Where's the Gringo?

What is a Gringo?


Literally 3 days ago, all of my Mexican friends were chanting this over and over again as we cruised around on the Trajinera boats of Xochimilco listening to music.  Never one to back down from dance-floor shenanigans & really corny moves, I gave them what they wanted!

Now, despite the word pinche actually being kind of crude in itself (I’ll let you define it), and the fact that it was my friends who were singing, the word gringo is not a derogatory or disrespectful word.  There is a lot of confusion around the word gringo – and I want to clear that up so it is not misinterpreted.

What does Gringo mean?

I actually used to think the word gringo was a word used to refer to latinos.  However, it’s just the opposite.  In short, the word GRINGO is a word used by latinos to refer to white/caucasian people, more specifically people from the United States.

The definition of the word can change depending on where you are in Latin America.  For example, in Mexico & most areas of Central America, gringo almost certainly means someone from the United States.  But in some areas of South America, people will use the word to refer to ANYONE who is of caucasian descent, including Canadians, Europeans, Australians, etc.  In Brazil, they use the word to refer to anyone who is not from Brazil, thus it can be synonymous with foreigner.  

Wikipedia defines Gringo as “a term, mainly used in Spanish-speaking countries and in Portuguese-speaking, to refer to an English-speaking foreigner, especially a North-America person…”

Where does the word gringo come from?

There is actually some debate over this.  As obviously the language of Spanish came from the country of Spain, some say the origin of gringo has Spanish roots.  More commonly, you will hear the term came from Mexicans, and was invented sometime during the Mexican-American War. Some theories say that U.S. troops had green uniforms, and as they entered into Mexican territory, the locals would scream “GREEN GO!  GREEN, GO!” because they wanted the U.S. troops to leave, and couldn’t speak English very well.  Other theories say the term was born from Mexicans’ interpretation of the popular songs “Green Grow the Grass/Lilacs” that U.S. army battalions would sing as they marched, or that the term actually came from Puerto Rico.  Okay – that’s enough history.

Is the word “gringo” bad?

The point is, is that today, the term is not offensive.  However, like many words in many languages, it can be taken out of context depending on how it is said.

Personally speaking, I believe Spanish can be a very direct, “take it or leave it” language.  At times, Spanish isn’t direct in terms of concisely summarizing things or getting the point across. But at other times, it’s very direct in describing the appearance of things or people.  Get ready to use the word negro again.  Don’t be surprised to hear people calling someone who is overweight as gordo to their face!  For English speakers in the age of political correctness, it can feel excitingly raw and comically blunt.

So gringo means nothing more than that – you aren’t Latino, you don’t speak Spanish.  Don’t view it as negative stereotype – OWN it.  Use it to your advantage.  I know I do.  Actually you really have no choice but to embrace it if you want to travel in this part of the world, as EVERYONE says it.  It’s also important not to take yourself too seriously and make fun of yourself sometimes.  You should hear how many laughs I get every time I make a joke about gringos (aka myself) in front of other latinos.

Gringo is good.  Gringo is funny.  Gringo is you (well, if you meet the “requirements” listed above haha).  I hope you have a better understand of what the word means.  Maybe you already knew what the word meant and this entire post has been a waste of time.  Either way, it’s kind of my “identity” now so I figured it was worth an explanation.

My Gringo (Green-Go) Halloween costume in Costa Rica.  The neon glow sticks didn't really light up too well.  #FAIL

My Gringo (Green-Go) Halloween costume in Costa Rica. The neon glow sticks didn’t really light up too well. #FAIL

What do you think?  Do you like the word gringo?  Do you find it offensive? If you have any questions, doubts, or gringo stories I’d like to hear about them.  Leave a comment below – thanks!


3 thoughts on “What is a Gringo?

  1. Jordan Plummer

    Great trip! I’m starting from the bottom going up. Currently in Valparaiso, Chile I have to say if I were you guys I would NOT miss out on this place. My article about it is on http://www.stevieanna.com/#!Valparaiso-Chile-Life-in-Color/cmbz/568bb2230cf2b10de0545806 Feel free to hit me up with any questions, advice or hookups with friends couches or hostel work. I’ve already been here for over a month and am not planning on leaving anytime soon. It’s seriously addicting.

    Best of luck to you to! Maybe, see ya soon!:)

    Jordan > Anotherbackpackingblog (instagram only atm)

    1. fordquarterman Post author

      Hey Jordan – def planning on spending some time in Valparaiso! Sounds like we’re going opposite ways, so we’ll have to coordinate a meetup somewhere in the camino and exchange travel stories and tips. I’ll check out your posts, and thanks for reaching out to me! Nos vemos en el futuro!

  2. Michael M

    My co workers do NOT refer to me as a gringo but as a Mexican. I am one if them and I’m very interested in learning the language and I’m very happy to learn as they are to teaching me. We drink cervesa everyday after work. Great guys and excellent workers. They are my brothers.. I can not think of the word they call me but it is with respect..

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