Newcomers to Puerto Vallarta are often surprised by how freely the label gringo is tossed around. They liken it to other labels that are seen to be derogatory and in some cases, racist. The word gringo long ago lost its power to insult, and is now how many foreigners have come to describe themselves. Perhaps it’s like the tag queer, which at one time was hurled to offend. Gay people simply owned the word, along with any other branding that existed to identify them and set them apart.
Words are simply words; it’s actions that do harm. Gringos are embraced in Puerto Vallarta and have been catered to for decades, resulting in Puerto Vallarta being one of the primary destinations south of the border.
There’s a border crossing in Lukeville, Arizona, known as Gringo Pass, with a motel and other businesses so denoted, and it has never offended in all the years of its existence. People who drive to Mexico are aware of the friendliness and acceptance they receive from Mexicans and nothing tells it like a gateway named especially for them.
There’s more than one story about how the name gringo came about and what it means. Legend has been passed down over time of US soldiers marching through the dry Sonora Desert, trying to convince themselves they weren’t being sapped of every drop of moisture in their bodies. They were said to have trundled along, singing “green grow the rushes, oh!” from the old English ballad. Hearing this, Mexicans shortened the green grow to gringo. That said, the truth of the matter is probably completely different and more likely comes from an old Spanish word gringo, which translates to gibberish and indicates someone who cannot speak the language well, nor be understood.
In the early 1970’s a book, I Like You, Gringo – But! was a best seller on both sides of the border. The author, Mario (Mike) De La Fuente, the son of a Mexican politician, was raised in the US. He was well known for a number of things before he wrote a book defusing not only the word gringo, but the implication. De La Fuente was a college football star in Texas, as well as being recognized as a talented baseball player in Mexico. His life was spent on both sides of the international border. He was a successful businessman in Nogales, Arizona, a sportscaster, and an early promoter of the medicinal attributes of marijuana. His motto, which he expounds upon in his book (a fun read, btw), was “Work like a gringo, play like a Mexican.”
Que es cómo es.