Dear Mexican: I live in East Harlem, which over the past years has started to look much less boricua/plátano and much more mexicano—tamales have replaced pasteles, you hear "güey" more than "mi pana," and you can barely make out those smooth salsa bongos under the booming oompah of the ranchera music. So, my question: I've been to LA and Texas; the mexicanos and Chicanos around those parts are some bad hombres. Around here, though, I notice that our local mexicanos are as quiet and polite as, say, Indian computer scientists. They say "Please" and "Thank you," they never get loud in the train, and they're always on their way to work or coming home from work. What gives? Why aren't NY Chicanos as tough as their West Coast primos? And why are they making the (ahem) native Nuyoricans and Dominican-yols look bad?
PS: A bonus question (because I know you like your queries packed with questions like Volkswagens packed with gardeners): Who is más badass: a carnal with his khakis pulled up high, or a tíguere dominicano with his Jheri curl and plucked eyebrows?
—En la Gran Manzana
Dear In the Big Apple Gabacho: I've written often in this columna about New York City's unique Mexican makeup—read my book, and then read legendary food critic Robert Sietsema's New York in a Dozen Dishes, which tells in better detail the history I'm about to recap here. The quick summary, of course, is that the vast majority of mexicanos in NYC come from the states of Hidalgo and especially Puebla, estados de Mexico historically associated with nice, industrious raza. Even the second- and third-generation kids tend to be more polite than, say, the spawn of folks from Jalisco and Nuevo León, who dominate the Mexican culture of California and Texas, respectively, and are states renowned for machismo. Those poblanos put the rest of us Mexicans to shame with their upstanding character, their pioneering ways (let's see you try to hold on to your Mexican culture far away from the Southwest), and their gargantuan cemitas poblanas (reference Sietsema). Who's more badass than a Chicano or a Dominican wannabe? A poblano—or, better yet, a poblana.
In Southern California, a lot of the Mexican folks that gabachos like me bump into are from the working class. They are not intellectuals or top-notch professionals. Some of my friends think no such Mexicans exist! They don't realize that if our only encounters with Mexican immigrants are with the ubiquitous busboys, gardeners, roofers, housekeepers, janitors, and day laborers we frequently bump into, we are only seeing a certain slice of the whole pie. I tell them there are tons of highly educated and really smart Mexicans. But yet I don't know where to tell them to find such Mexicans. Not that there's anything wrong with the fine working people who help us out with so many aspects of our lives, but I'd like my friends to see the rest of the pie so they can get a more balanced view of the range of Mexicans that exist. Any suggestions for how gabachos can get exposed to Mexicans from higher socio-economic strata?
Dear Gabacho: Start with my alma mater, the UCLA Latino Alumni Association, then branch out to our dumber primos y primas over at the University of Southern California. Follow that with USC professor (and NOT dumb) Jody Agius Vallejo's excellent From Barrio to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class. End with the Latino suburbs of Whittier, Downey. And then blast the Morrissey, enjoy a bottle of Baja California craft beer (try Mamut), and enjoy!
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