Dear Readers: The Mexican is currently dealing with deportation issues but will return next week once he builds his 15-foot escalera to climb over that pesky 14-foot wall. In the meanwhile, here are some oldies-but-goodies.
Dear Mexican: It seems that whenever Chicano professors want to show off their mexicanidad, they wear a guayabera. You go to a café or bar in any university town in Mexico, and the students will think you're totally naco. I stopped wearing the guayabera when a friend said I looked like a waiter in a Mexican restaurant. Do certain clothes determine your Mexicanness? Sexy Mexy
Dear Wab: Abso-pinche-lutely. Mexican clothes correspond to social and economic status — sweaty T-shirt indicates laborer, calf-length skirt means a proper Mexican woman, and if a cobbler used the hide of an endangered reptile to fashion your cowboy boots, you're probably a drug dealer or a Texan. The guayabera (a loose-fitting, pleated shirt common in tropical regions of Latin America) also announces something about its owner: The güey is feeling hot and wants to look sharp. Who cares if Mexican university students call me, you or any guayabera wearer a naco (Mexico City slang for bumpkin)? They can't be that smart if they're still in Mexico.
Why do Mexicans call people with curly hair chinos? Most chinos I know have very straight, hard-to-curl hair. China Confundida
Dear Confused Chinita: Chino is one of the more fascinating homographs (words with the same spelling but different meanings) in Spanish. Its Old World meaning specifically refers to a person of Chinese descent, but in his Dictionary of Latin American Racial and Ethnic Terminology, Rutgers linguist Thomas M. Stephens documents how chino assumed different connotations once the conquistadors pillaged the Americas. Some of its more peculiar Latin American definitions include "female servant," "slave from Mozambique," "concubine," "young Indian female who served in a convent" and, yes, "curly-haired." Chino also was the category in the Spanish Empire's Byzantine castas (caste) system designated for the offspring of parents with varying degrees of African and Amerindian blood.
It doesn't take a Ph.-pinche-D. to identify the common threads in chino's various meanings: African blood and servitude. Many blacks, of course, have naturally kinky hair, so at some point over the centuries, chino became an ethnicon for both "black person" and "curly." The proper Spanish word for "curly," by the way, is rizado.