BY GUSTAVO ARELLANO
Dear Mexican: When I was in high school, everyone called the Mexican students like myself “cheddars.” I’m not sure where this originated from, or what it really has to do with Mexican culture. When I have asked other Mexicans what this means, they are not sure, either. “Cheddar packing” is a term used to describe a car full of Mexicans. I hope you can answer this for me — muchas gracias!
— Denver Doll
Dear Cheddar: “Cheddar” in the context you heard it has nothing to do with the sabrosísimo cheese but is rather the Denver way to call a Mexican a wab — which is to say, it’s a regional ethnophaulism (otherwise known as an ethnic slur) used to deride Mexicans as wetbacks. It’s a mongrelized form of the word ‘chero, itself a contraction of the word ranchero, literally meaning a rancher but in Mexican Spanish also denoting someone from the countryside. “Cheddar” is a prime example of how Mexican-hating is such an art form in the United States that it even has provincial variants — for instance, the “cheddar” of Chicago is “brazer” (short for bracero), nosotros in Orange County call our backwards Mexicans wabs, and cabrones in Oxnard, California deride wabby cheddars as TJs, the English acronym for Tijuana. “The number and nature of nicknames and particularly derogatory nicknames for particular ethnic groups in America is a reflection of the strengths of the ethnic conflicts in which they have been involved and the kinds of ill-feeling that such conflicts generate,” wrote Christie Davies in her 2002 study of ethnic humor, The Mirth of Nations.
What’s most amazing about this American regional Mexi-bashing phenomenon is that these words find their most enthusiastic usage among the Mexican community. Even our intellectual giants play the juego — “What difference does it make, he was not anything but another brazer that could not speak English,” wrote Chicana author Sandra Cisneros in The House on Mango Street, her classic semi-autobiographical novel of fictional vignettes about growing up Mexican in Chicago. Everywhere the Mexican travels with his trusty burro to lecture, he asks the audience what’s their version of wab — and everywhere the Mexican goes, he learns a new anti-Mexican ethnophaulism. So, gentle readers: what do ustedes call the unassimilated Mexicans — the wabs and brazers and cheddars — in your city or region? Please mention the slur and where it’s used, and please refrain from nationally used slurs like beaner, wetback, cockroach, Mexican’t, mexcrement and Guatemalan, The more regional, the better, and I’ll print the best results in a coming columna!
In the Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive the authors relate how, when the Doors played Mexico, they were amazed how crazed the Mexican men were for the Doors to perform their song “The End.” It was explained to the Doors that Mexican men loved the part of the song where Morrison sings of wanting to kill his father and fuck his mother. And, sure enough, when Morrison came to that part of the song in concert, the Mexican men in the audience loudly sang those murderous/incestuous lyrics themselves. What’s that all about?!
— Curious Doors Fan
Dear Gabacho: It’s not the Oedipus complex in us, contrary to what the Lizard King’s Mexican handlers told him — it’s the melodrama. Hombres love the camp inherent to machismo, from moaning out “Llorar y llorar” (“Cry and cry”) in the José Alfredo Jiménez classic “El Rey” (The King) to singing all the stanzas of the Sartrean ditty “Un Puño de Tierra” (A Fistful of Dirt) while clutching their compa’s shoulders to openly crying while hearing “Canción Mixteca.” Mexicans love the Doors the same reason they adore ranchera singers — the combination of virility and vulnerability, the copious use of leather, the great music masking hysterics. By the way, gracias for accepting the Mexican love for the Doors and not dwelling on its seeming incongruity like so many gabachos do when they realize cheddars can like music that don’t involve Spanish lyrics, tubas or songs about cockfights.