No one hates Mexicans more than Mexicans, and the proof is in the words we use to insult one another's social station. Pochos are what we call assimilated Mexicans; fresas is used to ridicule snobs. Naco is the barb to denigrate poor urbanites, while vendido is reserved for the sellouts. But the one class of Mexicans that universally gets the burnt end of the enchilada is recent Mexican immigrants. Our hatred for the recently arrived is so endemic that different regions of the U.S. have different slurs for them. Mojado, chúntaro and paisa are the universal terms, but they call such people brazers in Chicago, cheddars in Denver, fronchis in El Paso and oaxaquitos ("little Oaxacans") in Oxnard, the latter being an epithet so insulting that students are banned from uttering it in schools.
Here in Orange County, of course, our word to ridicule Mexican immigrants is "wab." But when I was attending Anaheim High School during the 1990s, we had an even-worse term for wabs: bukis. "Bukis" was reserved for the lowest of the low, the poor kids who sold burritos out of their backpacks for extra money or huddled together during lunchtime along the hallways, resembling beggars on the streets of Calcutta. The term referenced Los Bukis, a mega-popular Mexican group from the 1980s that no self-respecting Mexican teenage boy would ever admit to liking. They were the kings of a genre called balada romántica, synth-heavy pop ballads only moms and tías loved. Leading the way was singer/songwriter Marco Antonio Solís, whose beard and lion's mane of a haircut made him look like Jesus and whose booming tenor cried out songs with names such as "Quiéreme" ("Love Me"), "Y Ahora te Vas" ("And Now You Leave Me") and "Como Fuí a Enamorarme de Ti" ("As I Was in Love With You")–about the uncoolest group around, and hence a perfect palabra with which to ridicule those wabs.
Hey, I'm not excusing any of this racism. Besides, bukis and Los Bukis had the last laugh: 20 years later, my generation has to explain our past intra-group bigotry to skeptical activists. And the legacy of Los Bukis has grown exponentially over the years, with Solís transforming into Mexico's Neil Diamond–someone dismissed by critics, then dismissed by the public before winning over both of them despite never deviating from his gospel of schlocky love.
Solís emerged at the tail end of Mexico's own Tin Pan Alley movement, a decades-long run of Mexican male musicians who wrote and sang their way into the country's songbook.
Men including Luis Pérez Meza, Agustín Lara, José Alfredo Jiménez and Juan Gabriel defined genres by writing canciones that other artists recorded and popularized. But Solís initially didn't seem a likely candidate to join that pantheon: He and his cousins formed Los Bukis (which means "the kids" in the Purépecha language of their native Michoacán) in the mid-1970s as one of dozens of balada romántica groups infesting Mexican airwaves at the time. Even to this day, peers such as Los Temerarios, Los Caminantes, Los Yonics, Los Solitarios and others draw snickers from Mexicans for their dirge-like treacle.
But Solís got the last laugh. He took Los Bukis to the height of the balada romántica movement with anthemic songs (little surprise that their first big hit was a Spanish-language remake of "Feelings") that took advantage of his awesome voice, love of spoken-word passages and deft pen–the mestizo Wordsworth. Every once in a while, Los Bukis worked in banda, hard-rock and norteño rhythms just to confound critics, in tracks such as "Morenita" and "El Celoso" ("The Jealous Guy"); it made Los Bukis sound even hokier but further endeared them to fans. His prowess grew so that he got the nickname El Buki–the Buki, the Messiah of lovelorn ladies everywhere.
And Solís also took advantage of music videos to spread his Word to cheesy heights: the mini-film for Los Bukis' biggest hit, "Tu Carcel" ("Your Jail"), has Solís catch his girl cheating on him before a concert with a rich guy. Little does he know, however, that the girl is in an abusive relationship. She escapes to see Solís at his show, only to have her abusive lover catch up and eventually parade her in front of Solís. At the end of the song, Solís, dressed in an all-white tuxedo (Jesus!), takes off his guitar, picks a girl from the crowd and takes her upstairs, but not before mad-dogging his tearful, captive ex–a vengeful God.
He kept the focus on amor after leaving Los Bukis in 1995 to start a solo career, with titles including "Si No te Hubieras Ido" ("If You Hadn't Left"), "A Dónde Vamos a Parar?" ("Where are We Going to Stop?") and "Mi Amor Eterno Secreto" ("My Secret, Eternal Love") keeping the same grandiose sound, albeit evolving to match the times. Strings replaced synths; his last hit, a mega-duet with pop prince Enrique Iglesias titled "El Perdedor" ("The Loser") featured the jangly rhythms of bachata. But Solís knows why people love him, so his most influential solo hit is also one of his corniest: 2003's "Más Que Tu Amigo" ("More Than Your Friend"), a swirl of mariachi horns, norteño accordion, strumming acoustic guitars and playful organ riffs that's the best song ever written about the friend zone.
With a video set at a club in which Solís enters with a light-skinned beauty that leaves him to dance the night away, El Buki sings his lament of friend-zone limbo to seemingly every girl in the club: "It's a secret/that I only want to share/with those eyes/that have given light to my life." The song ends with chicas line-dancing on the bar, as Solís finally gets the girl.
Schmaltzy as hell? ¡Sí, señor! But you check out the shrieking believers this Friday at the Honda Center, who don't care that Solís' production values are out of the '90s; the Light of his love lives in them. And for us, the disbelievers who disowned him so long ago and defiled his name? Forgive us, El Buki, for we knew not what we did.
Marco Antonio Solís at the Honda Center, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 704-2400; www.hondacenter.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $85-$700 (!). All ages.