The stinky truth about cultural stereotypes

I had finally made it to the gas pump after a lengthy wait.

I had finally made it to the gas pump after a lengthy wait.

As I set the gas nozzle to auto pump, I greeted a gentleman, not expecting to open the floodgates of racial tension that he apparently was harboring.

The essence of the speech I received in those four minutes was what in my Chicano lingo I call “puro pedo” (“stinking empty words”). He said that it was great to be an American, unlike other countries and so on. Arrogantly he said that he doesn’t mind paying high prices for gas. He put the emphasis on Americanism vs. other countries, i.e. in this case, Latin countries. The closing remarks were “if they don’t like it, they can go back to their country.”

That is what Latinos often faced as they face issues in today’s society. A week doesn’t go by in which I am approached or in conversation where a person uses the “puro pedo” approach with an innuendo, a babbling of lost words, a phony interest in the Latino issues or even an attempt to hide their fear or dislike of Latinos.

Let me share some phrases that are common “puro pedo,” like:

• I have friends that came from Mexico.

• I am praying for your family that is still back in your country.

• My parents/grandparents were immigrants too.

• We love big families too.

• Must have been hard learning English?

• I love Mexican food.

• I went to school with Hispanics.

A letter in The Mirror (Aug. 6) introduced the smoke covered, beating around the bushes “puro pedo” by saying: “I have been around the world. There is no better country.” Then reference to “they” and “them” is used. Who is she referring to as the group that have chips on their shoulders, do not support each other and do not study, lacking discipline and walking the streets at all hours?

It is obvious that the letter writer is referencing Latinos. You don’t hear people saying to African-Americans to go back to Africa, to Koreans to go back to Korea, or to white people to go back to Europe or Canada. Just because a person has origins from a certain cultural group does not mean that they came from, or should go back to, that country. Traveling around the world does not license one to categorize a group of people.

Just in case the disrespect and belittling of the group referred to are Latinos, let me share some clarity on these labels.

• Many Latinos do have scars and defense mechanisms they were forced to learn due to the civil distresses in many Latin countries. Even some of us who are U.S. born, English-speaking, tax-paying, God-loving citizens have learned to be on the guard and deal with injustice, discrimination, lack of educational resources and opportunities, and even profiling.

• The Latino culture is one of the closest-knitted cultures in the world. The Latino culture is rich in family values, religious beliefs and hard-working ethics.

• The success stories regarding the educational accomplishments in the Latino community are many but never get told, especially if the parents are undocumented and working two or three jobs to provide for their children.

• As to lacking discipline and walking the streets at all hours: I don’t know what part of Federal Way this is happening at such an exaggerated rate, but take a ride around our city and you will find walkers that represent all people. Latinos usually are walking to and from work late at night. Who cleans the kitchens, does laundry in the hotels, cleans offices, etc.? Yup, often it is Latinos.

I was asked recently my thoughts on the youth activity and the growth of gang activity in our city. My response was stunning to my inquiring amigo. He couldn’t understand why I feared the young kids hanging out at the mall more than I feared the homeboys in California.

When you have authenticity, you can learn to deal with it. But when you have fake, wannabe look-a-likes, generic — then you have less of a map of understanding their motive operandi. We have kids committing crimes just to fit in or to mask other races. Barrio and ghetto struggling youth often are products of America not listening and providing opportunity for them. I am in total support of the city’s effort to rid gangs in our community. Yes, my young brothers and sisters tag and wag, but at least I can understand (not agree with) their frustrations. But a kid who comes from a rich to middle-class home with every computer game and everything he/she wants and has no understanding of what it is to be part of a less-dominant group — why is that youth trying to be another ethnicity or culture?

So, how can we work together and build our city to become an “American” award-winning city? How can we preserve our country as the best in the world? Whether you are black, white, brown, yellow or multi-colored, we all need to stop our “puro pedos” and dialogue on how we can truly make our city the best. Stop pretending to care for your neighborhood, yet hating your neighbor.

As we approach Election Day, get a clear understanding of the issues at hand. Be willing to be part of the change. If not, then you can complain all you want, but it’s “puro pedo.”

Tito Hinojos is a Federal Way resident. Send comments to