Table of Contents






abuelita—A term of endearment for grandma, like granny or grandmama. Adding the suffix “ita” or “ito” creates a diminutive used to describe something small and/or cute, like the word for cat being gato and kitten being gatito.

alacrán—Scorpion. Card 40 in Don Clemente’s Loteria card game. Also worthy to note el alacrán’s significance in Mexican trinket culture, specifically its relationship to the state of Durango, directly south of Chihuahua.

araña—The Spider. Card 33 in Don Clemente’s Loteria card game.

baile—A Mexican dance. Community bailes are a tenant of weekend social gatherings in Mexican culture.

cabrona—Strong insult. Cabron/cabrona is one of those fluid Mexican curse words that can run the gamut from term of endearment to stinging insult.  

chamaca—Girl. Sometimes said with a bite; almost interchangeable with brat.

chambelán—Escort of honor to a quinceañera. The quinceañera party will pick out a group of male chambeláns and female damas as a court. Think awkward teenage bridal party. Many times the court will be painstakingly picked by the quinceañera; other times her elders will intervene and pick out participants as familial bargaining chips.

chicharrones de harina—Flour pork rinds, a popular snack of fried puffed wheat. 

Chihuahua—One of Mexico’s northern states bordering America. Many of West Liberty’s immigrant families migrated from Chihuahua or its southern neighbor Durango.

coconut—Mexican American slang, derogatory for assimilated Mexican Americans (i.e., brown on the outside, white on the inside). Think of the term Uncle Tom for African Americans or twinkie for Asian Americans.

code switching—Linguistic term describing switching back and forth between multiple languages during conversation.

el sol—The sun. Card 46 in Don Clemente’s Loteria card game.

en el nombre de Jesús—“In Jesus’s name.” Said by many a strict older relative.

ESL class—English as a Second Language class. A precursor to the West Liberty School District’s English Language Learners program (note the shift in focus).

guey—Pronounced like “way.” One of the most used and fluid slang terms when referring to males. It can mean anything from dude to asshole to an exclamation of surprise.

Johnny Canales—A seminal radio DJ and television host of the music variety program The Johnny Canales Show in the 1980s and 1990s. Think American Bandstand for Tejano music. The horn section of the show’s theme song is burned into the minds of many Mexican kids from the time period, as well as Johnny’s English catchphrase of “You got it, take it away!”

Kimberly Park and Pool—One of West Liberty’s main parks, complete with swimming pool. Growing up, we had bragging rights that ours was one of the only towns with both a swimming pool and movie theater.

Kirkwood—A community college in Iowa City. For many local Iowans, education at Kirkwood is the alternative to the University of Iowa, or a means to get the credits to transfer to the U of I.

Norteño bandas—Bands from Northern Mexico with roots in European musical styles, particularly German waltzes and polkas. This music can be regarded as the music of old school, traditional, rural Mexicans. It’s the doot-doot music you hear when you pass by a Mexican BBQ. Some key bands are Los Tigres del Norte and Los Tucanes de Tijuana.


paisa—Mexican slang, short for paisano, which translates as “countryman.” Paisa is more of a soft derogatory word and fluid term of endearment. It translates somewhat to “hick.” In Mexican American culture, it has become interchangeable with stereotypically unassimilated Mexicans.

Pelon Pelo Ricos—Tamarind-flavored Mexican candy. Loosely translates to “bald guy with tasty hair.”  

pinche—Strong cursing adjective used to enhance a statement (e.g., “pinche guey”).

Rage Against the Machine—A ’90s rock band, one of the first to mix rock and hip hop in a legitimate way. Known for their political stances and advocacy of marginalized groups.

Selena—Don’t you dare think Gomez. The original Mexican American pop star, dubbed the “Queen of Tejano music” with hits in both English and Spanish.

Saludan a todos—“Greet everyone.” A common maternal phrase. It’s not so much that you have to say hello to everyone at a party or function, it’s that you have to individually go and shake everyone’s hand while doing so.

trocka—Texan/Northern Mexico slang for truck. If carro can be car why can’t trocka be truck?

quinceañera—Formal celebration for a Mexican girl’s fifteenth birthday, symbolizing her transition to adulthood. Quinceañera can refer to the celebration or to the girl herself. Its pomp and expense rivals that of a traditional wedding.

West Liberty—Iowa’s first majority-Hispanic town, with a population of 3,736 at the 2010 census.

West Lib—Tongue-in-cheek slang for West Liberty, short for West Lib, Compton. Born out of the surrounding towns’ irrational fear of West Liberty. Kids leaned into the town’s persona, even though most of its residents will tell you West Lib is as safe as any other small town in America.

Zach de la Rocha—Rage Against the Machine frontman. The Mexican American son of Chicano artist Robert de la Rocha, Zach was one of the few contemporary rock musicians reflecting a Latin bicultural identity. Ritchie Valens for Generation X.

Jesus “Chuy” Renteria is an artist, writer, dancer, and teacher, but above all, he is a storyteller. Born in Iowa City and raised in West Liberty, both sides of his family are from border towns in Mexico that transplanted to meatpacking towns in the Midwest.