The terms ‘naco’ and ‘pocho’ have a long history of being used as disparaging words in the Mexican community. Mun2 brought in a variety of voices, from Edward James Olmos to NBC Latino contributors Lalo Alcaraz and Gustavo Arellano, to look at the ways the words have transformed over time.
“It’s like a hilbilly,” says Arellano, speaking about the word ‘naco’. “You listen to the wrong kind of music, you dress in the wrong kind of way, you have the wrong kind of hair.”
Participants said that when someone is called a ‘pocho,’ they are being called a whitewashed Mexican or Mexican-American — someone who isn’t true to their roots.
Lalo Alcaraz, who launched Latino humor site Pocho.com, was involved with Pocho Magazine in San Francisco in the 1980′s, which sought to reclaim the negative term. “It was about how we are tired of being put down by our Mexican relatives for whatever crime against ‘Mexicanismo’ we’ve done,” he says. “So we reclaimed it, said it was a term of pride.”
Olmos sees parallels with people who would use these terms and would use other disparaging terms about people’s identity.
“The person who has to use those kinds of words; a greaser, wetback, pocho to make that other person feel less than who they are, has the problem,” he said.
Olmos says the rise of the word ‘chicano’ had a similar genesis because people of Mexican descent in the United States were caught in no-man’s land.
“We weren’t Mexican and we weren’t American, even though we were Mexican-American,” he said.
Arellano says the power of the terms has lessened with each generation. “People from older generations find insult with these terms,” he said. “People of my generation, we’ve made our peace with them, in fact we can make fun of them. I think the generation who follows us, younger people, for them it’s just words.”
After all, now the words have a different meaning.
“Calling yourself pocho is a point of pride for many people,” Arellano says.
“Yeah, I’m a pocho y que?”