Why do pochos and chntaros hate each other?
The Mexican is currently inside a trunk trying to sneak back into the United States after the Christmas holiday. In the meanwhile, here are some oldies-but-goldies:
Why do my employees who are chntaros (Mexican immigrants) seem to have a distaste for my employees who are pochos (Mexicans born in the United States) and vice versa? Is there any truth to this perception, or is it all in my deluded Italian-American brain?
Damn Abruzzese Guinea business Owner
You discovered what the Democrats refuse to acknowledge and the Republicans strangely refuse to exploit -- the pocho-chntaro divide. Mexican immigrants ridicule their pocho cousins for losing their mexicanidad; Mexican-Americans hate chntaros because...well, they're Mexicans. But intra-ethnic hatred is not exclusively ours. Northern Italians spat on your swarthy forefathers, DAGO, when southern Italian immigration to the United States began in earnest at the turn of the 20th century. Similarly, the established Protestant Irish community of the mid-1800s brawled with the Catholic Irish (as aptly fictionalized in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York), while German Jews shunned their Eastern European juden brethren. The great thing about America is how quickly our tired, huddled masses become snarling, rabid immigrant haters -- right, Alberto Gonzlez?
A friend of mine calls Mexicans "wabs" but, being a menso, doesn't even know what it means -- except that it's not P.C. What's it mean?
"Wab" is a slur that assimilated Mexicans use to describe and deride recently arrived Mexicans. It can be used as a noun ("Refugio is such a wab"), a verb ("Look how that idiot Refugio wabbed up his truck with a bull sticker!") or even an adjective ("Refugio's mustache is so wabby"). The etymology of wab is unknown -- could be a mongrelization of either "wetback" or "wop."
But what's most fascinating about wab is that it seems to be a distinctly Orange County term. When I asked Oscar Garza, editor of the fine glossy Tu Ciudad Los Angeles, if he knew the word's meaning, Garza replied it "draws a blank." Freelance reporter Ben Quiones didn't know what a wab was either. And Lalo Alcaraz, the dean of Chicano comedy, thought it meant "white-ass bitch." Pinche racist pocho.
The final word on wab goes to Dr. Armin Schwegler, a professor in UC Irvine's Department of Spanish and Portuguese who specializes in dialectology and Spanish in the United States. He's taught at the school for 20 years and drops language trivia like some people default on their car payments -- did you know, for instance, that the area from Denver to the Pacific Coast is the largest dialect continuum in the world, meaning Western American English is one boring tongue? But Schwegler has never heard of wab. He's not surprised the epithet exists, though. "People always think naively that language is just for communication," the good doctor told the Mexican. "But language is so important because it's also an identifier. With wab, you can see this tied into the question of nationhood. It's rooted in social discrimination. You coin a word, and it circulates around."
So rejoice, Thesaurusaurus Mex! Wab is all ours! It can now join Barbara Coe; the Costa Mesa-based, Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review; and Ask a Mexican! in the Orange County section of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hate Watch.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.