Right Answer, Wrong Question

Classmate: Are you Spanish?
My 9 year old: No… Spanish people are from Spain.
Classmate: ….Oh. My parents thought you might be Spanish.
My 9 year old: I’m not.
Classmate: Okay.


Attention Gringos! The word you are looking for is “Latino.” Even “Hispanic” is acceptable to most. You could also say “Of Latin American descent” or “Of Spanish-speaking descent.”

Spanish is:
• a language
• a nationality (for people from Spain)

While I’m here I may as well let you know that “Mexican” is also completely unacceptable unless the person is indeed from Mexico.

Lastly, if I hear one more gringa tell me her boyfriend is “Salvadorian,” I might hurt somebody. It is “SALVADORAN” … You don’t call yourself an Americanian, right?

33 thoughts on “Right Answer, Wrong Question

  1. hehehhe i think we are having an off week??? I could see your son, poor thing… probably confused. Some people gringos and “LATINOS” <<~~~ :) alike can be pretty.."retardo"

    • Happens a lot to my husband – being asked if he’s Mexican or speaks Mexican. He corrected a co-worker once and when they repeated the mistake he wasn’t so patient the second time. I think the co-worker is a little scared of him now, but now he won’t forget that he’s Salvadoran. LOL.

  2. LOL

    Its like when people ask me if I’m an “Arabic” lol

    I still remember a conversation we had with these kids in rural georgia on a tubing trip, they stared at us and then said in cute little southern accents, “um excuse me but are y’all a pakistan or an islam?” I said “we’re both” and he said “oh okay because one of my uncles, he’s a pakistan. Not an islam, just a pakistan.”

    Ah people!

    • Ugh. The ignorance is scary but I couldn’t help but laugh imagining it being said.

      To me this points to the necessity for better culture/geography/world religion/foreign language/diversity classes in our schools. If I could create my dream school, those would actually be the core subjects but in reality, these are “extras” only sometimes made available, and usually only at the high school level. Very unfortunate.

    • I don’t like Chicana either because it is not all encompassing. There was a Chicano movement and not all Mexicans were a part of it. My grandfather, for instance, felt it was a disgrace to the Mexican people. It’s a touchy subject for some.

  3. AHHHH! So infuriating!!! My kids look pretty white – almost more white than me – so they probably won’t run into this issue but I hear it from people all the time. I’ll ask, “So, where are you from?” and they respond with, “I’m Spanish”. It isn’t just gringos. I know many Latinos who identify themselves this way and I don’t understand it. I don’t know if it is a way to get past stereotypes or what.

  4. I hear you! Here’s an exchange I had with a middle school student at a school where I was working some years ago:

    Student: Hey, are you Mexican?
    Me: No, I’m from Colombia
    Student: Oh, but you speak Mexican, right?
    Me: No, I speak Spanish. People in Mexico and in Colombia speak Spanish
    [Student walks away, put upon by the lecture…]

  5. In all fairness, though, I get itchy when I’m called a gringa. I chalk the “Spanish” thing up to ignorance and, like Ruben above, use it as a teachable moment. A kid on the playground asked if my daughter was Mexican. I told her she wasn’t, and the kid said that she “looked Mexican”. I said she was hispanic. The kid kind of stared a moment, then went to play, but at least she heard it. Baby steps….

    • I’ve embraced the word “gringa”. I feel it simply means a non-native Spanish speaker or non-Spanish speaker, but I understand why others don’t like it.

      As for being called “Spanish” or “Mexican” – Yes, it is a teachable moment as you say. I’ve instructed my son to correct people in the future instead of just giving a flat-out “No”. I explained to him what they’re really trying to ask him and that they just don’t know the right word. At the same time, I imagine it gets tiresome setting people straight day after day, so I understand if my sons get snippy/annoyed/short with classmates once in awhile.

  6. >Classmate: Are you Spanish?

    This is a civilized, yes or no question for a 9-year-old to ask. These kids are students, it is their job to learn. Questioning is one way to acquire learning.

    Discounting a kid’s reasonable question by holding it up for ridicule and categorizing it as ‘humor’ and something ‘rant’ worthy will not abate ignorance in a positive way.

    Incidentally, ignorance is not the problem, it’s willful ignorance.

    “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.”
    –Benjamin Franklin

    • For the record, I don’t fault the child. It was a very innocent and typical question for a child to ask – and even when adults make the mistake, I’ve taught my children to use it as a “teachable moment” as explained in comments. I see where you’re coming from, but please understand that I’m not coming from a place of anger or “ridicule” as you say. This post, like the majority of my blog, is intended to be light hearted.

      Very much agree with the Benjamin Franklin quote. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. I completely agree with you Tracy, education is what is needed here.
    I have been asked if I am “American”.
    I say yes.
    Where from? I´m asked.
    Mexico, I respond.
    Confused gaze….

    Abrazos to all Latinas, Chicanas, Spanish, Mexicans, Salvadorans, Gringas y mas!
    Sue V

    • “American” is a very sticky one to sort out. I know that what is traditionally understood to be “American” (from the United States), but as you noted it really is a bad descriptor since North America includes other nations, and there is also Central and South America.

      In Spanish I try to use the word “Estadounidense” to describe myself but the equivalent in English (United Statesian?) sounds really weird!

      • Hahaha! Then maybe if you´re born in the US you could be called an Americanian, and for the rest of the Americas just plain American! ;)

        I get your point though. Maybe there is no gentilicio for the people born in the US, except to say “they´re from the US”.
        Tough one.

        Happy day to all!

  8. Wow Tracy, you really sound angry. I’m Hispanic and even I can make a simple mistake. I mean I don’t like it either when someone assumes that every Hispanic is a Mexican. But something as simple as saying Salvadorian instead of Salvadoran is taking it a little too far I would say. I constantly make this mistake,not intentionally though. I in fact find Gringo & Gringa insulting & demeaning & I don’t use those words, they just sound too offensive to me. I know Hispanics that use those 2 words in a derogatory way. To me it sounds like calling us Latinos, “spic”. Sorry, even that word is offensive. Overall, I hope I didn’t offend anybody, this is just how I feel, and your posting sounded angry. But this is why we’re for right? To comment. I hope you enjoy the rest of your week Tracy.



    • But this is why we’re for right? To comment. I hope you enjoy the rest of your week Tracy. I meant to say, this is what we’re here for right? To comment…This is a correction to my last to my last 2 sentences. I hope no one takes it the wrong way….Rudy

    • Rudy, not angry – for reals, I’m not! … I guess I did not successfully convey tone this time around and trusted that my regular readers “get me” enough to realize these things without the use of emoticons, but this post is very tongue-in-cheek … When my son told me he was asked if he was Spanish I laughed.

      It doesn’t make sense to me to get angry or build up any negative energy over something like this when it’s an honest mistake.

      As for the use of gringo/a — If I were Latina, I probably would be very careful about using these words to describe anyone I didn’t know very well. I personally don’t find it offensive to be called a “gringa” – but as you noted, it can be derogatory. It depends on tone and context, and I understand why some people don’t like the word.

      You’re right – you are here to read, comment, give me feedback/opinions and have a conversation with me, so even when we disagree I value the comments and the honesty.

  9. Hey Trace,

    Well, I agree with your points, but my first thought after reading it (before viewing the comments) was “wow, she sounds really peeved!” So yeah, you did sound a little agitated on this one, but I understand where you are coming from. I am even guilty of the last one..but I think some of the confusion comes from the fact that people seem to use both terms (check out Wikipedia…it appears both ways!) I think the Ben Franklin quote is perfect for this discussion. Education is key. Sometimes people are ignorant not out of choice, but simply due to lack of exposure. Perhaps as our country becomes more & more multicultural, the school curriculums will catch up (we can only hope!). I’m always correcting people on the proper spelling of Colombia, the geographical location of countries in South & Central America and explaining the cultural differences of various countries. Sometimes the lack of knowledge is nothing short of astonishing. But after I’ve picked my jaw up off the floor, I try gently educate one more person & pray that something I said sunk in. I would want someone else to do the same for me. :)
    Peace, Love & Understanding,

    • Victory – Please see my comment to Rudy! :) I very much agree with the need to gently educate people.

      As for Salvadorian/Salvadorean vs. Salvadoran — Even my husband sometimes uses the first one. LOL. While I think all are “accepted”, I would argue that “Salvadoran” is most correct, (and sounds better.)

      When I met my husband I couldn’t have even pointed out El Salvador on a map, so I don’t truly judge people so harshly.

      If you notice, both “rant” and “humor” are selected as categories for this post. Take what I say with a grain of salt most of the time! Life is too short to be so serious and I like to keep my blog upbeat for the most part for that reason.

  10. Tracy!!! I was cracking up from the moment I read the first line, so I’m not so sure you didn’t get the tone right, pero bueno, then again, I guess I know you a bit better.

    I think I might just start calling everyone born in this country Americanians! Love it!! Jajaja!!!

    This is, however, a good opportunity as any to ask those of you who have mentioned you don’t like the word gringo/a to please explain why. I hope you can pardon my ignorance, but I’ve always used it when I speak Spanish to describe people born in this country, including my eldest sister and my 3 children, instead of calling them americanos because as someone mentioned before, all of us born in the Americas are americanos…

    On another note, I remember how sad I was when I moved to this country as a teenager and found out that geography was not one of the regular courses I’d be taking at the local public school. Geografía del Perú y Geografía del mundo were always two of my favorite subjects growing up. I never understood why courses like these were of absolutely no importance here.

    Amiga, gracias por hacerme reir y for teaching your kids right :)

    • Sí Roxana – me conoces bien, and I think maybe we share a similar sense of humor ;)

      Like you, I love geography. I so looked forward to it when we were given quizzes with maps where we had to fill in cities, etc., but this was not a regular class. I took extra classes which were available but not required, such as “World Religion” and “Art & Culture” — without those to look forward to I don’t know if I’d have made it to graduation honestly. I definitely wasn’t sticking around for Algebra! :p

      It’s funny to me how some people throw the word “gringo/a” around casually and feel it quite harmless – but others find it incredibly insulting. I suppose it just depends on the circumstances under which one grew up and under what context they most heard it used.

      The Salvadorans I know, (including my husband), don’t use “gringo” at all. Even Suegra, (who doesn’t worry about what is polite!), uses the word “Americanos.”

      Most Mexicans I know use “gringo” sometimes, but prefer “gabacho”.

      I use it for myself because I think it’s the best descriptor. I don’t like “white” because that refers to skin color, and I’ve met many Latinas who are lighter than me. “White/blanca” doesn’t give any information about where I’m coming from. I avoid “Americana” because some people find it insulting that those from the U.S. have co-opted the word for themselves. Anglo is okay but sounds quite nerdy and doesn’t reflect that I’m bilingual… and Caucasian is so “official”, like government forms (Ick.)

      Maybe “Americanian” is a good option after all. LOL… As I told Rudy on Twitter today, in the end, they’re all man-made words/labels anyway so they all fall short.

  11. I make a point to never use “American” when I mean white people. I lived abroad for many years and abroad and also within the US I have found that people wrongly equivalate American and white. I definitely don’t like that.

    I am more careful about America as North America versus the Americas only when talking to Canadians and people from further South of the US. I like that Spanish has estadounidense and wish we had something equivalent in English.

    I am married to a Pakistani. You’d be surprised about how many people say Pakistanian. Shame on me, but I have said Salvadorean. Cringe. Sorry. Never do it again, I swear!

    • As I was telling a friend on Twitter the other day in reference to this post, “Salvadorean” just makes me peevish and is not officially wrong. It’s in the dictionary as an alternative to “Salvadoran,” but I think most linguists would argue that “Salvadoran” is more correct for various reasons. (Random info: I read that “Salvadoran” is what is used consistently by the L.A. Times, an area with a very large, [if not the largest outside of El Salvador], concentration of Salvadorans.) … that being said, a local Salvadoran & Mexican restaurant in my city has a sign that says, “Salvadorean & Mexican food.” — Anyway, not necessarily a faux pas, officially.

      I agree that some people associate “American” with “white” – which doesn’t sit right with me at all. How frustrating would it be for an born and raised U.S. Citizen of Chinese descent to travel abroad and when asked what he is, he says “American” – and people act astonished like, “How? No, no, you look Chinese.” — Americans look like anyone and everyone. I wish people understood that —– So it isn’t just those of us from the U.S. who could use some cultural sensitivity!

      My friend Aisha posted recently on “hyphenated Americans” – very much worth the read:


      • Thanks for sharing Aisha’s post.

        I will be sure to use Salvadoran from now on cuz I am a believer in calling people what they want to be called and what they like to call themselves.

  12. i really liked that the fellow student asked your son. i hope if my girlies ever wonder something about someone they would just go ahead and ask with a heart that wants to understand rather than assume or talk to others about it.
    i think these conversations are necessary, so people can lay aside some misunderstandings (like spanish vs latino vs mexican) and just relate as people for goodness sake! :)
    i love hip hop and even get but “you are a white girl living in the suburbs.” um, what?
    prejudice is everywhere even in silly, no effect on the world things like me listening to hip hop.
    anyway, i was provoked by this post to chat with my littles more and be on it for this topic. although they currently do not have a category for race. they always describe people by their hair color, not their skin color.

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