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Home / Articles / Opinion / Ask a Mexican /  iAy, Caramba! & Beggars
Ask a Mexican

iAy, Caramba! & Beggars

By Gustavo Arellano
Posted // April 8,2009 -

Dear Mexican: For as long as I can remember, Mexicans were known for doing three things: Drinking lots of cerveza, having lots of niños, and saying “Ay, caramba!” I’ve never, ever personally heard a Mexican utter those famous two words. Is this an urban myth or what? —Armenian Andy

Dear Armo: Now, Ay, caramba! might not be as popular or as peculiarly Mexican a swear as, say, “pinche puto pendejo baboso,” “Cu-le-ro!” or the many epithets derived from the word mamá (mother), but Mexicans do say it—but nowadays not as often as gabachos would love to believe, Bart Simpson catchphrase notwithstanding. Caramba is a euphemism for carajo, which means “penis” and is a preferred curse word for those fey South Americans and Spaniards, and the bowdlerized Ay, caramba! roughly translates as “Darn it!” But how it became the most-cited Spanish minced oath in American literature (you can find citations in newspapers dating back to the 1850s) is an academic research paper waiting to be written, one the Mexican will theorize thusly: since caramba doubles for a vulgarity but was uttered much more frequently in genteel days, since it’s a printable expletive, and since gabachos have always wanted their documented Mexicans spicy and foul-mouthed, writers published the interjection as often as possible (an 1889 New York Sun story ridiculously quoted the Italian patriot Garibaldi as mouthing it) until it became a saying inextricably linked with Mexicans in the gabacho imagination.

I live in Houston and find it depressing to see beggars in the middle of most busy intersections. I’m equally irritated when I am accosted for change when I leave a drugstore. (I always fish the receipt out of the bag and call the store from the car to report the panhandler). Why is it I never see a homeless Mexican or a Mexican panhandler? (I haven’t noticed any Asian or Middle Eastern homeless or panhandlers, either). Is there a lesson in responsibility to be shared here? —Bring Back Warren Moon!

Dear Gabacho: Of course there are homeless Mexicans and panhandlers, and I’m sure more than a couple such chinitos and Mohammedans. But you’re correcto to question the seeming lack of Mexicans living on sidewalks or asking for your spare change.

The 2004 The Encyclopedia of Homelessness refers to this phenomenon as the “Latino paradox”: “Despite their socioeconomic position, Latinos are underrepresented among the homeless population in the United States,” writes contributor Gregory Acevedo. He noted researchers have frequently attributed such a contradiction to perceived cultural traits—you know, how Mexicans are all about la familia and comunidad, and that we don’t let raza fall so far down the socioeconomic scale like gabachos do to their own—but warns increased assimilation means Mexis will become more like gabachos—ergo, more Hispanic homeless.

Ask the Mexican at,, or write to him via snail mail at: Gustavo Arellano, P.O. Box 1433, Anaheim, CA 92815-1433!

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