Despite the years living down here in Latin America, there are still occasional moments here and there where some cultural aspect to Latin America sometimes annoys me.
One of those being how late some folks can be to arriving to meetings down here.
And, once in a blue moon, the use of nicknames down here can sometimes slightly be weird to me.
Not annoying but just a tiny bit weird.
As I wrote here, Latinos love their nicknames.
Be it calling someone gordo or flaco or negro or güero.
Or chino for the Asians!
Now, when it comes to the word chino, I could see some Asians getting irritated because it’s stereotyping them into being Chinese when they might’ve been born in another country that isn’t China.
However, I have seen some foreigners find it annoying the use of the words “negro” and “güero” also.
In fact, I’ve been one of them at times!
Going back a few months actually when I lived by Copilco area of Mexico City, I remember going outside.
It’s a story that I know I wrote about elsewhere on my blog but I can’t find where I wrote about it before.
So I’ll keep it brief here.
I went outside to get some food.
On the walk back to my apartment in the early hours of the morning, some random Mexican dude was walking towards me.
I was walking on the sidewalk and he was walking on the street.
He’s staring at me.
As a side point, I find Mexicans to be pretty autistic on average given they have a weird fascination with staring at me.
However, the ones staring at me are almost always young dudes who was below 5’6 in height and a little bit chubby trying to look tough.
Like a chihuahua barking with no bite.
A faggot with a limp dick.
What’s the difference?
Any Mexican of normal height and who is older than 30 almost never stares.
But this guy feels like staring!
I stare back.
In doing so after a few odd seconds, the dude then yells out loudly “GUERO!!!!”
Keeps on walking.
We leave each other alone.
It’s weird, isn’t it?
Imagine if I was that autistic in the US.
Just walking around seeing random strangers and yelling out…
Now, to be fair, almost no Mexican just yells out randomly like that.
Most aren’t that autistic.
Still, I do sometimes find the use of the word “güero” to be very slightly offensive.
I never start shit over it though because I know very well that most Mexicans who use the word aren’t using it with any offensive or racist intent.
That, as I said before, Latinos love their nicknames and the one you get depends on your physical attributes.
So there’s no reason to start shit about it.
Though, in the case of the guy above, maybe it does call to be a smartass back?
Still, you shouldn’t find the use of the term “güero” offensively in most normal circumstances.
It’s similar to the word “gringo” as I wrote here.
Is the word “gringo” offensive?
Well, there’s basically two types of people I’ve met who find the word offensive no matter the context.
Those who are not from the US who hate being grouped in with Americans (Canadians, British folks, Germans, etc).
And folks in the US who think it’s a racist word somehow.
When, in reality, it’s not really a racist word but it can be used in a racist or offensive manner depending on the context in how the person uses the word.
“Matt es un gringo” is perfectly OK.
“Matt es un pinche gringo” is a Little bit offensive.
Same for the use of the word “güero” for white guys in general.
And, from what I can see, other folks online do get confused on the term “güero” as you can see here for example.
“Is the term offensive? Dear Chinito: Not really. Güero technically means "blond" in Mexican Spanish, but it also refers to a light-skinned person and, by association, gabachos.”
Or this article bit here:
“The truth is, if you're white in Mexico you'll have an easy time in life, there's a bunch of threads about this on r/Mexico, the worst people can call you is 'güero' or 'güerito'
And the truth, at least in Mexico is that we're racist as fuck. My dad is slightly darker than all his brothers and all of them call him 'Negro' even my grandma calls him that and he's not even really black. It's common to hear people refer to black people as 'Negros' here, Haitians, African Americans, Africans, people of African descent too.
And that brings us then to using other racially associated words like “negro.”
Can a word like “negro” be offensive for black folks in Latin America?
La Negra de Buenos Aires
As I wrote here, there was a black American chick I knew in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.
She had some unpleasant experiences in Argentina as a black person in which folks would say racist shit to her.
Like implying she was a monkey one time as that last article cited showed.
As a side point, I’ve always heard consistently from black folks that Argentina isn’t the best place to be black.
I’m sure some have had a good time there but I’ve usually heard negative experiences.
And one other negative experience that she had was being called “Negra” at one point.
I wasn’t there though.
But I remember taking some group trip to the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion with her and some other Americans and one Canadian at the time.
While at some bar/restaurant in the city, we were just talking about whatever.
Our experiences and thoughts living in South America, you know?
And she had something to vent about.
Basically, her issue being about how she was called “Negra” at one point.
Meaning “black woman.”
Now her story really wasn’t that exciting or event worthy.
It was literally nothing more than her buying some chips and being called “negra’ during the interaction.
And, upon being called “Negra,” she found it confusing.
Not angry actually.
Asking her something along the lines of “what?”
And the lady didn’t say “Negra” again but just repeated the price of what the chips costed.
Not exactly a story of immense importance.
But one that some black folks – especially black Americans – might find themselves in Latin America.
Reminds me of this video here where a black American traveling in the Dominican Republic answers the question “is negro an offensive word in Latin America?”
His response is something I agree with as a non-black American.
But I would add a few things to say.
First, I agree that the word “negro” isn’t intended to be offensive normally.
Despite some black Americans finding the word offensive like this article here on the Independent with the title “I lived in South America – there’s no doubt “negro” is racist.”
To this article here discussing the topic titled “Culture Clash: When He Called Me Negrita.”
I was living in Mexico the first time I heard the term “negrita”. I was practicing my nascent Spanish with a new Mexican friend. This exercise was great for my shaky language skills but mentally exhausting– my head ached from trying to piece together meaning from his rapidly spoken words, a code coated in a thick regional accent. But when he called me negrita I heard and understood the word with exceptional clarity and was unsure of whether or not I was supposed to be offended. It sounded awfully close to the N-word, too close.
My context, upbringing, and cultural baggage made negrita feel like a sharp slap, a slur, a direct assault on an aspect of myself of which I am very proud. In that moment, the time when I was walking to my university campus years before and some idiot in a car screamed “Nigger!” out their window as they drove past came flooding back; the memory of the puzzlement, anger, and humiliation I felt surfaced anew, wild and raw as the first time. But the moment passed, slow-quick like sands through the hourglass, and I came to discover that the word whose counterpart in inglés evokes so much pain is actually a term of endearment in Latin America. Or so they say.”
Or this academic article here on the use of the word “negrita” in Argentina.
“n Argentine colloquial language, calling someone ‘negro/a’ may have two opposite connotations. It can be derogatory and racist, but in other contexts, it can be used as a term of endearment. It is also customary to nickname someone ‘el negro/la negra [+ name]’, with no offense intended or taken. These usages are unrelated to actual skin colors; both white and dark skinned people may be affectionately called ‘negro’.”
Funny enough, the last article claims that people of “both white and dark skinned” can be called such a term in Argentina but I’ve never had that experience in Argentina or anywhere in Latin America as a white person.
Anyone with more experience of Argentina might want to clarify on that one because that’s news to me.
Final Thoughts on Both Words in Latin America
Anyhow, is the word “negro” offensive in Latin America?
Honestly, I would say the answer to that is basically the same as to the answer of is “güero” offensive but the use of both terms is different for Americans.
First, it depends heavily on context as Latin Americans do use nicknames more often that are associated with how we look.
Second, obviously the word “negro” is different than “güero” because no white person has ever been called “güero” in an offensive manner in the US by non-Latinos but “negro” does have historical usage that is considered offensive by many black Americans.
Third, what do the people these words are intended for think?
My opinion on “if the words are offensive” is similar to how I think about the word gringo.
If someone finds any of the 3 words – güero, negro or gringo – offensive, then you shouldn’t use that word for them specifically as a Latino or non-Latino using the word.
It’s just basic common social sense.
Don’t call someone by a term that they don’t like.
Among the few black folks I have met in my travels, the topic of this term almost never comes up but I have heard a rare story here or there.
From my impression, it seems most are just confused when they hear the word.
Not angry in the moment but just confused while situated in a different cultural climate that they are foreign to in Latin America.
Still, even if said black person or said white person understands that they don’t like being called any of the 3 terms above, my advice is this…
First, pick your battles and don’t think you’ll change the culture of the people down here. They use nicknames for everything. You fat? Now you’re Gordo.
Second, on an individual basis, if someone calls you a nickname that you really don’t like, let them know. If said Latino isn’t socially retarded, he’ll respect your decision to not be called that name.
And that’s all I got to say.
I don’t think either “güero” or “negro” are offensive or racist terms in Latin America but I get why us Americans would think that way (even with years living down here).
Simply put, we’re not used to using nicknames as much nor calling someone out by their skin color.
I wouldn’t go to any of my old friends in the US and go “YO MARCUS! MY BLACK BOY!!! HOW YOU DOING?!?!” or “HEY WHITE GUY TYSON!! WHAT’S UP?!?”
Nobody fucking does that.
It’s a cultural difference though that you have to accept with living down here as I’ve written about before.
Though, in this context, the racial relationship with the words does make it a little more sensitive for the Americans.
I should know – I found it weird when the random Mexican dude yelled out “GUERO!!!”
But, as I said, you learn to pick your battles and accept the culture as it is.
You can express your distaste for cultural aspects down here.
Some Latinos, if they aren’t complete uneducated jackasses, will listen to you and not call you the terms that they now know you don’t like.
But don’t think you’ll change the whole culture.
Learn to roll with it is my advice.
And understand that – in most contexts – these more racially associated terms aren’t meant to be offensive.
Anyway, that’s all I got to say.
Drop any comments below in the comment section.
And follow my Twitter here.
Finally, enjoy this relevant song here “que onda güero.”
Thanks for reading.
PS: After I finished writing this article, I went to buy a hamburger. The lady knows me and asked me in Spanish "same as usual, güero?" Offensive? Not at all. As I said, the context matters for when a word like güero or negro are used.