The Latin American Jokebook

Local Puerto Ricans, the New Times survey shows, have added to the Cubans-are-funny repertoire: "A Puerto Rican pays a Cuban man twenty dollars to deliver two penguins to the zoo. A couple of days later he spots the Cuban on the street, the two penguins in tow. `What are you doing?' the Puerto Rican shouts. `I thought I told you to take them to the zoo.' `I did,' says the Cuban, `but I had money left over so I thought I'd take them to a movie, too.'"

But the Puerto Ricans, who may be great basketball players (see last week's cover story), are the hapless butts of a long, long list of jokes local Cubans love to tell -- colorfully, loudly, and mercilessly.

From a Cuban waitress at Lila's Restaurant in Westchester: "Two Puerto Rican engineers are commissioned to build a bridge over a stream in the middle of a desert. After months of work the two finish, but realize they've built the bridge over sand, not water. In a panic, they return to the officials who ordered the bridge. `Tear it down and start over again,' they are commanded. `But we can't,' says one of the engineers, `because there are 350 Puerto Ricans fishing off it.'"

From a Hialeah Cuban selling toys by the side of a road: "A Puerto Rican steps onto a plane for his first flight and hits his head on the door frame. He looks up and sees `DC-10,' which in Spanish translates as `Give yourself ten.' Assuming it is a directive, the Puerto Rican again pounds his head against the frame: `Two, three, four....'"

A Cuban butcher in West Miami offers this: "Three men -- two Cubans and a Puerto Rican -- are sentenced to die, either in the electric chair or by firing squad. The first Cuban chooses the electric chair, but it short-circuits and he's set free. The second Cuban also chooses the chair, which malfunctions again, and he walks away free. `Hey, I'm gonna use the chair, too,' says the Puerto Rican, wagging his finger at the executioner, `but not until it's fixed.'"

The same butcher follows up with a variation: "Three men -- that's right, two Cubans and a Puerto Rican -- stand before a firing squad. The first Cuban yells, `Earthquake!' While the firing squad scrambles for cover, he escapes. The second Cuban yells, `Tornado!' and scampers for safety during the confusion. The Puerto Rican, catching on now, waits for the firing squad to reassemble, and just as they're aiming, he yells, `Fire!'"

The New Times survey team marched through town gathering evidence, from Kendall to Hialeah to Wynwood to Sweetwater, from one friendly country to the next. Preliminary data indicate that Puerto Ricans and Cubans are not the only Latin settlers chumming for chuckles. In fact, any and all newcomers seem to be greeted with jokes, which in Miami are the equivalent of calling cards, one sure sign of having arrived. To be ignored is to be held in punch-line purgatory.

Part Two

This from a local Peruvian: "God was handing out natural resources to different countries. To Venezuela he gave oil, beautiful mountains, a wondrous seacoast. St. Peter turned to God and said, `Wait, you're overdoing it.' God said, `No I'm not. Wait until you see the people I put in there.'" And this from a Venezuelan lawyer: "Why don't Colombians drink cold milk? Because they couldn't squeeze the cow into the refrigerator."

"How does an Argentine commit suicide?" other Hispanics ask with sly grins that hint at Argentines' reputation for supreme arrogance. "He climbs on top of his ego and throws himself off." A frequently heard variation: "How do you kill an Argentine? Perch him on top of his ego and push him off." Other bromas abound, including these from a Peruvian businessman: "What's the best business in the world? Buy an Argentine for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he's worth." And: "What's the definition of ego? It's that little bit of Argentine we all have within us."

But there's certainly no need to cry for Argentines displaced in Miami. Those here, survey results suggest, are more than happy to kick back, especially at a former neighbor they might bump into at Dadeland.

An Argentine jai alai aficionado contributes this: "A wealthy [added emphasis on wealthy] Argentine landowner was giving friends a tour of his mansion. But every few seconds he'd stick his head out a window and yell, `Green side up! Green side up!' After a few such incidents, one of the friends asked what he was doing. The landowner explained, `I'm having a few Bolivians sod my yard, but I have to remind them that the green side goes up.'"

While it's true that most jokes making the rounds today seem to be aimed across national frontiers, a surprising number of local Hispanics appear to have a capacity for the self-deprecating laugh. Miami's Ecuadoreans, for example, can present this: "An Ecuadorean father and his young son sit beneath a shade tree talking to a North American journalist. As the man and the journalist speak, the boy anxiously nudges his father, who sits in his shorts, legs spread. `Papa, one of your testicles is showing,' the red-faced little boy says. The man tucks himself into place and the journalist praises the father for his son's use of the correct anatomical term rather than the more vulgar huevos, which in Spanish also means eggs. `Are you kidding?' the father says. `We're so hungry that if I'd taught him that those are huevos, he would have eaten them.'"

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