Looking back on my childhood I am reminded of sayings or as we called them dichos, refranes that formed my thought process. My family would repeat phrases such as “tienes que tener amor propio,” which like most Mexican sayings cannot be literally translated. For us, it meant self-respect, loving oneself or pride in one’s identity. This was punctuated by sayings such as “no les pido aqua,” I don’t even ask them for water.” They were models for how you lived your life as a Mexican, a member of a group some Americans looked down upon.
Since we spent so much time with our grandparents, we heard sayings such as “No tengas como vano el consejo del anciano,” “Do not consider useless the advice of an old person.” And my favorite now that I am old, “El diablo sabe más por viejo que por Diablo,” “The Devil knows more because he is old than because he is the Devil.” The dichos underscored truisms, although some did not survive and represented the fear of the old at the time. My grandfather used tell me stories and would often intersperse them with “Los gringos no tienen sentido de familia ponen a sus abuelos en casas de ancianos,” “Americans don’t have a love of family; they put grandparents in old age homes.”
One of the first political lessons that I remember was Benito Juárez’s famous saying, “entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz,” “among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.” This saying was usually coupled with the words of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, “Pobre de México, tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos,” “Poor Mexico, so far away from God and so close to the United States,” a memory that not even Arizona demagogue Tom Horne can erase.
Horne defines a patriot as a person who has developed historical amnesia, but people remember. The late Américo Paredes noted the Tejanos expressed their antipathy toward acculturation or social climbing among Mexicans in the saying, “No te fíes del mexicano que fuma puro ni del gringo que te dice compadre,” “Don’t trust a Mexican who smokes a cigar or a gringo who calls you compadre.”
These sayings like the corridos (ballads) are countless and reflect the tribulations of the people and critique behavior. Sayings like “Dime con quien andas…y te diré quien eres,” “Tell me who you run with and I’ll tell you who you are.” “Mejor solo que mal acompañado,” “Better alone than poorly accompanied,” have multiple applications. “Por el árbol se conoce el fruto,” “By the tree the fruit is known.” They are helpful when assessing the behaviors er of Arizona Senator Russell Pearce and the Tea Party and their association with JT Ready the head of the American Nazi Party.
Personal responsibility in our lives was underscored by sayings such as “El que quiere baile, que pague el músico,” “Who wants dance, should pay the musician.” “El infierno está lleno de buenas intenciones y el cielo de buenas obras,” “Hell is full of good intentions and heaven with good works.” “Lo que bien se aprende, nunca se pierde,” “What is well learned is never lost.”
Listening to Arizona politicos and functionaries remind me of “En boca del mentiroso, lo cierto se hace dudoso,” “In the mouth of a liar, what is certain becomes doubtful.” Or another of Díaz’s sayings “Nadie aguanta un cañonazo de 50 mil pesos,”
No one can withstands a canon blast of 50 thousand pesos,” applicable again to Arizona’s bought politicians and public servants such as Tucson Unified School District superintendent John Pedicone and Board Member Mark Stegeman. For those who think that I am being too harsh, I say “la verdad no peca, pero incomoda,” “the truth may hurt but it does not harm.”
At the risk of sounding obsessed and having others dismiss me with the saying “Cada loco con su tema,” “Every crazy guy has his obsession,” I will again return to Arizona because I can find countless lessons from my family’s wisdom that cast a bright light on the situation there. There are some sayings that I don’t agree with perhaps because of my early Catholic education, sayings such as “Que cada quien que se rasque con sus popias uñas,” “Everyone fend for themselves.” But nevertheless they are guideposts for the person who thinks critically. They remind us that history has a meaning and that those in power cannot erase the truth – unless we let them.
Of course some of the sayings hit too close to home. My wife keeps reminding me, “Candil de la calle y… oscuridad de su casa,” “Light of the street, darkness in your home.” Naturally, I prefer “A prophet is never respected in his own home,” Nadie es profeta en su propia tierra.” But why should the pronoun always be masculine? And, how long are we going to wait to realize the proverb “Todo se paga en este mundo,” certainly the Pedicone cabal will not go to heaven but can I hold on long enough to inherit the earth?
Rodolfo F. Acuña