!Ask a Mexican!

Illustration by Mark DancyDearGabachos,

The topic this week is the etymology of "wab." On July 22, I offered my theory on the word, which assimilated Mexicans use to describe and deride recently arrived Mexicans—that wab is a mongrelization of either "wetback" or "wop" and that it's a slur exclusive to Orange County. Soon after, reader comments invaded my inbox. Theories largely fell into two schools of thought: the Asian and the border. Here's the Asian:

Mexican, Mexican, Mexican . . . sometimes you really don't need a cunning linguist to know from whence the ethnic slurs flow. It's obvious as a matter of pronunciation, if not spelling: "wab" is a confabulation of the classic pejorative "wetback" and the Asian "fob" ("fresh off the boat"). The OC angle is likely due to proximity of the respective populations, i.e., Garden Grove, Westminster, etc. So how come, you may ask, some white boy in Laguna Beach thinks he's got the 411 on this shit? Let's just say . . . vanilla breaks me out. See also "kike"—before its co-opting by anti-Semites, the epithet of choice for Jews to use on newer Jews. Mmm, Jews!

Pete Johnston
Laguna Beach

As soon as you said "wab" applied to recent arrivals, I just assumed it was the Mexican version of "fob," which is what my kids' Asian friends call recent arrivals—it means "fresh off the boat." I bet "wab" is really "wob": wetback off the boat. Sure beats the dumb etymologies those intellectual types were trying to come up with. Why don't you ask somebody in high school? They'll know.

No Slurs Allowed in the Car Pool
Garden Grove

Here's the border approach:

I've always known a wab to be an acronym for "walk across the border." [UC Irvine Spanish professor Armin] Schwegler now has something new to think about—maybe he should publish it so that people will be more edumacated. ¡¡Hasta la victoria!!

Julian De Leon
via e-mail

For 12 years, we lived on the west side of Costa Mesa, where the vast majority of residents are Latinos. My daughter heard "wab" from one of her Latino friends, who said it means "walked across the border."

Cathleen Murphy
via e-mail

Wab stands for "went across border." Makes perfect sense with his explanation that it is used "to describe and deride recently arrived Mexicans." So now you know.

Joanna Kahn

One lady claims wab isn't an Orange County phenomenon:

About 10 years ago, I ran across a piece by William Finnegan in the New Yorkerabout a family in the Yakima Valley of Washington. The parents were Mexican immigrants and true-blue UFW types, and the kids were alienated Nirvana fans who thought all that was crap. And those kids and their pals bagged on wabs throughout the piece. One of their friends never left her daughter with her parents because they dressed her all wabby. Never heard of it before or after. No one ever 'splained the origins, but seems it did have to do with wetback.

Who Asked Bobbi
Los Angeles via Fullerton

And then there's this prison valentine:

I spent years working in a maximum-security facility and can tell you that, at least from the perspective of the incarcerated, wab is an acronym for "wannabe American boy."

Open Your Eyes, Ese
via e-mail

Got a spicy question about Mexicans? Ask the Mexican at garellano@ocweekly.com. And those of you who do submit questions: include a hilarious pseudonym,por favor, or we'll make one up for you!


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