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March 9, 2006

Slang of the Week: coyote (noun)
someone who secretly and illegally brings people into the US from Mexico for money

When they got to the Rio Grande, the coyote told Maria that if she couldn’t swim, she should go home.

Celebrity quote:
“Bored in Sinaloa, a Mexican fishing village (and drug-running nexus) on the Sea of Cortez, young Magdiel refines his tunes while planning escape to the United States. With the guidance of a local ‘coyote,’ he makes his way over the border with nothing but his suitcase, trusty guitar and naïve dreams.”
- Nathan Lee, reviewing the move Al Otro Lado for the NY Times

Here in Boston, my Mexican students get here by way of Logan Airport with visas and coyotes are dog-like animals who hide outside suburban homes hoping for slow, fat housecats to come out and be dinner. In the country, coyotes like to eat chickens. Ironically, the coyotes who transport undocumented immigrants are also called polleros, Spanish for chicken herder—but the pollos (chickens) who follow them should remember their other name.

Sometimes coyotes will leave them behind before crossing the border if they believe they will be caught. Once in the US, travelers may be left in the desert to wait days for another guide to take them the rest of the way. In one of the most well known stories, a coyote abandoned a locked truck crowded with over 60 undocumented immigrants in Texas in 2003. 18 died in the intense heat.

For this reason, those who come without a visa often pay coyotes half the money before the trip and the other half when they reach their final destination. It can be a lot of money—since the US government implemented Operation Gatekeeper in 1994, making the trip more difficult, the average price has gone from under $200 to $1500 or more. But despite the cost and the dangers, hundreds of thousands take the risk every year to earn more money in the US and send it home.

On a related note, last year the Mexican government distributed an controversial illustrated booklet giving advice on how to stay safe while making the trip, including warnings about coyotes. While they claimed the booklet was intended to reduce the number of deaths among undocumented immigrants crossing the border, some people saw it as a how-to guide encouraging people to leave Mexico. You can judge for yourself here, where you can find the original booklet and an English translation.

What’s new at Slang City?
“You know it's hard out here for a pimp/When he tryin' to get this money for the rent.” We translate the first rap song to win an Academy Award! From the movie Hustle and Flow, Three 6 Mafia’s It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp

In the Bookstore
Bawdy Language: Everything You Always Wanted To Do But Were Afraid To Say Taboo language, both sex and toilet talk--it's several books in one -a history of sex, a personal body manual, a social commentary, and a tasteful but biting editorial statement against the forces of restraint and convention —a delightful mix of Eric Partridge, Lenny Bruce and Monty Python.