Dear Gabacho: Relying on James Michener for history is like relying on Mexico to stop illegal immigration. So, readers: Gringo Solo’s assertions about lowrider tattoos, embarrassed family members and feral dogs are nothing more than damned lies; every other wild detail is true. And Solo forgot to mention Mexico’s other fetishized chopped-off body parts: Pancho Villa’s missing skull, the severed head of patriot Miguel Hidalgo, Emiliano Zapata’s mustache and the pickled remains of Mexico’s first president, Guadalupe Victoria.
Mexicans do obsess about the body parts of dead people, but that phenomenon is better understood when placed in the context of two mexcellente traits: the Catholic tradition of relics and megalomania. “The use of messianic imagery [in celebrating chopped-off body parts] was significant on two levels,” Columbia University professor Claudio Lomnitz wrote in his essay “Passion and Banality in Mexican History: The Presidential Persona.” “It was a way of identifying the presidential body with the land, and it cast the people as being collectively in debt to the caudillo for his sacrifices.” Lomnitz concludes that passage rather wryly: “Sovereignty, that ideal location where all Mexicans are created equal, has been a place that only the dead can inhabit, which is why we sometimes fight over their remains.” And ain’t that the pinche truth.
Dear Mexican: I recently learned the meaning of guero, which until that point I only knew as a Beck album. I started calling some of my whitish Mexican friends guero/a, and they seemed displeased. Is the term offensive? —The Korean, Employer of Mexicans, Therefore Partners in Crime
Dear Chinito: Not really. Guero technically means “blond” in Mexican Spanish, but it also refers to a light-skinned person and, by association, gabachos. All Mexicans want to be guero; anyone who claims otherwise does it in the face of the country’s topsy-turvy racial history, where white made might and prietos (dark-skinned folks) were little better than Guatemalans. The most twisted part about guero, however, is that it was originally a slur. Sebastian de Covarrubias Horozco’s 1611 Tesoro de la Lengua Castellana o Española (Treasury of the Castilian or Spanish Language) defined it as a “rotten egg” and added that Spaniards used it to describe a family’s sickly, pale child. Guero, in turn, comes from the medieval Spanish guerar, which describes when a chicken goes broody.
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