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Grasshopper Man

Here's a helpful tip for understanding the Spanish-language channel.


Dear Mexican: I was flipping through my television when I noticed the Spanish-language channel showed a man in a red suit with yellow pants, antennae on his head and a heart with the letters "CH" on his chest. It appeared to be a sitcom, and all of the characters related to the insect guy as if he were normal. What really blew my socks off, though, was a part where the insect guy and his cohorts dressed as Confederate soldiers. At one point, Insect Guy is suddenly in black face! What's the story of this sitcom? Was it a big hit for Mexicans? And what's the deal with the racist stereotyping? Tree Huggin' Hippie Liberal Gabacho

Dear Liberal Gabacho:

You're referring to El Chapulín Colorado (The Red Grasshopper), a Mexican television icon and the character Matt Groening acknowledges is the inspiration for The Simpsons' Bumblebee Man. El Chapulín Colorado originally aired in a sitcom of the same name during the 1970s, and nearly every episode featured the same plot: Someone in distress would call Chapulín's name, and Chapulín would appear and proclaim No contaban con mi astucia! ("They didn't count on my astuteness!") and then save the day in a bumbling manner with his squeaky toy hammer. Seems childish, , but Mexicans continue to love Chapulín because the show contained all that's brilliant about Mexican humor: satire (the show's narrator always introduced him as "more agile than a turtle, stronger than a mouse, nobler than lettuce"), a working-class perspective, slapstick, self-deprecation, surrealism, muchos puns and double-entendres, and a slew of racial caricatures. El Chapulín is so popular that many Mexicans in los Estados Unidos dress up their children as him for Halloween; I chose a Chapulín costume myself last year. As for the Mexican fascination with caricatures, I wrote about it in a previous column. Find it yourself — you can't teach a Mexican the meaning of the word illegal, but you can teach him how not to do the same job twice for a lazy gabacho.

Dear Mexican:

My wabby friend wants to be called Spanish instead of Mexican. Thing is, his last name is Navarro. If I remember my UCLA Chicano-studies classes correctly, Navarro is a Basque surname. So my friend is basing his "Spanish" heritage on a group of people who hate Spaniards! I told him this, but he seems oblivious to the Basques and still insists he's of Spanish blood. Who's right? Spaniards aren't the same as Basques, are they? We bet $100 on this. Put the pendejo to shame, master. Pendejo Buster

Dear PB:

Prepare to collect your Benjamin, Buster. Navarro is indeed a Basque apellido. In fact, many common Hispanic apellidos are actually Basque — Gamboa, Aguirre, Salazar and Garza, to name a few. And you're right to note that the Basques aren't Spanish. But take some pity on your wabby friend: Those wabs who insist they're Spanish don't realize that the Spanish blood in their veins is the hereditary equivalent of mud. Many of the New World's original Spanish settlers came from provinces (the Basque country, Galicia, Andalusia and the conquistador incubator called Extremadura) or religious minorities (Jews and Muslims) who faced persecution. Once here, they dropped their cultural heritage in favor of a faux-Spanish identity — not because these oppressed groups suddenly pledged fealty to Madrid but because Torquemada's disciples would subject them to the rack if they didn't. A similar phenomenon occurs with Chicanos: Mexican historians emphasize the country's Aztec heritage so much that newly radicalized Chicanos tend to immerse themselves in the culture of the People of the Sun at the expense of Mexico's other indigenous cultures. So next time some Chicano yaktivist drops his "Spanish" surname in favor of a long, consonant-filled Nahuatl name, tell him he's no better than a conquistador. Got a spicy question about Mexicans? Ask the Mexican at

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