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Mexican Border Terminology



     U.S.-Mexican relations are extremely important and complex. This may be seen in the way the two groups of "Mexicans" refer to themselves and to each other. Jaqui White, who lives on the Rio Grande (Bravo) by the Gulf of Mexico and knows both countries well, writes:
     "You raise an interesting phonomenon. Since this area used to be Mexico, we are ninety-five per cent "Hispanic", Hispanic meaning a person of Mexican descent born in the United States. Thise Hispanics do not like to go to Mexico, since they are not treated particularly well by the Mexicans. The Mexicans feel that the Hispanics think that they are better than the Mexicans because they live in the United States. Obviously, after the Mexican-American War most of the Mexicans could not leave their homes, jobs, and lives and cross the river and begin life all over again, so they just remained where they had been for generations, which now was another country.Therefore, it seems very unfair that the Mexicans treat them with derision since it is not their fault that they have lived in the US all decades.
     Mexicans LOVE being Mexican, and have zero desire to be anything else. The men may come to this country in order to find work to support their families, and even bring their families with them, but they look forward to some day returning to Mexico, their tierra and patria. There are, of course, countless thousands of Hispanics who have been born here, either in Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona, or even further north, and therefore not only do not speak Spanish, but do not understand it. When these people go to Mexico, the people treat them with derision, becausethey think that they really CAN speak and understand, but are just being snobbish. It is very strange.
     I have friends (Hispanic) who were in the army for many years, stationed in Germany. Although they speak and understand Spanish, they are not fluent, since they have always spoken English at home. The people in the army referred to them as "coconuts" - brown on the outside, but white on the inside. They tell me that this was not derogatory, and was not meant to be - it just designated people from any brown nationality who grew up in the States, but did not know much of the culture nor language of their ethnic group.
     I , of course, who ADORE Mexico and everything about it do not like to hear these things. I am assured that the Mexicans are much nicer to me than they would be to the Hispanics. Incidentally, Mexicans in Mexico NEVER use the term hispanic, latino, etc. etc. to designate people of Mexican nationality born in the US. They ALWAYS refer to them as Mexicans, even though they may have been here for generations."
     My comment: Jaqui does not mention the word "chicano," which for Mexicans is a term of scorn, as it is for Americans who associate it with crime and zoot-suiters. For this reason I was surprised that the Stanford Report used it repeatedly in referring to Vice-Provost James Montoya.
     Perhaps usage varies from state to state. When I first came to Stanford, the head of the Romanic Languages Department was Aurelio Macedonio Espinosa, a "Hispanic" who came from a small village in the mountains on the Colorado-New Mexico border. I have told the remarkable story of the way he went to the University of Chicago and received his doctorate there. He despised the Mexicans and revered Spain. When the Spanish honor society held a dinner, the room was lit only by candles, and we swore eternal loyalty to Mother Spain. That was part of the reason I avoided ther expression "Latin American" and called the program I founded "Hispanic American" and brought in Spain. That was the only thing he liked about the program.
     As for "coconuts" do you remember the uproar from Mexican Americans when President Bush said he had "little brown grand-children? There is a similar complexity in the use of negro (nigger), colored, black, and African-American. Haitians are black, and Dominicans who do not wish to be confused with them call themselves "blancos de la tierra" (whites from the countrside). We had a part-black secretary from Haiti who described her family as "very Indian". Simon Bolivar, who was partly black, made a speech saying "I also am an Indian!"
     This all goes back to the colonial period when in Spanish America there was a complicated official hierarchy listing the degrees from (Peninsular) Spaniards, through Criollos (Spaniards born in the New World) through Indian down to Negro at the bottom. And we remember the protests which made Stanford abandon the Indian as its politically incorrect mascot. He was replaced by our present "Tree", a REDwood. Oh dear! I seem more trouble coming.

Ronald Hilton - 02/06/99


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