Naco, a Mexican word with many meanings but none positive


The word has always reflected racism and class discrimination in Mexico

Last week the writer Nicolás Alvarado starred in a controversy on social networks for his column in which he criticizes the music and image of Juan Gabriel. The most controversial phrase in the text is the one that describes the sequins that the singer-songwriter used as nacas. The use of this word was considered by many to be inadmissible for the director of TV UNAM. Following the protests, Alvarado resigned from this position.

In an interview with Ciro Gómez Leyva last Monday, the writer assured that his intention was not to insult the singer-songwriter and that he does not consider offensive the word naco. “Naco is not a derogatory category; it is a cultural category that what it seeks to express is what results, in its attempt to be beautiful or to be striking, aggressive, ”he said.

The word naco has several meanings in the dictionaries of the Royal Spanish Academy and the dictionary of Mexicanisms of the Mexican Academy of Language, the two main references of the language in the country, but neither resembles the definition of Alvarado. According to the RAE, naco is synonymous with Indian (from indigenous peoples). One of Mexicanisms defines it as something or someone who is perceived as vulgar, in bad taste; without civility or civility; of indigenous origin, or of low resources.

In his book of essays, Days to Save, Carlos Monsiváis explains that the word is probably an abbreviation or that it derives from the word Totonaco, an indigenous people from Veracruz, and that it possibly began to be used in the colonial era to describe contemptuously “What miscegenation does not dissipate: traits of indigenous origin, the sign of the bronze race”.

& # 039; Cantinflas & # 039 ;, played by Mario Moreno, represented & # 039; peladito & # 039 ;, a precursor of the stereotype of naco, according to Carlos Monsiva & iacute; s.  Frame from & # 039; If I Were a Deputy & # 039;  (1952) by Miguel M. Delgado

 The term, Monsivais writes in his work Scenes of Modesty and Lightness, was used to represent a stereotype of people of rural or humble origin in urban areas, in which they are completely maladjusted. This concept has been present since the 1930s in literature, cinema, and later on Mexican television. The Cantinflas character was one of its maximum representatives, points out Monsivais. This is described as a bald man, a kind of forerunner of the naco, a man of humble origin in a big city, without education or good manners and who does not inspire much confidence.

The character of the actor Mario Moreno also fulfilled the function of giving a humorous turn and even a celebration to the poor classes of Mexico, points out Monsiváis. This objective has been taken up by other characters in film and television such as El Barnaby, a character by Eugenio Derbez and La Chupitos, played by comedian Liliana Arriaga. 

A few years later, between the eighties and nineties, there was an effort to reverse the use of the word to something positive and a source of pride, explains Yvette Bürki from the University of Bern (Switzerland) in her article The Figure of the born in current Mexican society. Two of the main leaders of this movement were the Botellita de Jérez and La Maldita Vecindad groups who popularized the phrase Naco es chido “because of their desire to recover the popular in their artistic expression.”

Martha Delfín, a historian from the National School of Anthropology and History, tells Verne by phone that she sees a similar goal in the Naco clothing brand that emerged in 1999. “It seeks to highlight urban Mexican motifs such as wrestling or street food. It is a way of saying I am naco and what, I am proud to be. “

The problem with this kind of redefinition, adds Delfín, is that the discriminatory origin of the word does not change. “Although it is seen as something positive, it persists as a differentiating element of classes and that has always been the purpose of the word naco: to distinguish itself from the other, to make it clear that the one next to it is not the same as me due to its appearance or social condition” , says the academic. “So I think it will be very difficult for the word to stop being offensive.”

Naco maintains its pejorative sense, but according to a study it is now used to criticize more the actions and not so much the characteristics of a person. The results of a survey carried out in Mexico City by UNAM linguist Sandra Strikovsky shows that the majority relates the word to a person whose actions are rude or inconsiderate and is less and less associated with a social condition or ethnic origin. According to the study, there is a tendency to use it in a humorous and light way among trusted people and that its use in a public environment or with unknown people is avoided.

“In this context, people called NACA or NACO at each other to criticize actions or appearance distasteful, exaggerated or vulgar, ” he told Verne Félix Báez-Jorge, an anthropologist at the Universidad Veracruzana. “This is close to the definition of Nicolás Alvarado, with the big difference that Juan Gabriel was not a trustworthy person for him, so the comment is considered pejorative and inappropriate,” he says. The academic adds that regardless of the context in which the word is spoken, it reflects the racism and class discrimination that persists in Mexico. “It is a reality and a big problem in this country, but it tends to be omitted or denied, although recently the topic has begun to be discussed more.”

Baéz-Jorge assures that not much can be known about the current meaning of naco in society without an in-depth study on it. “What we academics can offer so far are hypotheses, nothing more. To understand the use of naco and the racism and discrimination that surround it, a complete analysis is necessary, but that requires a lot of time and money, something that until now the government has not wanted to invest. ”


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