Why I Don’t Mind Always Being a Gringa

June 5, 2017

Always a Gringa

My blog often comes up in conversation with locals here in Mexico since my husband works ungodly hours and people are wondering if I’m just hanging out at home sitting on my ass all day. I tell them I teach both online and here in Mexico, as well as blog which in turn brings up the question “What is the name of your blog? I smile and say “Always a Gringa” and watch as their face displays a mix of emotions, slight discomfort, curious furrowed brows accompanied by a slight curl in their lips, maybe a head tilt.

 I often wonder what is going through their head and imagine them trying to process why I would choose to accept and claim a name with historically derogatory undertones or that people call me behind my back.

(Not all Mexicans call people from the US gringos, but if I had 18.5 pesos (the current dollar equivalent) for every time I heard someone calling me a gringa or was told someone called me it, I wouldn’t be rich but surely would have some nice disposable income.)

Then they ask why and I begin to explain… but in fewer words than this blog post.

However, I felt like this question deserves a more developed response. If you are interested in my intentions please proceed below.

Why “Always a Gringa”??
From the moment my husband told me that there was an opportunity to move to Mexico I was fully aware that I would never blend in, no matter the effort I made. It wouldn’t matter how fluent my Spanish became or if I magically developed into an exquisite Mexican chef (I’m taking cooking classes people!). I will never truly be Mexican and I can never look Mexican.

I stick out everywhere, even at home in the US. It is nearly impossible to hide my pasty white skin (pictured below), those Irish and Norwegian roots run deep! God forbid I wear a tank-top or even worse…shorts.

 READ: What Does Gringo/a Mean Anyways?

These photos were from Bali, Indonesia in 2010, so don’t judge my 18-year-old self, even if I thought wearing a bandana was cool.


Second, of all, I love traveling and I don’t plan on staying in one place forever, which means I will continue to be a foreigner (gringa=foreigner). Some may view the term foreigner as a form of “othering”  and find it offensive. Despite its negative history I have chosen to reclaim the word.

My ability to “reclaim” or accept being called a gringa reveals my privilege. Reclaiming or identifying the word gringa doesn’t really cause me any significant difficulty (besides possibly being charged a higher price) and in some cases may even provide me with an advantage. Due to my privilege as a western immigrant, I have the ability to choose the role of a foreigner or even adopt the name of “expat”, which isn’t the case for many people who were simply born in a different geographical location or with a different skin color.

This has been the most challenging part of my “philosophy”.Am I doing more harm accepting the term or should I fight against it, pretending to be part of a culture that I have no claim over?

Mexico family drawing

My niece drew me this family photo before we moved to Mexico. Yes, I am aware that is not a Mexican flag.


Some dislike the term gringo because they believe that it means that a person is ignorant or possibly disrespectful of the country they are visiting. Ignorance does not fit into my definition. I strive to be respectful of a culture and people that I am visiting. I definitely do my due diligence by researching and reading about a new country or culture before I travel. However, I would be naive to pretend I know everything or even understand the everyday lives of locals. 

 READ: What Does Gringo/a Mean Anyways?

Some of my best friendships I have made abroad.  1. Watching the world cup in Bali, Indonesia in 2010, 2. Our hiking buddies when we climbed Mt.Fuji, Japan, 3. My high school students from Foshan, China who taught me so much about Chinese culture.

Some people get flustered when they are called a gringa/o, especially those who are fluent in Spanish (a skill I cannot claim) or those who have lived in Latin America for some time. But really it is all about perspective;  Mexicans are often called gringos in other Latin American countries or even Mexicans holding green cards living in the US. If Mexicans can’t even avoid being called a gringo/a, ya vivimos cake (I’m f*#&ed).
I would rather not spend my valuable energy getting flustered about something I clearly have no control over.

Adventures in Guanajuato, Mexico with one of my friends I met here in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

Traveling has shown me that I have so much to learn and I have developed an insatiable curiosity. I am curious and ask questions. I desire to meet and converse with people from different cultures and I avidly seek out opportunities where I can gain perspective and adapt to life in a new culture. I make a strong effort to make connections and form relationships with local people who can show me their perspective and teach me about their culture and country.

So I have decided to embrace being a gringa in the spirit of learning and growth. As a foreigner, I am never finished learning and can always be taught something new or given a new perspective. 

What do you think?Agree? Disagree? Thoughts?
Agree? Disagree? Thoughts?

Why I Don't Mind Always Being a Gringa-2
More about Eemma Iseman

    1. As I read your post and the embracing the facetious term “gringa” I recall listening to National Public Radio Code switch podcast titled, “The Slants: Fighting For The Right To Rock A Racial Slur” where an Asian band filed in court for the right to register/copyright their band name, “The Slants”. Embracing the term is a brave face in a PC society. Although not controversial like the Washington Redskins it does spin in the same orbit but not so close to the center. Left, right, conservative orbit? Who cares. Embrace the term and carry on.

    1. I love the name of your blog, but I love this post even more. It shows real thought and depth behind your choice, especially since I’m sure some people don’t realize the agony and ultimate commitment that goes in to selecting a name for your blog!

    1. Love this post and your blog name! Glad you are embracing being a gringa! Haha. Its true what you say about no point in getting upset about it. You have a wonderful perspective of it and it seems to only help you along in your travels!

    1. Pretty interesting. Didn’t know they had such a word for Americans in Mexico. I believe people are offended for the mere fact is is a made up name for them, and not too many people are keen to name calling. But hey, it isn’t necessarily a derogatory name. Glad you are owning it and continuing to live your dreams! Thanks for sharing!

      ~Jo Jo

    1. I think it’s a great name for your blog and perfectly describes that you’ll always feel like a foreigner. I bet they love your complexion and eyes! There’s something to be said for being a little bit different and standing out sometimes.

    1. Oh I never even heard this word before. Great, honest post, makes total sense and I love the name of the blog! 🙂

    1. Wow, I really like your post. I never understood why “foreigner” is such a negative word. I never heard the term “gringa” before, but it also doesn`t really make sense to turn it into something negative. Your perspective on the issue is amazing and I hope that it will help more people think this way. 🙂
      Cassandra recently posted…How to: Budget travelMy Profile

    1. I love this, you are very wise! Great pics too. Ive always wanted to live in Mexico… or Puerto Rico, IDK just something I have always thought would be awesome. I am Italian-American and when I go to Italy I always feel so american! of course when I come back I feel so in touch with my hertiage, Okay not sure that makes sense!

    1. I think there’s a big difference in embracing the word and then acting on its stereotypes in different countries. I’m glad you’re able to share your experience on the word!

    1. Pretty interesting article and the perspectives presented within are honest and frank. One needs to realize that when you move out of your country you are a foreigner, so everyone is a foreigner some day or the other. And for us travelers who are moving from country to country, this word in any language is actually our MANTRA.

    1. Such an interesting and inspiring post! The name also shows that you don’t take things too seriously 🙂 I’m glad I ran into your blog since I have been dreaming about a trip to Mexico and hopefully my dream will come true soon.

    1. Wow! I love this article! Words are important and the meaning they have behind. When I married an African man, despite suntan, I was always “la blanche”or “l’Italienne”.
      Never understood which word was better speaking about black people. “Nigga”, “Blakie”, “Couloured”…?
      Now I’m traveling often in Morocco. In an article I used the word “Berber” and somebody reproached me because it’s “colonial”. I should use “Amazigh”.
      When words touch some ancient blessure or injustice must be vey careful in using them and be aware of that.
      My English teacher was often repeating “Language is as it is because of what it does”
      silvana mossotto recently posted…Berber weddings in MoroccoMy Profile

    1. I had no clue about the meaning of ‘gringa’ before reading your post. I searched that word on Google. I found out that it is a term for ‘white female’ and a ‘taco’. I like the word ‘taco’. Haha! While I was reading your post, I understand the curiosity of others about your blog’s name. However, it should not really matter. You cannot please everyone. I also understand your perspective why you chose ‘always a gringa’. We are all learning, embracing change, and adjusting to different cultures.
      Iza Abao recently posted…The Lake Superior Circle Tour is the Perfect Canada 150 TripMy Profile

    1. I can relate to this a lot actually! My core group of friends from college were all from Latin America, and most of there were from Mexico. I was always the white girl at all the Latino parties. I’d be called a gringa sometimes but it was more a playful term that I never took offensively. I always felt so welcomed in their culture, and it almost kind of became a title I was proud of in a sense. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. I love this! You make some really good arguments for reclaiming the word, and I love that you acknowledge your privilege in doing so. At the end of the day, you’re making a bold move that many people probably won’t understand, appreciate, or accept. But it’s your choice and I think it’s a commendable one. Rock on, hermana gringa!
      Leah recently posted…The Long Way HomeMy Profile

    1. This is an interesting article and brings up a lot of issues. To be honest, I think it is inportant that travel chellanges you and makes you feel uncomfortable. Sometimes that comes in words and other times in cultural practices but it is a good lesson to learn because I am very privelesged in who I am and where I come from and it’s important for me to become a minority and see how that may feel. I also feel like words can hurt, but I don’t have to let them hurt me. I try to be respectful and kind and represent my culture well abroad. Great topic.

    1. Such an honest read. You have really opened up your heart here. I want to wish you all the very best with your effort. I know how difficult it can be to adjust in a completely different environment, in an altogether different culture

    1. A very enlightening post about living abroad and experiencing a culture from the ‘other side’. I, too, kinda experience this, as an Asian-American growing up in a then homogenous suburb of Houston back in the ’80s. I never really fit in anywhere, as I never blended in physically. And I get those weird looks all the time when I travel abroad when they find out I’m from The States and not from Asia. Almost without fail. But it’s also vice versa when I travel around Asia, I look like them but somehow they know I’m not from Asia – from the way I act and the way I dress. So I say it’s very interesting growing up with 2 cultures and never really fitting in in either of them!

    1. This is actually a really interesting post, because I’ve always thought names like this are just what you make of them. Here in the UK, a lot of people use “Paki” as an offensive term – yet to me, I think why should it be offensive? The only reason it is is because people use it as an insult and a generalisation. But at its roots, it’s not an insult. I think it’s all down to perception.

    1. I really like how you described the immediate reaction of the blog URL. I mean….it’s what drew me to this post as I was perusing your blog tonight 🙂

      As I was recently in Mexico, I found a lot of people were calling me chica over gringa, (at least to my face?)….and the same in Japan. Rather than “Gaijin”, (foreigner?) I often overheard the equivalent of “cute teacher” or “purple girl” (yeah, I too had a weird sense of fashion)

    1. Ha! Nice post. 🙂 I’ve been living in Costa Rica for 2 years and have always be known as “la gringa” in the small town where I live (if not “la matcha” or “la rubia”). Never once has it been said in malice. I have encountered a couple tourists who have claimed that the word “gringo” is offensive, and I just laugh. Besides the fact that I rarely if ever hear it being used in a malicious way, it’s hard for me to feel sorry for Americans dealing with being called gringo compared to all the terrible labels that people of color receive in the U.S. that come with far more baggage.

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