Ask a Mexican

Mexicans are a shady bunch when it comes to race.

Dear Mexican: I am a mocha-skinned woman with long, curly hair and dark-brown eyes. Puerto Ricans always ask if I am Puerto Rican, Dominicans just come and start speaking Spanish, Cubans ask if my abuelita made good arroz con leche, but Mexicans know I'm black. What gives?

—La Morena

Dear Negrita: The countries you mentioned (along with other Latin American países) have significant Afro-Latino communities of various gradations of skin tone and a general acceptance of said people. Mexico, however, likes to pretend that our Afro-Mexicans are limited to Veracruz and Guerrero. But because our population of negritos is tiny compared with other Latin American countries, and because skin tone continues to matter in Mexico, Mexicans can never just accept a black person as just a person—they identify them by different synonyms for "black," whether moreno (from moro, or Moor), prieto, (from apretar, to tighten), azabache (black amber, from Arabic) and the good ol' diminutive negrito—or negrita, in your case. But as I've argued before, this isn't a type of racism on the level of how Americans treated African-Americans in the Jim Crow days. For one, we didn't systematically lynch our negritos—that would've been the Chinese during the Mexican Revolution.

My husband is a Chicano, and his parents are from Mexico. Why do Mexicans eat tortillas with every meal? My husband eats it with anything you put in front of him. I also noticed he uses his tortilla as an eating utensil. Do Mexicans purposely teach their children to not use forks and spoons? Do all Mexicans use tortillas as little shovels?

—The Tortilla Shoveler's Wife

Dear Gabacha: I'll wax more poetic about tortillas in my coming book about the history of Mexican food in the United States (out May 2012), but the short answer is simple: Cucharas y tenedores are fine, but few pleasures are better than tearing off a piece of a tortilla, grasping it with your fingers, and using it to shovel down food. Tortillas have been part of Mexican culture for thousands of years. They're nutritious, utilitarian and don't need washing. Only Jesus is more perfect—and why do you think He likes to show His face on tortillas?

GOOD MEXICAN OF THE WEEK: More like a town. Consider the following letter:

Last fall, Flagstaff's Museum of Northern Arizona hosted the seventh annual Celebraciones de la Gente, partnering with the local organization Nuestras Raíces, which is based around the historic Hispanic families of Flagstaff. The weekend focused on the celebration of Día de los Muertos, but included music, dance, art, and even formal presentations. I particularly enjoyed the ofrendas set up around the museum courtyard by Flagstaff families. These were attended by family members (often three generations) who answered questions and told their family histories—a wonderful opportunity to learn some history and culture not from professors or books, but from our neighbors.

So...a shout-out to our Museum of Northern Arizona, and only somewhat less directly to our little town of Flagstaff. It ain't utopia here, but we're really doing pretty well as a pocket of sanity in a state sporting the meanest gun-slinging sheriff in America, a governor dumber than Palin and a state legislature bent on taking us down the road to madness.

—One Old Straight White Man that Still Thinks We're all in This Together

Dear Gabacho: Gracias for the reminder that sane people do live in Arizona. I would also add that the Flagstaff City Council voted to oppose SB 1070. Book a vacation up there, folks, and people who are interested in the Museum of Northern Arizona can visit them online at

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano

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