) by two Argentine women, one of which was half-Russian and half-Argentine from Buenos Aires.

Talk about incoherence, and a bit of “double entendre”! 😉

8 07 2008
Robert Thomas Llizo

I’m Cuban, so I guess this necessitates a whole other list involving 🙂

I think this desire to “be something” might be a New World disease, given the fact that it is often said in my family that we are Cubans of Spanish/Sicilian/French and a small bit of Austrian descent. LOL!!!! Of course, it may also be indicative of how “white” many people feel they need to be to have some kind of “respectability.”

My response to this is that whatever my ancestry happens to be, my fathers have been burried on Cuban soil for at least 150 years, and that takes care of the matter-I’m Cuban. PERIOD.

I’m not very much of a hugging person, but Cuban women will get get in your face and plant a wet one right on your cheeks, calling you “corazon.” This has happened a few times, with women I scaresly knew for about an hour. Same with Argentine women. Go figure!

And you’re right-the cassock means NOTHING!!!! More than once, sressed in my subdeacon’s cassock , I got two big ones on both cheeks by more than one Argentine woman (in this case, a half Russian, half Argentine woman from Buenos Aires, so I guess I got “Double the fun”).

8 07 2008
Matt K

When it comes to hugging, we white people ain’t got nothin’ on Indians.

And don’t curse us for clinging to what little scraps of traditional culture we have remaining. We don’t want to just be “American” because there’s really no identity in that, save for hyper-consumption and possibly belligerent hypocrisy. When white people brag about being half-Irish (I myself am 3/8ths, I’ll have you know!) or whatever, it’s not to be looked down upon, it’s a sign of longing for how things used to (and ought to) be!

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