My mother is from a very superstitious community of forest-dwelling indios in the state of Guerrero. It seems that every time someone in her family has a newborn, she asks, “¿Le distes ojo?” (Did you give them the eye?) I’ve asked my criollo father about this, and he doesn’t have a clue. When I ask my mother, she always changes the subject or tells me it’s nothing. Is this some kind of clandestine indigenous ritual that I’m unaware of? Is it possible that it’s been practiced on me and I’m unaware of it? ¡Ayuda, por favor!—Confused Mestizo
Dear Wab: The only widespread Mexican superstitions I’m aware of involving eyes are the evil eye and the talisman that protects people from it: the ojo de venado. The former is a universal curse and better known among gabachos as the Italian mal occhio; ojo de venado translates as a deer’s eye but is really a charm made from a bean. Your mom probably asked if the newborn has an ojo de venado to protect it from the mal ojo — then again, she might just be a witch. Find out by placing a crucifix on her forehead. If she slaps you for the transgression, say you’re just doing a blessin’; if she screams in agony, aren’t you glad you know the truth?
Dear Mexican: What do you think would happen if U.S. citizens could as easily buy land and set up businesses in Mexico as Mexicans can do in the U.S.? Might that be a big boost to the Mexican economy? I know there are provisions in the Mexican Constitution that prevent this, but what is the rationale? Who benefits from this?—Love Mexico
Dear Gabacho: One of the largest sections in the Mexican Constitution (yes, gabachos: Mexicans have one. We’re not ruled by superstition anymore, at least not since 1988) is Article 27, which deals with land — who can own, what can said owner do with it, and 18 other provisions. The one you hint at is Provision I, which states, “Only Mexicans by birth or naturalization and Mexican companies have the right to acquire ownership of lands, waters and their appurtenances.” Foreign-born folks can buy property, “provided they agree before the Ministry of Foreign Relations to consider themselves nationals in respect to such property, and bind themselves not to invoke the protection of their governments in matters relating thereto.” But they can’t, under any circumstances, purchase lands “within a zone of 100 kilometers along the frontiers and of 50 kilometers along the shores of the country.”
The motivation behind such restrictions is the same that makes Know Nothings want to erect a fence between the United States and Mexico: national sovereignty. In Mexico’s case, special circumstances inspire the undue xenophobia. Previous friendliness toward visiting foreigners led to the downfall of Tenochtitlán, inspired Texans to secede, provoked the Mexican-American War and sparked the Mexican Revolution. I’m not excusing such isolationism at all — as I’ve stated before in this column, Mexico was at its strongest when it had a more liberal immigration policy — but hopefully you and your fellow gabacho invaders now have a better understanding of why Mexicans freak whenever ustedes ask for a little bit more, whether chips for your meal or half of our territory.
Is there a polite way to ask a Mexican about his or her immigration status? The question is actually unavoidable in my professional life, but it seems to come up socially as well. I’d like to make it as painless as possible for both parties.—Benevolent Border BabeDear Gabacha: Yell, “¡LA MIGRA!” If they stay, they’re okay; if they run, time for fun!
¡ASK A MEXICAN CONTEST! Want a free autographed copy of my new paperback book? Write a 25-word essay arguing why corn tortillas are better than flour, or vice versa. E-mail entries to email@example.com. One winner per newspaper that carries the Mexican, so please specify the paper in which you read your favorite wab.