Archive for the ‘Language’ Tag

I Ain’t No Mother F^@king Gringo!   1 comment

I have some pretty strong feelings about being called a gringo. I mean it is not exactly like being called a nigger. Close enough though.

Some say the word “gringo” is derived from the word “griego” meaning Greek in Spanish. In this context the reference is to something or someone not understood, i.e. its Greek to me. Some say the word was born out of the Mexican American War, when Mexican soldiers overheard American soldiers singing “Green Grow the Lilacs.” The legend says they would satirically imitate the foreigner’s singing using the song’s title as a kind of satirical commentary. It is also said that when the United States invaded Mexico, wearing green uniforms, the people shouted “Green Go Home”. Whichever, if any, of these etymological accounts are true, all give credibility to the reasons for the pejorative use of the word as a way of referencing conquistadors, foreigners with white skin or Anglos.

Now- a-days the term gets used in all manner of ways. North Americans and Europeans alike refer to themselves as gringos. Either euphemistically or as a way to separate themselves from the people and places in Latin America where they live the term is descriptive and widely accepted. There is a website called “gringos.com.” Escazu, just outside of San Jose, Costa Rica is popularly called “gringo land” because there are so many North Americans living there. Generally, the word gringo now gets used to describe anyone from North America.

So what’s my issue with being called a gringo? It goes back to the roots of the word and its negative connection to the conquistadors. As an African American in Latin America the only thing that I feel that I have in common with the word’s use is that I am from North America. For me though, let’s not forget that I am North American for the same reason that many Latinos are my color: the slave trade. Given that fact, I have more in common with the Latin cultures who suffered from the European invasion of the Americas, and the ensuing slave trade, than the North Americans who visit Latin America.

Many say that the word’s negative connotation has been greatly diminished. But I have to disagree. In many places the sentiments run strong and deep. I have heard too many Latin Americans say, and read references to, “those mother f$@king gringos” talking about the arrogance and attitudes of entitlement that many North Americans and Europeans bring to Latin America. I have heard the sarcasm. It is widely known that in many parts of Latin America there is a gringo price for everything from massage parlors to property purchases. I had two friends ask the owner the price of his property just outside of Barranquilla, Colombia. One reported back to me that the price was $35K. The other said they were told the price was $150K. The second friend either told the owner that I am North American or was trying to make some money herself. Presumable the first did neither. Perhaps gringo prices result from a sense that gringos can, and perhaps should, pay more. Perhaps it’s a backlash to the arrogance and entitlement some Latinos feel they bring. Who knows!

The truth is I can deal with the practice of charging me more. To me the practice is pure capitalism. Whatever! I am more disturbed that calling me a gringo does not recognize that the cultural struggles which are a part of Latin American life, past and present, are the struggles that typify my life and the lives of many African Americans in the United States. My ancestors, brought forcibly to these shores, are also the ancestors of many people in Latin America. Calling me a gringo undermines our common struggles and triumph. I am a part of the same African diaspora that produced the cultures of Salvador Bahia, Brazil; Cartagena, Barranquilla, San Andres Island and Cali in Colombia; Liberia, Costa Rica; Bluefields in Nicaragua; Panama and more. So when I am called a gringo, I feel that all of that gets denied. I feel that I am being associated with something I am not, something that I have struggled against all of my life. And I hate that association almost as much as I hate being called a nigger.

Posted July 6, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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