One of my favorite things about my dialect of Spanish (Northern Mexican / Mexican American) is an odd construction that emphasizes (often irritating) repetition.

I call it the “chingue y chingue” form, from the common vulgar expression for “riding someone’s ass” / “being fucking annoying.”

The form uses the auxiliary verb “estar” (to be) as well as quasi-auxiliaries like “andar” and “seguir.” …

I’ve eaten both Ethiopian and Korean food with jalapeño peppers, so I thought it was time to explore the etymology of this worldwide phenomenon.

“Jalapeño” is short for Spanish “chile jalapeño” or “jalapeño pepper.”

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Some fresh jalapeños. From López-Dóriga Digital.

The suffix -eño makes nouns and adjectives out of place names (for example isla, “island” becomes isleño, “islander”). It evolved from -ineus, a Greek and Latin adjectival suffix that indicated material or color. In Vulgar Latin it transformed to -ineu, then -eniu -> -enyo -> eño en Spanish.

As a result, “Jalapeño” (also written “Xalapeño”) is someone or something from the Mexican city of Xalapa, Veracruz.

Nearly anywhere you go, a certain combination of trumpets and violins will elicit a similar response: listeners will immediately think of Mexico, overcome with an urge to throw a hat onto the ground and spin around.

What is this song and dance? It’s called the “jarabe tapatío,” a pretty unusual name. Shall we examine its etymology? Heck, yes, we shall.

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From Wikipedia.

Let’s take “jarabe” first. It derives from Medieval Spanish “xarabe,” from Andalusian Arabic “šarāb,” the same as Classical Arabic شَرَاب meaning “wine” (but also fruit juice, syrup, or sherbet).*

That word is formed from the Arabic root [š-r-b] which generates…

One of the hardest things about growing up Mexican [American] is learning to clean. If you don’t wash dishes right or wring out the mop properly, you leave behind an odor that moms and abuelas despise.

Choquía.

The name of this elusive but unpleasant odor has several forms: the main choquía, plus regional variants choquilla, choquío, choquillo, choquiaque, chuquía, chuquiaque, chuquije, choquis, etc.

It’s tough to explain the smell to people who aren’t familiar. A general suggestion of mold with light hints of egg and fish?

Trust me. It’s not pleasant.

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“¡Lava este vaso otra vez! Huele a choquía”.

I frankly don’t know if there’s a word in…

A question recently came up on Twitter: Did Huitzilopochtli, patron god of the Mexica, have a wife?

In fact, two major sources preserve the sacred story of how the Mexica “acquired” a “wife” for Huitzilopochtli, angering an entire nation in the process and helping to fulfill their destiny.

To share this often gruesome story with you, I’m going to translate the Nahuatl text contained in the Codex Chimalpahin (compiled by Nahua chronicler Domingo Francisco de San Antón Muñón Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin). …

Dear non-Latinx folks in the US (mostly y’all, White people):

Hey, heads-up. You may be making things harder on the Latinx community by how you’ve been using Latinx, Latina, Latinos, Latinas and Latinos. Let me explain some nuances for you so that you don’t deploy those terms the wrong way.

First up, a definition. What is a Latinx/a/o?

A person whose ancestors came from a Latin American country. That means they’re from Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, French-speaking Caribbean nations, Central or South America (including Brazil, excluding English-speaking regions). Their people might speak French, Portuguese, or Spanish.

Understand, however…

So many reactionary critiques of #DignidadLiteraria — activism centering the literary dignity of Latinx people spurred by the publishing of American Dirt are infused with either privileged blindness or deliberate disingenuousness.

I want to interrogate the attempted dismissal of our concerns.

First, authors definitely have the right to write outside of their identity. An absolute legal right. No one disputes that. But there’s homework to be done. Questions to be asked.

For secondary characters, especially from groups that exist in your own community or region, the work isn’t as strenuous. But for main characters who have a very different…

Because of the work I do sharing information about Nahuatl lexicon and grammar, I (very occasionally) get into debates on Twitter about the niceties of this word or that. A recent disagreement about the meaning of “Tlaloc” got me thinking.

I should write about the origins of the names of major Aztec gods.

Now here we are. If you’ll strap yourselves in, we’ll ride up and down the World Tree, taking a look at major Mesoamerican deities from a linguistic perspective.

It makes sense to go in alphabetical. …

You may have read my negative review of Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt. I wanted to follow that piece up with a discussion of how such a book can come into being.

First of all, let me reiterate. There is nothing wrong with a non-Mexican writing about the plight of Mexicans. What’s wrong is erasing authentic voices to sell an inaccurate cultural appropriation for millions. And believe me, Jeanine Cummins gets SO MUCH wrong. Read Myriam Gurba and David Schmidt for the receipts.

In the case of American Dirt, I blame Cummins’ enablers:

  • Flatiron Books (the imprint publishing the book)

If you haven’t already, you’re going to be hearing a lot of praise for Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt, a novel about a Mexican bookseller who has to escape cartel-related violence with her son, fleeing to the US. Cummins received a seven-figure advance for this book.

And it’s harmful, appropriating, inaccurate, trauma-porn melodrama.***

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Problem 1: The Author

Let me start with the obvious: Cummins has never lived even within five hundred miles of Mexico or the border. In fact, until very recently, she didn’t lay claim to the Latinx heritage that comes to her through a Puerto Rican grandmother.

David Bowles

A Mexican-American author and translator from deep South Texas, David Bowles teaches literature and Nahuatl at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley.

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