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.
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?
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.
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).
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.