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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Dear Mexican: My parents were born in Mexico. I was born in Dallas, Texas. This makes me a first-generation American, right?

So, if my best friend’s dad was born in Mexico, and her mother is a Chicana born in the United States, does this make her a first-generation American or a second-generation American?

Just Curious

Dear Pocha: In the eyes of the current attorney general, both you and your friend are Mexicans. ¡Trucha!

Dear Mexican: When do you think Baja California and other locations in the madre-land with lots of American expatriates will become U.S. territories, or better yet, states? I would be very eager to live in a beautiful coastal area surrounded by people with nice cars and the world’s most powerful military to back them up. I think the Mexicans would, too.

Americano-Mexicano

Dear Gabacho: Be careful what you wish for. If the United States and Mexico ever went to war, snowbirds like yourself would be the first people targeted by Mexicans. Don’t believe me? Ask the Chinese during the Mexican Revolution. You’d better make plans to move to Costa Rica, Nicaragua or whatever other Latin American country gabacho retirees like to set up colonies in nowadays where they refuse to learn Spanish besides “gringo,” “cerveza” and “Soy americano.”

Dear Mexican: Why do Mexican women, who are basically good drivers, turn into morons when they turn into the Walmart parking lot?

Also, here in New Mexico, you get the guys who sneer at you, pull into traffic in front of you at the last possible second, and then slow down to 15 miles an hour. I’ve never seen this anywhere else. Are they Mexicans or just those “I am Espanish!” assholes showing off their inferiority complex?

Califa Motorhead

Dear Pocho: With all due respect, EVERYONE turns into a moron at the Walmart parking lot—hell, at Walmart, period. However, I surprised while researching your pregunta when I learned how relatively few Mexis shop there.

A 2014 study by Kantar Retail found only about 10 percent of Walmart shoppers were Latinos (read: mostly Mexican), with raza preferring Dollar General and Family Dollar stores, by far. I guess it makes sense: Mexicans prefer swap meets and yard sales when looking for low prices.

But the stats are incomplete: In a graphic, Kantar excluded New Mexico. They gave no reason, but I know the answer, which also answers your queja about slow-driving men: The Land of Enchantment is where all preconceived notions about Mexicans go to claim they’re pure-blooded Spaniards going back to Cabeza de Vaca—but definitely not related to Estevanico!

Dear Mexican: What is the deal with Mexicans and their fear of U.S. banks? A recent home invasion netted robbers $2,000 that the Mexicans who lived there were using for their next house payment. When I mentioned this to a Mexicana friend, she told me she was once robbed of the $15,000 she was keeping at her apartment for a house payment. Doesn’t word reach the wabs from their relatives in El Norte that U.S. bank accounts are insured to $100,000?

Huero in the Barrio

Dear Gabacho: Ask Washington Mutual.

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Published in Ask a Mexican

Dear Mexican: What’s up with pochos and their disrespect for their origins?

I’m a Mexican who was born and raised in Mexico, a proud chilango, and, well, I gotta know: Why do pochos, or Mexican Americans or whatever, try to make our reputation as bad as possible by acting all like gangsters, drug dealers and lazy, ignorant, people? I mean, no kidding: They represent Mexican culture in the U.S.A., and, well, it doesn’t give us real Mexicans a good image, especially the working ones. I mean, I’m not poor, but I was born poor, and my best example is my dad, who busted his butt off, working for us to get where we are. So, why do pochos depict us as low-rider drivers who do drive-bys, and lazy guys who are ignorant and know nothing? I mean, I got pushed back to eighth-grade again when I studied in the U.S. for a year, just because I came from Mexico. Their excuse was that our school system was different, so they did that. Anyways, I hope you can answer why pochos do that.

Mexico City Misfit

Dear Naco: Man, Mexicans have been fretting about the supposedly bad image Mexican Americans give them ever since Octavio Paz was railing against pachucos in The Labyrinth of Solitude. In “The Pachuco and Other Extremes,” he ripped apart Mexican-American youth as emblematic of a “sheer negative impulse, a tangle of contradictions, an enigma,” and accused them of “grotesque dandyism and anarchic behavior”—and if that doesn’t describe all the wannabe buchones who blast El Komander from their Escalades while driving to Culiacán, I don’t know what does.

Too regional a reference? How about all the Mexican soccer fans who continue to chant “Ehhhhhh … PU-TO” during matches despite FIFA fines and pleas from El Tri? You think Emiliano Zapata would approve of that mierda?

The years have taught me that the more “real” a Mexican says they are, the more pendejo they actually are—and, I mean, you just proved that.

Dear Mexican: I’m a dark Mexican with curly hair who spent my whole life defending my full-blooded Mexican-ness to people who insisted I was half-black. I married a black guy, because (aside from the fact that I fell in love with him), as I explained to my grandma, no Mexican guy ever gave me the time of day, while black guys did. So we have one child who is, as George Lopez says, “Chicano-Plus.”

Why is my family so fascinated with him? “Look at his curly hair!” I have curly hair! “Look at his beautiful skin?” We’re the same color! He looks just like me and not a bit like his black daddy. Same goes for another family member who also married a black guy! What gives with mixed babies and Mexicans? And why didn’t I get this kind of love growing up?

Hating on My Mixed Baby

Dear Pocha: Chill out—everyone’s freaking out about your baby because he’s obviously cute, and mixed babies are the most chulos. You didn’t get that love, en el other hand, because your family was in denial about ustedes’ Afro-Mexican roots. (Dark skin? Curly hair? There’s an African in that family árbol … or at least a Moor.) How to explain the contradiction? Easy: By marrying a black man, you’ve helped to pushed racial ambiguity and anxiety back into the chamber pot of pendejismo where it belongs, right next to Donald Trump and Mexican soccer fans who chant “Eh … PUTO!”

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: Why do Mexicans applaud first-generation Mexicans who assimilate completely, but criticize (and apply the term vendidos) to first-generation Mexican Americans for doing it? (And why is it that there is no real name for U.S. citizens in English, forcing us to use the name of the continent? Someone should translate estadounidenses.)

Take my case, for example. Both of my parents are Basques—don’t get them wrong, they are grateful; they really love Mexico and will proudly tell you they are 100 percent Mexican, because Mexico adopted them, but they also love their original culture and speak Euskera fluently. (Well, one speaks Euskara, the other Euskera; one is from Donostia, the other from Bilbao, so they spell a few words differently.) They play Mus almost every day, prepare typical Basque dishes (txipirones, txangurros, pil-pin and the infamous kalimotxo, which is a drink that is obtained by mixing red wine and cola, almost always in a 1:1 ratio), and partake in all sorts of Basque cultural activities.

I feel proud of that heritage and speak some Euskera (badly, but I can communicate), but I don’t feel Basque, and don’t feel the need to participate in any kind of Basque cultural activity. (I love to play Mus, not because it’s Basque, but because it’s a great game.) I feel Mexican—hence, the only cultural activities I participate in are Mexican activities. (Whatever that means; Mexico has but a few real national cultural activities. The different regions have different cultural activities, making the country very interesting and diverse.) Most Mexicans applaud my behavior, and obviously applaud any similar behavior of other sons and daughters of immigrants. The funny part is that they despise the same behavior when sons and daughters of Mexican immigrants do it in the U.S., calling then by any number of names. (I would say most of them can’t be published, but I can see that you don’t have any trouble publishing “risky” words in Spanish.) In fact, many Mexicans feel betrayed by them. Why is it that the same exact behavior is applauded and vilified?

By the way: My wife says that the irony of all is that I will probably have a son or a daughter who, when talking about his father and mother, will explain how he or she is very proud of his/her heritage of his/her Mexican parents, but he/she doesn’t feel Mexican and can’t understand why his/her father feels it is so important to speak fluent Spanish. I know my father will look me directly in my eyes and exclaim poetic justice.

The “Mus”-Loving Mexican With Basque Parents Who, According to His Wife, Will Probably Have an American Kid With Bad Spanish Abilities

Dear Pocho: The only reason I let you run on and on here is because of your Basque heritage, which I’ve always respected. And your question is so pinche confusing, it might as well be in Euskara, one of the few languages in the world with no relatives.

But this is what you’re saying: Mexicans in Mexico love it when the Mexican-born children of immigrants identify with their culture (like Mexican-Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o), applauding it as natural, but get mad when the same happens to the children of Mexican immigrants in the U.S.

Easy answer: Mexicans want everyone to be Mexican—except Cuban-American presidential candidates, of course.

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

Richard Rodriguez grew up with Mexican immigrant parents, “a scholarship boy in Sacramento.” His new book, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography (Viking, released Oct. 3), is dedicated to the Sisters of Mercy nuns who taught him to speak English.

Rodriguez’s autobiographical essay collections include Hunger of Memory; Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father, a finalist for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, and Brown: The Last Discovery of America.

“I’m not interested in writing a memoir to tell you what I did that year,” he says. “I’m interested always in writing a biography of my ideas, of how I came to think about those things.”

In Darling, Rodriguez examines his faith, particularly what it means that three of the world’s major religions were founded in the desert. At the same time, he ponders the state of American consciousness today, looking at Las Vegas, California and the U.S.-Mexican borderlands.

Jenny Shank recently spoke with Rodriguez; the interview has been edited and condensed.

One of the main themes of Darling is the idea that Christianity is “a desert religion,” as are Judaism and Islam. Can deserts today, especially those in the American West, contribute to one’s faith in these desert religions?

A lot of the things we think about the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God come out of the fact that the Israelites experienced a very specific ecology. The God who came to them was a desert God. One of the most important desert cities in the American West is Las Vegas. Las Vegas seems to represent a particular anxiety we feel in this landscape. This is not a landscape to which we feel immediately welcomed.

We have learned, in desert cities like Phoenix, to insist on the desert’s sky by denying the desert’s terrain. So we plant gardens that are not appropriate; we water the desert. In Las Vegas, there’s this fantasy, this architectural idea of the denial of the desert: If the desert is flat, you build these shapes into the sky; if the desert is by definition emptiness, then you can fill it with toys. You can fill it with the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower or with golf courses.

I find Death Valley to be one of the most beautiful environments in the world, but it is really scary to hike around Death Valley. What everyone says about the desert, “Well, there’s plenty of life in the desert,” is also true, but we have to say that while coating ourselves with sunblock. The desert threatens us.

I’ve never been to Las Vegas. I’ve been avoiding it.

I’m going to send you there! You have to go to Las Vegas. If you really love nature, you have to go there to see how frightened we are of nature; it’s one of the reasons we light up the night in Las Vegas. Nature is no easy thing to live with.

You discuss the contrast between Mexican “stoicism” and American “optimism” that plays into the conflict over our mutual border. Would an understanding of our countries’ differences in outlook ease tensions?

What Mexico knows is the suffering of life. It’s a culture based on that notion that to live is to suffer and to endure. Bravery is the virtue, not winning.

People come into the United States illegally because there’s no food for the family, or their mother needs an operation. There is a sense of obligation to other people. It’s very rare to find somebody just coming on his own. Mexicans come searching for an American dream that has exhausted itself in the American consciousness. You meet optimism coming across the border from the South, from a tragic culture, at the same time that the optimistic culture of America seems to be in a kind of dejection or despair. That’s the paradox of our border for me. The peasant is optimistic, and those who are guarding themselves against the peasant tend to be afraid. The collision between these two impulses is really strong.

No one is talking about the human drama playing out on the border, on that extraordinary landscape. At the very time when China has turned its wall into a tourist attraction, and the Chinese are everywhere in the world, America builds a wall against the future. That should tell you a great deal about how it is with us right now.

You write, “The traditional task of the writer in California has been to write about what it means to be human in a place advertised as paradise.” Is this a subject that has been important in your writing, as a Californian?

Oh, yes. In California, the sense of disappointment is very large around me, partly because the state changes so much. It’s rather like Colorado in that sense. I remember when the Front Range was emptier, without suburban development. If you’re past 30, you remember a completely different landscape.

There’s this sense of disappointment that California was never what it advertised itself to be. In the early 20th century, when Los Angeles real-estate interests began to advertise this ideal landscape and weather, people came out from New Jersey and Nebraska—and then it became so crowded that they ended up on a freeway that wasn’t moving.

But in some ways, I’m optimistic about California, because it’s filling with people who came here from a different direction—from the South, people for whom California is not the West, but El Norte. The West was always—as defined by people from the East Coast—an unraveling of history. You could find yourself alone in the West; you could be free of the confinements of the East by going West.

People who come to El Norte tend to go to cities, because that’s where the jobs are. They tend to see the landscape between the South and the North as continuous. People, on the other hand, who come to California from Asia are seeing California as the beginning, not the end. So they are without that pessimism that has defined us in California—people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge because there’s no farther to go; we have reached the end of America. Asians say this is where America begins.

How does the landscape in which a person lives affect his or her viewpoint?

For all of our talk about environmentalism, it’s amazing how little we talk about landscape and how it informs our imagination. When you and I talk of the West, there are millions of people in California for whom this is not the West. My mother used to call California “El Norte,” and I hated it because I wanted to live in California with cowboys. That was really glamorous. When she was talking about people coming to El Norte to get these jobs picking peaches, it wasn’t glamorous at all to me. They didn’t ride a horse, they were really poor and they spent their last bet on the ground.

Probably the most important consciousness of the West belongs to John Muir. Muir was from Scotland, and he describes California as the other side of the mountain. In some sense, that’s an East Coast vision of California. But, in fact, Muir came to California from the water as an Asian would—from the sea. He found in (the state) this beginning, but he also knew that it was limited. So he begins to sound this notion that we have to protect the land, because it’s finite. The environmental movement did not begin to talk about preserving America in the crowded brick cities of the East Coast. That begins in places like the forests of California, where people realize that in order to have it for another generation, you need to protect it. It’s the great gift of people like Muir to realize that there is a continent that comes to an end; there is a landscape of our imagination.

This article originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Literature