10 Signs You Grew Up Mexican in Orange County

Gabachos might think all Mexicans in Orange County are alike—but we ain’t, cabrones. Mexicans in San Juan Capistrano don’t have the same lives as Mexicans in Guadalajabra. A middle-class Mexi who grew up attending Santa Margarita High had a different life than a street-smart kid who grew up in Garden Grove’s Buena Clinton barrio. And a fourth-generation 60-some Chicano who used to roll with F-Troop back in the day is going to look at the world differently than someone born in the Tierra Caliente of Guerrero who just came over a couple of years ago. Believe it or not, santaneros: not every OC Mexican went to El Toro Market, just like not every OC Mexican made out with chicks at Hillcrest Park in Fullerton back in the day.

That said, there are some communal experiences that all Mexicans who grew up in Orange County over the past 40 years have experienced. Whether you’re a Snapchat-obsessed teen who only attends Newport Harbor High because your mom’s a live-in maid or attended the Brenton Wood concert this Valentine’s Day weekend at the Yost (or whether you say it’s Valentine’s or Valentime’s), behold our shared OC Mexican life, things no other pocho  or paisa in the U.S. can claim. Enjoy!

You Remember When Northgate González Supermarkets Only Had a Couple of Locations

Nowadays, Northgate Gonzalez Supermarkets is a mega-chain that spans from San Diego to Arizona (and employs my papi as a truck driver) and has 13 in OC alone. But this is a relatively recent development; as early as the beginning of last decade, it only had 13 locations. Hell, I remember when it had just one spot, on Anaheim Boulevard across the street from a cantina (Store #1 is still there). Hell, my parents remember co-president Oscar González when he was a young boy sleeping under the cash register at the original store. Hell, my mom—who grew up within walking distance in the late 1960s—remembers that original Northgate when it was an American grocery store run by Koreans who’d have to drive to L.A. to get Mexican products. Now that’s a Mexican who grew up in la naranja.

Your Family Had Mexican-Specific Nicknames for County Landmarks

Eisenhower Park in Orange? El Parque de los Patos, for its many ducks that loved the interconnected lakes. Boysen Park in Anaheim. El Parque de los Aviones, for its concrete-entombed fighter jet and rocket-shaped slide. The old CHOC Thrift Store in Orange? La Tienda del Osito, due to CHOC’s teddy bear mascot.  Disneyland? Disneylandia—DUH. SanTana Mayor-for-Life Miguel Pulido? El Gran Puto—you can look it up!

You Know Interesting Pronunciations for OC Cities and Streets

Mexican parents and tíos trying to learn English have led to some amazing names and pronunciations for OC streets and cities that their kids picked up. “Stanton” turns to Stantón (for the Chicano old-timers in OC’s most-reviled city) or Estanton (for recent immigrants). “Santa Ana,” of course, turns to “SanTana” (it’s the elision, sensitive gabachos), and while the city of Cudahy is in L.A. County, everyone pronounced it “Caaraahai” back when El Potrero Nightclub was the place to go.  Even better is what we do to streets. Edinger Avenue turns to “Edeenyer,” while Standard Avenue is universally pronounced as “Estaandaar.” Don’t believe me? Look at the photo above—not photoshopped one bit.

But the best pronunciation I ever heard? Heard this one from my dad: One time, a guy straight from the ranchos of Jerez, Zacatecas, looked at the sign on State College Boulevard and Katella Avenue during an Angels game. He said—and I’ll try to spell out the pronunciation he said for English-only folks, but for the halba crowd: imagine saying every letter in Spanish—”E-staa-tay Coe-yay-heh.” SAVAGE.

You Remember When Only Mexicans Would Go to Downtown Santa Ana

Fuck, that was only about five years ago!

The San Clemente Immigration Checkpoint Always Freaked You Out

Has been doing so since 1924. But that migra base did contribute one good thing to this world: When Zack de la Rocha’s teacher at University High School in Irvine referred to it as the “wetback station,” it set young Zacharias on the road to Rage Against the Machine. Gracias, pendejo teacher!


You Know Someone from Jalisco, Michoacán, Mexico City, or Zacatecas—Or Are From There Yourself

Those are the four Mexican states that historically sent the most Mexicans to OC over the past century, and the rank-and-file of OC jobs, whether white-collar or blue-collar, are filled with the children of these immigrants, who inevitably hailed from Sahuayo, El Granjenal or Uruapan (Michoacán), Arandas or Jalostotitlán (Jalisco), Jerez, Jalpa, or Tepetongo (Zacatecas), or la capirucha (Mexico City). Even today, as the majority of OC’s new Mexicans come from Southern Mexico and Sinaloa, those states still dominate OC Mexican life.

Your Teacher or Professor Made You Visit Librería Martinez at Least Once

The iconic bookstore opened in the early 1990s, moved twice, and formally ended its book-selling earlier this month. In those two decades, owner Rueben Martínez hosted hundreds of Chicano, Mexican and Latino authors (including this trash novelist), and probably spoke at every Latino-dominant high school in Orange County during that time to promote literacy. And in that time, probably every English teacher or Latino professor urged their students to go to Librería Martínez and support the Macarthur Genius winner. A rite of passage that future generations will never experience, alas…

Your L.A. Cousins and Friends Always Thought You Were More Stuck Up Than You Were

To this day, there are Chicanos in Boyle Heights, getting rich off the non-profit cheese and who can’t speak a lick of Spanish, that insist any Mexican who lives in OC is a vendido who probably lives in Mission Viejo and is creído even though said Boyle Heights Chicano All-Star live in Uptown Whittier or the nice part of Alhambra and their in-laws stay in Coto and you actually live in the Slater Slums—go figure!

You Used the Word “Wab”

Years ago, I compiled a list of all the regional anti-Mexican slurs that Mexicans around the United States used to demean each other, to essentially call each other a wetback. And for Orange County, our word is “wab,” which OC Mexicans have used since at least the 1970s. It’s a word that exists nowhere else in the United States, used as an insult (“You’re such a wab!”), a word of praise (“You’re such a wab!”), an adjective (“That’s a wabby dress, Yesenia”),  and even a nickname for a city—any of you come from Wabaheim?

You Experienced at Least One Stupid, HILARIOUS Incident of Racism

God, where to begin? Maybe with my friend Veronica, who remembers having students at Irvine High School throwing tortillas at Santa Ana Valley High School fans during football games in the early 1990s, with Irvine police officers warning her and her friends that Irvine wasn’t a city for Mexicans? Or my cousin Victor and Plácido, who were accused of being cholos and sent to the principal’s office at Valencia High in Placentia despite them being the most whitewashed Mexicans of all time? Or when I went to the Balboa Bay Club for a mariachi concert, only to be mistaken for a busboy and a valet guy? Or former Mexican councilmember Dick Nichols saying too many Mexicans go to the beach in Corona del Mar? Fact is, you’re not a real Mexican until you’ve experience at least one stupid incident of racism that you can laugh at years later. Prepares you for the real hate, you know?

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