on Gringos

Thaddeus Blanchette is a professor of anthropology at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). He wrote about gringos for his masters dissertation and in Nossa Senhora da Help, a 2005 paper on Copacabana sex tourism.

Blanchette talks about what it means to be called a gringo in  the April 2002 issue of BadSubjects, a progressive new media publication from UC Berkeley:

Portrait of a gringo:

When I say I study gringos, the word generally causes raised eyebrows and poorly suppressed giggles among friends and colleagues at the National Museum here in Rio de Janeiro. I can’t say I blame them. There’s something about the very word that brings the ridiculous immediately to mind. Visions spring up of overweight, sunburned rednecks stuffed into polyester golf shirts and Hawaiian-print shorts, black nylon socks sagging over their patent leather loafers as they click snapshot after snapshot of Guanabara Bay from the peak of Corcovado. The visceral impact of such an image is mirth-provoking, to say the least.

Where “gringo” comes from:

The etymology of “gringo” is complicated, but it seems that Brazilians use the word in something approximating its original sense. Throughout the Americas, there has sprung up a number of complicated, silly, or downright apocryphal stories of how the word came to be. The least ridiculous of these can be found inSobrados e Mocambos, a classic work of the Brazilian social sciences, whose author Gilberto Freyre favored the theory that “gringo” was originally a label for wandering gypsy slave traders. With the opening of the ports and the subsequent appearance of foreigners — principally British — among the rural mascates, the term naturally transferred itself to foreigners in general.

On gringos and assimilation:

A gringo can… also be seen as a foreigner engaged in a process of approximation with Brazil — a hesitant approach, appropriate to a “vagamundo” perhaps, but a definite drawing near. He wants or has to engage with Brazil, not merely observe…. He is not of us nor are the things he brings, but we may use them and eventually make them our own. After a time, we may even forget that they were once ever gringo. In this sense, it is not so much the gringo that adapts himself to us (though this occurs) but we that adapt ourselves to his presence.