¡Pinche Gringo!

Your history textbook seems a bit wishy-washy about the Mexican-American War. There’s a romantic illustration of gallant soldiers on decorated horses, and the details of whom invaded whom and why are glossed over. The main takeaway for the exam is that the U.S. gained 529,000 square miles of land in line with the expansionist movement and Manifest Destiny. So, you remember what you can and move on to the next lesson.


Remember Your Regiment, U.S. Army in Action Series, 2d Dragoons charge in Mexican War 1846, commissioned by the United States Army (Public Domain)


American Progress, by John Gast 1872 (Public Domain)

Sometime later on in life, you’re called a gringo, a gringa. As long as you’ve behaved well, this will be followed by an apology (he didn’t mean it disrespectfully) and then the question: Do you know where the term gringo comes from?

Now just wait, this is not a question you’re meant to answer. He wants to tell the story, “GREEN GO! GREEN GO! Their jackets were green, you see. The soldiers. The soldiers who stole our land, our Mexico.” You remember their uniforms being blue in your book, but say nothing. It was just a painting, and it seems this is still a very sensitive subject.

You smile and nod, you’ve heard something similar before. No reason to take it personally, after all, americano refers to inhabitants of the entire continent, technically norte americano would also include people from both Mexico and Canada, and estadounidense is just such a mouth full. You agree, gringo rolls off the tongue nicely. You think you’ll adopt it as part of your vocabulary.

¡Pero no te preocupes! Tú me cayes bien.” So you don’t worry, you share in a toast to Mexico’s long life (¡Viva México!), and you carry on your way until repeating the same conversation with someone else, somewhere else, at some undetermined point in the future.

But what if this anecdote, so passionately and frequently told, is more folklore than etymology? Perhaps it’s true that a green-garbed army was told to go. Or some accounts say the demonym stuck after Mexicans misinterpreted lyrics of an old Irish-American tune “Green Grow the Lilacs” that U.S. troops sang between battles. However, the 1787 version of El Diccionario Castellano, published in Spain almost a century before this conflict took place, proves gringos have been around for quite a long while. The exact origin is still up for dispute: some claim it’s a variation of griego (the Spanish word for “Greek”) and others say it might have come from shortening peregringo (meaning “pilgrim” or “wanderer” in Caló, the Romaini language of Spain). Nevertheless, the definition references no concern whatsoever about the colors foreigners wear, and rather it complains about the gibberish they speak: “Foreigners in Malaga are called gringos, who have particular kinds of accent that deprive them from easy and natural Castilian speech, and in Madrid the name is given especially to the Irish for the same reason.”

Gringo def-01

So, could you avoid setting off national sentiments by cleaning up your accent?  Not likely. On this one, legend reigns supreme, pinche gringo. You’d do best to buy the next round and sing your company a few lines of “Green Grow the Lilacs.”


…or then again, maybe you should just stick to the drinks. ¡Salud!


For more on the origin of “gringo,” listen to this entertaining podcast by Lexicon Valley or this informative overview by Gerald Erichsen.

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Somewhere, Beyond the Smog


Mexico City: smog.

Mexico City: land of many buildings lumped together and on top of each other to form a massive urban sprawl.

Mexico City: honking horns and piles of angry traffic.

Mexico City…first impressions do not lie, but they can be awfully misleading.

Remember when I told you I could never ever live here? I’ll have to eat my words, for I have not lived more decidedly anywhere else since I moved away from my childhood home over ten years ago.

My relationship with this city is like that of an unlikely, but devoted couple. It’s a place I hadn’t stopped to consider, a place that didn’t at first convince me. My uncle tried to scare me into making a different choice, for Mexico was up to no good. Friends of the family raised their eyebrows, “The beaches are beautiful, but we wouldn’t risk leaving the resort.” Regardless, something bit at me, tempting me to cross into the chaos, and so I did.

And chaos it was. Passionate chaos. Colors, music, people, laughter, tears, and love affairs. Rides on emotional roller-coasters. Expressing myself took on new meaning, and my timid Spanish had to get its feet wet and its hands dirty. How do I know whom to trust? When does the noise stop? Where the hell am I? And why do I feel so…alive?

And so we got to know each other:

The people were quick to live up to their reputation of being warm and inviting, never seeing a party go unattended and reluctant to leave someone home alone.

The culture, a vibrant puzzle whose pieces somehow found a way to fit together.

Streets, monuments, and museums collaborating to ensure the country’s history would live on, growing in legend and mystique with each passing year.

From palaces to underground bars, from mountaintops to top floors of skyscrapers, there were always new places to see.

The language went beyond textbook Spanish to communicate a way of being.

And little whims and spontaneous surprises were sure to keep me on my feet.

With time I could see that this wasn’t merely a fling. This city might just be…the one.

But it wasn’t always easy. Noes disguised as yeses, and corruption accepted as a norm. The pollution, swarms of people, and traffic jams did weigh me down from time to time, and I wondered if I could really accept all the defects of “DF defectuoso.”

I left, not knowing when I would be back. I told myself it was time to move on, time to close a cycle. Nothing lasts forever.

Yet, my absence did not last forever either. I soon returned, following a decision of the heart. I’ll take the smog with all the sunny days, face congestion on bicycle, and smile with the feeling that I’ve landed in the right spot. For what appears to be incessant mayhem from a distance can turn into endless possibility and adventure.

“So, you fell in love with a Mexican?” some assume.

And I respond, “I fell in love with Mexico.”

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Adios DF, Hola CDMX–a haiku


Goodbye de-efe
Constitution you will have
Still the capital
Adiós DF
Constitución tendremos
Capital aún

Since 1824, Mexico City had officially been named the Federal District, or Distrito Federal.  This was comparable to Washington, D.C. in some ways, as Mexico City was not a state and was not part of a state either. However, its legislative structure started to be challenged after the government’s poor response to the city’s devastating earthquake in 1985, and this year, it was changed as part of a political reform. Now, Mexico City is Ciudad de México and on its way to becoming Mexico’s 32nd state.

You can refer to this article by the Guardian or this one by Forbes Mexico (if you want to practice your Spanish) to find out more.


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