Mexico’s “Puto” Chant Won’t Ever Go Away, No Matter What FIFA Does

Fans of Mexico chant during the first half of a 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group C match against El Salvador. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.

“No Soy Monedita de Oro” is a beloved song for Mexicans, but it’s not generally considered a national avatar like, say, “El Rey” or the himno nacional. And yet, the Cuco Sánchez composition is perhaps the best way to explain why Mexican soccer fans will continue to chant “Ehhhh, puto!” at matches until El Tri finally wins the FIFA World Cup—which is to say, until the end of time.

“Soy piedra que no se alias/Por mas que talles y talles,” Sánchez croons, boasting that his rough edges can never be smoothed out, before beginning his famous chorus: “No soy monedita de oro/Pa’ caerles bien a todos.” In other words: “IDGAF what you think.”

It’s Mexican exceptionalism and fatalism wrapped into a three-minute masterpiece of self-pity. I thought of that song when FIFA announced they would fine the Mexican national soccer team for what seemed like the 100th time this year for fan use of the “puto” chant during a Oct. 6 qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago.

Outsiders remain shocked at how stubborn Mexican fans are with this, while El Tri stars like Chicharrito have recorded video PSAs begging fans not to say the slur. FIFA has threatened forfeits or matches in empty stadiums. CONCACAF has played messages at games reminding everyone to mind their manners because “OUR children are listening.” Liga MX teams have even gone as far as to try and bribe fans with promises of university scholarships and funds for elementary schools if they stop the chant.

And still, they chant.

It’s Mexico’s Confederate flag—a nasty part of our supposed heritage that no outsider can ever tell us is wrong

It’s time to accept the reality: “ehhh, puto” will never go away. It’s Mexico’s Confederate flag—a nasty part of our supposed heritage that no outsider can ever tell us is wrong, and that we grip onto even tighter when they tell us it is. And that stubborn pride will deservedly screw us in the end.

The chant’s often-told origin story is that Club Atlas fans created it to mock goalie Oswaldo Sanchez–who started his legendary career with the club–when he returned as a member of crosstown rival Chivas de Guadalajara. Like most urban legends, the people who tell the tale give different dates of when it happened: 2000, 2003, 2004, take your pick. Sanchez, for his part, takes credit for inspiring the chant but blames Chivas fans whom greeted him with it when he returned to Guadalajara in 2007 as a member of Santos Laguna.

The problem is that no primary source supports either version. The earliest newspaper citation I could find about “puto” usage during a Mexican soccer game happened in the April 19, 2004 edition of the Mexico City newspaper Reforma, describing a Necaxa-Veracruz match in Aguascalientes where Veracruz coach Tomás Boy shoved a ball boy. “The fans didn’t tolerate that rudeness,” the report stated, “and skewered him with shouts of ‘puto, puto, puto.’”

A month later, during a May 23 Cruz Azul-Pachuca match, Reforma noted that the latter squad’s Ultra Tuza barra “greeted” Cruz Azul goalie Oscar Perez with a “thunderous shout of ‘puto’” every time he did a goal kick, which is more in line with the modern usage of the chant.

Regardless of creation, that chant caught on with Mexicans for a specific reason: it works, and on multiple Mexican levels. It’s an albur (double entendre) that’s crude, catchy, and has a plausible deniability of being puro pedo—it’s all in fun, and you have to be Mexican to get it, so lighten up, puto.

American media didn’t catch onto the chant in earnest until the 2014 FIFA World Cup, when a rash of think pieces from sports journalists, conservative blowhards, and political pundits alike emerged to paint Mexican fans as homophobic Neanderthals. That was actually the worst way to silence them, because they could now claim critics were just the latest gringo interlopers into Mexican affairs. Continued castigations steel their resolve to do it, because it feeds into the worst tendencies of the Mexican character.

The only point of chanting “puto” anymore is to antagonize whom fans perceive to be weak—in other words, machismo at its worst. Reading the excuses that Mexican fans offer–that “puto” doesn’t really mean “faggot” but is more like “bitch” or “fucker,” as if those definitions are any better–reads like every excuse Mexicans have ever offered for the failings of their paisanos. Campaigns against their actions perpetuates a blanket of victimhood that Mexicans love to snuggle in, one that started with the United States stealing half of Mexico during the Mexican-American War and continued with #NoEraPenal.

And so, they chant.

“Así nací y así soy,” Sanchez sang as his grand, defiant finale. “Si no me quieren, ni modo.” So, let Mexican fans have their “puto.” Besides, it’s the most remarkable thing about a football culture whose national team has never advanced past the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals, whose club teams would be perennial contenders for relegation in Europe’s top leagues, and whose most famous team (Chivas) uses a jingoistic, “All Mexican” hiring strategy that would make Donald Trump proud.

But don’t take it from me. In 2014, UC Riverside English professor Jennifer Doyle–who just might be the earliest English-language commentator to take note of the “puto” chant, way back in 2009–found it fitting that El Tri lost to the Netherlands in heartbreaking fashion during the 2014 World Cup Round of 16. She wrote on her blog about the then-new-for-Americans controversy and its apologists, joking that ESPN had to open its broadcast with “perhaps, the first trigger warning issued in sports broadcast history.”

But in the end, all that fuss ended in a familiar fashion: Mexico lost.

“Were I in the stands supporting El Tri, I might choose a different word when taunting the enemy,” she wrote. “Not only for how ‘puto’ works in a homophobic lexicon, but for how well it predicts Mexico’s path through every international tournament. If understanding the word’s homophobic resonances does not work for fans, perhaps a vocabulary shift might be made in the name of superstition.”