DARE TO ASK: In Mexico, nickname often a reference to
your physical features
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Hispanics refer to me as "wedda." What does it mean?
N.F., 44, white female, Denver
The word is huera and it's pronounced more like "where-a" or "where-o"
(huero, to refer to a guy). It basically means "white girl" or "white guy" in a
positive kind of way.
FreedaBee, 42, white female, California
Actually, no. It's about as positive as if you had a Latino "friend" who you
addressed as "spic" - but in a "playful" manner.
In Spain I learned huero means "empty" or "hollow" and is commonly used to
refer to an unfertilized egg. Somehow huero came to describe a person who is
"white with nothing inside."
Teresa, white, Gurnee, Ill.
Don't take offense. Mexicans often refer to individuals by their
characteristics. For example, blacks = "Negros," Asians = "Chinos," thin =
"Flaco" and in my case, fat = "Gordo."
Oscar, Mexican, Hawaii
Would this extend to physical abnormalities? For example, would someone in a
wheelchair be called the Mexican equivalent of "cripple"?
Marcia, 43, white, Venice
Wedda you (or your mudda or fadda) like it or not, if you're in rural Mexico
or around lower-income or urban Mexican youths in the United States, you may get
a nickname based on your physical features.
"There are communities in Mexico where no one knows the real name of the
person," said Alexandro Gradilla, assistant professor of Chicano and Chicana
studies at Cal State Fullerton. "For example, this one is 'the doll,' who is the
brother of 'the skinny one,' who is getting married to 'the angry one.' Then you
get a wedding invitation, and you're like 'Who is Jose Garcia and Susanna
To refer to a fair-skinned person, it's guero or guera, - or huero or huera.
And yes, it would be deemed a term of endearment, Gradilla said.
"It's a way of being familiar. It sounds weird to American sensibilities,
like why are you referring to my whiteness?"
Guera goes back to Mexico's colonial period, when Spaniards had a caste
system in place that hinged on who was more "European" and who wasn't, which
often meant who had lighter skin, he said.
"It's strange, in the United States we know about race, but we don't like
talking about it . . . but in other countries you acknowledge the difference in
Not all nicknames are "fun" - on some Latin-American Jerry Springer-type
shows, the terms can seem pretty cold, Gradilla said.
"They'll be like, there's 'flat nose' - chato. But, it's like a bonding
thing. If you don't have a nickname, you're kind of an outsider, so they are
trying to make you feel part of the group when they do this. They are accepting
something that we are supposed to ignore. It's calling out the elephant in the
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to
Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.