Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ask a Nuyorican

Hola mi Gente,

These next few days I will be participating on a prison monitoring visit with my former employer, The Correctional Association of NY. I will be in the belly of the beast at Elmira Correctional Facility in upstate New York. It is often during these visits that I come face to face with the consequences of lead poisoning, environmental racism, and the disinvestment of Black and Latin@ men and women. More on that tomorrow (I hope).

In the meantime, I need to keep a sense of humor while doing this work, hence the following offered with tongue firmly in cheek… 

* * *

Ask a Nuyorican

Being a Primer on How to be a Nuyorican via Cuss Words, Sex, and Everything Else

So, a couple of years ago, I read ¡Ask A Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano and found myself cracking up throughout the whole read. I was thinking that since the messakins have such a reference source, then the second largest Latin@ demographic, people of Puerto Rican descent, should be similarly honored. After all, in the northeast and in places like Chicago, Puerto Ricans are most likely the majority of Latin@s you will run into. Shit, we even have a tight-knit clan in Hawaii, part of the unintended result of Operation Bootstrap. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here and I don’t want to give anyone a headache.

Notice the word in my title, Nuyorican? Well, a Nuyorican is a person of Puerto Rican descent or birth who was born or raised in New York City. Lots of Dominicans and Cubans and assorted other Latino/as try to pass themselves off a Nuyoricans, but you can tell us apart right away: we’re the first ones to speak up.

Now, if you’re from the South or the West Coast, you might not even know what a Puerto Rican is or that Puerto Rico is a colony of the good old U.S. of A. Yup, that’s right. Puerto Rico, a small island in the Caribbean, is the oldest colony on the planet (a distinction we once shared with our Irish brothers and sisters). 

As a result of the Jones Act, Puerto Ricans are citizens of the USA. Not that we asked for it. In fact, we had nothing to do with it, since our little islita was part of the spoils of the Spanish-American War. But in any case, we are US citizens, so all you black and white Americanos who are too stupid to know your own country’s geography and who are about to ask me for my green card -- I got yer fuckin’ green card... 

::right here::

LOL! Seriously, I once had to set a southern educator straight while attempting to register my younger brother in a Texas school, dumb fuckin’ hick. A teacher should know America, right?

Okay! Now that we got that out of the way... we can move on to the juicier stuff! Let’s start with language. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I hope to continue adding to it, but it will have to suffice for now...

¡ <-- an="" blogs...="" exclamation="" exclamatory="" how="" i="" it="" my="" point="" s="" see="" sentence:="" start="" that="" to="" upside-down="" used="" usually="">¡Ho sweat, your ass is showing!

There are other important punctuation issues, such as the upside-down question mark and the tilde which transforms an n into something that sounds like enye (ñ) (like Enya, the gringa singer, except with a short e sound at the end), but I’m not getting into that today. I want to get to the important shit, like cuss words and shit. Now, some of these cuss words won’t have the same effect or meaning with other Latino/as. Bicho, for example, means mosquito for a Cuban. You hear Cubans all the time talking about some bicho bothering them, or how they want to swat a bicho away. 

::blank stare::

However, for a Nuyorican bicho means penis, dick, cock.

Alguinaldo: Puerto Rican jibaro (“hillbilly”) music. Often uses the cautro, a guitar of Puerto Rican origin. This music is played during the Christmas season.

Ame-Rican: Another way of saying Nuyorican. No really, it is a creation of the great Nuyorican poet, Tato Laviera.

Americano: an Americano is anyone from the US regardless of skin color. Nuyoricans use this term instead of the Mexican preferred gringo. Most Nuyoricans wouldn’t be caught saying something as corny as gringo (or “esai” for that matter. LOL!). If you ain’t Latin@ then you’re an Americano.

Aiscream: I’m sure I have the spelling wrong, but this is a Spanglish word meaning “ice cream.” The correct word is mantecado.

Barrio: Neighborhood, community -- analogous to Ebonic da 'hood.

Bellaco/a: A lustful or horny individual. That Eddie es un bellaco malo. Or, That girl has the eyes of a bellaca!

Bicho: A term used to denote a penis (also called a pinga). 

Bolas: Literally “balls” but used to refer to a man’s testicles (also called huevos)

Bomba: An African-derived (Afro-Rican) song form indigenous to Puerto Rico.

Borinquen/ Boricua: Borinquen is the original name of the island christened Puerto Rico by Christopher Columbus. A Boricua is someone from the island Borinquen. However, the terms have a more important psychological function for Nuyoricans. It’s the psycho-spiritual birthplace of all Puerto Ricans, whether they were born there or not. Some Nuyoricans use Borinquen to describe parts of the Bronx. As the poet, Mariposa, who seemed to be speaking for many of us when she wrote, “I wasn’t born in Puerto rico, but Puerto Rico was born in me.”

The word Borinquen translates to “the great land of the valiant and noble Lord.” Boricua has been popularized in the island and abroad by descendents of Puerto Rican heritage, commonly using the phrase, Yo soy Boricua (“I am Boricua,” or, “I am Puerto Rican”) to identify themselves as Puerto Ricans. Another variation which is also widely used is Borincano which translated means “from Borinquen.”

Cabron: A cabron is literally a castrated goat, but if a Nuyorican calls you a cabron you should take umbrage because it means that your wife is doing the nasty with another and you know it and put up with it.

Callejero: A street person. Someone who hangs out in the streets of el barrio. Often an individual who lives on the margins of society.

Cano: A light-skinned Puerto Rican. A PR with European features.

Cachapera: A lesbian. I forget the etymology but I think its origin has to do with a word meaning to rub, because the homophobic stereotype of two women rubbing their chochas together. Don’t ask... 

Cariño: love, affection. The phrase, Ay cariño, is a refrain popularized in a famous bolero.

Chancleta: a house slipper, but also a Nuyorican mother’s preferred tool for corporal punishment.

Chancletazo: Getting hit by a chancleta.

Chichar: To fornicate. 

Chiclet: A Spanglish word of Nuyorican origin meaning bubble gum. Taken from the company of the same name that produces bubble gum.

Chingar: Same as chichar. Nuyoricans do not use chinga in the same way messakins do -- as in chinga tu madre (motherfucker). You would never hear a Nuyorican say something like that, we consider it provincial. More likely, a Nuyorican would use it in the following manner, Vamos a chingar, negrita linda (“Let’s fornicate, you sweet thing you.”)

Chino/a: Literally “Chinese,” but chino/a is a phrase Nuyoricans use to denote all Asians regardless of their country of origin. It’s also used as a term of endearment. 

Chocha: A term used to denote a vagina (also called a toto). As with all the cuss words, here, this is a very vulgar term. User at your own risk.

Chulo/a: A term of affection -- someone who is sweet and attractive. Papi chulo, is a term of endearment.

Cocolo: In the USA, this was a pejorative term for African-Americans. In PR, it’s a term for PRs who embrace their African roots. So, you can be light-skinned and still be considered a cocolo.

Come Mierda: Literally “shit eater,” denoting a person who’s full of shit and kisses ass excessively. Often used by Nuyoricans in reasoned debate. Also used by Nuyoricans as a pejorative for Cubans.

Conflei: Spanglish for morning cereal (“corn flakes”).

Coño: The Spanish vernacular for “damn.” Nuyoricans use this as often as messakins use the word chinga. It’s an all-purpose curse word. It can be used when you experience pain: ¡Coño, that shit hurt! or when something fascinating or superlative happens: ¡Coño! She is beautiful.

Crica: I’m not sure if the spelling’s correct (it’s slang, so who knows), but it means vagina. Of all the words meaning vagina, this one is probably considered the coarsest. It’s often used to describe someone in a bad way, as in cara 'e crica (pussy face).

Cuero: Literally meaning the cured skin of an animal, like a leather. It is a slut shaming descriptor for a woman considered loose -- a woman of low morals. Esa mujer es un cuero.

Culeca/o: A horny or overly flirtatious person.

Culo: Every Nuyorican man’s obsession -- ass, Ass, MO ASS! LOL

De Cachete: Literally “of the cheek,” but meaning getting something for free. 

Dumb-in-a-cans: A pretyy much messed up way of referring to our Dominican brothers and sisters. A play on the word “Dominicans.” Three ethnic enclaves that are closely related culturally speaking are: Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans. As with all groups, there are inter-cultural tensions. The saying goes that Dominicans are the stupid ones, the Cubans are the shit-eaters (come mierdas), and the Puerto Ricans are the lazy ones. This is indicative of the worst of us. In reality, we are all more closely related than not and should be struggling for solidarity, not for divisive language.

Grifa: A term used to describe people who are light-skinned but have wiry/ wooly hair. Like some Jewish people would be called grifos as well as hinchos.

Hincho: Someone who’s so white, they’re pink.

Hola: A form of greeting, as in “hello.” No, it is not “holla” and it is pronounced with the h silent: oh-la.

Huevos: Literally eggs, but often used to denote testicles (also called bolas).

India/o: A term denoting Puerto Ricans who resemble the original inhabitants of Borinquen -- the Taino Indians. Also used as a term of endearment (Note that PRs use almost anything as a term of endearment).

Jibaro: Literally “hillbilly” oe “hick”.” At one time, Nuyoricans were ashamed of their roots and jibaro was used as a pejorative. Later, jibaro became an icon for young Puerto Rican people who were embracing their roots as part of a mass identity movement. In fact, during that era there was a very popular salsa hit song, ¡Jibaro Soy! (I am a hillbilly!), still popular today.

La Jara: Spanglish for, the police. The phrase came about because so many NYC police officers were called “O'Hara.” the J in Spanish has the H sound, so Nuyoricans would exclaim “la Jara, la Jara!” when the police were coming. 

Mami: An affectionate form of madre (mother). Nuyoricans also use to refer to their loved ones Mami Chula or women they find attractive (Oye Mami!) Oftentimes its diminutive, mamita, is used in this context.

Maricón: Literally an insult questioning a man’s sexual preference, a homoesexual, but often used as a substitute for the Anglo motherfucker

Me cago en tu madre: Literally, “I shit on your mother’s name.” Sometime it is used in a blasphemous context, as in, ¡Me cago en dios! (“I shit on God’s name”), or to let a misbehaving child know what one thinks of his/ her father, ¡Me cago en tu padre! (“I shit on your father’s name!”) Me cago en... is all all-around cuss phrase.

Messakins: A fucked up way of referring to our Mexican brothers and sisters.

¡Mira!: Literally “Look!” but used as an all-around greeting phrase as in ¡Oye mira! (“Hey! Look!” “Yo!”)

Morena/o: Originally used as a term for PRs who resembled Moors (mora/o) darker-skinned folk. In the US, a term also sometimes used to describe African-Americans. 

Mulata: Black Americanos often find this term offensive, but for Puerto Ricans a mulata is not a bad thing. In fact, there are songs and poems dedicated to mulata/os. It denotes a person of mixed race -- which is just about every Puerto Rican you’ll ever meet.

Nalgas: Ass cheeks.

Negro/a: Literally meaning black, but used as a term of endearment by Nuyoricans. Don’t ask me why, I once knew the origins of its use, but have since forgotten. I think it began as an homage to a person’s African roots, a way of calling to it and honoring it, not sure. Whatever the case, you can be white as a fish belly, but if you’re in a relationship with a Nuyorican, he or she will eventually call you negra or negro as a term of endearment. Regardless of your skin color, when we're feelin' you, you may be lovingly called negro, negra, negrito, or negrita. You may have skin the color of the midnight sky, have a heavy dose of leche in your cafe, or even sport the bluest eyes. Chances are that if we've determined that we want to be your friend, relative, or lover, you will hear, “Call me soon, negrita, so we can hang out.” The use of negro or negra as terms of endearment in the Latin@ community does not have a parallel to the use of the N word and its variations because they do not carry the same historical (namely racist) legacy. So feel good about it.

Nena/e: Literally meaning boy/ girl, but also often used as a term of endearment: Ay nene, you kiss me so well.

Nuyorican: Originally a pejorative used by Puerto Ricans from the island and other come mierda Latin@s. It was used to denote the poorer, supposedly stupider, more radical cousins of “true” Puerto Ricans. However, many persons of Puerto Rican descent use the term proudly today to self-identify. Nuyorican is part of an identity movement. Studies of Nuyoricans show that we share many cultural traits with African-Americans (which is probably the reason why other Latin@s, expressing internalized racism, use it as a pejorative).

Papi: Father. An affectionate form of Padre most often used to refer to your object of affection Ay Papi! or Ay Papi Chulo! Who says Freud is irrelevant these days? LOL 

Pasteles: A Puerto Rican staple meat dish, made of mashed plantains and root vegetables, and meat, wrapped in plantain leaves. 

Pendejo/a: Literally a “pubic hair.” It is used as an insult. Leave it to PRs to compare someone to something as insignificant as a pubic hair.

Pinga: A term used to denote a penis (also called a bicho).

Plena: An indigenous Puerto Rican song form.

Puñeta: Normally, it means to masturbate, but like coño, it’s also an all-purpose Nuyorican cuss word. Most often used in anger, as in ¡Puñeta! I stumped my toe!

Puta: Whore, prostitute, ho'.

Rockero: Assimilated Puerto Ricans (on the island) who’re into rock/ pop.

Roofo: Another Spanglish word meaning, yup, the roof. The correct word is techo.

Rumba/ Rumbero: An Afro-Cuban dance form, but also used by Nuyoricans to denote a party or partier. Vamos a rumbiar! (Lets party!), or Esa nena es una rumbera! (that woman can party!).

Sabroso/a: Very tasty, delicious, as in Your rice and beans es muy sabroso.

Salsa: an urban folklore incubated in the barrios of New York City that influenced Nuyorican/ Latin@ literature, art, and music. Also a genre of Latino/a music.

Sangana/o: This word also has different meanings among different Latino/as, but for Nuyoricans, it means A person who is girlish. A dolt, an idiot, a fool. One who is easily taken advantage of. A naive individual. I often use it to mean the same as “silly.”

Spanglish: A merging of Spanish/ English -- or a form of code-switching -- having its roots mostly in Nuyorican and Chicano communities. Spanglish, at one time considered the parlance of the ignorant, has emerged as an influence in Latino/a literature, influencing many poets and writers of note. There is at least one college course I know of teaching the idiom.

Spanish: Spanish is a fuckin’ language ma’fuccas. It’s also used to denote people who come from Spain. I’m not from Spain, so don’t call me Spanish unless you like being called a cracker or an asshole! And Latin@s? Stop calling yourself Spanish!

Toto: Denoting a vagina (also called a chocha). This is more a kiddie word.

Trigueña/o: Someone with light brown skin coloring -- something like cinnamon or lighter with pelo lasio (wavy-to-straight hair).

Well, I have to run along to work, so this will be it for now. I will continue adding more, so come back and check it out. If you have a question about Nuyoricans and/ or Puerto Ricans, please feel free to ask. The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization… 


Nuyorican Power, was TV program on the now defunct Current station. It focused on Nuyorican culture, featuring portraits of Pedro Pietri, Fat Boy, Rita Moreno, J-Lo, Macho Camacho and Giannina Braschi, among others.

War against all Puerto Ricans: Fantastic history of the troubled relationship between the US and Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico: The trials of the oldest colony in the world: The title speaks for itself. Yes, Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States.

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