Why do Mexicans call people with curly hair chinos?

Dear Mexican,

Why do Mexicans call people with curly hair chinos? Most chinos I know have very straight, hard-to-curl hair.

China Confundida

Dear Confused Chinita,

Chino is one of the more fascinating homographs (words with the same spelling but different meanings) in Spanish. Its Old World meaning specifically refers to a person of Chinese descent, but in his Dictionary of Latin American Racial and Ethnic Terminology, Rutgers linguist Thomas M. Stephens documents how chino assumed different connotations once the conquistadors pillaged the Americas -- and none of those connotations were positive. Stephens's book devotes an incredible seven pages to chino; some of its more peculiar Latin American definitions include "female servant," "slave from Mozambique," "concubine," "young Indian female who served in a convent" and, yes, "curly-haired." Stephens's only sin is that he doesn't explain why chino took on so many non-Chinese connotations, and he offers no insight into the chino-curly connection.

But it doesn't take a Ph-pinche-D to identify the common threads in chino's various meanings: African blood and servitude. Many blacks, of course, have naturally kinky hair, so at some point over the centuries, chino became an ethnicon (a term meant to comment on an ethnic group's prominent cultural characteristic that become popular shorthand for said characteristic) for both "black person" and "curly." Mexicans then went on to drop the black denotation and kept the curly connection. The proper Spanish word for "curly," by the way, is rizado.

Dear Mexican,

It's hard out here for a brotha! First, we had to deal with those pieces of shit called the K.K.K. and their supporters. Now we have to deal with the freakin' Mexican invasion. Now I see why whites fretted over seeing their neighborhoods turn dark when Cleophus and LaKeisha moved in. Now we're being overrun by Pedro and Maria and their carloads of kids and assorted la familia members. If you cruise the Dallas neighborhoods of Oak Cliff and South Dallas, you see greasy taco stands where there used to be a greasy catfish or fried chicken place. We're being pushed to the suburbs, dude.

Chitlins Ain't Menudo

Dear Negrito,

Why should Mexicans deviate from history? The American ethnic experience hews to a rigid trajectory that goes like this: Immigrants settle in the bad part of town because gabachos won't tolerate minorities near their homes. Said immigrants revitalize undesirable neighborhoods. The barrio/ghetto/'hood is born. It flourishes for a generation. Gabachos visit solely for hole-in-the-wall restaurants, prostitutes, drugs, gambling and cockfights. The immigrants sweat through life in order to get their children into college, only to see the kids repudiate their wabby parents and move to the suburbs. A new wave of immigrants living eight to a couch settle in the old neighborhood. The remaining pioneer immigrants despise the newbies for replacing the businesses, languages and culture of their once-familiar streets but can't stop the change. The old generation dies. The new immigrants prosper. And the circle of life begins again. So get over your lost catfish stands, and join Cleophus and LaKeisha in scaring the gabachos out of the suburbs and back into their hipster downtowns. But don't get too settled in: in a couple of years, Mexicans will relocate to your suburban 'hood to get away from the Guatemalans who are destroying our quaint barrios as we speak. garellano@ocweekly.com

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