You can’t win family battles over speaking espanol
What’s the story behind prieto and moreno?
Dear Mexican: My cousin had put a picture on Facebook that said, “I will not be forced to learn a foreign language to accommodate illegals in my country.” He's Mexican-American. Our family is from La Luz, Zacatecas, and its surrounding villages. His dad (my uncle) was born here in El Paso, Texas. His mom jumped in the conversation and backed him up. His parents are divorced. How do I politely tell them they are wrong with their way of thinking?
Prepared to Punch a Pinche Pocho Primo
Dear Wab: Sorry, cabrón, but you’re just not going to win this battle. As much as I and other Chicano yaktivists would love it that everyone of Mexican descent in this country were a card-carrying member of the Reconquista complete with Nahuatl names and a Frida-filled house, that’s just not going to happen. As I’ve explained muchos times before, the great thing about this country is how it can turn the descendents of even the biggest wab into an anti-immigrant loon by the second generation (see: Marco Rubio) and even by the first (see: my parents). The best you can tell your cousin is remind him that your grandparents came to this country to find a better life, not to talk trash on those less fortunate than them—but, again, it’s a losing battle that goes contrary to the American immigrant experience, which sees the previous generation of immigrants spit on newcomers as if they were a spittoon. So can I suggest something revolutionary, instead? Leave your primo to his opinions. Let him be a prieto Know Nothing. You be the conscious cousin, and let him be the pocho one—trust me, you’ll get all the hot second cousins at the family pachangas, while he’ll be condemned to be the Tio Taco of El Paso.
You explain the etymology of words so well! Please enlighten your readers with the explanation of the word prieto, as opposed to moreno.
La Que le Gustan los Morenos
Dear She Who Likes Brown-Skinned Men: Prieto is derived from apretar (“press”), from the Late Latin appector?re (“to press against one’s chest”), but in Mexico it denotes a dark hue, one veering on blackness. Moreno, on the other hand, comes from moro, the Spanish word for Moor, and usually signifies a dark brown—you know, like a Moor! (How we got prieto to mean “blackish” from its pressing roots escapes me). But these are general definitions, as their meaning shifts across the color prism depending on who’s talking and what century. In the present day, prieto is usually reserved as a term for parents to describe their darkest-skinned kid, a description as injurious to a young soul as calling them “tubby” or “Newt Gingrich.”
CONFIDENTIAL TO: Vickie Carr. I’ve received autographed books by legendary playwright David Mamet, was able to interview Louie Perez and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos in front of a live audience in Oakland, have had Cheech Marin enthusiastically shake my hand and proclaim himself a fan—the celebrity readers of this columna and their generosity toward me knows no bounds. But to get an autographed glossy photo of you thanking me for my work? You’ve made this hombre blush enough to last the year.