Reader: "Why do you use the word 'Gringo'?"

A Narco News reader, Paul Silvester, writes:

Dear Sir,

I read with interest your publication and praise the fact that you do not shy away from the more accurate reporting of incidents or events in Central & Latin America. I am sick of reading and watching negative reporting on South America, particularly Colombia where I have an apartment and spend several untroubled months every year, and cannot praise enough your efforts to show the realities of the situation prevailing.

However I do have one negative. Why do many of your articles persist in using the term 'GRINGO'?...

I love this discussion. One of the best reasons to use the word "gringo" is to provoke such conversations. I'll spell out my answers to his questions in the comments section below, but first I'll print the rest of his letter in entirety, below, because when someone takes the time to write a thoughtful critique and commentary to us like this, The Narcosphere is a place for his voice and views too... Paul Silvester continues:

I don't expect you to use the word 'beaner' to describe anyone from south of Tijuana so why the need to use the word gringo. In reality the term is not used exclusively for persons from the United States. I am British, I am not from the United States, and  I have been called gringo on many occasions and I find that it is generally used for any 'blondie' or fair skinned person obviously not of Latin origins.  Normally it is used as a throw away remark, sometimes however, it is fundamentally racist in its overtones. I have also heard it used by Hispanics in Europe referring to Germans, French and other nationals

So using the term gringo does not really specifically imply people from the United States, or are you actually trying to implicate every non Hispanic person worldwide when you use it. If you want to use something with a little more Latin ring to it surely you could find something more specific. 'Americanos' is of course unacceptable as the people of Latin America consider themselves 'Americanos' as they are from the continent of America. They require a clear distinction between 'Norteamericanos' and 'Sudamericanos' o 'Latinoamericanos'. And using the term Norteamericanos has a problem because that includes Canada. Even if you were to associate the term gringo with only those from the United States it does of course implicate every single non Hispanic resident and I assume that you are in fact referring normally to United States government or establishments. If you are using it purely for dramatic effect, shame on you, why should you need to resort to overtones of that nature to make a point. Let your syntax influence minds, don't allow terms like these to show the sentiments of the writer. I want to read unbiased truth. UNBIASED. Nothing more and nothing less. Using terms like gringo lead me to believe that a bias is in fact present and that actually LESSONS the power of the text. The final possibility is that, as it commented on occasionally in the European press, you, like some of your fellow citizens, see the world as being only the continents of America. (You have a World Series that does not involve any other countries aside of Canada!!). This logic would of course mean that all 'blondies' were from the United States. Oh hang on.. again, what about the Canadians?? They are North Americans... Aren't they???...  Anyway I am sure you get my point. The United States is not North America and it is not the world!!!!

This may seem particularly pedantic but as the term gringo is primarily believed to be used in a derogatory sense it saddens me that you use this term apparently also in a racist or at the least derogatory context, in a manner you would not dream of using, for example, the term 'nigger', or I suspect the aforementioned 'beaner'.

So what else could you use. Using some examples from your articles;

"not to mention the gringo role as the world's largest exporter of tobacco and pharmaceuticals"

Could be...

"not to mention the United States' role as the ........."


"It is Mexico's unlucky geography that makes this country of 100 million people the straw between the South American coca plant and the gringo's nose."

Could be...

"............... between the South American coca plant and the nose of the end user.

Both are actually more accurate (the drugs are consumed worldwide, not only in the United States and I hate to have to tell you, but Hispanics all over the world use these drugs too....) and detract nothing from the point...

In conclusion, I am not pro or anti anyone. I am pro truth and anti lies whichever hemisphere they originate from and with this regard I say, keep up the good work!!

Kind regards

Paul Silvester

There are really two main questions here:

Why do I use the word "gringo" in my writing so unapologetically?

And why don't we censor others who use it?

As we will see, this discussion (I have it a lot) can get into some pretty interesting places regarding language, culture, and "a world in which many worlds can fit."


I. Word Power and "Taking Offense"

In the early 1960s, social humorist Lenny Bruce used to say during his (often censored) stand-up comedy club sketches:

"Are there any niggers here tonight? What did he say? 'Are there any niggers here tonight?' Jesus Christ! Is that cruel. Does he have to get that low for laughs? Wow! Have I ever talked about the schwarzes when the schwarzes had gone home? Or spoken about the Moulonjohns when they'd left? Or placated some Southerner by absence of voice when he ranted and raved about nigger nigger nigger?

"The point? That the word's suppression gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness, If President Kennedy got on television and said, "Tonight I'd like to introduce the niggers in my cabinet," and he yelled "niggerniggerniggerniggerniggerniggernigger" at every nigger he saw, "boogeyboogeyboogeyboogeyboogey, niggerniggerniggernigger" till nigger didn't mean anything any more, till nigger lost its meaning - you'd never make any four-year-old nigger cry when he came home from school. Screw "Negro!" Oh, it's so good to say, "Nigger! Boy!" "Hello, Mr. Nigger, how're you?"

The offense is in the ear of the beholder.

We can choose to be offended by words or not. And, ironically, it's more often than not folks from the wealthier countries (in Europe and North America) who obsess over "good words" and "bad words" and claim that even terms that have nothing to do with race are somehow "racist" (as I'll explain in a subsequent comment, the term "gringo" has nothing to do with skin pigmentation and more, frankly, to do with the language one speaks or doesn't speak).

Some people say, "but if you use the word with intent to hurt, bla bla bla..." I say: It's irrelevant whether the use of a word is intended to hurt one's feelings: it's the receiver of the word that chooses whether to feel offended or not.

I have spent my life listening to the craziest explanations for why one word is acceptable while another one is not.

My view: No word is unacceptable in public discourse.

After all, it's the rich and powerful who decide which words are acceptable or not: in the mass media, in churches, in law.

If a word is said on the street anywhere in the world, it is a key to better understanding. More often then not, the "bad" words are words from below, and the censorship comes from above. To repress the use of a word only delays - and is indeed intended to prevent - comprehension between cultures.

II. Etymology of the word "gringo"

If I had a nickel for every time I'd been called a gringo, well, we wouldn't need The Fund for Authentic Journalism and its wonderful donors to put gas in this tank.

The word doesn't bother me at all.

In fact, I find it highly entertaining to watch North Americans or Europeans get all offended by it when it is used.

In Mexico (where it generally refers to someone from the U.S.), there is, as in many lands, a kind of "hazing" process in which a new visitor to the land is tested to see, well, how uptight or not he is. Mexicans know that some Europeans really hate being called a "gringo" because they think of themselves as "better than" their North American counterparts (a concept that causes hilarity in a land conquered by the Spaniards, and which drove out the French at the point of a gun). Seeing whether someone is bothered by being called "gringo" is kind of a litmus test of character, or openness, of whether the visitor takes himself too seriously.

More often, I get called "gringo" by visiting Spaniards (who think they are somehow better than North American gringos). That also makes me - and many Mexicans - laugh aloud.

Further enriching the exploration of the G-word is that most visitors to any land from other lands, especially on the tourist circuits, are rich kids, spoiled, uptight, fearful, and fun to provoke. (For example, Mexicans and Latin Americans don't see too many black gringos backpacking through their lands: it's the economy, stupid!)

Anyway, the word "gringo" has nothing to do with race, or with nationality.

Here's an interesting essay about the etymology (linguistic roots) of the word "gringo," which originated with what 18th century Spaniards called foreigners: "griegos," or Greeks!

The writer explains:

According to Father Charles E. Ronan, in the Spanish historian, (in) Terrenos y Pando's Diccionario, compiled in the late 1700s, the term is described in the following fashion:

"Gringo in Malaga, [is] what they call foreigners who [have] a certain kind of accent which prevents their speaking Spanish with ease and spontaneity; in Madrid the case is the same, and for some reason, especially with respect to the Irish." Apparently in use throughout Ibero-America by the beginning of the 19th century, the true etymological roots of "gringo" may perhaps be found in the Spanish "griego", or Greek. All that can be said, then, is that the term probably originally applied to funny-looking itinerant speakers of an exceptionally unintelligible language....

In Brazil, a "gringo" is anyone from outside, including other Latin Americans:

The Rio daily newspaper O Povo recently ran a front page item detailing an attempted mugging of an American by three Ecuadorians in Tom Jobim airport. The headline? "Gringo rouba gringo" ("Gringos steal from gringo").

In the end, "gringo" (or its feminine "gringa") has evolved into a term similar to the indigenous Tzotzil word Cachlan, that is, anybody who is not from "here," wherever here is.

So if the gringos want to complain about being called gringos, they can continue supplying the rest of us (including this gringo) with some fine entertainment.

And if the Europeans don't want to be called "gringos" because they are not from the United States, well, to me it indicates a superiority complex... and as I often say... Every Groucho Marx needs a Mrs. Teasdale!

Don't call me Gringo, Cracker!

Funny, I had no idea of the original etymological roots of the term Gringo, I had been told, from a number of sources, that gringo was from the US invasion of Cuba, where locals put up signs that said "Green Go Home" (US Marines wore green). That got shortened to "gringo". As a dyed-in-the-wool gringo, I think Paul Silvester suffers from false balancing. If he takes offense at the term gringo, that means he doesn't really understand authentic journalism. To equate gringo with "beaner" or even worse, while happily using another racialized and inaccurate term, "Hispanic" defeats the entire argument. I'll take some time to explain how this works.
  1. Gringo is often derogatory, why the hell not? The US and Europe destroyed the cultures of the Americas through systematic genocide that continues to this day. The US and Europe have enriched themselves on the resources of Latin America, and rewarded the people of the region with Colonial administrators, puppet regimes, and massive debt. After all of that, I can take being called a gringo.
  2. There is a balance of power issue. I have no problem using the term "Cracker" or "Whitey", because I can acknowledge my own privilege, and the pain and suffering others have to endure for me to exist in this same privilege. I honestly think "cracker" or "gringo" is a state of mind. To say that "I have an apartment in Colombia," and to imply that things are fine there, while a social and political holocaust goes on outside your windows is indeed to act like a "cracker" or "gringo", I don't care where you're from. I've spent time there too, and I know the suffering that my friends are having to endure.
  3. False Balancing. "Beaner" is a racial term, much like "nigger", used by a group with more privilege to victimize a group with less. These terms are created from above to enforce racial divisions. Gringo is a common term, often used by people engaged in a struggle for sovereignty against people with greater perceived power, and greater privilege. By the way "Hispanic" is another bullshit racialized term. Historically Spanish? Tell that to the Tzotzil, the Mixtec, the Maya, the Guaiu, the Aymara, the Mapuche, the list goes on and on. The only "hispanics" in the Américas are people that came from spain. A great number of people in the Américas have no ancestors from spain, but the Spanish language was imposed by the colonizers. It's like calling me "hisenglish" or "hisukrainian" but we don't do that, because whiteness is normalized, and we don't have to put me in a derogatory racial category.
  4. Finally, if you're looking for "UNBIASED" news, I wish you luck. Find me an unbiased journalist, and I'll gladly quit journalism forever. There is no such thing. All people have a bias, and it is expressed through their reporting. I gladly recognize my own. I want to see people achieve sovereignty, and release themselves from the yoke of debt and military slavery. I love narconews because I feel that the journalists here are honest. Authentic. As one of them, I make no claim whatsoever to objectivity, because it doesn't exist.
It's quite true that non-US, Historically European people tend to think of themselves as superior to the United States. Let's remember that the model for Empire that our moronic "leader" is using, much like his predecessors, is from Western Europe. Britain has done much to dismantle indigenous governments, and has committed its own genocides in the interest of a few shillings. European countries, as well as Canada, are complicit in Empire in the Americas and the rest of the world. To all of my friends, to all the autenticos from those countries, just to make things clear, I warmly welcome you to the term "Gringo".

Notes from an Overeducated Gringo

I knew all that literary theory in college would be good for something eventually . . .

The dominant culture always assumes it is "normal" and comes up with terms to define what's different, other, outside.

Words like gringo subvert that system -- making the coloniziers the alien and the other.  And when we gringos call ourselves gringos its  owning up to who we are and refusing to make someone else the other.

And like Al sad, its good for gauging who is uptight.  Which cuts in both directions.

Claiming and embracing names takes back power-- yeah i'm a motherfucking Mick and we kicked your limey asses back across the sea.  I had a hard time not bursting out laughing in court a few year's back when the judge lectured a cop for using the word paddy wagon, saying she didn't want ethnic slurs in her courtroom.  Of course everyone of us on trial was a paddy whose revolutionary spirit came in part from ass kicking hard drinking IRA great grandparents.

A friend and sometimes lover of mine, a single mom who grew up dirt poor and now gets invited to socialize with yuppies from time to time because she is a brilliant poet, always enjoys watching how nervous the yuppies get when she calls herself white trash.

In most queer circles I've been in a breeder who says queer is alright, a breeder who says LBGT is an uptight wanker liberal who is just trying to get pc points by being down with the queers.

Proper gringo attire

On the origin of the term gingo, here's another folktale.

One theory has it that the word comes from the United States' efforts to bring order to the world of the automobile -- both north and south of the border: "Green Go."

Another version of the origin of the term has it stemming from the Mexican-American War in the mid 1800s. At the time, a song in vogue with U.S. troops, based on a Robert Burns poem, included the refrain, "Green grow the rushes." That led Mexican soldiers to dub them "green grows," which eventually morphed into gringos.

Who knows? It's all Greek to me.

Is the term limey derogatory? I suppose some British folks might deem it so. But the practice that led to the term being popularized did save a lot of lives at sea. Scurvy was common among sailors who spent extended periods at sea consuming a diet of salty foods -- and little vitamin C. A lack of the vitamin is what causes scurvy. To combat the condition, the British navy would pack its ships with limes for the sailors -- leading to the term "limeys" for British sailors, and more commonly Brits in general. At any rate, I'd rather eat limes and be called a limey than die of scurvy at sea.

Hey, I grew up in Wisconsin. What do they have a lot of in Wisconsin: Cheese. So it was not big leap for Bears and Viking football fans, arch rivals of the Green Bay Packers, to label Packer fans as "cheeseheads." The term was certainly meant to make fun of Wisconsinites.

There is nothing inherently wrong with limes or cheese, but at some point one culture determined the words could be used to needle members of another culture -- whether that be British limeys or Wisconsin cheeseheads.

So I say lighten up. Go watch Gingoton and do what Packer fans do, get a cheese hat or bra, and have fun with the stereotype. Now let's see, what could you wear as a gringo in South America?  


 In Argentina, which a recent comprehensive Economist/Latinobarometro poll found to be the most anti-U.S. Latin American country (Colombia was one of the most pro-U.S.!--I know, I know, it's a poll... grain of salt, etc.), we tend to use the more-specific "Yankee," or yanki (phonetically pronounced "shanki" with an Argentine accent). Gringo is used too, but yankee is much more common. And more often than not, both terms are only applied to things U.S.

Anti-Americanism has always been an interesting topic to discuss about Latin America because it is incredibly varied, nuanced and complex.

P.s. I tried finding the poll online, but failed. If I locate it online I'll post the link. It had other great info like, not surprisingly, Venezuela is the country with the highest degree of confidence in "Democracy".

You're all right

As a jew whose led such a sheltered life I still miss most derogatory references unless someone explains them to me (there are too many to keep track of, but just using the word "jew" instead of Jewish seems shocking enough to goy ears), permit me to exploit probably the most well-known representation of jews, Fiddler on the Roof...

Tevye, the main character, listens to one side of a dispute, and agrees: "You're right."

He listens to the other side, and is convinced: "You're right."

"They can't both be right," someone points out.

Tevye pauses.  "You know something?  You're right too!"

Paul Sylvester has a point.  First, he dislikes the term gringo and says it interferes with his, well, comprehension of Al's work.  And it probably shouldn't be used as a synonym for the U.S.

Gringo, like goy, isn't a derogatory term except in that any designation of the "other" necessarily means they aren't considered us.  But for us gringos, we don't see anything wrong with using it for ourselves and our fellow gringos, even if we might not use a term for other people considered at all derogatory.

Not to use it would, I think, ultimately be self-censorship that hurts communication more than helps.

It comes back to the myth of unbiased.  I'll hold out that objective could perhaps be viewed as an ideal to try for, but unbiased is just a very dangerous fantasy.

This doesn't mean a correspondent who won't use gringo isn't being authentic.  It just means that for other people, like our corresdondent Al, not to use Gringo wouldn't convey the truth he must share.

A response to my post about the use of 'Gringo'

Dear Al,

Thanks for putting my letter on the Narcosphere. Well I certainly have kicked of an interesting debate and that is never a bad thing. Although I am surprised how personal people get with their comments!!

I agree entirely that suppression of vocabulary gives that same vocabulary power it seldom deserves and I do not wish to prevent the use of any word including ‘Gringo’. .I also agree that offence is in the eye of the beholder

I agree with the idea that the church, state and the rich decide acceptable language. They can try but in reality we are all able to take personal control of our own vocabulary should we wish. As indeed you do in your writing.

Some of the posts seem to think I am offended to be called a gringo. I don’t think I actually said that I was?? Frankly if ‘Gringo’ is the worst thing said to me in my life, I am indeed a lucky man. However, to dismiss the concept of offending someone is offensive in itself because you are actually attacking their freedom of thought which allows for someone to be offended should they wish to be so,  rightly or wrongly in your or my opinion. Who was it who said “I may not agree with you but I will fight for your right to say it” or words to that effect?

When I asked why you use the term gringo it was as much regarding why you feel it is the correct word as it was about potential offence of the word. What and who you were referring to when you use the word gringo and why it was used as opposed to other less ambiguous syntax and still, to be honest, that question has not really been answered. When you mean ‘consumers of cocaine worldwide’ gringo is never going to be the right word as many ‘non gringos’ use the drug. In this case by using the term gringo you are passing the blame to only a percentage of those culpable.

There has been a great deal of intellectualising which is self defeating on occasions. I would have liked a simple answer. Usually our motivations are simple; when we try to intellectualise them we just muddy the water. It is obvious you all love the word. Why that word, when Spanish is full of wonderful words you choose to hang your hat on that one, who knows! A kind of benign verbal self debasement maybe. Heck… now I’m intellectualising!!! Let’s just say you like the word and leave it at that.

I was surprised to see so many posts from apologists. Let your history go guys, you can’t change yesterday only tomorrow. To use the misdeeds of your and my forefathers to excuse or validate anything is a real negative approach. Learn from the past but don’t pass the guilt on. Look at the Middle East and Ireland. People are still angry about events hundreds of years past. So angry they don’t get to grips with today and tomorrow. Just how much mia culpa, mia culpa, mia maxima culpa does it take to move on.

I do take issue with the argument against my use of the word Hispanic. The Oxford Dictionary lists the meaning as: Relating to or typical of people descended from Spanish or Latin-American people or their culture. How did I use that word incorrectly?? Spanish OR Latin America people… surely that includes the indigenous peoples of Latin America or should we stop calling it Latin America as well?

Yes, the Europeans and the British particularly are arrogant and often do feel superior. From time to time I have been guilty of this but heck I’m human, I’m not perfect and I am not going to pretend I am.

I am not going to give any of the personal digs a response…… other than to say, you don't know me so argue the point guys, not the person.

As put by Benjamin Melancon, we are all right. The flip side is as such we are all wrong too. And to disagree and argue publicly is a gift many people worldwide do not possess.  So the next time someone writes something you don’t agree with, instead of believing “Ah, he’s an arsehole for thinking differently to me”. Think about how cool it is that we can publicly argue without fear or prejudice.

On the subject of bias, sure we all have biases…. That’s human nature, but take the pen away from a ‘journalist’ who can’t or doesn’t feel the need to be objective. The Oxford dictionary gives the meaning as: based on facts rather than thoughts or opinions. Hey ….Isn’t that ‘authentic’ journalism??

Incidentally here’s an additional usage of Gringo for you. In Colombia the kids in school (those lucky enough to go) use the expression “no sé, me quedé gringo” when they don’t understand something. It doesn’t translate literally but basically the sentiment is “I don’t know, I am stupid”.

So on that note chao gringos!!

Paul Silvester.

In my objective opinion...

Welcome to the NarcoSphere, Paul!  If everyone who got criticized here would get a co-publisher's account this would be a very interesting place.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall in 1905 wrote the words which she felt portrayed the essence of Voltaire's thought:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

I've been to journalism school, and any authentic journalist has lots of good reasons to reject objectivity.  My Journalism 300 textbook was borrowed and never returned by a co-worker several years ago, but its so-called objective definition of what makes information news is seven qualities including new, unusual, strange, unexpected, and things like that.

It's my "opinion" that what makes news is what matters in the real, lived lives of people.

I'm wrong, of course: the importance to people's wellbeing has very little to do with what gets in the newspaper or on the TV news.

But that's really the point: objectivity can be applied (incorrectly in my opinion, and I'm sure in yours) to maintain the status quo and marginalize those fighting for needed change.

On that subject, Beatrice Hall and Voltaire would probably agree that locking people up without trial and torturing them (and the threat to all our liberty this represents) must also be fought-- and that it is even news, no matter how long it goes on or commonplace it becomes.

are we gringo/gringa identified...

enjoying this immensely somehow.  seems to me a LOT of cultures and societies outside the western core, if you will, have their funnywords for those generally pale-faced, frequently foolish-acting-by-local-custom folk who come from North America or Western Europe with what can only appear to be their own agenda. haole, gringo, gaijin...I've been all of these and more. (matter of fact, I named my beloved, now long-departed mellow dog Gaijin and explained to those who asked that it's because "he doesn;t look Japanese, does he?" or "it's Japanese for 'gringo' but I know too many people named their dogs Gringo."

there ARE plenty of words I believe that are passe or no longer apt or just insulting or off the mark, but I don't number "gringo" among them.  partly 'cuz I think it's good for us (round-eyes, gueros,longnoses, whatever ways our stardards of beauty and achievement and whatever don;t mean shit) to take a step back from always being what sociologists call the Unmarked Category, or the norm, and laugh a little at ourselves through someone else's eyes.

some of my old on-line friends might remember one of my occasional Internet handles was The Old Gringa,partly in deference to Ambrose Bierce, who identified as the Old Gringo, and to my grandfather, an expatriate and former "undocumented person" in the US himself and a MAJOR Bierce fan.

I'm not really all that old (though my high school students sometimes see it otherwise) but I'm definitely gringa.palefaced and longnosed and countercultural and all that...: eat plenty beans and tortillas but eat 'em more ort less gringa style. lived as a young, pilgrimaging, backpack-carrying gringa for almost a year in Mexico and Central America when I was in my early twenties and "muchilera" had a rqther unsavory flavor for most...and made plenty of good friends on my journeys partly because I couldfind it funny to see what the limits of a gringo or gringa of any persuasion or identity "going native" might be.  came home to California  and eventually got an honors degree in anthropology, where the people who are any good at all ask just those kinds of questions.

what's the point of my musings here?  mostly, that we from the Deep North are as gringos and might as well have a chuckle about it. hippie philosopher who said it's a good idea to laugh when YOU slip on the banana peel had it right, as I see it. meantime I learned to laugh uproriously at the gringos, also muchilero-ing it up in the 70s or so, who were determined to prove that they were "no longer" gringos, by virtue of anything from being Canadianrqather than from the US  (heh!), or thinking they'd learned to "blend in"  unlike the other muchileros who looked just like them, or just because. and of course, I'm laughing at the part of me that tries that too.

takes one to know one.

love, The Old Gringa


just one last thought.  I hope.

seems to me we're showing a little knowledge of The Other by even identifying in a fun-poking way as gringos. which, in this funny looking-glass of "who's got it and who doesn't have a clue as to where to look for a clue" is probably a way of saying we have a little more sense than the guy...I not only knew him; I traveled in the same van with him... who think he's "blending in" in the hills around Oaxaca wearing a woman's shawl and not realizing the sentence he thought he said in Spanish made absolutely no sense whatsoever...

we all got our pride and understanding our gringo foolishness sometimes feeds it, and that's okay too.

I think. or maybe I need a nap before my next class.


Gringos, Racists and Utility in Our Times

Paul, thanks for setting off an interesting discussion.   And thanks especially for demonstrating exactly what people should do when they feel the urge to ask, comment or otherwise weigh in on something here.  Sign right up for your copublisher account and jump right in.  Welcome to the Narcosphere.  
I must admit I do like the word gringo.  It doesn't bother me in the slightest to have it applied to myself or people like me.  That plus finding it pretty useful as a word make it easy for me to like.  
Is gringo racist?  Well, maybe there's a test for that.  Imagine two obviously gringo ex-pats had a child in Mexico.  23 years later, Baby Hypothetical has grown up entirely in Mexico, living as a Mexican, fully absorbed in Mexican culture.  Is grown up Baby Hypothetical a gringo?  My guess is no.  If Baby Hypothetical gets called a gringo, it's probably just teasing, misidentification or something based on some very gringo-like trait that Mommy and Daddy Ex-Pat managed to instill upon their child.  I welcome anyone who knows someone like that to correct me if I'm mistaken.  
Can gringo be racist?  Sure.  But that's not saying much.  I've heard every single descriptive term ever concocted to denote black people used as a slur against black people.  Is African American racist?  No, but around these parts when you hear an extra long pronunciation of the 'A' in 'African' coming from 'white' lips, sometimes it is.  It's a reality here that says something about race relations and language both.  
Chicano poet Ricardo Sanchez described how he grew up hating the gringos in El Paso in the 50s.  Later he came to realize that his hatred, which some would call a kind of racism, robbed him of a portion of his own humanity by preventing him from seeing the humanity of others.  Whatever it is that lessens our humanity; that limits our humanness; must be struggled against.    That I believe as much or more than anything.  But from knowing racists of many varieties I'm convinced that it's not a word, but a conception lying behind a word that must be struggled with.  
Is gringo a useful word?  Perhaps Paul is right to suggest the spanish lexicon is chock full of superior terms.  My own spanish is terrible, so I wouldn't know.  But I can't think of another word that conveys the same meaning as gringo.  What other term for "Americans" or "Westerners" implies not just a lack of understanding but, as Judith described, a significant cultural obstacle to becoming able to understand?  If anything, in our present days, gringos really do need to be reminded that not only don't they get it but even with some effort they might never get it.  The first step to understanding is being cognizant of a lack of understanding.  And, unlike the new and unusual trivia Mr. Melcançon's textbooks describe, authentic journalism must be about increasing understanding.  

your doorway to narcosphere fame

And here's that link to apply for a co-publisher's account.  (Hint: if you're like me, and haven't done anything else useful, send some money to the Fund for Authentic Journalism.  Even if treasurer Andrew Grice can't spell my name.)

And for those of you who already are co-publishers, log in and comment-- or equally important, rate other people's comments (select a rating from "Off Topic" to "Front Page It" and click "Rate All"– yeah, that scared me too, but only the comments you actually rated will be rated).  There are days when if it weren't for co-publisher Jeff Simpson, all new comments would remain buried under the "Browse All Past Comments" link.

Another response to Paul Silvester

Hi Paul,

I'm very excited to see your response, I'm thrilled that we can have this conversation, I think it's a great opportunity to address some basic issues and concepts that we are working with. I'll address your reply since I think you are responding directly to some of my comments.

If I'm not mistaken, you are categorizing me as an apologist. I find that a mischaracterization, and somewhat offensive, but I also consider it rooted in a defensive response, one that is not uncommon when people find their privilege challenged. You cannot "let history go, guys", history shapes the present and the future. Guilt is a non-issue, the reality is that you can live "untroubled months" in Colombia, and the vast majority of Colombians cannot. Acknowledging privilege is not an apologia, merely an acceptance of cold, hard, facts, which you claim to hold so dear.

A cursory reading of writers from Latin America will explain  very clearly that the parasitical relationship of the Western European Nations and the underdeveloped nations of the global south are no accident and the relationship is very much one of the present, not merely a relic of the past. I can presume, since you have the ability to enter and leave Colombia as you please, that you have a certain access to finances that facilitates this travel. I would also consider the ability to travel within Colombia without being murdered by Paramilitaries a great privilege, again one not shared by the majority of Colombians.

If "moving on" means historical amnesia, then no, I have no intention of moving on. The areas you cite, the Middle East and Ireland, are conflicts directly related to Imperialism. Without an analysis of Imperialism, a true, just solution is hopeless. In Latin America, as elsewhere, there is a reason the majority are oppressed, and to act as though this is simply a reality of modern life is to abdicate your ability to effect change, and thereby makes you complicit in the violence that is occuring everyday around you. Please note, that I'm not referring only to you, but to anyone attempting to understand the conflicts in the world today, myself included. Privilege is a reality, and people truly dedicated to social change are willing to use their privilege to effect change, rather than hide behind it and assume it's natural. That's what's motivated my travels in Colombia and my participation in democracy in the US, in both occaisions with fairly serious consequences (nothing, of course, in comparison to the consequences met by the people of Colombia, Iraq, or Palestine). Which by no means makes me immune to criticism, I could definitely be doing more, I'm just trying to illustrate that an understanding of the systems of repression and oppression in place in the Américas necessitates action, and an acceptance that being called a name, or not being accepted immediately by your neighbors is a small price to pay.

I'm curious, then, if your concern is in the term "gringo", why you cling so deperately to "hispanic". If you want to know what people want to be called, it's often a good idea to ask them. Ask your neighbors if they consider themselves "hispanic", or prefer a different term. As Sean points out so clearly, by using the term hispanic we saying quite clearly that the European heritage is more valuable than the indigenous heritage. I hate to try to speak for people that can speak very well for themselves, I wish we could translate this whole dialog to castellaño for our compañer@s to join in the conversation. I merely take issue with using a term that is not self-referential, but seeks to create the "other" out of people whom we work with.

Finally, as an authentic journalist, you'll "take the pen away from [me]" from my cold dead fingers. I state again, anyone who claims to objectivity is merely trying to hide their own bias. I have a bias and I advertise it, I have no desire to mislead my readers as to the basis of my writing and analysis. If we cling to objectivity, then what is our goal as journalists? Do we exist merely to reinforce that status quo, or are we dedicated to social change? If the former, then why not work for Fox or the State Department. I believe that many narconews reporters are dedicated to social change, hence the passion required to create real journalism around the organizing of the oppressed communities in Latin America to create real sovereignty and democracy.

Gringo, Gringo, Gringo

I use "gringo" all the time, to describe myself and other citizens of the U.S. and Canada.

I agree with Al, it's definitely an "uptight" barometer.  I figure when I use it, I help others who are trying too hard to be "politically correct" to relax a little.  If we can't get past the word, then how do we deal with the real issues of cross-cultural dissonance?  Face it, Mexicans use it among themselves all the time.  Why put myself in a position where I am required to react with fear or indignation or whatever, every time I hear it?

One of the things I have learned in 11 years in Mexico is that nobody means ME when they say "Yankee go home".  I've gone into too many anti-U.S. demonstrations, and asked people what's happening, and been treated with friendship and respect, to take umbrage at that one.  Anyhow, almost all the time, they are right: the Yankee (government) should go home, and stop messing up the local scene.  Let's start with Iraq.

I would hate to be called a Yankee.  To me, that word is associated with aggression, self-rightiousness and undeserved attitudess of superiority.  As in, the Yankee dollar, and the Yankee gunboats off Veracruz.

Gringo, on the other hand, has a sort of soft, innocent, goofy silliness about it.  To my ear, it fits a lot of behaviors, mine and others'.

I hate it when U.S. citizens call themselves Americans.  Every country south of the Rio Bravo is part of America, and we have no right to abrogate the word as a description of persons from the country between Mexico and Canada.

On the other hand, substituting the more politically correct "Citizen of the U.S.A." is a little awkward; it breaks the flow of what might otherwise be sparkling prose.  Gringo only uses up two syllables.  Much smoother, no?

Guillermo Gomez Peña describes himself as a Mexican in the process of becoming a Chicano. I like to think of myself as a gringo hoping to someday be a mensch.

Yankee Stay Home!

Stan: Exactly!


Gringos, however, are welcome.

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Reporters' Notebooks

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.