For Latinos, a Spanish Word Loaded with Meaning

Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2013

When Boyle Heights shop owner Arturo Macias hears fellow Latinos use the Spanish word for “wetback,” he doesn’t necessarily take offense.

Macias, who crossed illegally into the U.S. through Tijuana two decades ago, has heard the term “mojado” for much of his life and sees it less as an insult than a description of a common immigrant experience.


Macias is very offended, however, when he hears a non-Latino say “wetback.” That distinction befuddles his 20-year-old daughter Karina.

“It definitely is a term to divide people,” she said. “You can’t use it as a term of endearment at all, whether it’s someone outside of your culture or not.”

An Alaska’s congressman’s reference to “wetbacks” during a radio interview last week stirred an uproar and he was forced to apologize. In Latino communities, the episode highlighted how cultural reactions to the word have changed through generations.

Everyone seems to agree that the English version of the term is highly offensive to Latinos when others use it. But when Latinos use mojado — which literally means “wet” but is also used to describe illegal immigrants in the United States — it’s different.

“My grandfather, for all practical purposes, was a mojado. They call each other mojados,” veteran Latino activist Arnoldo Torres said. “It’s about understanding the complexity. Of seven, eight, nine, generations of Latinos that have lived in the United States.”


The English term, originally coined after Mexicans illegally entered the U.S. by swimming or wading across the Rio Grande, evolved to include a broader group of immigrants who entered into the country on foot or in cars. The Spanish translation espaldas mojadas, is typically shortened to just mojado or mojada, depending on the person’s gender.

In 1954, as the U.S. economy sputtered to find its footing after the Korean War, the government launched the now-infamous Operation Wetback, a deportation drive that sent Mexicans back to Mexico in droves and roused complaints of racial profiling and fractured families.

During that decade, the term was still splashed across the pages of the country’s major newspapers.

In 1952, the New York Times ran a story under the headline: “Hero in Korean War Deported as Wetback; Served in Army 3 Years After Entering U.S.” Three years later, the Associated Press wrote a story about “the ‘wetback invasion’ across the Mexican border.” And Angelenos at the time read headlines like “Wetback, 16, Gets School Diploma in Jail” and “Roundup of Wetbacks in L.A. Still On,” in the Los Angeles Times.


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  • Felix_M

    When Boyle Heights shop owner Arturo Macias hears fellow Latinos use the Spanish word for “wetback,” he doesn’t necessarily take offense.

    Get used to it, chavo. You illegal aliens will always be mojados to me.

    • The__Bobster

      So will the “legal” ones to me. I never voted to let them in.

  • dd121

    There are plenty of Hispanics here in Colorado who’s families go back to the Spanish land grants. They would never be called wetbacks. However, more recent illegals got here by swimming the Rio Grande. Hence, they were literally wetbacks when they arrived. BTW did the article mention if whites were offended by the terms crackers and honkeys? No it didn’t, so everybody else just get over it.

    • bigone4u

      In many places the Rio Grande is not deep enough to swim. They wade across.

    • StillModerated

      You’re also forgetting other terms for Whites: Hillbillies, apple-knockers, yokels, hicks, rubes, White trash, frogs, krauts, wops, bog-trotters, bohunks, russkies and dagoes.

      • The__Bobster

        All terms used with impunity by the usual suspects and libtards who hate Whites with traditional values.

      • Michael_C_Scott

        (Raises hand.) You forgot the cheap, drunk Scots.

        • saxonsun

          And the Limeys.

    • The__Bobster

      Those families are White. Recent arrivals are Mestizos or pure-bred Indians. I, too, would be offended if I got mistaken for one of them.

      • Jefferson

        Anybody who gets mistaken for a Wetback, is not White in the first place. Do you think a Nordic Swede or Norwegian would ever get mistaken for a Wetback ? Hell no they wouldn’t.

        If you are a so-called “White” person who gets mistaken for a Wetback, you are most likely a swarthy Jew, swarthy Greek, swarthy Spaniard, swarthy Armenian, or swarthy Italian for example.

        • Heh

          Good thing I’m just a normal white-looking Spaniard, then.

  • David Ashton


    • Michael_C_Scott

      “… hablar en griego, en guiregay, en gringo.”

      to speak in Greek, in gibberish, in gringo.

      New French-Spanish Dictionary 1871.

  • LastBastionOfHope

    Aww, the illegal immigrants are upset that the real citizens are mean to them! We should be nice and let them ruin our cities! Oh wait, that’s already well underway.

    • liberalsuck

      Yes, I’m so mean for resenting them breaking into my country, for having my tax money given to them, for seeing them spray gang grafitti on my property repeatedly where I used to live, for them not speaking English, for them telling me I “stole” their land, etc. Yes, only a ‘hateful mean bigot’ would not like those illegal immigrants. Oops! Sorry. Meant to say ‘undocumented citizen.’

  • IstvanIN

    This is who we have become:

    • Bobby

      Yes Sir!!! You nailed it beautifully. This is the average European-American today–gutless, a believer in essentially nothing, a better you than me type of clown,etc. Kind of makes one tired of constantly hearing how “americans are number one” type of bravado. I wonder what the dynamic will finally be that wakes us up from that fantasy?

      • Defoe

        When some “mo-town” record company publishes a song called “kill the honkey” and “they” start regularly invading White neighborhoods and raping White little ole ladies, that’s when! Oh, wait…

  • bigone4u

    If a Mexican doesn’t want to be called a wetback, then let them come to the US legally. On second thought, I don’t want them here legally either.

    • liberalsuck

      I don’t want them calling me a gringo or a racist or threatening to take over the Southwest. I don’t want to pay their bills. I don’t want them not speaking English in public. I don’t want them giving me dirty looks when they came to my country because they’re too incompetent to fix their own country.

  • Michael_C_Scott

    I just call them “greasers”. If they can call me “gringo” to my face, I recon this is fair.

    • The__Bobster

      I never use that word. It has another meaning to me. Instead I use another word which would probably get this post deleted.

      • Felix_M

        We could call them worse things if they don’t like mojado.

    • bigone4u

      In Texas all whites are called “anglos.” That’s racist and insulting. I am not anglo-saxon although I am white. Many whites are celts or germanic or something other than anglo. The word is as insulting as gringo to me.

      • saxonsun

        Germanic and Anglo-Saxon are the same thing. The Anglo-Saxons originally came from Germany as well as Scandinavia.

    • anonymous

      My younger brother had a black friend as a teenager and were at a swimming pool. There was a Hispanic guy that went up to my brother and his black friend and said, “Look, vanilla and chocolate” to which my brother’s black friend said, “Look, it’s a wetback.” The Hispanic guy and the black guy got into a really bloody fistfight and were kicked out of the pool for the rest of the day.

  • Jenna Kerr

    Would they prefer invader?

  • StillModerated

    Back in the 40s they were called “greasers.” But from my experience they call each other pendejos — or pubic hair.

  • brengunn

    There are some words that might be legitimately offensive but I feel the entire West has become altogether to sensitive to language. I especially hate the censorship of historic words that have no racial connotations but are now deemed to be offensive in some quarters, i.e ‘blackened’ name, blackmail etc. I also hate the purging of old books of racially explicit language. Though it’s not only race where we are too sensitive, I read recently that Beatrix Potter’s stories were being reworked because of her snobbish attitude to the poor and people with disabilities.

    • The__Bobster

      Since when do people we never invited here get the right to censor our language? Oh, that’s right. It’s their enablers who are doing that, since they control the language.

      • Room101

        I wonder who the enablers are that keep re-writing words and erasing definitions they don’t like? People with certain undeniable tribal affiliations enjoying an undue, inordinate, and disproportionate amount of Government control over We the Taxpayers.

    • IstvanIN

      people with disabilities
      You mean the disabled or crippled?

      • brengunn

        I’m not sure, it could be mental or physical, I’ve never read her books.

        • IstvanIN

          I was referring to your use of the politically correct term “people with disabilities”. In fact that was the discussion on the radio late this afternoon, if it was OK to call people with autism autistics.

          • brengunn

            Oh, I thought you might have meant something like that but I didn’t know the term ‘people with disabilities’ was a PC term. Cultural osmosis, I guess.

          • saxonsun

            “Challenged” is the PC word used now to describe any disability.

    • Cape to Cairo

      So is the expression “You never go full retard” unacceptable in polite company?

  • The__Bobster

    Macias is very offended, however, when he hears a non-Latino say “wetback.” That distinction befuddles his 20-year-old daughter Karina.


    I appears that the squat monsters get selectively “offended’….just like the Bantus.

    • The Worlds Scapegoat

      Insecure people usually get offended at the slightest things.

    • Mute

      Other words that might befuddle little Karina are, honesty, legal citizenship, unqualified for food stamps, etc.

  • pcmustgo

    I know Mexicans use the slur “Mayates” for Blacks.

    • François

      I also heard “negros”.

      • IstvanIN

        Cubans call blacks eggplants.

        • Cape to Cairo

          “Verdes” is another term the Cubans use.

        • StillModerated


        • Yodo

          Is it because of their Oddly Shaped Heads?

        • Jefferson

          A high percentage of Cubans themselves are Eggplants. Have you ever seen the Cuban national volleyball team, both male and female ? It is entirely Black.

    • Pote

      Well you can’t fault them for that can you?
      Is there anyone who doe3sn’t try to avoid contact with blacks?

  • Flaxen-headed Strumpet

    “Everyone seems to agree that the English version of the term is highly
    offensive to Latinos when others use it. But when Latinos use mojado — which literally means “wet” but is also used to describe illegal immigrants in the United States — it’s different.”

    Yeah I know Maria, it’s a “pardo” thing and “los bolillos” just wouldn’t understand. Sort of like we “bolillos” don’t understand “crazy nigga” either.

  • Luca

    I would venture to say about 80% of Mexicans in this country can trace their ancestry to one mojado or more since the 1960’s. When I look at my wife’s yearbooks from the 60’s and 70’s it would appear hispanics were about 4% of the population in So. California at that time. When you look at her mom’s yearbooks from the 40’s and 50’s it appears to be about 2%.

    This whole story is just a propaganda/sympathy non-event that just gives some liberal writer something to do to justify their salary. It doesn’t even make a good birdcage liner.

  • Bobby

    Whites are wimps. They can use any word they please and should begin to defend every single white person the left tries to intimidate and bully with their obvious anti-white agenda.

  • Watch ME use the term ‘wetback’…..same thing as illegal, criminal alien….. Let’s NOT mince words…

  • GeneticsareDestiny

    Time for another Operation Wetback.

    • Room101

      Operacion Mojada would be much more culturally-sensitive.

      • Cape to Cairo

        Operation “Annex Mexico and settle it with 200 million high IQ Europeans for the next 100 years” is still my hope. I call it my “200 by 100” campaign. I can still dream , can’t I?

        • Bossman

          I would agree to that and better yet have a stipulation that they interbreed with the native women. That has been the story of America ever since Columbus landed in the Americas 500 years ago. What you jerks don’t seem to understand is that Mexico is part of North America. The North American continent is now the premier region of the world and will remain so for a long time.

  • a multiracial individual

    I was having a conversation the other day with a Hispanic (Mexican) liquor store clerk that my girlfriend and I see regularly. He was asking me about my plans for children. I said I wanted to wait until we were both done with our education. He said, “Well what if she made you choose one?” I said I was not sure, I’d have to think about that one. Then he said his 24 year old cousin gave her boyfriend a similar ultimatum (baby or she leaves). I then asked, “Well, is he in school?” The clerk looked at me and said, “Hell no he’s not in school, he’s a f****ing beaner!” Upon hearing this, the Hispanic gentleman behind me started busting up laughing (they were both laughing). The gentleman behind me then exclaimed, “Yea, all he needs is a rake!”

    • Room101

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Room101

    What a great word.
    It’s a word black kids should be taught to use when referring to “hispanics” or teachers-of Spanish in the government schools.

    It’s quite “die-verse”.

    • Cape to Cairo

      I would encourage each and every one of you to educate blacks as much as possible on all the words “not” to call HIspanics and all the words that Hispanics use in disparaging ways towards blacks that should “never” be tolerated.

  • thoughtcrime

    Don’t like being called “wetbacks”. How about this in Ingles;

    Criminal Invaders is the new way in which I describe them. How about that. It is much more descriptive of what they really are. If we had a sane government, we would pull ALL our troops from all points on the globe to let those natives fend for themselves and we would immediately put our forces to work to first, declare WAR on Mexico and an invasion of their “nation” would take place. We would first send in our airforce and carpet bomb their drug cartels and cities into dust. At the same time we would use our forces here domestically to roundup all Mexicans (regardless of legal status) and place them in internment camps, then begin deporting them EN MASSE back across the Rio Grande, under pain of death if they set foot back in or nation.

    Next we set a massive DMZ on their side of the border with a no mans land complete with barbed wire, land minds, pungi pits and machine gun armed guard towers every 100 feet and men on the ground with dogs and AK47s.

    These people have proven themselves enemies of the state and have openly declared themselves an invading force with the intent of murdering American citizens both White and black and seizing by force of arms massive amounts of land. What more do we need to know?

    They have openly said this, because they realize they have sufficient numbers for infantry that they want to blunder, murder and rape their way back of their “reconquista”.

    It’s TREASON that our government REFUSES to not do something about this. TREASON!

  • The Worlds Scapegoat

    “When Boyle Heights shop owner Arturo Macias hears fellow Latinos use the
    Spanish word for “wetback,” he doesn’t necessarily take offense.”

    “Macias is very offended, however, when he hears a non-Latino say


    And negros call themselves N****rs, and that is OK

  • QueFah

    They’re right. I would prefer they call them spics.

  • josh


  • Bill

    Wetbacks and silverbacks. Who needs them. Would God we’d be rid of all of them.
    Both. There can be no peace, culture or civilization with them among us.

  • America Where?

    Although it was recognized by the folks in black robes awhile ago as officially proper, the mere term “latinos” further plays into the hands of those who would see “Por la raza todo, fuera la raza nada” (as was apparently acceptably proclaimed by a Hispanic professor in one of our own Nation’s schools in Texas). The mere fact that it is not in English, but Spanish, that we capitalize it, and recognize it as the identifier of the race in America-
    should give pause to think of the extent to which we are allowing encroachment upon our land and culture for the favor of those who would subvert them to their own interests based upon race. We accept “La Raza”, The Race, no mention of relativity to others as those are nonexistent in the term; a veteran was denied by one of our communities’ police his restoral of our flag to US property after pro-Mexican forces defaced it, and these people make an issue of anything which places their race anywhere but at the top of the food chain.
    It is unfortunate that such an esteemable forum as one intelligently dedicated to American issues falls into step with an interest whose demand in America is anything but American, but “latino”, not even “Latin-American”; which, along with a former president’s diminutive of the mixed-race kids in his family as “My little brown ones” would probably be too gringo (he was criticized for this by the raza shirts), even if said as a term of endearment, as the speaker wasn’t one of The Race.