Belated April Fool's! So many of you fell for my phony farewell column last week (don't any of you know that the feast day of St. Melito falls on April 1?) that I'm tempted to call it quits just to bask in your love and hate anew. But I don't want to be another welfare wab.
Why are indigenous peoples from north of the Rio Grande called redskins and those from south of it called brown-skinned?
El Hijo del Paleface
"Redskin" dates back to the 16th century, but its etymology is still being debated. The idea of Mexicans as brown, on the other hand, is más fácil to trace. In the early 1900s, Mexican intellectuals (yes, they do exist) began referring to Mexicans as a "raza de bronce" (bronze race) to highlight the historically maligned indigenous contribution to the nation's gene pool. The bronze metaphor was simple but genius — bronze is a strong copper alloy with a golden-brown shine not unlike the skin color of millions of Mexicans. Secretary of Public Education José Vasconcelos expanded on this concept further with his 1925 essay "La Raza Cósmica" ("The Cosmic Race"), which posited Mexico's race-mixing of whites, blacks, Indians and Asians as a natural, desirable evolution for mankind. Chicano activists during the 1960s appropriated the raza cósmica theory and declared themselves a "bronze" people. The Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, a 1969 manifesto unveiled during the First National Chicano Liberation Youth Conference in Denver and later incorporated by the student group M.E.Ch.A., contains many references to bronze — but none to Mexicans as brown.
So where does brown fit into this racialist equation? Refry this: Because the United States historically classified its coloreds by prism rather than by their souls, and given that the Chicano movement arose during an era of racial pride, it was inevitable that Mexicans in the United States begin referring to themselves as "brown" to differentiate from blacks, whites, yellows and reds. The brown moniker is applicable only in the United States, however. When people want to describe themselves as brown-toned in Mexico, they use the word moreno, derived from moro (Moor, otherwise known as the Arabs who conquered Spain). Call yourself "brown" south of the border, and the people around you will probably give you a cup of joe.
I was recently in a small Mexican grocery store in central Wisconsin, and I noticed a couple of spinner racks filled with Mexican music CDs. Without exception, the cover art depicted some combination of the following: girls, cars, guns, liquor and cash. Since we seem to value much the same things both north and south of the border (girls, cars, guns, alcohol and cash), why can't we get along?
Wannabe Gangsta Mariachi
Mexicans in Wisconsin? I knew about the Milwaukee Brewers adding a chorizo to their legendary sausage races at Miller Park, but I figured that was a cheap pandering attempt. I agree that Mexicans and Americans are more alike than either side cares to admit — jingoism, sex obsessions mitigated by religion, and a fascination with dwarves are just the most obvious shared characteristics.
The Mexican now offers ustedes an online-only question every week through the powers of a pirated camcorder. Submit your video preguntas and responses to youtube.com/askamexicano, and find a link to the latest edition every week alongside my regular column at Pitch.com. Or, as always, submit your spicy questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.