Scranton’s Dirty Little Mind

¡Ay caramba!

Putting out the Scranton welcome mat to small business owners of color is one thing. Pulling the rug out from under their American Dream is another.

The affront is all the worse if city officials targeted one of an increasing number of people of Mexican descent in whose hands lies the future of the city.

That’s why the owner, employees and supporters of La Chingada at 512 Cedar Avenue in South Side should stand Scranton strong after the restaurant and so much more finds itself embarrassed and attacked simply because of its name.

City zoning board members Wednesday voted 4-0 to uphold a sign violation against owner Cristian J. Garcia Torres for displaying the sign because the name of the restaurant is a vulgar word that violates the city’s prohibition on obscenity or vulgarities on exterior signs, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune.

The owner said the word he chose for his restaurant’s name has other meanings in the Spanish language. While he acknowledged that one of the meanings is a vulgarity, he testified that the vulgar usage is not what he intends and not how his customers view it, said the Times-Tribune, whose editors failed to name the restaurant.

Whether board members and editors know it or not, the business brand is steeped in deep Mexican history and culture.

Like many words in many languages, “la chingada” carries many interpretations. Go to Italian-American Pittston and ask people if they know what “minghia” means. Ask if they are offended whenever somebody uses the expression of exclamation. Ask my Irish tribe if they know what bollix or bollocks means. Ask any pseudo Scranton hipster about the cute name borne by the now defunct food truck “What the Fork.”

The same goes for “la chingada.”

La Chingada is the name of an actual town in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Among numerous other meanings, the words also serve as an expression of exasperation, as in “go to hell.” The words can also mean “go fuck yourself.”

Can we help it if the Scranton Zoning Board has a dirty mind?

The concept of “la chingada” has been famously critiqued by  1990 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Octavio Paz in his book The Labyrinth of Solitude. Linguists and other scholars have weighed in as well.

When a restaurant with the same name opened earlier this year in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, here’s what Michael Hastings of the Winston-Salem Journal wrote in a February 14 article: “Claudia Valdez, a native of Sonora, Mexico and a teaching professor of Spanish at Wake Forest University, said that though expressions containing “chingada” can have negative connotations, the typical reaction from a Mexican or Spanish-speaking person will not be negative.

‘My husband and I are both linguists, and when he told me about it, we both thought how interesting and smart a title. My attitude was totally positive,’ Valdez said.

An internet search revealed that other businesses, primarily restaurants, have used La Chingada as a name in such cities as London; Paris, Toronto; San Jose, Ca.; and Scranton, Pa.

Many sources attribute the origin of the negative, vulgar connotations to a historical reference to La Malinche, the Indian mistress of Spanish conquistador Herman Cortez.

Valdez said that the word ‘chingada’ and its root ‘chingar’ have generated so many slang words that they have their own dictionary called ‘El Chingonario.’

‘The meanings change with the context, different syntax, even the intonation,’ she said.”

So will we Scranton gabachos (another interesting Mexican word you can look up) discriminate against our new neighbors? Do the people of a city that once welcomed countless white immigrants, including my grandfather who spoke Irish and English, shun other languages, cultures and traditions? Do we lash out in ignorance?

Or do we raise high the banner of free speech, liberty and justice for all?

By the way, “ay caramba” is a Mexican curse so innocent that TV cartoon hero Bart Simpson used the phrase regularly. Loosely translated, caramba is a euphemism that means penis.

Hoist that on a flashing neon sign and see if anybody complains.