You may be familiar with the term Chicano, but do you know what it actually means? Chicano is a chosen identity for some Mexican Americans. Though the terms Chicano and Chicana formerly carried a racist connotation, they took on a different meaning during the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. These terms became a source of pride and identity for Mexicans in the United States, who began using them to express the connection they felt to their Mexican heritage.
Chicano culture is reflected in community-specific slang that combines English, Spanish and Spanglish. (If that seems like a lot to handle, it also includes a fair bit of rhyming!) In some cases, this mixture has proven to be too musical to resist; many Chicano slang words originating from the US are now used regularly in Mexico.
In this article, we’ll review the origins of Chicano slang. We’ll also provide you with some essential terms and phrases to expand your Spanish vocabulary and your understanding of Mexican culture and language.
What is Chicano slang and where does it come from?
Chicano slang refers to a distinctive vocabulary that originated within the Mexican-American communities along the US-Mexico border. This vocabulary became especially prominent in the southwestern states of California, Arizona and New Mexico.
We’ve talked about Mexican slang before, but Chicano slang is different. Chicano language, or Chicano for short, is a fusion of Spanish, English and regional influences. It has also been called pachuco, caló and kalo.
The Spanish word Chicano was originally a classist and racist slur referring to low-income Mexicans. Over time, the word was reclaimed by new generations and used with pride. It has roots in the social, political and cultural civil rights movements in the US.
In the 1930s and 1940s in the US, the pachuco culture used the word Chicano. Pachuco is a word that describes a Mexican American associated with zoot suit fashion who spoke caló (the original name of the Chicano language) and rejected identifying with a European cultural heritage. Chicano was also used as a label of pride for indigenous heritage.
Chicano slang words and phrases
Chicano slang has evolved and changed over the years. It uses rhyme, different spellings for the same words and idiomatic phrases. Let’s look at some examples.
Below are examples of the use of rhyme in Chicano slang.
|Chicano||Literal English translation||Meaning|
|¿Me comprendes, Méndez?||Do you understand, Méndez?||Do you understand?|
|¿O te explico, Federico?||Or do I explain it to you, Federico?||Should I explain further?|
|¿Me esperas a comer peras?|
¿Me esperas, Peras?
|Will you wait for me to eat pears?|
Will you wait for me, Pears?
|Will you wait for me?|
|¿Qué te pasa, Calabaza?||What’s happening, Pumpkin?||What’s up?|
|Nada, nada, Limonada||Nothing, nothing, lemonade.||Not much.|
Note: In the phrase ¿Me comprendes, Méndez?, there is no actual person named Méndez. Méndez is used because it rhymes with comprendes (do you understand).
Below are examples of Chicano slang for different words and phrases. It’s common to hear most of these words in Mexico today.
|aguas, águila||be alert, be careful, watch out|
|bronca||trouble or problem|
|brother||brother, close friend|
|carnal||brother, close friend|
|chale||expressing disagreement or upset|
|chavalo/chavala||little boy/little girl|
|cholo/chola||originally: Mexican gangster; now: retro fashion with baggy pants, white shirts or button-ups, and tattoos|
|dále gas||step on it, go for it|
|ese, esey||dude, guy|
|güacha or wacha||watch out|
|güey or wey||friend, dude|
|hyna||young woman, girlfriend/wife|
|la neta||the truth|
|no manches||no way, really|
|no hay pedo||no problem|
|órale||right on, alright!|
|paisa (from paisano)||recent immigrant from Mexico in the US|
|¿Qué onda?||What’s up?|
|rifar||to rule, to be awesome|
|ruca||young woman, girlfriend/wife|
|simón||yes or yeah|
|vato||dude, guy, man|
To get an idea of how to use these words correctly, watch actors Eva Longoria and Michael Peña using some of them in this Mexican slang video. You can also hear an example of Chicano slang by listening to Richie Valens’ brother Bob in the 1987 movie La Bamba.
¡Órale, amigos! It’s time to add some Chicano slang to your everyday Spanish. Language is a powerful tool that can bridge cultures. Even though it originated in the US, Chicano slang carries a great historical significance within both Mexican and Mexican-American communities. Now that you have learned a little about the history of Chicano slang, go ahead and use these words and phrases as you continue to explore Mexican culture and Spanish language.