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Felipe Esparza head nod

A head nod to the Foos, friendly or not

A simple greeting can mean so much

In Southern California, urban Latinos of a certain vintage have a tendency to acknowledge each other with “What’s Up, Foo?” Add in a head nod, and you have that standard greeting in Latino culture.

Foo is the diminutive of “fool” (because that extra “L” makes it far too lengthy). It is a term of endearment and part of the common Southern California Latino vernacular. The use of “fool” is foreign to others. It can be taken as a challenge, especially if the wrong tone or cadence are used. 

That SoCal ubiquitous greeting is now memorialized in a popular podcast of the same name, hosted by comedian Felipe Esparza. There’s even an entertaining Instagram behemoth named Foos Gone Wild

I don’t know where it started or who started it, but that’s who we are here. 

A head nod to our gente

Another common SoCal Latino greeting is the head nod. Not just any nod, but THAT head nod. 

I see both looks of recognition and of utter confusion. What is this head nod? When is it used? Who receives it? Esai Morales delivered the perfect mischievous head nod in La Bamba when he portrayed Ritchie Valens’ older brother Bob.

I know you have questions, and we have answers. 

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The head nod generally starts in the South and ends North. Everyone has their own twist on it. I use a little more eye action on mine. But there is this acknowledgement that you make of the other person whether you know them or not. 

I once acknowledged a Latino cook in a Chicago gastropub, sports bar type of environment. My non- Latino friend asked me “Do you know him?” They were surprised that I would greet someone I didn’t know.  

Acknowledging each other

The Latino nod is an acknowledgment of the existence of the other person, whether you know them or not. It’s just a demonstration of respect among people who have gone through similar experiences or are going through them now. 

The return nod suggests that your preconceived notions about who you believed them to be was true. 

You can’t get too aggressive with the head nod, though. An aggressive tilt of the head while making eye contact at the wrong time to the wrong people can be an invitation to an altercation. Thus it requires observation and analysis.

But you can’t fail to acknowledge folks either. It has to be done in a certain way. When acknowledging someone with their gang name tattooed on their face, do so in a respectful manner that is not challenging and condescending.

So tilt your head back and remember we are in this together.

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