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Dear Mexican:

For decades, I've heard Mexicanos refer to one another as güey. For example, the other day I overheard one Mexicano refer to his amigo as pinche güey, and the amigo responded, "Ay, güey." What's up with güey?

Cuss 'n' Hoots

Dear Mexican:

I would like to ask for translations of all the smutty street-Spanglish put-downs my courtly maestros de español wouldn't have dreamed of teaching me. Pendejo — I've long assumed it means "hanging one," as in, "can't get it up": a pansy, contemptible cake boy. Is that right? What does gabacho mean? What does cabrón mean? Something relating to a goat?

Pommie

Dear Pocho and Gabacha:

Welcome to the wonderful world of Mexican-Spanish swearing, where words assume different meanings according to placement but ultimately reference gonads. Güey is derived from the word büey, which is an ox, the word Mexicans use to call someone an ass — not a hooved ass but an ass ass. It's the Swiss Army knife of Mexican-Spanish cussing — we use it affectionately (No mames, güey! translates as "Don't suck dick, ass!" but actually means "Don't bullshit me, brother!"), in anger (Eres un pinche güey is "You're a fucking idiot") or as a boast (No me haces güey — "You won't make an ass out of me"). Pendejo and cabrón, meanwhile, are synonyms for "idiot," but their actual definitions are "pubic hair" and "castrated goat," respectively.

But Mexicans rarely use güey, pendejo or cabrón literally — instead, we forge them into some amazingly baroque insults. To wit: When a Mexican tells his friend, "Güey, no seas pendejo, cabrón," he's saying, "Man, don't be an idiot, jerk," but it literally translates as "Ass, don't be a pubic hair, ball-less goat." So much better than the English "stupid-ass fucking faggot," no? As for the meaning of gabacho, Pommie ... to paraphrase Louis Armstrong, if you gotta ask, you're one.

Dear Mexican:

As an Asian person, would I be considered a gabacho? Or do I fall into the yellow bucket labeled chinito, even though I'm not Chinese?

OC Asian

Dear Chino:

Just as Americans assume all Latinos are Mexican, Mexicans think all Asians are chinos — Chinese. When I used to go out with a Vietnamese woman, my aunts would speak highly of mi chinita bonita — my cute little Chinese ruca. When I'd point out that she was actually Vietnamese, mis tías would think about it for a bit and respond, "Que chinita bonita."

But just because a Mexican calls you a chino doesn't necessarily mean we think you're Chinese. Chino, like so many of our swear words, has multiple negative meanings. In the colonial days, a chino was the offspring of a half-Indian, half-black and an Indian. This association with race also transformed chino into a synonym for "servant" and "curly." The term barrio chino (Chinatown) also became a euphemism for a town's red-light district. And a popular schoolyard refrain that all Mexican kiddies eventually chant at their Asian classmates is Chino, chino, japones: come caca y no me des ("Chinese, Chinese, Japanese: eat shit and don't give me any").

So why the Mexican chino-hate? After all, Chinese were the Mexicans of the world before there even was a Mexico, migrating to Latin America a couple of decades after the fall of Tenochtitlán. And our most famous native dress, the billowy, colorful costume worn by baile folklórico dancers known as a china poblana, was supposedly first worn by a 17th-century Mexican-Chinese woman. Bigotry is bigotry, though, and because Mexico's Asian population is still small and overwhelmingly Chinese, we lump Asians into the chino category — makes the racism easier, you know? Got a spicy question about Mexicans? Ask the Mexican at mexican@pitch.com. And those of you who do submit questions: Include a hilarious pseudonym, por favor, or we'll make one up for you!

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