¡Ask A Mexican! for Mar 11, 2010
One man's take on his culture's stereotypes
Thursday, March 11, 2010
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’ve 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!
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 – it’s 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 – 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 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 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. 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 regional slurs, like beaner, wetback, cockroach, Mexican’t and Guatemalan.