Latino Cultural Center presents 'dichos'

Exhibit at Latino Cultural Center: Dichos: Words to Live, Love and Laugh By in Latin America
By BEATRIZ TERRAZAS / The Dallas Morning News April 16, 2009

When Fernando Salazár, 35, recently walked into the Latino Cultural Center, his eye was immediately drawn to one of the Spanish sayings in the new Dichos exhibit: Fe en Dios, y adelante. Loosely translated, the saying means "Faith in God, and onward."

For Fernando Salazár, sayings such as those displayed at the Latino Cultural Center were life lessons taught by family. These two signs translate to 'God willing, I'll return' and 'Blessed Panama.'

"That kind of really talked to me as a dicho," says SMU's coordinator of Hispanic Student Services. Particularly since the Spanish sayings have long played a role in his personal life.

The exhibit, "Dichos: Words to Live, Love and Laugh By in Latin America," runs through April 25 and features photos of an art that has all but disappeared – the whimsical custom of painting scenes with popular sayings on the sides of large trucks and buses.

Alejandrina Drew, children's book author and general manager of the center, recalls such buses while growing up in Mexico City. However, she says, as large urban centers throughout Latin America modernize transportation, people are no longer using buses as canvases to display these kernels of humor and wisdom.

But dichos themselves continue to serve as an anchor for Latinos, grounding them in culture and connecting them through a common language, says Drew.

"Language takes you to your roots, and every language has its own traditions," she says. "It's good for Latinos to go back to their roots and see what's common in our Latino world."

That seems counterintuitive in a high-tech world where people increasingly connect through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Yet, she appears to be right. Many local Latinos continue to find profound meaning in the dichos they grew up with.

For Salazár, who was born in Oak Cliff but still has family in Mexico, the sayings were life lessons taught by his grandmother and mother. For instance, when concerned about his friendships, they were apt to repeat, "Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres," which means that you're known by the company you keep.

But the saying that has become a way of life for him is "Mejor solo que mal acompañado," which advises that it's better to be alone than in a negative relationship.

"I use that on so many different levels, in professional relationships – relationships period," he says. "I'd rather be alone than in with bad people, or be surrounded by bad people in general."

It's a model for healthy living, says Salazár, who uses it to counsel students regularly. "You put yourself in a situation; is it a good situation or a bad situation?"

For Nadia María Martínez Cepeda, 25, an engineering doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington, dichos connect her directly to family and cultural experiences. She was born in Mexico City, and grew up in Saltillo, Coahuila.

"How do you remember all these words, all these phrases?" she says. "I remember everything because of some other experience ... with my family or friends."

She can't hear "Más vale una vez colorado que mil descolorido" without thinking of her grandmother's advice when Nadia was having problems with a boyfriend. Although it doesn't translate literally to English, it's about getting issues out in the open and dealing with them at once rather than letting them fester, she says.

She keeps a book of 500 popular Spanish sayings and whenever she hears a new one that has meaning for her, she writes it down.

"I enjoy saying dichos in Spanish because they make more sense to me," she says. "In English they don't sound the same."

Isaac Faz, 33, a native Dallasite with Mexican roots, is in his final year at Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston. He points out that dichos often communicate messages that extend far beyond their literal meaning.

For instance, Faz, who helped found the Dallas network Vida Social, recalls a television ad from South Texan Tony Sanchez's gubernatorial run in 2002 that sparked a lively discussion in his own family. In the ad, Sanchez said, "Aquí nomás mis chicharrones truenan." Again, the saying doesn't translate directly, but means "Around here, only my word matters," or "Here, I'm the only boss."

Although the saying made his family laugh, it also drew them together.

"We even discussed it, aunts and uncles," he says. While many Latinos, particularly immigrants to this country, often feel disenfranchised when it comes to politics, Sanchez's use of this saying "was like letting us into that group. That message was, now we're part of this race, he's communicating directly to us."

And it's this kind of human connection that Drew fears will be lost, one word at a time, as customs such as adorning buses with dichos fade away.

The sayings are about a common language and culture, she says. "It's our hope that this representation of culture is preserved.

Beatriz Terrazas is a Southlake freelance writer.

Some dichos and their meanings

Hoy por mí, mañana por ti.

You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.

Lo que el agua trae, el agua lleva.

Easy come, easy go.

Los burros se buscan para rascarse unos con otros.

Birds of a feather flock together.

A donde fueres, haz lo que vieres.

When in Rome, do as Romans do.

Como quitarle un pelo al gato.

It's just a drop in the bucket.

Con dinero baila el perro.

Money talks.

The free exhibit runs through April 25. Latino Cultural Center, 2600 Live Oak at Good Latimer. 214-671-0045. www.dallasculture.org/

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