¡ASK A MEXICAN!
Published: October 5, 2011
Dear Mexican: I learned Spanish in school as a teen. Then, it seems, because I was young, everybody was an usted. I would like to practice speaking it, but am now an adult and don't know who gets to be a tú? I'm scared of getting it wrong and unwittingly offending. Tú might be too familiar—hence, disrespectful—usted might be too cold or aloof. Please tell what is customarily done, so I can dare to try to speak this very beautiful language. Thank you!
Yo Quiero Hablar
Dear I Want to Speak: Primeramente, thank usted for being a gabacho who’s not afraid of Spanish—you can teach Arizona and Alabama something, you know? The formal second-person personal pronoun usted isn’t cold or aloof at all, though, but rather a sign of respect toward the person you’re addressing—it could be a kid, a viejito, or the pinche King of England. Tú (and here, the novice Spanish speaker will note the use of the accent to distinguish it from tu, which without an accent is the informal singular second-person possessive “your”; the formal singular second-person possessive in Spanish is su) is for addressing anyone who doesn’t deserve particular respect but also doesn’t deserve derision. For those pendejos in the latter category, don’t even bother addressing them as a “you”—just call them “Alabama.”
I just read another letter in your column from a gabacho talking about Mexicans, who he claims are “desecrating our flag. A-a-and showing contempt for American citizens!!!” (Presumably white American citizens, who are more easily identified than pochos) It’s time for me to ask you—are these letters for real? Are you sure they're not some nefarious Mexican plot to make white people look like a bunch of whiny cracker boobs? I’m married to a Mexican woman. Our family may be dysfunctional, and slow to pick up the check in restaurants. But unpatriotic? I have a son-in-law who just came back from Iraq. I have a brother-in-law who barely speaks English. He wants to become naturalized just so he can vote Republican. (I know, I know. Don't ask.) And if you ask the pochos, they will tell you that the most dubious patriot in the family is that big gabacho over there—the one whose family all came from Norway. Sadly, they would be pointing at me.
If these letters really are real, then I throw myself at the mercy of your readers. Not all gringos are unemployed, crank-snorting, self-pitying trailer trash. Okay, a lot of us are. But don't give up on the rest of us. I am already in trouble with the pocho side of the family, who suggest that if I don't love my country, maybe I should move back to Norway, where I belong.
> Email Gustavo Arellano