How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The cultural mashup dictionary: Carwashero

Photo by TexasT/Flickr (Creative Commons)


It's a term that's in the news today, so it makes sense to include it as a dictionary entry.

Just as the sound of it suggests, a "carwashero" is someone who works at a car wash, otherwise known in Spanish as a "lava coches", i.e. one who washes cars.

Carwasheros are making headlines this afternoon because they've made some history in Los Angeles, making the city the nation's first to have three unionized car washes. Workers at two South L.A. car washes, the Vermont Car Wash and Nava's Car Wash, have won union contracts, joining a third car unionized car wash in Santa Monica.

The carwasheros, mostly immigrants from Latin America, voted last year to join the United Steelworkers union, organizing as part of a larger effort  that has been trying to curb worker exploitation in what is typically a low-paid and often hazardous occupation.

There's even a song called "Carwashero (Lava Coches)" by Los Jornaleros del Norte (The Day Laborers of the North), a band whose songs cover political themes that relate to immigrants.

Unlike jornaleros, though, carwasheros are described by a term that's purely a product of el norte. It's terms like these that make up Multi-American's evolving cultural mashup dictionary, a collection of bits and pieces of the evolving lexicon of words, terms and phrases coined as immigrants and their descendants influence the English language, and it influences them.

The most recent entry was gentefication, referring to how some upwardly mobile and mostly second-generation Latinos have been investing in older immigrant neighborhoods. Other entries have included informal coinages like Tweecanos, as used on Twitter, and Spanglish terms like Googlear and Twittear and Feisbuk. The series kicked off last spring with the etymology of the term 1.5 generation. Have suggestion for an entry? Feel free to post it below.

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