… and now a definition from Merriam-Webster.
From my knowledge and my personal experiences in Latin America gringo/a is broadly used to refer to a group of U.S. citizens. I’ve also heard it used as a term to call Europeans or basically anyone who looks like they could be American or European (aka white people). The term is also used as a name to describe people who don’t speak Spanish.
This might surprise you, but gringo/a can also be used to refer to Hispanics who speak very little or no Spanish at all or for those who are not in touch with their Latino roots, or for any person who is ignorant of Latin American culture or history. Source: NPR Code Switch
Wow, so a lot of people are considered to be gringo/as, so where does this word even come from?
Myths and Theories
The origin of the word gringo is often disputed and holds a handful of different myths and theories about where the term actually started. Let’s talk about them…
Green Go Home
One of the most popular stories — and probably the story you heard in high school Spanish class has ties to the Mexican-American War that lasted from 1846-1848. The American regiment wore green uniforms which created a response from the Mexicans of “green go home” which morphed into gringo.
Green Grow the Lilacs
While these are the most popular theories surrounding the origin of the word gringo there is no evidence that this is the evidence or if these songs were even sung.
It’s all Greek (Griego) to me
The 1786 Castilian Dictionary traces the use of the word back to 1700’s Spain. Spaniards used the word for people who could not speak Spanish or spoke Spanish with a heavy accent.
So the common thread between all these possible origins is that the gringo has historically been used to refer to a foreigner. Whether it is a traveler, a person whose language is unintelligible or a person with foreign roots. Gringo/a denotes the idea of otherness.
If you were not born in Latin America you are most likely a gringo/a, whether you like it or not. As an expat from the USA living in Mexico, I have come to accept the term, even reclaiming it in a way – hence the blog name. Accepting gringo/a for its literal meaning can be an easy task, but the word gringo/a has another uglier side, which can be much more a challenge to accept.
Someone might call you gringo/a behind your back, under their breath, accompanied by other not so nice words “pinche gringo/a” but to me, it is not worth getting upset over something I personally have no control over. If someone is using gringo/a in a pejorative manner, telling them you don’t like it will not likely change anything. Just use that as an opportunity to prove them wrong.