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27 Jan 2016

Ask a Mexican: Should I Have Been Bothered by Comments Made in a ‘White Privilege’ Workshop?

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Dear Mexican: I’m an instructor at a community college. I wanted to work within the community college to help the marginalized and disenfranchised have greater access to education. Additionally, as a Latina, I have witnessed too many of my own people drop out of college, and I wanted to do something about it.

At the beginning of every semester, instructors attend personal development training, and I attended one on white privilege. The discussion included reviewing an article written some years ago about what constitutes “white privilege,” and whether that definition is still applicable today. The facilitator and some of the participants asked for my perspective on it, and whether I agreed. Finally, I understood that they thought I was white because of my lighter skin. I tactfully corrected them, telling them, “I am MexiCAN.” However, the facilitator went on to say that having the surface appearance of “white” is an advantage.

While I understand that having lighter skin poses an advantage, I don’t think that alone offsets the type of systematic racism my family has experienced. Would you agree? Also, I am frustrated with having to explain that Latinos come in all shades, and people being surprised that I don’t speak with an accent. Am I being overly sensitive, or what?

Wondering Güera

Dear Pocha: You’re not being sensitive enough—white-privilege workshops are snorefests whose takeaway should be reduced to two words: Fuck gabachos. I’m not opposed to that sentiment at all, but obsessing over color also masks the far more pernicious issue of class, especially as it applies to raza in the States.

, white historically made right in Mexico, but it never translates so easily. Take the Mexican’s ancestral ranchos in Zacatecas, El Cargadero and Jomulquillo. Residents in the former are super-white (my maternal abuelita had green eyes); gente in my dad’s rancho are más prietos. Skin color gave cargaderenses the feeling of being superior to los de Jomulquillo—never mind that both ranchos were poor AF, and both essentially emptied to el Norte due to lack of opportunities in Mexico.

White privilege for Mexicans in the U.S.? My mami’s alabaster skin didn’t keep her from working in the fields starting when she was 9, and it didn’t spare my Tío Ezequiel ruthless beatings at the hand of teenage gabachos in the 1960s while attending Fremont Junior High in Anaheim. (He got his revenge, gracias a Dios, by kicking the ass of his tormentors so bad that all the gabachos finally let him be.) So tell those white-privilege workshop trainers to stop with the race obsession, and focus on class, cabrones.

I’m curious about the etymology of the term padrastro. As the stepfather of two youngsters, I’ve wondered about the connection to the term for a hangnail. Is it a coincidence? I’ve also seen the translation mal padre, and I won’t lie: I was a bit hurt. Any info is greatly appreciated.

Super Stepfather

Dear Gabacho: Speaking of sensitive … you’re tilting, broder. Padrastro is a direct translation of the Latin patraster, which means “stepfather,” but is derived from pater (father) and –aster (a pejorative suffix roughly meaning “imposter”), so it was never meant as a nice word to begin with. Padrastro as hangnail is a purely Castilian creation—the Latin for hangnail is redivia.

So why the Mex hate on stepfathers? As with nearly all Mexican pathologies, blame the Catholic Church—you can look it up!

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

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