Why Do Mexicans Put Stickers Honoring the Dead on Car Windows?

[¡Ask a Mexican!] And why do Chicano Studies professors always wear guayaberas?

DEAR READERS: The Mexican is currently smuggling mescal out of Oaxaca and into hipster bars nationwide, and thus gives you two oldies but goodies. But I do want to give a shout-out to Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano, a former undocumented immigrant who's turning out to be the greatest American middle-distance runner since the legendary Jim Ryun. Take THAT, Know Nothings! Anyhoo, on to the preguntas . . .

DEAR MEXICAN: It seems that whenever Chicano professors want to show off their mexicanidad, they wear a guayabera. In fact, I saw a picture of you in the Los Angeles Times donning the shirt, along with Dickies and Converse All Stars. How trite and bourgeois! You go to a café or bar in any university town in Mexico, and the students will think you're totally naco. I stopped wearing the guayabera when a friend said I looked like a waiter in a Mexican restaurant. Do certain clothes determine your Mexicanness?

Sexy Mexi


Ask the Mexican at themexican@askamexican.net, be his fan on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or ask him a video question at youtube.com/askamexicano!

DEAR POCHO: Abso-pinche-lutely. "The bigger the sombrero, the wabbier the man" is a commandment all Mexicans learn from the Virgin of Guadalupe. But seriously, Mexican clothes correspond to social and economic status—sweaty T-shirt indicates laborer, calf-length skirt means a proper Mexican woman, and if a cobbler used the hide of an endangered reptile to fashion your cowboy boots, you're probably a drug dealer or a Texan. The guayabera (a loose-fitting, pleated shirt common in the Mexican coastal state of Veracruz and other tropical regions of Latin America) also announces something about its owner: the güey is feeling hot and wants to look sharp. Why the hate, Sexy? Remember what Andy Warhol said: "Nothing is more bourgeois than to be afraid to look bourgeois." Who cares if people mistake you for a waiter if you sport a guayabera? Just spit in their soup. And who cares if Mexican university students call me, you or any guayabera wearer a naco (Mexico City slang for bumpkin)? They can't be that smart if they're still in Mexico.

DEAR MEXICAN: What's with the memorials on the back windows of Mexican cars? Some days, driving through Santa Ana, I feel like I'm navigating a cemetery.

Muerte Man

DEAR GABACHO: Ruminating on the Mexican obsession with death is as hack as a reporter rolling with gangsters. Yes, Mexicans embrace death—we laud it in song, codify it with holidays, and, , plaster the names and dates of birth and death of our deceased beloveds on car windows, ornate back tattoos and even sweat shirts. "In Mexican homes across Aztlan, an altar is usually present," notes La Pocha, a SanTana artist who specializes in Day of the Dead lore. "In this modern age, spending more time in our cars than our homes, resourceful Mexicans have placed mini-mobile altares in their vehicles. Now you can honor your dead homies while cruisin' in your Chevy. That's progress!"

"Death is present in our fiestas, our games, our loves and our thoughts," wrote Octavio Paz in his 1950 classic The Labyrinth of Solitude. "To die and to kill are ideas that rarely leave us. We are seduced by death."

But before you cite Paz—along with Aztec human sacrifice, cockfighting, bullfighting and the front pages of Tijuana tabloids—as proof of our inherent blood lust, Muerte Man, consider this: Isn't there something honorable about living in the presence of death, something valuable, even, in remembering our mortality? Why relegate death to cemeteries as gabacho Protestants do? Why forget those who passed before us? As Paz wrote, "The cult of life, if it is truly profound and total, is also the cult of death because the two are inseparable. A civilization that denies death ends by denying life."

My Voice Nation Help

Owebama is a true racist. Why does the US President hate the advancement of the standard of living for Mexico’s poor? Barrack Hussein Obama; how dare you deprive Mexico these young educated and motivated people? These US educated and motivated illegal alien occupiers (brought to the US as babies) now in the US are the only hope for Mexico and you want to keep them here in the US. They could start businesses, create jobs, and improve the standard of living for the poor people of Mexico. Yet you want to be selfish and deprive Mexico of these talented youth who could make life better for all the people of Mexico. SHAME ON YOU! Have you no compassion for the poor now living in Mexico? Gustavo Arellano, Steve Gallardo, Nicky Diaz Santillan, and La Raza need to insist that all these young educated and talented Mexicans be sent back to Mexico to help improve the standard of living for the poor Mexicans. Are you with us for the good of Mexico and its people?

ExpertShot topcommenter

The whole Grateful Dead thing in Mexico has nothing to do with the Spanish (that means the Hispanic or Latino parts of our brothers and sisters to the South).  Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl.  When you are conducting these rituals, you are not honoring that part of your genetic makeup which is from Europe (the "bad" part in my opinion).While there are many cultures from many different lands in the Americas, and around the World, who appreciate and conduct ceremonies for rememberance of the dead, the rituals in Mexico, comes from the indigenous people who developed the idea that one can communicate, literally, with the dead - or their spirits through the goddess Mictecacihuatl.  As with many other indigenous peoples around the world, having clear ties with the lives of their ancestors helps to continue the generational knowledge which is crucial to survival of a culture and its traditions which help the people of an area survive.


I wear a hand-knit chaleco, heavy wool, dangling fringe, muy tradicional, all the time when visiting my family in Boston.  Everyone adores it.  My male friends all want me to send them one -- it's perfect to throw on for shoveling snow, or when the cool Fall winds get into your skin.  They say I look like a cross between The Outlaw Josey Wales and a Klingon warrior.  What's not to like?


But it was unseasonably chilly here in Queretaro the other night, and I had friends by to fire up the parilla.  I thought to put it on, but I'm mildly embarrassed, as a gringo in El Sur, to appear as though I'm trying too hard to "go native".  Sure, I wear long trousers at all times, even when oppressively hot, and I have some nice peasant shirts I wear regularly.  Still, the chaleco struck me as perhaps a bit over-the-top, Pancho Villa wanna-be.  The night was cool, however, so I went to my cabana and re-emerged wearing it.  I asked my friend's wife, is it too much, do I look like a gringo trying to play Mexican?


"No", she shrugged, "al ilgual que cualquier hippie Mexicano." Just your ordinary everyday hippie. 


So go ahead, don your guayaberas!  We could use more hippies these days.


1. Guayaberas are not Mexican so wearing one does not make you seem more Mexican. They are worn much more in Latin American countries, like Panama, where they are considered dress-casual and much more businessman-like than a t-shirt. My father loves guayaberas and purchased several (including one for mi yerno who is Mexican) the last time we went to Panama. They bridge that gap for the conservative man who wants to look well-dressed in the heat, which is why they are popular in areas like Veracruz.


2. I live in Mexico and have never seen anyone with memorials on their cars. I think that is a American/chicano thing. We do have a lot of cars with mini alters to saints or Jesus though. Being American, I have seen this a lot (in the US) in black- and latino-American cars, t-shirts and tats. Again I don't think it is "Mexican", it is American, although you might see it along the frontera in ganglandia as well.