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 the colloquial meaning is “hand-to-hand.” But is manito the diminutive form of “hand”? If so, why do Mexicans use this term? —Not Handy With Español
Dear Beantown Gabacho: I appreciate your re-Reconquista, but tu questions are more all 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 that Mexican men use 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, as part of 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 I hate to ruin your etymological deductions, but the Latin origins for hermano and mano aren’t the same, even though they sound so similar: Hermano comes from germanus, which sprang from germen (seed), while the Latin word for “hand” is manus, probably deriving from the Sanskrit manus—and I say “probably” because this is ¡Ask 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 returning to Mexico to apply for a visa or marrying a U.S. citizen? —Wetback That 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 a 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 that most Mexicans would rather trudge through blistering deserts or suffer in a cramped Ford Ranger than deal with the language of bureaucracy. (Where else can you find such a crucial, relevant bit of information for millions filed away as a clause to the subparagraph of a paragraph in the subsection of a section’s article except in the U.S. Code?) 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.