- The Odd Opinions of the Seasoned Gringo in Latin America
On another afternoon in Xela, Guatemala, I found myself sitting in a cafe on a little sofa by myself with tea in hand.
Out of the blue, an older American man named Jeff who is a retired expat enters the building and walks over to the same sofa.
Though we had little in common, we both often talked while hanging out at this sofa because we both happened to want to sit in the same spot.
There were plenty of tables and chairs but we were the only ones who preferred to sit on the sofa for a drink.
Given we both sat in the same spot, we made small chat no matter how odd the conversations were.
One thing in particular about this afternoon was that -- while Jeff often seemed VERY knowledgeable about Latin America -- he also had some odd opinions.
Of course, he wasn't perfect.
As I wrote here, he seemed a bit of a sex tourist and, as I wrote here, he seemingly had some "non-PC" opinions about black folks.
Regardless, I will say at the very least that, in hindsight, he had a lot of opinions about Latin America that were pretty well on point.
After all, if I remember right, I think the dude had been here in Guatemala (and broader Latin America) for over 2 decades by that point.
Suffice to say, he knew a lot about Latin America more than your typical gringo to the land.
But, even with all his knowledge that was interesting to listen to as I was new to Latin America at the time, he still had "odd opinions" as you can guess by now.
On this particular afternoon, we got talking about Latin America and, given how young I was at the time (maybe 18 or 19), I think in hindsight that he felt a good opportunity to "teach me" things about the region.
Perhaps he knew that I'd be sticking around for a while.
But you know how it is -- sometimes older folks like to think that they are "teaching" something with what they know.
And, like I said, he did know a lot that was true about the region (stuff I learned over the years that any typical expat would experience eventually like gringo pricing for example).
Though, on this particular afternoon, he gave an opinion that I felt was "a bit odd."
Even in hindsight after the years here, I'm not entirely "eye to eye" with what he said.
An opinion on something that just felt "out of reality" and you are left not quite sure what he meant.
Part of me wishes I could ask him "what do you mean by that?" to clarify.
But I don't have his contact info anymore.
The opinion anyway was something about how "Latin Americans who get nice, expensive phones" are basically just "Latinos going full gringo."
Or, in other words, they are trying to "be something they are not."
They "want to pretend they are gringos" if they have expensive phones.
In the moment, I wasn't quite sure what he was going on about.
Though I will agree that there are Latinos who try to "act like gringos" as I wrote here or here in the same way that there are gringos who try to "act like Latinos" as I wrote here.
An identity crisis to go around for everyone!
But, in the moment and in hindsight, one scratches your head at this opinion and thinks "how the hell does buying a nice phone mean you are trying to be like a gringo?"
In hindsight, I still don't know where he was going with that.
But he went on giving other examples saying something similar about other things Latinos will get that show that they are just "trying to be like us."
Things like an a nice car, vacation trips to local beaches in Guatemala, good shoes, etc.
So, if we were to summarize what he means by this, I guess it means any Latino who wants nice things is trying to be like a gringo?
.....How does that make sense?
And, for someone who is so knowledgeable about Latin America after a few decades here supposedly, how could they make such an odd statement that seems far from reality?
Well, truth be told, I think every gringo is guilty of this (and, if I had to assume probably any foreigner immigrating to any other region would be also).
Let me theorize anyway what is going on here.
First, let's just throw the main idea out there: sometimes we're all just wrong about something!
Perhaps he somehow came up with the idea but there is no deeper reasoning behind how wrong he was on it.
Second, it should be remembered the context in which that person speaking is coming from.
From what I knew of Jeff, he seemed to prefer a life between "rural Guatemala" (meaning small towns, not villages) to sometimes living on the outskirts of Guatemala City.
In this case, we happened to meet in Xela and I guess he was just spending time in the area when I was there.
At any rate, obviously small town Guatemala is different from Mexico City where I live right now.
This is a broader lesson for you all that I have probably said before on my blog: ALWAYS keep in mind the context of the gringo in question when he speaks about Latin America.
This region is a huge place and the perceptions you have about it will vary GREATLY by where you live.
There will be many similarities but also many differences.
Third, was Jeff projecting an opinion he heard from the locals?
As I do mental gymnastics right now to somehow justify this odd opinion, this is one that makes most sense to me.
As we all know, you got people in every country who are envious of those who are doing better financially.
And so hear me out on this one (just a theory):
Given Jeff's extensive time in Guatemala (especially more rural areas and in years when less gringos were around if we went back decades), you could argue that, to some degree, Jeff has "gone native."
He will always be an American at heart but aspects of life in Latin America will always be with him now. He has changed.
Especially if he has been spending most of his time in more rural parts as he told me (granted, I don't know exactly how much time but let's assume it has been a lot).
Having said that, it could be that "perceptions" held by other locals have been imprinted onto Jeff over the years.
Especially in such a small town climate of Guatemala where your average person -- if I had to guess as I don't know small town Guatemala -- doesn't have a nice phone worth hundreds of dollars necessarily.
And so, in that context, it could make sense how Jeff could see Guatemalans who have nice things as "trying to be like the gringos."
But I also wonder if, through casual conversation with the locals, he was told such by a local Guatemalan and he nodded his head and accepted that as fact.
In contrast, I've heard similar things in other countries where someone who is doing well and going somewhere is judged by those in the community they leave behind.
In the US, I've heard the idea that some black folks are supposedly judged for "trying to be white" if they excel in life also (perhaps speak in a way that isn't stereotypical of a black person, graduate from a top school, live in a nice neighborhood, etc).
Granted, I'm not black so I don't know how true that is but I have heard that and it wouldn't be surprising as this type of envy exists in every community that isn't overly prosperous.
To judge those in the community who do very well compared to everyone else and saying "oh, they're just trying to be something they are not."
Of course, going back to Jeff, it'd be quite weird for a gringo to pass on this judgement given he isn't -- by birth -- a poor Guatemalan raised in a small town environment of Guatemala.
A gringo -- of all people -- who feels the need to pass on this type of judgement against other Guatemalans for something as simple as having a nice phone?
Odd as fuck.
That'd be like a white person going into "the hood" of Chicago and saying to random black people about how "oh, you're just trying to be white" because some random black dude said he's going to graduate school to get an MBA.
Regardless, the theory at hand here consists of the following:
Jeff has spent so much time in Latin America that he has "gone native" and especially so much time in non-touristy areas like a small town environment of Guatemala and so he has adopted perspectives held by the locals who would naturally be more envious than him of those doing well and maybe even said locals imprinted this idea into his brain.
But let's move on!
Fourth, sometimes a gringo might give an odd opinion that is reflective of a broader truth but the example they give isn't a solid example.
It's just that they have seen whatever phenomenon so much down here that they more easily see it in places where it's not necessarily true.
Perhaps being too liberal in applying the phenomenon to any example of the day?
As I said, "Latinos trying to be like a gringo" does happen down here!
I have seen it plenty of times as I cited previously in this article.
These people do exist!
And so when Jeff says that "Latin Americans who buy nice phones are trying to be like gringos," you have to wonder how else he came to that conclusion?
As another theory, I could see it if he was trying to actually define characteristics of Latin Americans who want to pretend they are like the gringos.
For example, can we imagine a fresa of Polanco of Mexico?
Someone from the upper class who has very nice things.
While the nice things in of themselves don't make the fresa appear like they are trying to be like a gringo, their behavior might seem as such to some.
Therefore, it could've been that Jeff was "kinda right" if you interpret it as him just trying to define characteristics.
After all, if you are a Latin American who has a nice phone, obviously you are not trying to act like a gringo just because of that alone.
But those upper class folks who do have the phones worth hundreds of dollars might have other characteristics or exhibit other behavior that makes them seem as such.
Not to mention those who are not necessarily upper class but can somehow get a more expensive phone at whatever sacrifice because of classism and how they wish to be seen as wealthier than they are (like those with very nice shoes but struggle to pay rent).
After observing either group, one could see how Jeff arrived to that conclusion by connecting the dots that way and just assuming that ANYONE with a very nice phone is "trying to be like a gringo" (even if those motivated by classism are not necessarily even themselves).
As a result, you could argue that it's just Jeff "over generalizing" based on a truth he has seen but isn't applicable for everyone he is talking about (the group of Latin Americans who wish to have very nice phones worth hundreds of dollars).
Therefore, when said gringo gives his "odd opinion" that feels weird and not entirely accurate, you can at least disagree with it but also try to understand if it's derived from a deeper phenomenon that is true about life down here.
Of course, you might not give a shit to do so in the moment when you hear such an odd opinion.
And that's understandable.
Not many have the time nor the care to think about what someone said and somehow make sense of it or try to understand from what perspective is this opinion coming from.
Regardless, I'll just end this by reiterating that we ALL have "odd opinions" from time to time.
Given that I have over 800 articles on my blog, I GUARANTEE you that you could find some odd opinions of my own that you might not agree with and/or not understand where I'm coming from.
We all have them.
Sometimes it is amusing though to try to "work backwards" to figure out how other gringos have come to their opinions about life down here because, in a way, it could perhaps reveal certain truths or experiences that other gringos might face.
Of course, when doing so, it might involve more "theorizing" as, for example, I don't truly know if Jeff has adopted from a local that "envious" sentiment people have when they see others in their community doing well.
That was just a theory of mine because it makes sense as I consider it.
....Or was it just an "odd gringo opinion" of another "odd gringo's opinion?"
You be the judge!
I do think though that analyzing the opinions of others -- and the context that they came out of -- can reveal to you anyway certain characteristics about life here in Latin America that can vary by what part of the world they came from (as all of Latin America is different).
Anyway, that's all I got to say.
If you got anything to add, drop a comment below.
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Thanks for reading.