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Bits & Pieces: Eight ways it’s weird to be Mexican

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I don’t care what culture you identify with the most, or how amazing or superior you may think your culture is to others. Every single group has its eyebrow-raising, kooky, cultural neuroses, and we Mexicans are no different.

As most of you know by now, I mostly consider myself American Mountain Girl (it’s a real culture I swear), but because I grew up surrounded by my beloved Mexican family, I feel I can give you all a little glimpse of some “Mexicanisimos” that I invite you to giggle at with me.

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Número uno: When you’re Mexican you have an endless supply of primos, tías, and tíos. It may look something like this. You’re with mamá when she runs into an unfamiliar face on the street. Small talk, hugs, and promises to call more often are exchanged.

You want to know, “mamá, who was that?” The answer most commonly being a. a cousin, b. an auntie or c. an uncle. I’m purposely omitting that they could also be a compadre or comadre because that is a whole other category I don’t have time to go into. Anyway,  for years I was under the impression that I had the most enormous family in the world until later when I realized that we were not actually blood-related to all these people. In short, it doesn’t take much for a Mexican to label you or treat you like family. 

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Número dos: Older Mexican women are the O.G. eco-conscious mamás of the land. Just open up any Mexican woman’s fridge and you will find a whole array of plastic containers being reused until their labels start fading or they crack.

In the one marked “butter spread,” surprise! You’ll find salsa verde. In the other one marked “cream cheese” you’ll find leftover frijoles.  Although the guessing game that is my mother’s fridge drives me loca, I do admit it’s exciting when you “win” the leftover enchilada!  But, please do yourself a favor and never ask, “¿Oye, mamá, dónde está la salsa?” because the answer will always be “búscala!” Look for it, because your guess is as good as hers.

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Número tres: Mexicans would rather be labeled anything but stingy. Being called tacaño is the worst character flaw one could possibly have. Because it’s culturally unacceptable to be a tightwad, you will find that no matter how little a Mexican family owns they will find ways to share what little they do have.

On the other hand, it is very culturally acceptable to be labeled jealous. I’ve noted in Anglo culture jealousy is seen as a weakness or vulnerability, but if you’re Mexican it’s permissible … a true sign of being passionately in love.

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Número cuatro: Mexican men have a deep affection for el gel  (pronounced el hell), or more commonly known as hair gel. The type of hair gel a muchacho uses is a big measurement of manliness. That and how spicy he eats his food. Who knows? Maybe one dollop of the right brand of gel has the power to make one into a telenovela star named Rodrigo. The asinine part is that while I sit here and poke fun at this obsession with hair product, I’m reminded that in my boys’ bathroom there is this stuff called “Moco de Gorila” (Gorilla snot). The label boasts it’s the best gel for those spiky or slicked back hair-dos. And guess what? Their father did not buy it for them. Oh, gel no. This Mexican did.

Número cinco: Mexican women love their perfume as much as Mexican men love their cologne. I have not figured out why, because frankly, it all gives me a migraine.  Maybe it’s just a deep cultural fear of ever having the slightest B.O. I swear even Mexican babies have their own eau de toilette called “Colonia para Bebés” because God knows baby B.O. is just the worst. 

Número seis: Mexicans are deeply devoted to Vicky Vaporú — a product I found out some time in junior high was actually pronounced Vicks VapoRub. This eye-stinging, eucalyptus-scented goop is the equivalent to what Windex was in the romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In other words, it’s the end-all, cure-all to any ailment you’ve got. Sore muscles? Vaporú. Chest cold? Vaporú! Broken arm? Vah-po-rú! 

Número siete: And speaking of ailments that brings me to a very Mexican condition called los nervios, which literally means “the nerves.” This psychological syndrome is not solely suffered by Mexicans. It is a very real thing that many Spanish speaking cultures experience or would love to diagnose you with.

Take, for example, my 80-year old host mother in Spain. Often she made everyone in the household “infusiones para los nervios” or calming teas that help smooth out the nerves. The best I can describe this affliction is like having a bad case of anxiety. In Latin cultures, los nervios is a legit reason to get out of anything you want. Next time you want to bail on your girlfriends to sit on the couch with a margarita and Netflix, it’s okay, because you’ve got a case of los nervios.

Número ocho: Mexicans and many other Latinos are bigtime frightened by “cold” weather — and I’m not referring to the actual cold we have here in the snowy mountains of Colorado.

I have been in my flip-flops and beach sarong while on vacation in Mexico when I’ve noticed mothers carrying babies who would survive a night in the Arctic Circle. The cherubs were so bundled up in booties, knit hats, and sometimes multiple blankets.  As a child, I often heard the panicky and passive-aggressive question ”¿No tienes frio?”. It’s a question layed thick with genuine worry and later judgment because now I’m the neglectful mother who is allowing the grandchildren to run around barefoot or leave the house without seven sweaters on. A Latina friend of mine jokes how her mother still forbids her to step into the winter air with wet hair. “Te va dar neumonía!” Latin moms warn their children. It’s funny even though we never get pneumonia from wet hair or not wearing our slippers, now we catch ourselves when we have an impulse to vigorously towel dry our children’s hair.

There you have it — a little glimpse into the quirkier side of this culture. And although I can’t pretend to know the answers to why they exist, all I know is that every culture has its eccentricities, so really we Mexicans are just as crazy as the rest of you.

Judith Ritschard was born by the sea in Mexico then transplanted to the Roaring Fork Valley where she turned full on mountain girl.

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