The Critics Rave Again

For my last post of the year, I thought I would share some of my recent fan mail. In general, the people who comment on my articles here, or on the Huffington Post, are either supportive or respectfully disagree. But this is the internet, people. And as such, it is a motherlode of, shall we say, more spirited correspondence as well.


Recently, I have received emails telling me to go back to Mexico. My family is from El Salvador, actually, and I’ve been to Mexico just once (about thirty years ago, when I was a kid). But still, if those commentators are so insistent that I go, I am willing to accept their invitation, so long as they pay for the plane ticket to Cancun.

Also, I have been called a traitor to my race. I presume these comments are from my fellow Latinos who don’t like something I wrote, but because the offending passages are never referenced, I have no idea what constitutes the treasonous act. For all I know, it’s because I mentioned that I prefer Foo Fighters over Tito Puente, or admitted that I don’t like guacamole (“Treason!”)

But two commentators went above and beyond. First, there was Jose M., who I’m guessing was using an ironic screen name, because he informed me that “I’m outraged by the blatant bigotry and prejudice endemic within your race. My race is fed up with it.”

Jose M. went on to explain that “My race lives in peaceful communities where you can walk down the street at night without worry that some Latino racist thug is gonna jump out of the bushes and do what comes natural to Hispanics.” I’m not sure what comes natural to Hispanics. Perhaps he meant salsa dancing. In that case, I certainly understand that it would be alarming to be walking in your neighborhood — where crime is absolutely nonexistent — and have a Latino jump out of the bushes and start shaking to the beat. Yeah, pretty scary.

In any case, Jose M. reminded me that “illegal alien sex offenders, rapists, drug dealers, and murderers (mi rasa) are flooding this country,” and closed with a simple “Viva Caucasians! My Race!”

Then there was Pete G., who wrote to kindly inform me that “Hispanics are without a doubt the most exclusionary and racist bunch of bigots living on this planet.” To prove that he himself was neither a racist nor a bigot — nope, not him — Pete G. then pointed out that “Hispanics are running like hell from their own kind to live with Whites” because they are trying to “find a civilized culture.”

He then said I should “own up to the ​racist drivel you vomit,” and asked, “Why is America being overrun with Hispanic gringos?”

Of course, “Hispanic gringo” is contradictory, and I’m unaware of America being overrun by this mythical, oxymoronic animal. But maybe I missed the report on Fox News.

In any case, keep those comments and emails coming, and thanks for reading!


D7 (#9) to A Maj 13

I am not just a struggling writer. I am also a wretched musician. When people come to my house, they see the guitars in the corner, and then ask me if I play.

“Play is the wrong verb,” I say. “Manhandle is the right word.”

So you can imagine my surprise when I jammed with a friend of mine. He paused to take in my fretwork for a moment and then said, “You know, your playing reminds me of Santana.”

Now, Carlos Santana, in addition to being one of the world’s greatest guitarists, is also the most famous and influential Latino rock musician of all time. I suppose one could make an argument for Jerry Garcia, but I would disagree.

I’m a big Santana fan, and I grew up with his music (my mother played “Abraxas” all the time, and I got into it). So I was understandably amazed when my friend made this comparison.

“Really,” I said. “My playing reminds you of Carlos Santana?”

“No,” he said. “Tito Santana.”

Actually, that comparison makes a lot more sense.

Nobody Is Paying Me for These Plugs

First, thanks to Emily and De for commenting on my post “Prepare for Impact.” It’s good to see that some people out there still like to hug.

Second, I have neglected to actively push some traffic toward the Fanatic’s friends. So I must rectify the situation.

Among the worthy sites on my blogroll, I want to point out Aqui magazine and TC Daily Planet, both of which I’ve had the privilege of writing for.

Also, Macon D runs the great blog Stuff White People Do, and Profe takes care of things at Both sites deal with a lot of the issues I address here, and I recommend them highly.

In addition, check out Dennis Cass Wants You to Be More Awesome. Dennis is an impressive writer and all-around creative guru.

Third, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Turner Classic Movies is running a new series, Latino Images in Film, throughout May. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the network will air movies that address Hispanic themes, feature Latino actors, or just say something about how Hispanics have been portrayed on the big screen.

Yes, I know the month is half over, but you can still catch “The Mambo Kings” and “Lone Star,” two very good movies, among others. Or you can see “West Side Story,” if you can tolerate musicals (sorry, but I can’t).

In any case, enjoy the films, but try not to be freaked out by a very unglamorous J. Lo in “My Family.”

I Hear Billy Ocean Is Looking for a Gig

This year is my twentieth high school reunion (let’s hear it for the class of ‘88!). Or I should say it would be my twentieth reunion, if my class were actually marking the occasion.

A couple of my good friends are ostensibly in charge of organizing the event, but their enthusiasm for a celebration has ranged from apathy to outright hostility (one of my friends said that he “could give a piss less about a reunion” – ouch). Considering these responses, and the fact that it’s already late summer, I doubt I’m dressing up and sucking in my stomach to hobnob with people I haven’t thought about in two decades — alas.

I’m not exactly sad there will be no reunion. But the fact that it’s not happening provoked me to leaf through my old yearbook for the first time this century. I was struck by something that I had never noticed before.

Most of the people I went to school with had names that fell into one of two categories.

There were the Meyers, Millers, and Schultzes – good hardy Germanic stock, usually tall and/or big.

There were the Zelewskis, Swiecichowskis, and Kocorowskis – Eighth-generation Polish kids.

The exceptions, in turn, usually fell into two subcatagories:

There were the Radovancevics, Stojsavljevics, and Videkoviches – basically, the Serbs (my hometown has the biggest population of Serbs outside Serbia).

There were the Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Carters – obviously, the black kids.

As odd as it seems, I had never noticed the lack of Hispanics in my school. We had one Martinez in my class of three hundred or so. Even I didn’t stand out back then, because I had a different last name (see my earlier post on this).

I don’t know if my awareness of this fact is because I’ve embraced my Hispanic identity more over the last twenty years, or if I simply was more focused at the time on teenage obsessions like girls, music, and girls.

Or maybe I was a unknowing pioneer in my city, a stray Latino who was a harbinger of a more diverse, multicultural future. I’d like to think that this last option is the truth, and that the class of ’08 has so many Hispanics that the place is up to five categories of names.

But to verify this theory, I would have to wander the halls of my old high school, and I don’t believe anyone wants to see an unaccompanied Gen X guy skulking around, asking random teenagers racially loaded questions. No, I don’t think that’s such a good idea.

Regardless, perhaps it’s for the best that I’m not having a reunion. I’d probably just spend the time talking to the friends I’ve stayed in touch with (defeating the purpose of a “reunion”) and scouring the event for that Martinez kid so that I could share my insight. And I just know that, eventually, a group of aging jocks would get hammered and start singing “Welcome to the Jungle.”

So yes, perhaps it’s all for the best.

Beyond Lucy and Ricky

The ideal location for a date varies, of course, depending upon the couple’s taste and motives. Maybe your perfect date setting is an upscale restaurant or a tropical beach or the backseat of a 1998 Dodge Neon. It’s up to you.

Coming up with an event for a double-date is naturally more complex. And where it really gets cumbersome is the rare, even mythical, triple-date. But if you and your loved one find yourselves hanging out with two other couples, I have a suggestion: the Hollywood Bowl.

A few years ago, my wife and I went on a triple-date to see the Buena Vista Social Club in concert at that California landmark. We were grooving to the Afro-Cuban jazz beats when I noticed that all three couples consisted of a Latino male and an Anglo female.

Now in Los Angeles, the Hispanic-white combination is not exactly the most exotic. Still, it struck me that all three of us were officially interracial. My observation was seconded later in the evening when one of the women (not my wife) said, “It’s the white girls with their hot Hispanic studs!” She perhaps had a sipped a little too much wine by that point.

But it’s not like she was lying.

In the 21st century, a trio of Latinos can meet up with cute white ladies and jam to tunes from the motherland, and only an obsessive-compulsive blogger will even notice (at least until the alcohol kicks in). Now that’s progress on the road to racial harmony.

As it turned out, two of those couples (including of course, my wife and me) wound up married. The third couple broke up a few months after the concert and then had guilt-ridden sex semi-regularly until they finally got sick of each other.

She’s now married to a white guy, and he’s single.

Stumped by the bitca

On occasion, the Bitca will interrupt me at work (or more likely, interrupt my own self-imposed interruption of work) to ask me a stray question or make a unique observation or confide her hatred of a co-worker. The other day, she approached me with the earnestness of a Buddhist monk in training, looking like she sought answers to the big questions on life and existence.

“Hey,” she said. “Doesn’t ‘cucaracha’ mean cockroach?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Why would anyone sing about a cockroach? And isn’t it insulting to Mexicans to be associated with cockroaches?”

I had to admit that I had never given the subject much thought. Now that she mentioned it, why would Mexicans be happy that one of their most famous pop-culture contributions refers to a loathsome, disease-carrying insect? As I pondered this, the Bitca went on.

“I hope you know that I asked you that question, not because you’re Hispanic, but because you carry a lot of useless trivia in your head,” she said.

“Of course,” I said.

“I don’t want to be prosecuted for hate crimes.”

“Who does?”

The she punched me on the arm, announced that she had just committed assault after first provoking me with racial hate speech, and stated that the incident should be noted on my blog.

I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction, but she had piqued my curiosity. So I looked into the matter. Five minutes of internet research revealed that “La Cucaracha” has murky origins.

It could have originated as a drinking song, much like the melody for our national anthem (it’s true). The tune may have been a coded reference for drugs (“roach” is slang for marijuana even in the United States), which makes sense when you consider how many oh-so-witty musicians have written odes to that perennial dream girl, Mary Jane. Or the song may have been a political allegory, which is a much deeper genesis than I expected. My favorite theory of this annoying tune’s meaning is that it was a result of “the great Mexican cockroach scare of 1827,” which we can all agree would be an excellent title for a direct-to-DVD horror movie or punk-rock anthem.

In any case, the Bitca has gotten her way again, and we are all just the slightest bit wiser because of it. 

Kill the Messenger

When I lived in Southern California, I resembled most residents in that I spent way too much time on the freeways, to the point where numbers (eg, 405 and 101) became not indicators of specific routes but destinations in and of themselves. The 10 was my endpoint, and the 134 to Pasadena was a state of being.

One evening, I was a passenger in a car driven by an Anglo friend, and we were doing the LA crawl on the bumper-to-bumper freeway. He mentioned that, because there was more than one person in the car, we could work our way over to the carpool lane and zip past the traffic.

As he maneuvered toward this nirvana of speedy access, I smirked and said, “That’s the great thing about being Hispanic in California. I mean, the carpool lane only requires two or more people? Most of us have three times that many just in the front seats.”

He didn’t laugh. And we drove on in silence.

Introducing the BITCA

At my white-collar bastion of normalcy, the day job, one of my filing cabinets is off its hinges. It hangs askew but is otherwise functional. I believe that its aesthetic ugliness is not worth the hassle to get it fixed.

One of my co-workers, however, noticed the damage, provoking her to say, “What is it with you Hispanics? If it’s not cars on blocks on the lawn, it’s busted filing cabinets in the office.”

In light of this observation, I will henceforth refer to this woman as the Bitch In The Cubicle Adjacent, or the BITCA. It forms an acronym so descriptive that it’s almost redundant.

But allow me a moment of clarification and perhaps confession. I don’t really think she’s a bitch. In fact, BITCA is my best friend in the place. But when I told her I was starting a blog, she declared that she would soon insult me in the hopes of snagging a mention on the site. She even told me she wanted to be referred to as a bitch, and she seemed rather overjoyed at the possibility of internet notoriety.

I broke it to her that a plain insult wouldn’t do, because we do that to each other every day and, more important, it wouldn’t relate to the theme of this blog (i.e., Hispanicness, Latinotude, etc.). So she vowed to come up with something racial.

Bear in mind that this is a white woman raised in Montana. My contribution to her cultural awareness so far has been teaching her the phrase “Hola, vato!”

But she followed through on her vow. And she has succeeded in making me write about her, although her insult was strained from the start because I could tell she was just reaching for something inflammatory. It lacked sincerity and vituperation, but it got the job done.

In any case, I will write more about the BITCA in the future. But she can consider herself fully introduced.

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