Earlier today, someone shared a link to an Instagram video in one of the Whatsapp groups I’m in. In it, a Crossfit coach yells “Neymar!” and all of his students stop what they’re doing to fall on the ground and groan.
“It’s fine when we make fun, but I don’t like it when these gringos do it!” was the first reaction. It devolved into a conversation about how Brazilians can joke about Neymar, but not gringos.
Curious, I looked up where the Crossfit box was in the world. It’s in the Czech Republic. “They’re not gringos,” I thought.
Then I remembered: by Brazilian standards, they are.
Gringo is a word that I’ve had a weird relationship with here. In our building, I’m known as “that gringa” because, quite literally, I’m the only foreigner here. Once a coach paired Gustavo and I up for a partner WOD, calling us “Team Gringo” since he’s now gringo by association. At times, I’ve adopted the moniker myself knowing that someone would eventually refer to me by it anyway, so why not jump the gun?
Lately, though, it hasn’t been sitting well with me.
Gringo generally applies to anyone who isn’t from South America. Sort of. It’s like anyone who isn’t from South America, and is also from a North American, European, and possibly Middle Eastern country. It’s anyone that’s not from the global south. It has a hazy definition, but one that is very tied to First World Country status.
On the one hand, I think well that’s a fair definition. European and North American countries have dominated for too long, it seems fair to have a general term to call everyone from these places. It’s a way to distance yourself from unequal and unjust power. Right?
Then I think some more and it just feels oversimplified. My experience as a white American woman is very different from someone who grew up in Georgia or Greece, not to mention that there’s a whole loss of the deliciousness of cultural diversity. I’ve mentioned before that immigration in Brazil, unlike the US, is focused on assimilation into Brazilian culture, rather than preserving and honoring our differences. In other words, you won’t meet much prejudice so long as you act Brazilian.
I always feel so very “us vs. them” when using it, too. Brazil against the world. Brazil, which is so geographically and culturally removed – or buffered may be a better word – in so many ways, distancing itself from comparison by defensively saying “You’re not one of us.”
To be clear, gringo isn’t a slanderous word. First, because it’s impossible to create a slur against the group that’s at the top of the hierarchical chain, and also because it’s simply meant as a descriptor. Regardless of the intent, it still has the same effects and reflects the predominant thinking of the culture, just like any lingo in any language.
I’d love to learn more about it’s usage in Spanish, as well. It’s a term that is spoken all over South America and, naturally, I would assume there are differences in it’s usage. As someone to whom the word is applied, it feels divisive, but I could imagine others feel more powerful in the sense that they can say “I’m not one of them.”
For me, I’ve been choosing not to use it, even preemptively. It feels weird. It diminishes the story of who I am into a word that’s so vague, it almost doesn’t mean anything. I’m a gringa by definition, for sure, but I like to think my identity is much more layered than that and no one will dig under the surface unless I present myself as such. I’m choosing to do my best to acknowledge that, yes, I am from one of those gringo countries, but I know Brazil. I care about Brazil. And I don’t want to be reduced by Brazil.