Ask a Mexican

Dear Mexican: Even though throughout the years since I came to the U.S. 20 years ago I have seen it happening with less frequency, the use by Mexicans of the expression ¿Mande? (Command me) has always struck me. I personally see it as a symbolic legacy of submission probably originating from the times of the Spanish conquistadores. Are you aware of any other meaning? What's interesting to me is that I've heard this expression coming more often from the so-called pochos than from Mexican immigrants.

Che Argentina

I'm a Mexican-American with a dilemma: why do most Mexicans respond by saying "¿Mande?" while most other non-Mexican Hispanics respond with "¿Cómo?" I ask around and nobody has a right answer. I'm sure you will know, 'cause you're a smarter-than-the-average Mexican.


Dear Readers: Out of all the folk etymologies that plague Mexican Spanish—like people thinking gringo comes from Mexicans making fun of the green coats of invading gabachos, or that the phonological similarity of Michigan and Michoacán is proof that the Aztecs came from the Midwest—none is more laughable than insisting the Mexican propensity to use ¿Mande? ("Excuse me?") is a reflection on the perpetual Mexican inferiority complex. Yes, ¿Mande? is a legacy of colonialism—Cortés used the term in his letters—but so what? So is the word tortilla, and the corrido. All Latin American cultures keep parts of the Conquest alive in their regional Spanish, but there is no historical evidence that conquistadors in Mexico demanded that their Indian or mestizo servants use the formal ¿Mande? instead of the informal ¿Que? or ¿Cómo? or ¿Perdón? (words that Mexicans also use, by the way) because of their inferior state. Mexican Spanish merely follows Spanish pronoun rules—imagine that! You want real linguistic subservience? Try su merced (your mercy), which South Americans use in favor of ustedes. Now that's a wuss culture there.

My parents are immigrants from Mexico and came here and had me and my brother and sister. Of course, they've both retained some rituals that aren't very necessary and would no doubt seem odd to the average American observer. One I've never mustered enough courage to ask about is this habit of placing a large stone or a log behind one of the rear wheels. I've assumed it's so the car won't roll away because of gravity, but I know this isn't necessary when in park. Or maybe it's to ward off grand theft auto? Are automobiles in Mexico just not largely reliable or is it just a symbolic action to prevent theft?

Rocky Llantas

Dear Peñascoso Tires: Are you kidding me? Putting a log or rock behind a tire is the Mexican version of LoJack. The smart Mexican gets a rock or log craggy or pointy enough so that anyone who tries to make off with their car will immediately puncture the tire or wreck the rim when they try to zoom off. After that, all you have to do is follow the skid marks to wherever the thieves left the car off. Simple, ingenious, and cheap: the Mexican way.

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