CVIndependent

Fri11152019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Dear Mexican: I heard you on NPR describing the various ways that Mexican food images are used to scare white people about the brown hordes from the South coming up here to steal their stuff and take away their ketchup.

You used the phrase “greaser” as an example of a culinary-related insult. But I thought “greaser” originated as an occupational term for Mexican helpers on 19th-century cattle drives who were supposed to keep the wagon wheels greased so they wouldn’t jam—not anything related to tacos or deep-fried rellenos or even hair oil.

What’s the real story?

Gabacho Academic

Dear Gabacho: Greaser, for the younger readers out there, was the illegal of its day, an epithet used by gabachos through the 19th century and beyond to degrade Mexicans as inhuman and, well, greasy. It’s nowadays also seen as a food-related epithet, even if it wasn’t originally the case. But, híjole, gabachos academics sure love folk etymologies!

Your theory is almost as bad as the one that gringo came from 19th-century American soldiers singing “Green Grow the Lilacs” while invading Mexico, with Mexicans mishearing it—didn’t J. Frank Dobie invent that one? Greaser was already established as a favored American slur against Mexicans by the time cattle drives became a thing, so to say the term came from wagon wheels is as laughable as Latinos for Trump. But don’t take it from me: No less a genius than Américo Paredes, in his paper “On Gringo, Greaser and Other Neighborly Names,” dismissed this theory—popularized in American letters by legendary raconteur H.L. Mencken in his supplements to the magisterial The American Language—as “probably never taken seriously by anyone.” BOOM.

Paredes, in the same paper, explained greaser’s popularity to insult Mexicans as being due to “the fact that people of darker complexions have oilier skins than do the Nordics”—a result of diet, not work. He had no idea about its origins, but noted an 1853 definition said greaser was how Texans referred to bedraggled rancheros who wore “economical apparel … shining from grease and long usage.” He also said the earliest known mention of greaser in its anti-Mexican tense dated to 1846, which is two years earlier than the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation.

Well, the Mexican is humbled to advance Paredes’ and the OED’s good work by announcing the discovery of an even earlier reference: in the Telegraph and Texas Register of Houston, Texas. On April 20, 1842, a letter from Mexico City by a nameless prisoner held captive for participating in the Texan Santa Fe Expedition (a failed invasion by the Republic of Texas against New Mexico) mentioned that "foreigners” in the metropolis used greaser to describe “a ragged fellow, or one with his breeches split up at the side”—again with the sartorial hint! Interestingly, the anonymous American didn’t mean Americans or Texans when referring to “foreigners,” but rather another nationality—the Brits, perhaps?

So where did greaser come from? The Mexican’s theory: It’s an English speaker’s mispronunciation of grosero, which technically means “rude” but sounds like “gross”—a false cognate if ever there was one. We at least know that the earliest use of the term referred to clothing, so perhaps gabachos picked it up from Mexican elites ridiculing poor Mexis.

Silly folk etymology, Gabacho Academic? Perhaps. But still better than yours.

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!

Published in Ask a Mexican

Dear Mexican: I’m a gabacho living in a barrio. It took a year after we moved in (we’ve been here for five years now), but I grew accustomed to the bicycle-horn-honking guys selling churros out of grocery carts, the tamale lady selling out of a stroller, the couple selling new clothes out of a panel van, the fruit/vegetable guy who really just sells crappy chips, and the every-other-day yard sales. Don’t get me wrong; I love the “micro-economics” of it all; it’s kind of like living at the ballpark. If you sit there long enough, somebody will show up with something to eat. 

I’ve started to not jump every time I hear the “Tijuana Doorbell.” A LOT of trash gets thrown into the street and my yard, much of it from the crappy chips the aforementioned fruit guy sells. The trash and the honking still piss me off, but I’m used to it. The cholos, ’copters and potholes—old news.

What I just can’t get my head around is this: Why do so many Mexicans—men and women—sit in their cars for hours at a time? Or start the car and then walk away for a half-hour? The car’s just sitting there—ON—and nobody’s around. The sitting around might be attributable to not having any privacy at home; I get that. But starting your car and just sitting there or walking away?

Señor Gabacho Con Questiones y Mariscos

Dear Mr. Gabacho With Questions and Seafood: Ever heard of carburetors? That’s what real cars have in their engines, and you need to warm up said carros in the morning in order for them to run. Mexicans have always preferred real ranflas, so even when we eventually get weak-ass fuel-injection cars, we still warm up cars as a form of habit.

While this might seem like a weak answer, it’s based on precedent: Look at that classic Mexican habit of not flushing away toilet paper full of caca.

Dear Mexican: I’m a 64-year-old white guy. I’m one of your readers and a Facebook amigo. I’m a huge fan of Tejano music, which led me into appreciating Mexican music. Then, of course, there are Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys, who can (and do) play anything. Then there’s that whole Depression/World War II diaspora that had a hand in the Oakland/Bay Area horn funk bands of the ’60s and ’70s, and, of course, the whole damn Escovedo family up there in NorCal.

Boy, did I get off base. My question is: Am I a gabacho?

Green Goes the Gringos

Dear Gabacho: Did you ever hear that joke Chris Rock said about black people and “niggas”? That’s how it is with white people and gabachos. The Mexican frequently gets accused by gabachos of being racist toward white people, when that’s not the case at all. Some of my best friends are white people—hell, one just installed a door for me the other day, and I even let him use my bathroom!

This column takes on the gabachos of the United States, though. It’s gabachos who think Mexicans are destroying this country, and gabachos who want to elect Trump, yet profess their enjoyment of Mexican food. White people hate gabachos as much as Mexicans, which is why they don’t have a problem with the Reconquista. Gabachos, on the other hand? Better stock up on the Tapatío as a peace offering, ’cause you’re gonna have to make nice with us muy soon.

So you, sir, ain’t no gabacho: You’re just a plain ol’ gringo.

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!

Published in Ask a Mexican

Dear Mexican: I believe I heard from you in an interview that “gringo” is either out-of-date or inappropriate, and that gabacho is the better choice. I’ve checked online, and most sources say that gabacho is a pejorative and/or generally refers to Europeans. Is this the case, or is gabacho just a better word than “gringo”?

Also, as a native SoCal cracker, is it acceptable for me to use gabacho, or to refer to myself as such? What is the proper etiquette and usage so I don’t offend anyone or embarrass myself? I’ve also asked friends, but the vote seems to be split.

Gringo-Gabacho Greg

Dear Gabacho: As I’ve explained in this columna before, gabacho and gringo are synonyms for the same thing—gabachos, with the key differences being certainty in their respective etymology. (Gabacho comes from Provencal, while no one has ever put forth a definite origin story for “gringo.”)

The important fact is that gabachos long ago appropriated “gringo” into a harmless term that has absolutely no sting, while gabacho maintains its sting. Now you want to proudly refer to yourself as a gabacho, gabacho? No. Content yourself with the theft of half of Mexico back in the day, and leave our treasures alone once and for all.

Dear Mexican: Just a quick setup: I retired from the Los Angeles Police Department after 29 years. The last 24 years were spent in Narcotics Division, Major Violators. Before retiring, I purchased a lot in Los Barriles (in Baja California, Mexico). After retiring, I built a home there, and in 1997, moved there, where I have been full-time ever since. In 2005, I received my Mexican citizenship.

On several occasions, both by U.S. Customs and regular citizens, I’ve been asked why I moved to Mexico. My response is always the same: I was a Los Angeles police officer for 29 years, and in narcotics for 24 years. I’ve arrested a lot of illegal immigrants. Mexico is the only place I have ever been where all the illegals speak English. Saludos.

Ballin’ in Baja

Dear Gabacho: I see what you did there—stick to your day job, ’cause you ain’t the Keystone Kops.

But you did bring up an interesting thought: the number of gaba illegal immigrants in Mexico. There are no hard números, but there are hundreds of thousands of old gabachos in Baja and Guanajuato, and I’m sure a big chunk haven’t renewed their visas in years.

The better indicator is the number of Americans that Mexico deports—the Mexican Secretariat of the Interior’s Migration Policy Unit showed that for 2013, Mexico deported only 690 Americans—and I’m sure that count is primarily pochos. Compare that to the deportation figures for Central American countries: 32,800 from Honduras, around 30,000 for Guatemala, and only about 14,500 Salvadorans (and people say Mexis and Salvis have beef).

See that, America? If Mexico can be kind to your undocumented in our country, why can’t you do the same to our mojados?

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!

Published in Ask a Mexican

Dear Mexican: I recently received the biography of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood. While reading about his friendship with Jimi Hendrix, I came to a part in which Ronnie describes Jimi as part black, Cherokee and Mexican.

I’ve always read about Jimi’s grandmother being Cherokee, but this was the first I read about him being Mexican. I Googled Hendrix’s name with the word “Mexican” and received many hits.

Is this another mentira originated by Mexicans, like Anthony Quinn’s supposedly real last name being Quintana??

El Habrano

Dear Wab: Man, the locuras some people believe and repeat, ¿qué no? I’ve seen mentions of Hendrix’s supposed Mexican heritage everywhere from the aforementioned Ronnie: The Autobiography to mainstream American newspapers to even the bloody BBC. But don’t believe what you find on the Internet—it’s only good for reading my column.

I have no idea why or when people began believing Hendrix was part-wab, but the rumor’s been around since at least the late 1990s. The closest I can peg him to possessing any Mexican roots is gracias to Charles R. Cross’ 2005 book, Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix. In it, Cross cites an interview Hendrix once gave in which he remembered how one grandmother gave him a “little Mexican jacket with tassels” when he was a child—and little Jimi was ridiculed for wearing it. Also, Cross found a Hendrix diary entry that makes mention of his “Mexican mustache.”

Cross’ bio is a must-have for any music fan, since it’s the best of the many Hendrix books out there, and he also gives the most thorough genealogy of Hendrix’s family I’ve seen, going back through both sets of grandparents. The guitarist did indeed possess gabacho, negrito, Canadian and Cherokee blood, but no Mexican sangre whatsoever.

Mexicans claiming a major historical figure as one of their own is nothing nuevo. I’ve read that Thomas Alva Edison was from Zacatecas, that Walt Disney was the bastard child of a Mexican, and that Jessica Alba wants her baby to be Mexican. Wishful thinking all of it, just like the many gabachos who insist a Cherokee princess is in their family tree. (Never mind that the Cherokees had no royalty.) In fact, the only crypto-Mexican who has ever panned out is also the most unlikely—Ted Williams. Yep, America: Teddy Ballgame’s mami was Micaela Venzor of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

My co-worker Maria and I are having a disagreement about the meaning of the word gringo. Would you be able to tell us the true meaning and street meaning of gringo?

Veritas vos Liberabit

Dear Gabacho: I think you and Mary are having the wrong discussion. Even the dumbest gabacho knows gringo is a pejorative Mexicans use against Americans, one nowadays so harmless that even gabachos call themselves gringos.

What ustedes are probably trying to determine is the word’s origins. The Mexican usually consults the Royal Spanish Academy’s dictionary for such queries, but even the world’s foremost body of español has no clue—its entry describes the etymology as “disputed.” Here’s what we know: Gringo did not originate during the Mexican-American War as a result of—take your pick—the invading Yankees wearing green coats and the terrified Mexicans shouting “Green, go!” at them; or because said soldiers sang either “Green Grows the Lilacs” or “O Green Grow the Rushes” while trampling Santa Anna’s armies. Both explanations are self-serving urban legends repeated by gabachos who get a perverse pleasure out of dominating all aspects of Mexican life, from former territories to our women to even our slurs for ustedes.

Besides, etymologists can find the word gringo in Spain centuries before the Mexican-American War, in the context of referring to strangers. Some say it’s a corruption of griego (Greek, the classic Western European ethnicon for something that makes no sense), while others claim it referred to Irish immigrants in Madrid. Whatever its genesis, the Mexican recommends not using gringo, as it’s an antiquated term like celestial or greaser … and one should always maintain an up-to-date Rolodex of Racism.

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!

Published in Ask a Mexican