News & Politics

Ask a Mexican: Don’t Believe the Jimi Hendrix Mexican Hype


Dear Mexican: I recently received the biography of Rolling Stones bassist Ronnie Woods. While reading about his friendship with Jimi Hendrix, Ronnie described him as part black, Cherokee, and Mexican. I’ve always read about Jimi’s grandmother being Cherokee, but this was the first I’d read about him being Mexican. Is this another mentira originated by Mexicans, like Anthony Quinn’s supposedly real last name being Quintana? —El Habrano

Dear Wab: Man, the locuras some people believe and repeat, ¿qué no? I’ve seen mentions of Hendrix’s supposed Mexican heritage everywhere from the aforementioned Ronnie: The Autobiography to mainstream American newspapers to even the bloody BBC. I have no idea why or when people began believing Hendrix was part wab, but the rumor’s been around since at least the late 1990s. The closest I can peg him to possessing any Mexican roots is gracias to Charles R. Cross’s 2005 book, Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix. Cross cites an interview Hendrix once gave, in which he remembered how one grandmother gave him a “little Mexican jacket with tassels” as a child, for which he was ridiculed. Also, Cross found a Hendrix diary entry that makes mention of his “Mexican mustache.” Cross’s bio is a must-have for any music fan, since it’s the best of the many Hendrix books out there, and he also gives the most thorough genealogy of Hendrix’s family that I’ve seen, going back through both sets of grandparents—the guitarist did indeed possess gabacho, negrito, Canadian, and Cherokee blood, but no Mexican sangre whatsoever. The only crypto-Mexican that’s ever panned out is also the most unlikely—Ted Williams. Yep, America: Teddy Ballgame’s mami was May Veznor of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

My co-worker Maria and I are having a disagreement about the meaning of the word “gringo.” Would you be able to tell us the true meaning and street meaning of it? —Veritas vos Liberabit

Dear Gabacho: I think you and Mary are having the wrong discussion. Even the dumbest gabacho knows “gringo” is a pejorative that Mexicans use against Americans, one so harmless nowadays that even gabachos call themselves gringos. What ustedes are probably trying to determine is the word’s origins. The Mexican usually consults the Royal Spanish Academy’s dictionary for such queries, but even the world’s foremost body of español has no clue—its entry describes the etymology as “disputed.” Here’s what we do know: “Gringo” did not originate during the Mexican-American War as a result of—take your pick—the invading Yankees wearing green coats and the terrified Mexicans shouting “Green, go!” at them; or because said soldiers sang either “Green Grows the Lilacs” or “O Green Grow the Rushes” while trampling through Santa Ana’s armies. Both explanations are self-serving urban legends repeated by gabachos who get a perverse pleasure out of dominating all aspects of Mexican life, from former territories to our women to even our slurs for ustedes. Besides, etymologists can date “gringo” in Spain to centuries before the Mexican-American War, in the context of referring to strangers. Some say it’s a corruption of “griego” (“Greek,” the classic Western European ethnicon for something that makes no sense); others claim it refers to Irish immigrants in Madrid. Whatever its genesis, the Mexican recommends not using “gringo,” as it’s an antiquated term like “celestial” or “greaser,” and one should always be up on their Rolodex of Racism.

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