BY GUSTAVO ARELLANO
Dear Mexican: Since moving to Aztlán from Boston, I’ve spent so much time with my next-door neighbor from Mexico City that I’ve taken to using the word manito as a term of endearment with my buddies, regardless of who and where they are. It’s been my observation that most Anglos think mano a mano means “man to man.” Being a bit better informed, I believe its literal translation is “hand by hand” and colloquial meaning is “hand-to-hand.” Is manito the diminutive form of hand? Why, if so, do Mexicans use this term?
— Not Handy with Español
Dear Beantown Gabacho: I appreciate your re-Reconquista, but tu questions are more over the map than your newfound metropolis. Manito is the elided form of hermanito, which means “little brother,” and it’s just one of many words Mexican men use it to strengthen camaraderie with their amigos — other classics include güey, broder, cabrón, and pinche puto pendejo baboso. Mano a mano means “hand-to-hand” in its literal and colloquial forms and refers to a face-off of any kind, not just the macho type. The term comes from bullfighting, where a mano a mano is a specific matador competition, and was undoubtedly introduced into gabacho letters by Ernest Hemingway’s “The Dangerous Summer” dispatches for Life in 1960. Gabachos, in their ever-fascinating habit of corrupting Hispanic culture, associated Papa’s masculine prose with the fact that “man” is mano less one vowel, and created a favored cliché for sportscasters and pundits to describe any skirmish involving Mexicans. And hate to ruin your etymological deducing, but the Latin origins for hermano and mano aren’t the same even though they sound so similar: hermano comes from germanus, which sprung from germen (seed), while the Latin word for hand is manus, probably deriving from the Sanskrit manus — and I say probably because this is ÁAsk a Mexican!, not Scisco Latin Agricola Etymologiae.
I am an illegal alien who just turned 18. Is there anything I can do to become a legal alien besides deportation or marrying a U.S. citizen?
— Wetback who Wants to Dry His Back
Dear Wab: Go back to Mexico — seriously. Section 212(a)(9)(B)(iii)(I) of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act states, “no period of time in which an alien is under 18 years of age shall be taken into account in determining the period of unlawful presence in the United States,” meaning you can return to your mother patria, obtain an visa and come back to los Estados Unidos in, oh, about 10 years. Having said that, now can you appreciate the caca illegals face, gabachos? Even if a Mexican wants to enter this country the right way, our immigration system is so Kafkaesque — where else can you find such a crucial, relevant bit of information for millions filed away as an clause to the subparagraph of a paragraph in the subsection of a section’s article except in the American government? — that most Mexicans would rather trudge through blistering deserts or suffer in a cramped Ford Ranger than deal with a line into bureaucracy. And it’s not an innate Mexican trait to break immigration law — as I’ve said before, put any poor country next to a rich one; add historical symbiosis, Manifest Destiny and saber rattling; mix in a dash of globalized economics, and voila! Your own illegal invasion! I don’t want to say there’s no hope for you, Wetback, but any chance of amnesty in the next couple of years is less likely than a Guatemalan in the White House. So, in the meanwhile, keep adding to the fat of the land while taking some scraps for yourself — anything less would be un-American.
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Gustavo Arellano is an investigative reporter on staff at the OC Weekly in Orange County, California. His “¡Ask a Mexican!” column began in 2004 and today is syndicated in 32 publications nationwide. He is also the author of a book by the same name. An extensive interview with Arellano can be found in the EW archives online for Nov. 29, 2007. Arellano can be contacted at TheMexican@AskAMexican.net