Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Dear Mexican: I recently saw a picture of you in a newspaper article. I was quite shocked: You appear to have more of a European skin tone. However, I guess since your relatives lived in Mexico in the past 200 years, you think of yourself as a Mexican. I guess I tend to think Mexican-looking people have more of that native flavor or color. And your last name is actually Basque, so this makes sense.

Have a good day, my European/Mexican dude.

Macho Man in New Mexico

Dear Surumato: The town of Arellano, Spain, might be in the autonomous Basque country region of Navarre, but “Arellano” comes from Latin and denotes “farm of Aurelius.” And while one part of my Mexican ancestry came from Europe (a mixture of Portuguese, French and Sephardic Jews, since “Arellano” is listed in the Inquisition rolls), the other part is Chichimeca ready to chingarte for your chisme.

Dear Mexican: My grandmother died like all people do, but there was something fascinating that I was able to discover after her time: She was born in Mexico, possibly Vera Cruz. From what I understand, and that may be very little when it comes to American history, it always seems to be a bit cloudy, and this cloudy tradition has been passed down from generation to generation of black Americans. During my lifetime, many questions of our past or ancestral history have been unclear, unlike the Mexican or Asian culture of this great country.

I’m American through and through, California-raised, so I can easily identify with the Latin culture; I also speak Spanish, which was a prerequisite for survival back in the ’70s. What light can you shed on the mystery of Vera Cruz and its relation to Americans or blacks, period?

Constancia—Not Your Tia Concha

Dear Negrita: The way you spelled Vera Cruz, methinks your abuelita was actually born in the towns by the same names in Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all named after the Gulf Coast city in Mexico. But let’s say she was actually born in Mexico—in that case, you’re connected to one of the proudest black traditions in the Western Hemisphere.

Veracruz, the state, is one of two regions in Mexico with a significant population of Afro-Mexicans. (The Costa Chica region spanning the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca is the other.) Near Veracruz, the city, was the first freeman town in the Americas: San Lorenzo de los Negros, created after a colony of ex-slaves led by Gaspar Yanga successfully fended off conquistadors. (A statue of Yanga still stands in Veracruz proper.) The famous singer Toña La Negra came from Veracruz, as did the rhythms of son jarocho.

Even if your grandmother was born in the U.S., it’s better to say that she’s from Mexico: After all, would you want your heritage to go back to some podunk Rust Belt town?


Thanks for another great year of letters, tweets, handshakes and the like. I wish I could tell ustedes I have a new project to shamelessly self-promote—but I don’t. Just the same DESMADRE we’ve had in this columna for 12 years, all thanks to ustedes.

The Mexican is going back to the rancho to spend Navidad, so I’ll be running a Best Of edición next week. Happy holidays—oh, and #fucktrump.

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Dear Mexican: Help a pocha out—what can I do to reclaim my heritage?

I grew up in Orange County with my white mother and half-brothers and sisters who used to tease me that I needed a green card to get home after trips to Rosarito Beach.

I now live in my Mexican father’s home (he grew up in Rock Town, Duarte) since inheriting it after he passed in 2010. My father never taught me to speak español, which haunts me … help! For instance, I try to practice my Spanish when I order at the local taco truck. Sometimes, I feel like it’s not well-received, because I get answered back in English. I don’t want to come off as condescending. It’s not that I assume that they don’t know how to speak English—I’m just trying to see if someone other than my boyfriend can understand me. (He’s half-Dominican and shares some of my same cultural dilemmas.) I try to participate in my neighborhood’s various events, and I’m learning my aunt’s tamale recipes and such.

Any other things this half-xican should try?

Mexican in SGV

Dear Pocha: Primeramente, you need to get it out of your cabeza that you need to speak Spanish to be a proper Mexican. Cuauhtémoc didn’t, and they still built a statue of him in Tijuana. And take a chill pastilla: If your local taquero responds to you en inglés when you try out your Spanish, it’s probably because he has pity on you and is trying to make you feel comfortable, so don’t take it as an insult.

I’m glad you’re learning your tía’s tamale recipes, and I’d actually focus on that to reclaim your heritage—food is the great transmitter and keeper of culture, and symbolic ethnicity is how fifth-gen Irish Americans can still claim they’re from County Cork, despite having as much in common with a shantytown Irish as a Trump piñata does with the Santo Niño de Atocha.

The most important thing is that you’re proud of your mexicanidad, and you’re most likely better off than your asshole half-hermanos—stay classy, Orange County!

Dear Mexican: I’ve heard a style of Mexican music that intrigues me, yet I cannot find the name of it. It’s similar to mariachi, as it usually has a small group—upright bass, guitar, etc. The vocal harmonies are very, very good. It almost sounds like the Beatles with jazzy overtones. I’ve heard songs like “La Bamba.” I did an Internet search, and the closest thing I could find is son jarocho; however, pictures show bands from Veracruz using harps and other different instruments. The style I am trying to find has conventional instruments.

There was a band that played this style a few years back at Acapulco, the restaurant in Orange on Katella Avenue near a big theater. I also recall that my mom had a record back in the early ’60s called Los Pinguinos at El Shrimp Bucket. This is the recording I loved as a child. The vocal harmonies were extremely good. The music is obviously not mariachi, as there are no horns or violins.

I would appreciate you pointing me in the right direction!

Living in Seizure World

Dear Viejito Gabacho: Since when has a harp not been “conventional”?

I found your album on eBay, but no way am I spending $35 on it. I did look at the tracks, however, and the mix of Mexican classics and the songs you mentioned peg Los Pinguinos’ style as trio. Oh, and there’s the whole thing of YouTube having tracks of Los Pinguinos—you do know about YouTube, right?

The next time you have a question for the Mexican, make it a true head-scratcher, like what happened to los 43 de Ayotzinapa or why Mexicans root for Chivas when a fourth-division German team would send them to la chingada.

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Dear Mexican: I recently took a DNA test to find out about my genetic heritage. It turns out that my “Mexican” side (maternal side) may not really be Mexican at all: The DNA test has 100 percent matched me to Native Americans in what now straddles the U.S. Southwest and Northern Mexico, with no traces of European ancestry. My mother’s ancestry clearly traces back beyond than the political existence of both the U.S. and Mexico.

The same test on my mother and her close relatives would reveal the same results, but everyone on that side of the family insists they are Mexican. (In fact, some of that familia would vehemently deny any indigenous ancestry, despite irrefutable scientific evidence … like a weird Mexican DNA version of the O.J. Simpson trial.)

What is the “Mexican race,” if there is such a thing? I understand Mexican history was at times bloody and oppressive, which is why any connection to an indigenous past was probably whitewashed away by my ancestors or someone else. At this point, there’s no way of finding out any specific details of an indigenous ancestry, so I’m just left with my family’s DNA.

So what’s a confused Mexican … Chicano … Hispanic … Latino to do? Technology has opened my eyes to a part of my heritage that I don’t really know how to process. Am I still Mexican? Am I Native American? What’s going on here?

Damn Nerd Assholes

Dear DNA: We have a saying in Mexican Spanish—“Tiene un nopal en la frente,” translated as, “He has a cactus on his forehead”—which is used to mock people who say they’re not Mexican, but totally are. That’s how a lot of Mexicans are when it comes to certain parts of their ancestry—we practice the opposite of the Cherokee princess blood myth claimed by so many gabachos. You have prietos who can’t grow facial hair, yet they insist they’re pure Castilian; grandmothers with kinky hair and broad noses who won’t entertain the thought that the familia tree has negrito roots; mothers who light candles every Friday night, because that’s how their great-grandmother taught them, and no way on Earth does that mean that her Mama Pacha was carrying on the traditions of Sephardic ancestors. Best of all are the armchair Aztecs who decry everything European, yet can sprout a beard as epic as that of that loco redhead Tormund Giantsbane on Game of Thrones.

In your family’s case, they seem to fall in the first example—a denial of indio roots. I’d remind them being Mexican is more of a state of mind than it is a race. (That’s why people like awesome actress Lupita Nyong’o and comedian Louis C.K. can claim they’re Mexican, but don’t, while a gabacho like Rick Bayless can pass himself off as the greatest cook of Mexican food on the planet.) However, being Mexican is fully anchored in the realities of pozole—that is, Mexico is its own spicy melting pot, with the indigenous part being the caldo of it all, and not some stray strand of repollo.

Let your family try to run away from their Native American blood all they want; the physiological Cortés called diabetes will catch up with them in the end.

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Dear Mexican: I’m curious about the meaning of the term “Viva la Raza” that I have often heard expressed by my friends and family. I know what it translates to, but I don’t know why we say it.

I happen to be what some call a “half-breed,” and therein lies my dilemma. “Viva La Raza” implies that the person who says this is of a certain “race.” My mother’s family is from the state of Georgia and of French, Scottish and English descent, whereas my father’s family hails from New Mexico and has been in the northern part of that great state since 1627; if you count my indio ancestors (who are undoubtedly in my lineage; after all, my grandmother is short and brown), my family was in the Santa Fe area prior to European settlement in the Americas. This makes me and my father's people mestizos.

In addition, my family may also be Jewish. It has come to light that many of the old Hispanic families of Northern New Mexico are descendants of the “hidden” Sephardim Jews that pretended to be Catholic and moved to the New World in order to escape the Spanish Inquisition. In addition, aren’t most Hispanos (who hail from north of the border) and Mexicans (from south of the border) mestizos, and didn’t most of the Indians get killed by the Spaniards and Anglos? If so, “raza” or “race” seems to be artificial and really doesn’t mean anything.

Furthermore, this is true the world over with all of the so-called “races.” It seems to me that we are all half-breeds, mestizo, metis, mulattos or what ever you want to call us. It is my understanding that the human race is the only race, and that we all came “out of Africa.”

With this in mind, perhaps we should do away with “Viva la Raza” and come up with something new … like “Viva la Herencia!” or “Viva la Gente!”


Dear Wab: So many questions, so little time! I’ll concentrate on the viva part, since the rest of your pregunta rumbles along like a Big Jim chile in a gabacho’s panza.

No one is going to rally under slogans that translate as “Long live the heritage!” or “Up with people!”—they’re too fresa. And while I’m with you on the whole chinga tu madre toward racial classifications, “Viva la Raza” will never be dropped, nor should it. It ties anyone who says it back to the Chicano Movement, from which the term originated. (The earliest citation I can find was in a 1966 Los Angeles Times article that quoted legendary activist Bert Corona as exclaiming during a fundraising dinner in L.A: “Viva la causa; viva la raza; y viva la unidad—“Long live the cause; long live la raza; and long live unity.”)

The raza part connects the slogan to the idea of la raza cósmica—the Cosmic Race, the idea put forth by José Vasconcelos of a day when humanity trumps the antiquated razas of the Enlightenment. The viva part is a direct descendent of the Grito de Dolores, the proclamation issued by Miguel Hidalgo ushering in Mexico’s War of Independence.

It might seem strange to have non-Mexis shout “Viva la Raza!” in this egalitarian society, but Mexicans don’t find it racist or exclusionary, because it isn’t—after all, we all have enough female cousins who have married gabachos and bedded enough gabachitas to make us like y’all enough.


Some of ustedes have sent me reports stating that Americans are no longer the fattest people in the world; Mexicans are.

My reaction: Who says Mexicans don’t assimilate?

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Dear Mexican: Although I’m familiar with your column, I don’t read it regularly. But today, I was struck by something you said in a recent column about how Mexicans can make Americans like Mexicans. So I quote: “We called ourselves Spanish; we considered ourselves white.”

I’m Mexican, and I consider myself “white” because I’m not black or red or Asian. I understand what I’m made of. People from Spain are Caucasian. But in the U.S., educators don’t teach you anything about Spain. They downplay Spain’s impact on this country. Test questions in school always emphasized that the Spanish came here for “glory and gold,” not to settle this land.

So I took 15 trips to Spain over a period of 20 years to explore. I’ve written and researched for years to learn who the Spanish really are. And I am here to tell you that I am proud to have a drop of Spanish blood! Do you know where to find the towns of Laredo, Reynosa and Durango? Not only in Mexico, but in the Basque region of Spain! Yes. The conquistadores named New Spain areas after towns in Spain! So even if we are one-quarter Spanish, we are members of the white race.

The Anglo Americans have succeeded in many ways of shaming Mexicans about their heritage and their ancestry. But I am very proud of being Mexican. I know who we are, and I know who I am. The blood in my veins is Indian and Spanish; we are Caucasian as well. If we can’t call ourselves white, why can others? Why is it that my friends from Iran, Egypt and Albania check off “white” when faced with a U.S. application or legal form? How do these groups end up being “white,” and Mexicans don’t? Why is it that even a mulatto calls himself “white” now? So please don’t be so eager to dismiss us as non-white!

Dear Brownie: You don’t regularly read my column? ¡No manches!

I have no problem with Mexicans being proud of their Spanish ancestry as long as they don’t ignore their nopal en la frente, just like I don’t mind Mexicans to be proud of their indigenous blood as long as they don’t try to pass themselves off as the pure-blooded heir of Cuauhtémoc. But news flash, chula: Mexicans no son white. Nor are Spaniards.

“White” is a construct, not a race. And the only legitimate Caucasians come from the Caucasus, ancestral home of the Boston Marathon bombers. (Quick aside for Mexicans: Don’t the Tsarnaev brothers look like at least one of your cousins, just like Saddam Hussein looks like everyone’s tío?) Finally, do better research—Laredo and Reinosa are in Cantabria, which is about as Basque as you are white.

As a student of history, I believe that Mexicans should be more attuned to speaking English. The Spanish did nothing but enslave and subjugate everybody on this continent. Speaking their language only gives them credit they don’t deserve.

For all the faults of the U.S.A. (and there are many, as you know), at least speaking and writing English can open some doors and give you a chance in life. Every immigrant group that ever came over on a boat or crossed the border has had it tough in this country. The ones who couldn’t speak fluent English naturally had it tougher.

So, as a certified advice columnist, whether or not you’re really an hombre or not, you should be advising everyone to at least sign up for the program here. If they don’t like what’s happening, they can always swear at their boss in Spanish, and he or she will never know the difference. But ask for a big, fat raise in English.

Dear Gabacho: I’m not certified by any organization I’m aware of besides the National Organization for DESMADRE, but I won’t pass along your advice to my readers. Repeating your consejo to them is like me telling Mexicans they should use salsa to spice up their food—they’d laugh me back to Cantabria.

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Published in Ask a Mexican