What Does “Pocho” really mean?

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A few years ago during a trip to my hometown in Mexico, I was constantly referred to as the “Pocha.” I noticed that the term was used to describe me whenever I stuttered while speaking Spanish, or when I tried to fit in by dancing to “banda” or “mariachi,” the music native to Mexicans. I also noticed that the term was usually accompanied by laughter and judgment. I had never heard the word and was extremely confused. However, judging by the way in which my friends used it when referring to me, I knew to not take it as a compliment. Although I was unaware of what the term meant, I did not want to ask them for its definition in fear that they would laugh even harder at my confusion. Therefore I waited until I got home to ask my mom. When I asked, all my mom could say was that it is a term Mexicans use to refer to individuals who are of Mexican decent but come from the United States. I immediately understood; my friends were making fun of my failed attempt to dance like “Mexicans” and at the fact that I struggled to speak Spanish.

In class, we discussed the definition of this term but I sensed a bit of confusion among my classmates. I hope to alleviate this confusion by further explaining what the term means and when it is used. As defined by Wikipedia, “pocho” is used by native born Mexicans to describe Chicanos, or all those who were born in Mexico but immigrated to the United States at an early age. The typical pocho speaks English and lacks fluency in Spanish. They specifically tend to use code switching and loan words while speaking. Code switching is the act of alternating between two or more languages during one conversation. An example of that would be “Voy a ir shopping ahora en el supermarket” (I am going shopping now at the supermarket). A Loan word is a word borrowed from a language and incorporated into a distinct language without translation. For example, “voy a parquear el carro” ( I am going to park the car). In this example, the English term “park” is modified to “parkear” to replace the term, “estacionar,” meaning park in Spanish. Another popular example of an American phrase that has been adopted, is the quote “make my day.” In Spanish, many pochos have directly translated it to “hacer mi dia.” This phrase is something native Mexicans would not understand.

The sentiment behind the title is debatable. For some pochos, the term has been accepted as a form of expressing pride in having both a Mexican and an American heritage. However, the term derives from the Spanish word pocho, which is used to describe rotten or discolored fruit. Through its literal definition, pochos are seen as inferior individuals who are not worthy of the title Mexican. In this case, a fruit represents life brought by the Mexican culture. For those who have left Mexico to start a new life in the United States, rotting symbolizes the loss of their Mexican identity. For Chicanos, discoloration represents a lack of flavor/culture with which they were raised. It is evident that initially, the term was adopted as an insult for those with Mexican blood that reside in the United States.

The negative connotations brought by the term, serve to illustrate the creation of a Mexican American borderland. “Pocho” illustrates how native Mexicans exclude Mexican Americans from the Mexican culture, judging them as not Mexican enough. When I initially understood the meaning of pocho, I felt offended and  confused. All my life I identified myself as Mexican, but after being classified as a pocha, I felt unwanted and excluded from my own culture. I was stuck in a borderland between my Mexican heritage and American lifestyle. However, now I have learned to embrace both sides of my identity. There is nothing wrong with being both Mexican and American! Therefore, I proudly accept that fact that I am a pocha! What do you guys think? Is the term pocho an insult?


What Does “Pocho” really mean? — 7 Comments

  1. I think it’s awesome that you looked for the real meaning of the word. I’m still not sure how I really feel about it. I can see why It might rub Americans the wrong way, but as we saw on the video, i think you take into consideration the context in which someone says it, especially if it’s directed towards you. As I mentioned, I have called some of my cousins “pocho” just to playfully mess with them and so far there has been no indication that it bothers them, but maybe it does. Also, now that I’m studying here, my mom always says: “No quiero que te vuelvas pocho eh!” (I don’t want you to become a pocho) and i just laugh at the phrase. Just like any other term that defines a race, I’m sensitive to it but also take into account who it’s coming from and the situation.

  2. I think it is definitely an insult. One of the main things I notice while traveling abroad (Germany and Mexico) is that the native population gives no mercy to your attempts at their language. In the U.S., we make extreme efforts to understand and help people who are not good at their English, so they might learn to speak it better. But instead of helping you with your Spanish, they just laughed, (and they also laughed at me when I tried haha). I think they could have called you a Pocha, had a laugh, and then gave you some pointers on your accent. The thing I don’t like is that calling half Mexicans a Pocho is A-ok, but we who are apparently “more white than Hispanic” aren’t allowed to judge the other side at all.

  3. I never heard the term ” Pocha” before. But now it is clear for me, that probably not too many Mexican Americans would want to be called that. I wonder how this term got created and by who? Is it because people are jealous of you knowing English and different dances? I very dislike when people label each other. It is wrong. You cant identify someone based on where they grew up or language they speak. Although I feel like sometimes they just called you “Pocha” just to have couple laughs and didn’t mean to insult you.

  4. I personally never hear the term pocho prior to watching the video watched during class. But even after hearing what it means, i don’t find it offensive because i think its used not in a negative way but in a way that describes a person who has difficulties in fully connecting to either one of his/hers nationalities or has trouble speaking one language but still tries to.

  5. I think this topic is very interesting. The term “pocho” almost has a derogatory connotation to it, and most definitely an offensive one since you are being made fun of it. I love how you reclaim the term and accept it. The same has been done for terms like the n word, faggot, or dyke. People are reclaiming them and saying “hey, I am this thing and theres nothing offensive about it because I fully accept it.” I love that. I understand not feeling “Latina enough” as I encounter that every day. It poses the question, of what makes someone Chican@? What makes someone Latin@? What makes someone Mexican, Guatemalan, Peruvian, Colombian, etc.?

  6. I greatly admire your ability to take that term and make it your own when, most often or not, it’s used negatively. I personally have never been called that but I am very familiar with the term “gringita” as I am widely known in my family as. Just because I am one of the few to go through college but in that way its endearing. Usually when used by strangers or in a negative context its very very hurtful. It was very interesting to see how you researched the term and applied it to yourself.

  7. I think you’re right to have been insulted by it at first but I’m glad you have learned to embrace it because you should! You should be very proud and grateful to be able to be a part of two amazing cultures. I’m just a plain american 🙂 and think it would be so cool to identify to different cultures and ethnicities so embrace it for those who can’t! 🙂

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