News » Ask a Mexican

Skin deep: The truth behind "whitey worship."

Week of October 19, 2006

Dear Mexican: I have very, very light skin because of my Scandinavian heritage. Around Halloween, someone asked me if it was white-face makeup. Why is it that Mexican men find my pallor so fascinating?

Fair Maiden

Dear Gabacha: BECAUSE YOU'RE WHITE. Mexicans love gabachos even though you've fucked our country for 500 years—literally (recall the maiden-raping conquistadors) and figuratively (ever tried walking a Mexican sidewalk during spring break without stepping in the puddles of yak left by frat boys?). Despite the boinking and barfing, Mexicans associate white with beauty and power—it's our national Stockholm Syndrome. Check out our business elite—as white as those inbreds in the House of Windsor. Or the screeching fake-blond actresses in telenovelas, most of whom make Nicole Kidman look as dark as an aborigine. Whitey worship is evident even in our veneration of saints: when the Vatican canonized Juan Diego in 2002, Mexican Catholic officials unveiled the official portrait of the man who first saw the Virgin of Guadalupe. Only one problem: the full-blooded Indian was now a light-skinned, full-bearded Spaniard. So when Mexican men gawk at you, Fair Maiden, walk with pride: you are a goddess. That or you have a great ass.

Whenever I hear people whistling at each other across the street to communicate, it hardly ever seems to be a gabacho, African-American, or Asian—it's always a Mexican. Is it illegal in Mexico to yell out words too loudly, and whistling is a loophole in the law? Or does the frequency of a whistle carry farther than voice frequencies across a ranch, the desert or Mexico City traffic jams? Or is it learned behavior from living in an ambiguous environment (immigrant-friendly and -unfriendly) that whistling is somehow more discreet? Or is it cooler to whistle instead of yelling the other person's name? Whistling Güero

Dear Gabacho: All of the above. According to Whistled Languages, a 1976 book by Rene Guy Busnel and A. Classe that linguists consider the definitive study on the matter, whistled tongues arose in cultures that occupied areas where daunting terrain and distance prohibited easy conversations. Many such ethnic groups influenced the formation of the Mexican nation. Before the Conquest, major indigenous languages such as Nahuatl, Zapotec and Totonac featured a whistled-only dialect. After the Conquest, migrants from the Canary Islands, home of the world's most famous whistled language, Silbo Gomero, were amongst the first settlers of Texas. And since the past is ever-present for Mexicans, it makes sociological sense to argue that the Mexican propensity to whistle-talk, like our obsession with death and Three Flowers Brilliantine, is a (literally) breathing cultural artifact.

But don't think there's some gnostic mystery behind its use, Whistling Güero. There's really just four phrases to whistled Mexican Spanish: a sharp tweet to catch someone's attention, a longer version for showing disgust during performances and the lecherous drawn-out double note that plagues so many gabachas. The most infamous Mexican Spanish whistled phrase, however, is "chinga tu madre" ("go fuck your mother"): five successive, rapid trills that roughly sound like Woody Woodpecker's infamous cackle. The last whistle is our favorite, especially because we can use it in front of unsuspecting gabachos without reproach. But don't use it in around a Mexican unless you want a brown fist in your eye and a mestizo foot square upon your 'taint.

Got a spicy question about Mexicans? Ask the Mexican at And those of you who do submit questions: include a hilarious pseudonym, por favor, or we'll make one up for you!

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