Guillermo Chapa was a member of the culture I was assigned to teach Spanish at as a rookie assistant-prof at Pan Am-Brownsville. I said teach “at” instead of “to” because almost all my students already knew the language — I had little to teach them there. The courses I was charged with were abstruse (“comparative-constrastive Spanish-English phonetics and phonology”) and cultural. I knew a lot about the formalities of Spanish and some of its literature. Guillermo knew a lot about the realities of being Hispanic in Texas. We hit it off.
I went with Guillermo and his friends to see a Mexican movie across the border in Matamoros. I can’t remember the title. At one point the screen filled with quietly intimidating men exhibiting distinctly Native-American gravitas and wearing imposing hats. “There they are,” I heard Guillermo murmur reverently, “Los meros meros.”
The Mexicanism and how he said it stayed with me: “Los meros meros.” Without delving too deeply I took it then and take it now to mean something like: The men you don’t want to mess with, who will remain dormant and benign until and unless their community needs them; the backbone of their society, rooted in Pre-Columbian times, icons of long-suffering durability.
That’s just an approximation of what the cinematic image and Guillermo’s comment meant for me at the time. The term “mero” is cognate with English “mere,” but the two terms parted company in this Mexican idiom. There’s nothing “mere” about Los Meros.
Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.