Stephanie Elizando Griest is one of my favorite new Chilangabachas. Born and raised in the Tejano wonderland Corpus Christi, Texas, Griest first burst upon the literary scene with her book, Around the Block, which chronicled her travels through China, Russia and Cuba. How could you not love a woman who writes about falling in love with Russian soldiers and hanging with Cuban hiphoperos?
Griest’s latest book is called Mexican Enough: My Life Between The Border Lines, and details her journey to the Mexican motherland. For the life of me I can’t remember where I read this great interview with her about the lessons she learned while researching the book. (A little help here if anyone knows what I’m talking about).But the essence of what she said really struck me, and that was that one of the things that truly makes you part of the culture is the inside jokes and cultural references. As someone who can’t help throwing random Wayne’s World quotes into everyday conversation (wow dude, those shoes are intensity in ten cities) and totally dissed a perfectly nice Mexican guy because he walked up to me in the middle of a Dodgers game (it was the last game in the series and freakin’ Nomar was up!), this idea really resonates with me.
Even though many of my Mexicans spent their childhoods downing McDonald’s catsup, swimmin’ in their Levi’s chorts and watching hours of American movies and cartoons, we still have a completely different cultural perspective. Case in point: Top Cat. What, never heard of it? Me freaking either, but since I’ve moved here I’ve had about 30 conversations that went like this:
Chilango: Orale, you’re from the U.S.? I love Top Cat. Do you know him?
Chilangabacha: Que que? Uhm no. Do you mean Heathcliff or Garfield?
Chilango: No. How can you not know Top Cat? He speaks English. Man, I love me some Top Cat. He was always up to no good.
Top Cat or “Don Gato” was part of Yogi Bear’s crew. If you grew up in the states you probably saw him walking around with his pimp hat and cane and pulling pranks on average citizens, but you took his arrival as a sign to walk away from the teevee to eat some Fruity Pebbles. If you grew up in Mexico, you dropped your cornflays and ran to the sala as soon as you heard the theme song.
There are a bajillion examples of this lost in translation cultural reference stew all over the place. A few that come to mind are Nightmare Before Christmas mania, and a crazy love for bands like Rush and Journey. Leave more examples in the comments so we can all impress our friends.