Don't call me a Frijolero

By: Giancarlo Viloria 

 A few days ago I was talking to a friend from work and, upon seeing someone new, I asked him if she was a pocha. My friend said two things. First that she was not a pocha because, despite her Latin looks, she had Japanese roots. Then he told me that he no longer used the term pocho, because he had three sons and they all fit into that category. That got me thinking, and I realized that I too have a daughter who can be considered part of that group. I felt bad because I had offended my friend and his family, but I honestly did not mean to be disrespectful.

The terms pocho, chicano, mojado, brasero, frijolero, and many others are tied to Latinos in the United States. We hear them almost daily, read them often, and we become used to them, so somehow they become acceptable despite their connotations. Something similar happens when someone is subject to physical violence, he or she gets used to the pain and humiliation, and it becomes part of his or her everyday life, but this does not mean that it is right. It is important to not let this happen. We should not let habit turn something incorrect and unfair into something normal.

First of all, it is important to remember that not all Latinos who live in the United States are Mexicans. It is true that most of them come from Mexico, followed by Puerto Rico and Cuba, but if someone is from Colombia, Venezuela, or Chile, as much as they may love tamales and tequila, they do not want to be considered Mexican. Along with this generalization, I have heard people say, more than once, that so and so speaks Mexican. Hispanics of all origins speak Spanish,which is the native language, second language, or heritage language of Hispanics in the United States.

When we, Hispanics, use terms that may be considered degrading, it may be because we share the same identity. For example, if a black or African American person uses the word that starts with n to refer to someone of the same race, this may not pose any problems, but if someone of another race uses the word, the offense has no limits. In any case, the terms used to refer contemptuously to minority groups are ideologically charged and should not be used even among members of the same group.

In the case of immigrants, these words are used by people who have not taken the time to think about what it takes to embark on the adventure that many of us have chosen. It’s not about getting to the border, putting on your bathing suit, and swimming across the Río Bravo. If someone thinks this is the easy way out, I invite him to analyze the situation and walk in the immigrant’s shoes. To start with, you know that you will not see your loved ones in a long time.

Then you get to a place with a different culture and language. It’s not an easy thing. The truth is that the American dream is different for immigrants; the dream is basically about giving their families what they need to live—enough food, a home, and a decent life—even if it means living apart.

On the other hand, we cannot assume that all Hispanics are immigrants, because there are many, like my friend’s sons and my daughter who are citizens and have the same rights and obligations of all other citizens. I for one will teach my daughter the story of her ancestors, the culture that runs in her blood, and that May 5 is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla not the Cantina Day.

I have never taken offense at being called this or that. I don’t feel uncomfortable being categorized as a member of one group or the other, but the fact that I feel this way does not mean that everyone feels the same way. Also, language is a very powerful weapon; it can heal or hurt someone. All of us, without



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