Ask a Mexican: Breaking the Crypto-Mexican Code
Dear Mexican: I recently received the biography of Rolling Stones bassist Ronnie Woods. While reading about his friendship with Jimi Hendrix, Ronnie described him 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 anothermentiraoriginated by Mexicans, like Anthony Quinn’s supposedly real last name being Quintana?
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 and mainstream American newspapers to even the bloody BBC. But don’t believe what you find on the Internet — it’s only good for dailyrotten.com and 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” as a child and was ridiculed for 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 such royalty). In fact, the only crypto-Mexican that’s ever panned out is also the most unlikely — Ted Williams. Yep, America: Teddy Ballgame’s mami was May Veznor 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 Mary and you are having the wrong discussion. Even the dumbest gabacho knows gringo is a pejorative Mexicans use against Americans, one nowadays so harmless 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 through 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 and our women to even our slurs for ustedes. Besides, etymologists can date 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); 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 be up on their Rolodex of Racism.
Ask the Mexican at email@example.com, myspace.com/ocwab, or write to him via snail mail at: Gustavo Arellano, P.O. Box 1433, Anaheim, Calif. 92815-1433!
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