We live in a politically correct age. So the media made a big deal when Sonia Sotomayor was nominated as a justice for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). She grew up in the public housing and she’s Puerto Rican. The media and politicians always love to point out whenever someone achieves some sort of prominence despite not being a white male (dead or alive) from the privileged class. In that regard, Sotomayor is an overachiever, wise Latina or not. And that’s why she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
The name Sotomayor is Spanish name composed of two Spanish words: soto and mayor. Soto means thicket, grove, or copse. And mayor means the bigger one. Adjectives generally follow nouns in Spanish. With a name like Sotomayor, you know she has Hispanic heritage.
It all started last January when I started reading the Stuff White People Like. I really enjoyed reading it and so I commented on a few of the posts. Okay, I also left the link to my website, although I’m not sure if that attracted any readers. Anyway, different groups started commenting about their group and also put links to their websites. One of them was Stuff Latin People. Soon, I was also commenting on the SLPL posts, and adding a link to my website, too. My readership increased rapidly. Because of my comments, Ariel Delgado asked me if I wanted write some posts. Of course, I volunteered. He even paid me exactly what I was getting paid for my website: Nothing! I immediately jumped at the opportunity.
Now I thought this would provide a site where different Hispanic groups would get together. Well, the posts were easy and fun to write, but reading the comments was unbearable. I couldn’t believe all the dissent. Everyone hated the term Latin People because they didn’t feel it included their particular ethnic or cultural group. Many refused to acknowledge their Spanish legacy because of this deep-seated hatred of Spain by Latin America. Talk about complete denial. Despite all my gripes about the site, I really enjoyed writing posts and reading the comments. Unfortunately, the site fell by the wayside. I keep meaning to write another post on my own blog, but I put off doing things I’m supposed to do for myself.
Well, for the sake of posterity, and against my better judgment, I have compiled all the posts I wrote for the short-lived Stuff Latin People Like and posted them below.
Latin Fun Facts
The nickname for José is Pepe. In convents and monasteries, during the reading of the Scriptures, Saint Joseph was referred to as Pater Putatibus, or simply P.P. (Pronounced pe pe in Spanish), meaning Padre Putativo, or putative father of Jesucristo.
Nachos were invented by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, México, in 1943.
The tortilla is a type of flat bread made from corn called tlaxcalli in Nahuatl by the Aztecs. The Spaniards called it a tortilla because of its circular shape that resembled the Spanish tortilla.
About 25% of all Major League Baseball players were born in Latin America, the most from the Dominican Republic.
Venezuela was named by Amerigo Vespucci, after whom America is named. In 1499, he saw a village on stilts during high tide and was reminded of Venice (Venecia in Spanish). So he named the region “Little Venice” or Venezuela.
The name for the Mercedes-Benz automobile originated from from the Spanish word mercedes that means grace, gift, favor, or mercy in its singular form of merced. In 1901, Wilhelm Maybach designed the Mercedes 35 hp for Emil Jellinek who named the car after his ten-year-old daughter Mercedes.
The word “avocado” comes from the Spanish word aguacate, which derives in turn from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word ahuacatl, meaning “testicle”, because of its shape. (Okay, this Latin Fact wasn’t that much fun.)
Legend has it that the last name of Guzmán comes from the last name Goodman. There was once an Englishman living in Spain who tried to tell everyone that he was a good man.
The suffix of “-ez” found in many Spanish last names comes from the Visigoth language and means, “son of.” Thus, Ramírez literally means “son of Ramiro,” González means “son of Gonzalo,” etc.
The state of Florida was named in Spanish. Florida was first seen by the Spanish explorer Ponce de León on Easter Sunday on April 2, 1513. He named it, although he thought was an island at the time, Pascua de Florida, meaning “Feast of Flowers,” and claimed it for Spain.
Famous Latin Quotes
It’s not my job, man! –Freddy Prinze, USA, (Puerto Rico).
¡Yo quiero Taco Bell! –The Taco Bell Chihuahua, USA.
Poor Mexico! So far from God, so close to the United States. –Porfirio Díaz, México.
Sí se puede. –César Chávez, USA, (México).
I am my own woman. –Evita Perón, Argentina.
We belong to our families. –Dolores del Río, México, Flying Down to Río.
I request nothing beyond the thickly crucial luxury of seats available even in soft, Corinthian leather. –Ricardo Montalbán, México.
To the people here, we are outsiders. Foreigners. –Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rico.
Lucy! I’m home! –Desi Arnaz, Cuba.
I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges! –Alfonso Bedoya, México, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
¡Azúcar! –Celia Cruz, Cuba.
¡No más! ¡No más! –Roberto Durán, Panamá.
Baseball has been very, very good to me! –Fernando Valenzuela, México.
Look at me and tell me if I don’t have Brazil in every curve of my body. –Carmen Miranda, Brazil.
Hasta la vista, baby. –Arnold Schwarzenegger, USA.
¡Cuchi, cuchi! –Charo, Spain, (But White People think she’s a Latina!)
Nothing is more enjoyable to a Latino family than el paseo. Perhaps, that’s because Latino families rarely take a vacation like most Americans. What is el paseo? It’s actually very difficult to describe to a non-Latino. As with many things that Latinos do, it involves the whole family. Generally, the father or mother announce to the whole family, “¡Vamos a pasear!” and the whole family immediately gets into the car, minivan, van, or pickup truck. And by family, most Latinos include everyone living in the house, including the dog and the neighbor’s children. If you are fortunate enough to be with a Latino family when they announce “¡Vamos a pasear!” you must tag along. Es la ley.
Keep in mind that no one has actually planned any activities or destinations. El paseo generally involves wandering around aimlessly from home to home of family and friends–but no one is actually home because they, too, decided it was a good time for un paseo–or from park to park looking for their family and friends. If el paseo begins on a Sunday morning, it is obligatory to go to mass first and then go on el paseo. Equally important is the fact that little or no money will be spent on el paseo, except for the donation at church and el domingo for the children. So it is forbidden for the Latino family to eat at any type of restaurant. They are required to bring their own food and they will picnic whenever and wherever they get hungry.
Many Latinos are never, ever late for work. Some will even show up to work an hour early. They pride themselves on their job as part of their identity. Since they have no concept of time, they would rather arrive an hour early rather than risk being late. However, being punctual for everything else is unimportant. When socializing with Latinos, keep in mind their concept of time. They have none. Often, they won’t arrive on time and they’ll say, “I’m not late. I’m running on Latino Time.”
If you ever have a party and invite some Latinos, make accommodations for Latino Time. If you want them at your house by four, tell them the party’s at three. To a Latino, 3:00 o’clock lasts until 3:59! 3:59 is still 3:00 in the mind of a Latino. Say 3:59 out loud. Go ahead. Did you hear all three digits? If you did, you’re not Latino. A true Latino will only hear the initial digit “3″ and then block out the rest of the digits. That’s just how Latinos process time.
When Latinos throw a party, they decide to invite everyone they know, and at the last minute. Usually they invite everyone only one or two days before, but don’t be surprised if they invite you only hours before. If invited to a Latino party, never, ever show up on time. No one will be there. Sometimes even the family throwing the party won’t be there either because they’re doing some last–minute shopping for the party. Don’t be surprised if no one shows up until two hours later. In fact, some Latinos will show up when the party is almost over. Occasionally, some will show up for the party one week late. The advantage of planning a party at the last minute is that no one will show up a week early.
If a Latino arrives late to the party and asks, “Am I late?”, simply say, “No, you’re just in time to say, ‘Adiós.’ The party’s over!”
You know you’re Latin if …
Your whole family goes to the laundromat.
You grow corn in your garden.
You have a birthday party for your son or daughter and you invite more adults than children.
You beep your horn instead of ringing the doorbell.
You hate being called Latino by other Latinos.
You took Spanish in high school for an easy A and got a C.
You take your family on un paseo through the car wash and tell them that the ride is called “The Tidal Wave.”
You’re married, but your mother still hits you in public.
The police pull you over and you pretend not to speak English.
You have a statue of la Virgen in a half-buried bathtub in your front lawn.
Nothing weighs more heavily on the Latino psyche than the topic of Spain. Latinos constantly think of Spain. And that’s why Latinos never talk about Spain. When associating with a Latino, Spain is a perfectly acceptable topic if you keep two things in mind about Latinos and Spain:
Latinos hate Spain.
Latinos love Spain.
First of all, Latinos hate Spain because of certain encounters between the Old World and the New World that historians have labeled as “atrocities.” Let us reexamine that moment in history, about 500 years ago, when one side of our family set sail from Spain to meet the other side of our family in what is now known as Latin America. Well, it was a love / hate relationship even back then. The Spaniards, also known as the Conquistadores, used the pervasive, persuasive tactics of the era–which were common throughout Europe–to claim land that no one ever owned in the first place as their own. These “persuasive tactics” are now identified by historians as imperialism, genocide, torture, execution, enslavement, etc. as seen through the modern lens. But back then, the Conquistadores were merely having the time of their life! Despite these “atrocities,” also known as “human rights violations” by modern scholars, Latinos have adapted and adjusted quite well. However, they still haven’t forgotten.
On the other hand, Latinos acknowledge the contributions and legacy of Spain. The most obvious, of course, is the Spanish language as the lingua franca of Latin America. Many customs have remained the same over the centuries, and to this day, Latin America and Spain still practice many of the same customs, such as the use of names. In order to witness a Latino’s love for Spain, look around the home of a Latino. You will find many artifacts that represent ancient and modern Spanish society. For example, many Latino homes will have a painting of a toreador in his traje de luces as he fights a bull–usually painted on black velvet. Some homes proudly display a Conquistador’s helmet and a plaque with a red velvet background that holds two miniature swords and a spiked ball on a chain. Latinos are so proud of their Spanish heritage and may even have a framed picture of the coat of arms for their last name with an explanation of their name’s rich history and famous people with the same last name.
Latinos also like to have dolls or figurines of Flamenco dancers, both male and female, usually in la sala on an end table tapping their little feet on a doily knitted by abuelita herself! And let’s not forget about Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the most famous knight and his squire of not just Spanish literature, but of world literature! Many homes display sculptures made of scrap metal of Don Quixote on horseback and Sancho Panza on foot beside him. Some Latinos also have a leather-bound Bible alongside a fancy leather-bound edition of Don Quixote. Latinos also love Spaniards who are successful in America, such as Charo, Placido Domingo, Julio Iglesias, Antonio Banderas, and Penelope Cruz. Such is the importance of Spanish culture in the Latino home.
When socializing with Latinos, be aware of this love / hate relationship between Spain and Latin America. In order to gain the acceptance of a Latino, ask–with a pained facial expression to indicate that you understand the conflicted feelings that Latinos feel toward Spain–if he or she has ever visited Spain, the mother country. More than likely the answer will be no, but some Latinos have visited Spain and actually enjoyed the trip because it connected them with their heritage and made them aware of the origins of certain customs that they now practice. If he or she says no, ask if he or she will ever visit Spain. “Of course!” will be the response. “Right after I go to Disney World!”
Names for White People
Sometimes when Latinos speak, White People feel a certain paranoia that they are the main topic of the Latinos speaking. Most often, they’re right. When talking about White People, Latinos rarely refer to them as “Whites” or “White People” unless they intentionally want to make them feel uncomfortable. They usually refer to White People in coded terms that aren’t so obvious, even when speaking English. If you’re around Latin People and suddenly you don’t understand what they’re saying, they’re probably talking about you.
One of the most common names for White People is “Anglo Sajón” or “Anglo” (but never “Angla“). However, White paranoia being what it is, White People have learned to understand “anglo” and so Latinos often resort to one of the many other names in their repertoire. Also rarely used is “caucáseo / caucásea” because it sounds too much like “Caucasian.” “Yanqui” and “norteamericano / norteamericana” are also obvious references to White People. In the right context, they are practically swear words in the mouths of Latin People. “Yanqui” usually refers to White People, particularly those of the United States, who appear imperialistic and would love to annex all of Latin America. Ditto for “norteamericano / norteamericana” that refer to all people north of the Rio Grande, Canadians included.
This brings up an interesting difference between north and south, White People and Latin America, and translations from Spanish to English. The river that serves as the border between Texas and Mexico is called the Rio Grande River. Its name is redundant since río means river anyway. However, that is merely the English name for the river because all Spanish-speaking countries call the Rio Grande River, el Río Bravo (del Norte). Perhaps something was lost in the translation and now the river has two names in Spanish.
Another obvious reference to White People is “gringo / gringa” because they live in Gringolandia. Gringo is probably derived from the Spanish word for Greek, “griego,” as in “It’s Greek to me.” Another possible source comes from the era when General Pershing was pursuing Pancho Villa along the U.S.-Mexican border. Whenever Mexicans saw the American soldiers, they used to yell, “Green coats, go home!” and later just, “Green, go!” Either way, gringo is here to stay.
Using “blanco / blanca” is used only if the speaker intentionally wants White People to notice, since most White People will remember these words from their high school Spanish class. Much better are terms like “güero / güera,” “gabacho / gabacha,” or “bolillo / bolilla” when referring to White People. Some White People actually like these names and continue using them for themselves. Just listen to Beck’s song “Que onda Guero?” (sic). He actually seems to be proud of the fact that he’s a güero in the barrio of East L.A. talking to the homeboys and vatos.
All these names may also be used for Latinos. For example, if a Latina has light skin and/or light brown hair, everyone calls her Güera. If a Mexican acts too “American,” his family might start calling him bolillo because he is brown on the outside but white on the inside. And let’s not forget that famous Nuyo Rican reguetonero who calls himself Daddy Yankee (English spelling).
One term that should be used with extreme caution when referring to White People is “la migra.” There is no middle ground with la migra. It’s either whispered in hushed tones to avoid attracting attention. Or, more than likely, it’s shouted at the top of one’s lungs: ¡La migra! When la migra shows up, everyone runs and tries to escape. Legal citizens will act as decoys to impede la migra.
El domingo is a time-honored tradition for Latin People, but especially for the children. As its name implies, it always takes place on a Sunday, usually when visiting the family on un paseo. All the children are given money that is called el domingo (It may also be called la paga de la semana, la semanada, por la semana, or la mesada, depending on the Latin American country of origin). This is money given to the children, usually by all the adult males present, with no strings attached. Unlike an American allowance, the children do nothing to earn this money. It’s their birthright.
Sometimes, the adults forget to distribute el domingo to the children. However, Latin children are taught not to beg. Only when all the adults forget about el domingo may the children respectfully remind them of their bad manners: “¿Dónde está mi domingo?”. If an adult forgets about el domingo, he is considered mal educado. If he intentionally “forgets” about giving el domingo to all the children present, it’s permissible for all the adults to call him, “¡Pendejo!“. This is the only time that children may ask for money and not appear mal educados. In fact, this situation reflects badly on the adults who appear to have bad manners. This time-honored tradition must be respected by all male adults present: grandfathers, uncles, cousins, second cousins, third cousins, pretend relatives, and male friends who tagged along when the family announced, “¡Vamos a pasear!“
Women are not required to give el domingo to the children, but they are not prohibited from giving money to the children either. Children are usually cautious before accepting money from a female relative because she generally makes an unusual request. For example, abuelita will give you a nickel, but only if you let her nibble on your ear! And why only a nickel? Because that’s the most she ever received for her domingo!
Latin People never ask for anything. You must offer it to them before they accept it. Even if they are starving to death and they will still be too proud to ask for food or money. However, don’t be surprised if they show up at your doorstep for a surprise visit right around dinnertime! When they do, you must invite them in to eat with the family or risk appearing impolite, or worse yet, mal educado. If you are invited in to dinner, you must accept the invitation because refusing to eat with a family will also earn you the title of mal educado. Nothing is more shameful to a Latin person that to be called mal educado. Please use the term carefully because under certain circumstances a fight may ensue. But you may drop hints as the dinner guest leaves that they were totally unexpected and not hurt anyone’s feelings. For example, you could say, “Visit us for dinner anytime! But next time call ahead so we can add water to the soup.”
Since childhood, Latin People are taught to work hard for everything they need or want. Begging or asking for free handouts is forbidden, although hinting is permissible under the right conditions. Only after some begging by the donor or giver will the needy Latino accept. If a Latin person wants a new TV, he or she will save up for it or buy it on credit, but it’s also permissable to hint to a very close family member that he or she would like the TV on sale for $299 at Wal-Mart for his or her birthday. He or she will simply put the Wal-Mart sale paper in plain view, say in the bathroom library, with the sale TV circled. And he or she will say things like, “I hate when we all can’t watch our own novelas in peace.” But you must never ask for anything outright! It looks like begging. Latin People are a proud people and are therefore not beggars. The ones you see begging are just lazy and mal educados.
Marina was a Mexicana whom I met when I was in the police academy. We met just by chance because the Chicago Police Department, in its infinite wisdom, divided all the new recruits into four different classrooms based on race, ethnicity, and sex in order to be politically correct. There we were, in the police academy gym, and the instructors asked all the white males to step forward. They were immediately divided into four groups. Next, they called the females who were sorted out on the basis of their gender regardless of their race or ethnicity. Then, the African-American / Black males were equally divided into the four groups. And last, but not least, the Hispanic / Latino males were assigned to a classroom. The department tried to avoid racial and sexual discrimination lawsuits using this system for hiring new police officers.
Anyway, Marina and I were assigned to the same classroom where the entire class was assigned desks by alpabetical order. Since her last name was Perez, she sat directly in front of me. Well, we became good friends because we were partners for many of the training activities. She was a very pretty Mexicana, but a little on the plump side. However, she could meet all the physical requirements for calesthenics, running, and self defense. I was single at that time, but she had a boyfriend then, so we remained just friends.
One day during self-defense class, we had to practice applying a wrist lock on each other. We had to command each other to walk in a certain direction, lay face-down, and then handcuff our “arrestee.” If the arrestee didn’t obey, we applied more pressure on the wrist lock until they complied. By then, I knew Marina well enough to joke around with her. The instructor observed everyone to make sure they were applying the wrist lock properly.
Well, when I had Marina in the wrist lock, the instructor told me that I did it well and then walked away. I took advantage of the fact that he wouldn’t be back for a few minutes. So, I steered Marina around the mat by tightening my grip on her wrist. I told her to get on her knees and she did. I told her to lie down and she did. Then, I asked her if she wanted to go out me. I was just joking, of course. She immediately said “No!” I applied a little more pressure on her wrist and she changed her answer to “Yes!” even though she had a boyfriend. Then, I told her to tell me that she loved me. With a little bit more pressure, she did. I just had to smile.
When I released her, she said, “You’re gonna get it!” Now it was her turn to restrain me! Well, I immediately apologized, but it was too late to be sorry. But I was surprised when she applied her wrist lock on me. I was able to control the pain. You see, I would just recall all the times that my mother used to hit me with the belt, the broom, the extension cord, or whatever else was within reach whenever I angered her. Thanks to my mother, I had a high tolerance for pain and Marina wasn’t able to make me do anything I didn’t want to do. Eventually, I just went through the motions and let myself be restrained. After classes were over, we saw her boyfriend and I told him what I had done. He wasn’t very amused, but I thought it be better if I told him instead of Marina.
Eventually, we finished our academy training, but I always saw Marina at traffic court since they assigned our courtrooms by alphabetical order. She later broke up with her boyfriend and invited me to go to her family Thanksgiving Dinner, which I did. Later, I went to her family Christmas party, but we remained merely friends. I didn’t see her again for a couple of years.
I met her again through her fiance who happened to work in my district. We just started talking one day after roll call and I learned that he would soon marry Marina. We became friends after that. He was Lithuanian so he had lived in the same neighborhoods as me. We had a few things in common. Well, when they married, they invited my wife and me to their wedding. When I asked Marina about his family, she told me that they weren’t too happy that he was marrying a Mexicana. They wanted him to marry a nice Lithuanian girl. So at the reception, the hall was evenly divided with the Lithuanians on one side and the Mexicans on the other. They had hired a DJ for the music, but they had also hired some Mariachis to play while everyone ate dinner to show everyone how wonderful Mexicans are. However, the Mariachis were late! And his side of the family was upset. Eventually, the Mariachis showed up, but dinner was almost over. The police had pulled over their van for running a redlight and the driver didn’t have a driver’s license or auto insurance. So it took a while before they got to the reception. Well, the Lithuanians were upset at the Mariachis and the Mexicans were embarrassed by them!
I just saw the play Machos written and directed by Coya Paz and performed by Teatro Luna at the 16th Street Theater in Berwyn, Illinois. Teatro Luna is the only all-Latina theater group in Chicago area and I have seen many of their previous productions that were very good, but this one is by far their funniest, and perhaps, also their most serious. Machos is based on interviews with men about how they feel about being men. The men in the play describe what it’s like to be a man and how much pressure society, family, and peers place on them in their quest to be men. This play truly analyzes all aspects of society’s expectations of men in general and also the Hispanic expections of being macho, as the play’s title implies. Since all the men are portrayed by women dressed as men, there’s a tongue in cheek attitude about the whole analysis. They honestly complain about how they don’t understand women without sounding like a David Mamet rant against bitches. If men were to put on this play, the tone would certainly come off as more hostile toward women. However, since the play is written and directed by a woman, the men portrayed seem more human and their problems and behaviour seems more plausible. The play is definitely a comedy about many serious subjects such as love, infidelity, sex, and homosexuality, but there also many poignant scenes also, like the one of the Mexican father who drinks alone at home listening to old Mexican music on vinyl LPs. Even though he’s at home with his family, he’s also alienating himself from them and therefore drinking alone instead of eating supper with family. It’s actually a vicious circle of which he’s oblivious.
Okay, my favorite scene occurred after the play was over near the restrooms. A cast member stood between the doors to the Men’s and Women’s room and said, “Which one do I use?” She, I mean He, I mean, S/he went into the Women’s room. I highly recommend this play.
The other day I was walking around the Arizona Mills shopping mall in Phoenix and noticed that a teenager with black hair, brown eyes, and a perpetual tan was wearing a T-shirt that said, “I’m Mexican,” on the front. On the back the shirt said, “I’m Mexican / I’m not Latino / I’m not Hispanic.” I wasn’t surprised to see such a message since I have always felt the same way. I mean what am I supposed to call myself? As a teenager, I was even more confused. In grade school, I told everyone that I was Mexican. Then in high school, another Mexican told me about that I was a Chicano. Back then, all the older Mexicans like my parents, aunts, and uncles all thought that Chicanos all belonged to gangs. So I stuck to being Mexican. But now that I’m more mature, I still don’t know what or who I am. No matter what I call myself, someone within earshot will disagree. Lately, I’ve been telling everyone that I’m Mexican. And I’ll keep telling everyone that I’m Mexican until I figure out my identity–whatever it is!
What do you call someone of Hispanic descent? I am truly confused about what to call myself. I have heard a lot of terms, good and bad, to describe Spanish speakers or people from Spanish-speaking countries, for example, Latino, Hispanic, Latin-American, Mexican-American, and on the negative side, beaner, spik, and wetback.
But what should I call myself? What term should I use to describe myself? None of the terms seem adequate. Latino, Hispanic, and Latin-American are too all-encompassing and include a lot of Spanish-speaking nations, but they don’t describe any of my individual characteristics. And let’s not forget that I have been born and raised in the United States of America as an American citizen.
When I think back to my childhood, I used to tell everyone, “I’m Mexican.” When I was a student at the Lithuanian Catholic grade school Holy Cross, the nuns would ask me what nationality I was and I would answer, “I’m Mexican.” Sometimes when visitors came to class, the nuns would tell the visitor, “This is David. He’s a nice Mexican boy.” Now that I look back, that seems to be the best term to use today in our politically correct times.
Let me explain. If I say that I am a Mexican-American, that seems redundant. I was born in the USA to parents who emigrated from Mexico and I speak fluent English. My parents were born in Mexico and were citizens of Mexico. My mother eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen. If you asked my parents what they were, they would reply, “Somos mexicanos” in Spanish. So when I say, “I’m Mexican” in English, without a Mexican accent–okay, perhaps a bit of a south side accent–, I imply that I am an American citizen of Mexican descent. If I were a Mexican national living in the USA, living and working here, legally or otherwise, I would say, “Soy mexicano,” perhaps even because I couldn’t speak English.
So I say to you, “I am a Mexican,” in English, without a Mexican accent, but with a south side Chicago accent. Do you hear me? I am a MEXICAN!