If you're white and have interacted with a Spanish speaker, chances are you have heard the term “gringo” before. Whether you saw “gringo tacos” as an option at a Mexican restaurant, or if you have visited a Spanish-speaking country and attempted to speak the language only to be met with the word, it is a very popular term.
According to Dictionary.com, gringo is a label most commonly used by Latin Americans to denote foreigners, most commonly white people from the U.S. This word can evoke a multitude of feelings from humor to surprise to shame. Some people own their “gringoness” proudly, while others are afraid to admit it.
Although it appears like a part of Spanish vocabulary, it is technically slang. In light of this, where does the word “gringo” come from?
There are many different origin stories from the word. According to Dictionary.com, the term first appeared in the 1787 Castilian Dictionary. The author, Esteban de Terreros y Pando, defined the word that was most commonly used in Málaga, Spain to describe foreign, heavily accented speakers of Spanish.
Vocabulary.com introduces another theory about the word’s origins, citing a more popular story that the term surfaced during the Mexican-American War. According to this conjecture, the U.S. military uniforms were colorful, most notably very green.
Because of the unsolicited invasion of Mexico, the warranted response from Mexican citizens was “green, go home.” A slightly different theory states that the American soldiers would constantly sing a song that began with the words “Green grows…,” earning them the nickname.
There are a number of songs that fit this description, but it is unclear if American soldiers sang these songs during the Mexican-American War. However, according to Vocabulary.com, the word entered mass vocabulary after the war, showing up in two sources from 1849. These two sources included a diary entry from a man recounting being called “gringoes” while passing through northern Mexico. The other source was a book titled “Los Gringos; or, an Inside View of Mexico and California” where U.S. Navy Lieutenant Henry Augustus Wise claimed the word was a “rather reproachful one used in California and Mexico to designate the descendants of the Anglo-Saxon race.”
Around three decades later, the Arizona Weekly Citizen published an article claiming that the origins of the word can be attributed to English sailors docking on Mexican shores, where they all became extremely drunk and began singing “Green Grow the rushes.”
There are a couple of other theories of varying merit, but regardless, the term has been around for a long time. While typically the word is not meant to be offensive in nature, it can be associated with feelings of disdain and disrespect. More specifically, it is sometimes used within the Latino community to denote that someone is not “Latino enough.” This can range anywhere from not liking spicy foods to not speaking Spanish.
Furthermore, the word can also be used in reverse to express a desire to be more “white.” In a New York Times article, a six-year-old Puerto Rican child claims he “wants to be gringo” in order to be able to identify as white in place of his true identity.
Whether you claim gringo as a badge of honor, or you aren't a gringo or if you honestly don't care either way, now you know the history of this Spanish slang.
Alyssa Cruz is a junior studying journalism and Spanish at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Alyssa by tweeting her at @alyssa_danccruz.