Do you know why Hitler killed the Jews?
Because he didnt know the Mexicans!
This is a Mexican joke that Jorge says he would say with his Salvadorean friends, but would never say it in front of Mexicans. It is said at any time one might begins to joke with intimate friends, but the potentially offensive nature of this joke is well understood; Jorge takes care to perform this only in front of people he knows will not be offended. Interestingly, Jorge first learned this joke from a Korean friend, whose punch line was Because he didnt know the Japanese! but he initially had a hard time remembering that the joke was originally an anti-Japan joke. He first told me he probably learned it from some old Salvadorean friend, and it was only after thinking back a while that he remembered the other version. It is popular now among his friends, he says, and does not fail to get people laughing.
When asked what the joke meant to him, he asked me again, Why did Hitler kill the Jews? Among other things, I said that Hitler believed that the Jews were responsible for the bad economy and threatening the purity of the Germans. If the Jews were a threat to economy, what about the Mexicans? he said. He also explained to me why he felt there was as a strong anti-Mexican sentiment among the Central American immigrants in the United States. First of all, when immigrants stay in Mexico for a while before crossing the border into the US, Jorge says that the Mexican people would treat them very poorly, sometimes even trying to prevent successful immigration. Second of all, Jorge says that many of the Latino people in America feel that the Mexicans have made a bad name for all of themand it does not help that so often people will stereotype all Latin-Americans as Mexican. The Mexicans were living here for so long! Yet what do they have? Nothing! he says, explaining how much progress the Salvadorean community in California has seen already, despite only having been here for some two or three decades now. He says he, and many others, are frustrated because they feel wrongly stereotyped as lazy or uncouth, and he feels the Mexican community is in part responsible for this bad image.
Needless to say, I found all of this fascinating. Before I came to the states, I assumed that Mexican jokes were mainly told by white Americans, but at least, not by Latin Americans. As soon as I got to California, however, I quickly noticed that it were the South and Central Americans who most savagely joked about the Mexican people. When Jorge explained all this to me, it became much clearer to me whythey suffered in Mexico, and were very frustrated with their unfairly stereotyped existence in America. He also mentioned that he felt the Mexican-Americans were often arrogant because theyve lived in California for so long. The Salvadoreans who laugh at this joke do not want to see the Mexican people dead, but they do see an ironic humor in comparing them to the way Nazi Germany saw the Jewishmainly, threatening their financial wellbeing and giving them a bad name.
What also really stands out for me was the fact that it was originally a Koreans joke against the Japanese. This adds another layer of meaning to this controversial joke. Older Koreans are still sometimes deeply angry at the Japanese people for the atrocities that were inflicted upon them little more than half a century ago. There is a slightly different feel to this version of the jokebecause it has more of a historical texture to it. Both the Japanese occupation of Korea and Hitlers holocaust happened tightly around the events of World War II. If Hitler did not know the Mexicans, and if the Salvadorean version is funny in its anachronistic absurdity, Hitler did indeed know the Japanesethey were allies. The original version of the joke seems a bit graver, as it is somewhat more realistic. It suggests that if Hitler really knew the Japanese, perhaps more intimately, he would actually have tried to exterminate the Japanese people.
As distasteful as this joke is, I still deem it interesting as folklore, because it takes three different cases of animosity among ethnic groups, and creates a complex, tri-layered web of analogy and association. Or, perhaps, from another point of view, it takes an immensely complicated and sensitive concept, and simplifies it to a ridiculous degree into the form of an embittered, resentful joke.