Academic journal article Ethnologies

Gringo/a as Sociolinguistic Fractal

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Gringo/a as Sociolinguistic Fractal

Article excerpt

Pour les anthropologues qui effectuent leur travail de terrain en Amerique latine, le terme polysemique << gringo >> traduit inevitablement un processus de negociation de l'identite culturelle. En s'appuyant sur les experiences d'interactions des auteurs dans la poursuite de leurs objectifs professionnels, cette article montre comment la nation, la religion, le sexe, la race, de meme l'histoire de la colonisation, de la migration, et des alliances emergent et s'estompent dans les rencontres kaleidoscopiques entre des stereotypes hemispheriques et des voyageurs interculturels. Les recits entrelaces de l'experience personnelle du << gringo-hood >> que nous presentons revelent le caractere fractal de la connaissance et de l'experience. Cet article montre ainsi comment les interactions linguistiques, culturelles, et surtout folkloriques traduisent differentes dimensions de nos experiences socialement situees, de meme que les differentes formes de discours que nous avons croises.

The polysemic term "gringo" inevitably mediates the negotiation of cultural identity for anthropologists carrying out fieldwork in Latin America. Drawing on experiences from the authors' interactions in pursuit of professional goals, this analysis shows how nation, religion, gender, race, and the histories of colonization, migration, and alliance emerge and recede in kaleidoscopic encounters between hemispheric stereotypes and cross-cultural travelers. The intertwined personal experience narratives of 'gringo-hood' we present reveal the fractal character of knowledge and experience. This article, therefore, shows how linguistic, cultural, and especially folkloric interactions mediate the various dimensions of our socially situated experiences and the different forms of talk we encountered.


Gringo is a polysemic term that anchors gender and orients toward a mythic historical relationship of unequal power between nations and regions. Its semantic domain precedes any individual ethnographer entering the field and is generally activated (even if the term is not used explicitly) when the ethnographer has left a home base in the northern hemisphere and is moving through ethnographic sites in the southern hemisphere. The projection of the term onto individuals, freighted as it is with derogatory associations, often produces dismay or frustration in the person so framed. At first, it may seem unjust that one is identified with an ideological paradigm that one has devoted oneself to critiquing. Then, one is forced to come to terms with the privilege one inhabits by virtue of one's passport, independently of one's conscious beliefs and actions.

Within its semantic field is the central frame of the United States as an arrogant regional power. U.S. power is conferred on any ethnographer who by appearance, language, style, race, or religion indexes the U.S. to people in Latin America. Yet, in his description of Mexico after 1775, Americo Paredes (1958: 8-9) indicates how the disparaging character of the term had already become quite divorced even from the personal appearance of speakers:

   In succeeding generations the Indians, who began as vaqueros
   and sheepherders for the colonists, were absorbed into the blood
   and the culture of the Spanish settlers. Also absorbed into the
   basically Spanish culture were many non-Spanish Europeans, so
   that on the Border one finds men who prefer Spanish to English,
   who sometimes talk scornfully about the "Gringos," and who bear
   English, Scottish, Irish, or other non-Spanish names.

Although the position or perspective of those who use or experience the word can be subtle, in contemporary parlance, the gringo referent usually includes Canadians, Australians, Europeans, mostly white, Christian, English speakers who come from somewhere else with some money to spend. In short, the diversity of human categories in its embrace contrasts with the term's homogenizing force. …

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