The forbidden Latino ghetto, be it in Los Angeles, Chicago, Brooklyn, Miami, or Dayton, can be an intimidating neighborhood to you gringos. People in the barrio speak Español. There are the foreign national flags hanging from balconies, the strange foods, the weird smells, that constant music, and the stares. Just what are you doing in this neighborhood, ese?
But fear not. Every barrio shares a heritage that will make you, borracho moderno, as welcome as a mariachi band: Latinos love their hooch. Drinking to excess is a source of ethnic pride.
Should you find yourself in the barrio—whether MapQuest steered you wrong, you got trunked in a stolen car, or most likely, got lost during a bender—here are some hints that will help you use your binge drinking as an entrada into the circle of your new comprades.
What to Drink
Buy the first round. Forget mojitos and, heaven forbid, margaritas. Keep it simple.
Keep it really simple.
Sure, you’ll see billboards proclaiming the barrio’s love for Corona, Tecate, and Dos Equis, but a twelver of Bud will mark you as a peer of your Latino drinking companions. Namely that, like them, you don’t have money to buy anything better.
Okay, you say, I can drink Bud anywhere. If I’m in the barrio risking a knife wound, I want the good stuff. Bold thinking, pilgrim. After the second round of beers, ask for what the hombres are drinking. If your hosts smoke cigars and speak Spanish really, really fast, then they’re island Hispanics—Puerto Ricans, Cubans, or Dominicans — and their drink is rum. If they drive beater pickups or low-riders, then you’re among Mexicans or Chicanos, which naturally means tequila.
When the bottle makes its appearance, even if it’s two bucks a gallon Colombian aguardiente fermented sugar-cane sludge, treat it with the same awe you felt the first time you saw a woman take off her brassiere.
But unlike those breasts, don’t immediately attack the bottle with your mouth. Ask for shot glasses and offer to make a toast. This will mark you as a vato with class despite the fact that all of you are peeing in the garden because going to the bathroom takes too much time.
Toasting, Chicano Style
Here are some sure-fire toasts that will keep the liquor flowing and allow you to make it out of the barrio without a visit to the trauma center:
Viva Mexico (or Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc.)
The local sports team during a winning season
Women with big chi-chi’s
Learn the Lingo
After a half-dozen rounds, try learning a few phrases in the local tongue from your new drinking mates. Don’t worry too much about your pronunciation—by this time everyone’s speech will be so slurred you could be talking in Martian and no one would notice.
Use this guide of handy words to add the needed salsa to your Spanglish:
abrazo (a-bra-zo) a manly Hemingway-esque hug.
bien pedo (bee-in peh-doe) good and farted.
cagado (ca-ga-doe) shit-in-your-pants drunk.
cuñado (coo-ne-a-doe) brother-in-law. Just like in Anglo culture, he’s either a drinking pal or an asshole.
reggaton (reg-ga-tone) popular Latino music as obnoxious as hip-hop, hence the heavy drinking.
vieja (vee-eh-ha) old lady. Man’s original reason for getting sloshed ever since Eve got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden and we all had to get jobs.
Because as night must follow day, you must also learn this word, the bane of all drinkers:
crudo (crew-doe) raw, a.k.a. hungover.
Where to Drink
Now that you’ve got the lingo and drinking customs down pat, it’s time to visit the cantina. Look for the corner watering hole. Think dive. You’re among undocumented workers, so think Third-World dive. Now crank down your expectations a notch.
Still not sure you’ve found an authentic barrio cantina? Look for these clues: cock fight notices taped to the bar mirror; reggaton blaring from the jukebox; clientele wearing either alligator cowboy boots or ankle monitoring devices. These all mean your hard-earned pesos are welcome there, my thirsty friend. Belly up to the bar and repeat after me: “Una cerveza, por favor.”
Another good place to experience the local drinking culture is the liquor store. Unfortunately, our silly nanny-state drinking laws extend even to the barrio, so you won’t be able to sip a nip inside the store.
No problem. Go around back to the alley and you’ll find plenty of amigos eager to lighten your load and share the camaraderie that only 80 proof among the Dumpsters can bring.
El Ritual Secreto
Still not native enough for you? You’ve heard so much about Hispanic familia and your barrio adventure wouldn’t be complete without at least one drunken abrazo.
Walk around until you find a group of Hispanic men working on a car or truck. Start the conversation by asking for directions. Before they answer, make a comment about the vehicle they’re working on. It doesn’t matter if you can’t tell the difference between a clutch and a bumper. Your interest is a subtle clue that you understand that getting quietly shit-faced is a bond among men that transcends all cultural barriers.
I’ll let you in on a barrio secret. This ritual with the socket wrenches and the toolbox is not about fixing anything. It’s about sneaking away from the viejas, sitting on cinder blocks, and getting cagado in peace. So what if by the time everyone sobers up the damn car still doesn’t run. It belonged to the cuñado.
The Machismo Factor
In the barrio, getting hammered, getting bien pedo, is an act of machismo. In fact, doing anything while loaded is an act of machismo. Here’s a typical story:
Cousin Rudy drank three six-packs of Miller and a quart of tequila, car jacked a Mustang, then had the police chase him for an hour until he crashed into an overpass, burst into flames, and burned to death. He died like a man.
If all goes well during your alcohol-fueled foray into Latino drinking culture, you should greet the morning face-down in a pile of greasy tamale husks, crudo, and not bleeding very much. Now get to your feet and stagger out of the barrio, maybe to where the Ukranians live, and start another ethnic adventure.
Mario Acevedo writes about the undead drinking culture in his vampire detective novels, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, and X-Rated Bloodsuckers, published by Rayo HarperCollins.