Column: Maligned Word: Mexican

Mexican. The good name has been vilified for so long that even in the Southwest, where Mexicans are as plentiful as Yankees in New England, the word is used cautiously.

Most Mexican-Americans have experienced the wary question from an Anglo: “You’re Spanish, aren’t you?” or “Are you Latin?” Rarely will the Anglo venture: “You’re Mexican aren’t you?”

The reason is that the word Mexican has been dragged through the mud of racism since the Anglos arrived in the Southwest. History tells us that when King Fisher, the famous Texas gunman, was asked how many notched he had on his gun, he answered: “Thirty-seven—not counting Mexicans.”

“Remember the Alamo!” is still used as an anti-Mexican insult where “Remember Pearl Harbor” has been forgotten.


Carey McWiliams in his enlightening “North From Mexico” notes that the word “greaser” was well-known in early California and that it was defined as “Mexican; an opprobrious term.” He also reports that “greaser” is “California slang for a mixed race of Mexican and Indians.”

“Greaser,” McWilliams points out, is defined in the Century Dictionary as “a native Mexican ... originally applied contemptuously by the Americans of the Southwestern United States to Mexicans.”

All this, and more, has contributed to the psychological crippling of the Mexican-American when it comes to the word Mexican. He is consciously ashamed of it.

State Sen. Jose Bernal of Texas told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last year that the “schools have not given us any reason to be proud” of being Mexican. People running the schools “have tried to take away our language,” the senator continued, and so Mexican-American children very early are embarrassed by the Spanish language and by being Mexican.

One of the reasons for this, Bernal told the commission, is that “it has been inculcated” in the minds of grammar school children that the Mexican “is no good” by means of, for instance, overly and distortedly emphasizing the Battle of the Alamo and ignoring all contributions by Mexicans in the Southwest.

Unfortunately, California Superior Judge Gerald S. Chargin has dragged the word Mexican to a new low. In sentencing a 17-year-old Mexican-American boy for incest in San Jose last Sept.2, Judge Chargin looked down from the bench and told this American citizen that “we ought to send you out of the country—send you back to Mexico ... You ought to commit suicide. That’s what I think of people of this kind. You are lower than animals and haven’t the right to live in organized society—just miserable, lousy, rotten people.

Is it any wonder, then, that the Mexican-American community is bitterly disappointed in that the California Commission on Judicial Qualifications recommended that the Supreme Court publicly censure Judge Chargin instead of recommending that he be removed from the bench?

The commission, in making its recommendation, calls Chargin’s remarks “improper and inexcusable” and says they “constituted conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.”


The commission goes on to say, however, that “there is no evidence of bias or prejudice by (the judge) except for the incident of Sept. 2, 1969. There is evidence,” concludes the commission, “that apart from this (this judge) has been a tolerant and compassionate judge with a background of understanding and interest in the problems of the underprivileged and ethnic minorities.”

The Mexican-American community seems not to buy that. The general feeling seems to be that if Judge Harrold Carswell was denied on a seat on Supreme Court for, among other reasons, making a racist speech in his youth, Judge Chargin should be remove from the bench for making anti-Mexican remarks, on record, from the bench.

This, the community seems to feel, would help cleanse the much maligned word Mexican.