The Latin American Jokebook

Pepe Garcia was exhausted, drained, burned out. Too many twelve-hour days at the garment factory in Hialeah. And the work was boring, definitely not the career for an enterprising Cuban immigrant. So Pepe decided he needed a change, a drastic change. One day while looking through a local newspaper, an ad caught his attention: "Cerebros usados.

Garantizados." ("Used Brains. Guaranteed.")
Pepe climbed into his Chevy Impala and headed for the tiny store on Bird Road. Here, he thought, he would find his ticket for a new life: a new brain. "How much?" he asked, pointing to the first specimen on a rickety display table.

"That one? That one is $5000," replied the salesman. "That is the brain of an American."

"And that one, the one with the strange writing on the jar, how much is it?" Pepe inquired, nervously fondling his wallet.

"Oh, now that is the brain of a Japanese," said the salesman. "That is $10,000. You have to understand, senor, everything in this store works on supply and demand, and Japanese brains are in hot demand these days. It's success guaranteed."

Pepe pursed his lips and let out a low whistle. "Y este?" he asked, focusing his attention on a glass jar at the front counter, the one containing an unusually large brain.

The salesman lowered his voice. "Albert Einstein's," he whispered, pausing dramatically before adding, "$20,000."

Pepe threw up his arms in exasperation and turned around to survey the dozen or so other containers. After a few moments, he pointed to a dust-covered Mason jar in the back corner of the store. Inside it was a brain the color and size of an oyster. "I only have $2000," he said. "I have to be able to afford that one."

"Ahhh, no senor," the salesman said slowly. "That one is even more expensive. One-hun-dred-thou-sand dollars. That, senor, is the brain of a Puerto Rican."

"A Puerto Rican!" Pepe shouted in disgust. "How can a Puerto Rican's brain cost more than Albert Einstein's?"

The salesman became indignant: "I told you, everything works on supply and demand. Do you have any idea how many Puerto Ricans we had to kill just to get that one puny brain?"

When he finishes telling the story, Ramon Inguanzo, a 52-year-old Cuban truck driver, pounds the table at Chico's Restaurant in Hialeah and erupts with laughter that carries clear across the room. Good joke, and Inguanzo takes pride in telling it well, even if he does fail to recognize that Pepe, for the right price, was more than happy to trade in his prized Cuban brain.

Technicalities of logic aside, Inguanzo's joke, and his subsequent comments, proved to be helpful in answering a depressing query: Have Miami Latins lost their sense of humor? Recent verbal combat in the letters section of this newspaper had given rise to the question. Latins versus Anglos: a classic case of culture clash. The city, it seemed, was operating full throttle in attack mode. Not a trace of fun. No jesting whatsoever. Very grim.

This has been all the more disturbing because Latins have a well-deserved reputation for habitually dipping into their deep reservoir of good humor. But if we were to determine whether they'd depleted that, the Latin-Anglo debate would be the wrong place to look. Better to snoop around and see if Miami's Latins had abandoned their traditional joke material: other Latins. Ramon Inguanzo helped put to rest our concerns. The delight he takes in lampooning his Latin American neighbors, he assures us, remains widespread. "We all make those kind of jokes," says Inguanzo. "Cubans tell jokes about Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans make jokes about Cubans. Sometimes you'll hear the same joke -- like the one about the brains -- but a Nica will say it about a Cuban. It's not that we hate each other. It's all in fun. It's our way of distinguishing ourselves from the others."

A highly scientific New Times survey has revealed that Inguanzo is mostly correct. In a place where the traditional borders between Latin nations have been reduced to nothing more than a neighborhood street or a fence across the back yard, serious wisecracks are as abundant as Henny Youngman one liners.

If Inguanzo's analysis can be faulted, it is in this: Some immigrant groups seem to distinguish themselves more than others. Take the Cubans...please. Having sweated, talked, and muscled themselves into positions of political and economic power, it shouldn't be news that they make lots of jokes at others' expense. And that, not surprisingly, has led to Miami Cubans themselves being targeted for a good laugh. Here's a local favorite: "How do you make an Argentine? Take a big pot, add two gallons of ego, two gallons of son-of-a-bitch, and a few drops of bullshit. But be careful not to addtoo much bullshit, because then you'll get a Cuban."

And there is this from the Dominican owner of a sandwich shop in downtown Miami: "Three men -- a Dominican, an American, and a Cuban -- were to be hanged from a gallows built over a bay. The men would splash into the sea once they're cut from the rope. The Dominican, noose around his neck, looks to the sky and prays, `Oh, please, God, let the rope break. I don't want to die.' The trap door is dropped and snap! -- the rope breaks -- the Dominican falls into the water and swims safely away. The American also prays for the rope to break. It does and he, too, escapes. Finally it's the Cuban's turn. He looks heavenward and pleads, `Oh, God, please don't let the rope break. I don't know how to swim.'"

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