Is Gringo offensive?

I use the word “gringa” to describe myself – knowing that some people are uncomfortable with the word. I’ve simply found it to be the best description of who I am. To me, its meaning is a non-native Spanish speaker, (or one who doesn’t speak Spanish at all.) It helps me identify myself as non-Latina, but someone with enough interest in the language and culture to have learned the word and have a sense of humor about it.

Some claim that the word “gringo” has negative connotations due to the way this word entered the lexicon. There is an urban legend that says the Mexican Army told American soldiers to leave the country saying, “Green – GO! [home]” (green for the color of their uniforms.) There is no proof that this is actually true. (Read other etymological possibilities here.)

I don’t like the words “White” or “Caucasian” because of the focus on skin color. I prefer not to use Anglo because it isn’t descriptive enough. I also avoid using “American” or “Americana” – because those from Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America are all “Americans” too. (Some even dislike that the United States has co-opted this word for its citizens, but calling oneself a “United Statesian” is awkward.)

And so this is why I use the word “gringa” and feel that it doesn’t have a bad connotation unless used in certain contexts.

Not everyone agrees with me. Recently columnist Daisy Hernandez, (co-editor of Colonize This! Young Women on Today’s Feminism), used the word “gringo” in what I would consider “appropriate context” – as a result there has been quite a controversy.

Read what happened on NPR, and come back to weigh in. What do you think? Should she have avoided use of the word, or was it appropriate?

Discuss in comments.

(Thanks to Aisha for sending me the link to this news story.)

Lo Mejor de 2010

Here are the most chévere things I discovered in 2010.


Bubu Lubus
• Valentina (salsa)
• Chipotle Mayonnaise (via Maura)


• My go-to drink used to be the Shirley Temple, but after drinking about a dozen virgin Mojitos in Miami, I have a new favorite.

• As for “real” drinks, Tecate & Corona are still numero uno for me.

• My cipote-friendly choice is still horchata (Salvadoran, not Mexican.)


• Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse
• My Name is Pablo by Aimee Sommerfelt

(Non-Latino Fiction picks):

• Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya
• The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins
• The Help by Kathryn Stockett


• Quinceñera
The Other Side of Immigration (documentary)
• The Karate Kid (Jackie Chan)


• World Cup in South Africa (U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!)
• Mexico’s Bicentennial (¡Viva México!)
• Chilean Miners (¡Chi-chi-chi! ¡Le-le-le!)


(Really too many to mention, but these are the first three that came to mind)…

Espinoza Paz
Natalia Lafourcade
Crooked Stilo

(I like this video of Espinoza performing on Mun2, because it looks like the host, Yarel, has a crush on him as much as I do.)

I considered listing favorite blogs, but you can already check those out on the Link Love page, (and there’s no güey I’m choosing only three!) …That being said, I want to thank all of you who visit me here at

The very best thing about 2010 is the community I’m blessed to be a part of and all the people around the world that I consider amigos para siempre. Gracias por tu amistad – it has more value to me than an entire box of Bubu Lubus.

How about you? What do you consider lo mejor de 2010?

Fútbol, no sólo para los hombres

My love of fútbol was made well-known during this year’s World Cup. Since then I have had to find other ways to entertain myself, from playing fútbol with the kids, to watching Javier Hernández play for Manchester United, (I like him better with El Tri, but I’ll take my “Chicharito” any way I can get him.)

I also spent some time encouraging people to sign a petition in support of our bid to bring the World Cup to the United States in 2022, which we ended up losing to Qatar. ¡Qué desilusión! … I have to say though, their proposed stadiums are absolutely breathtaking.

Still don’t feel better about losing our bid for the World Cup? Okay, here are some events to look forward to: The 2011 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, the 2011 Copa América and the Women’s World Cup 2011!

Speaking of women, I just saw a report this evening about a Salvadoran woman named Eva Linares. Ms. Linares is newsworthy because she is the only female fútbol commentator in El Salvador, most likely the only one in Central America, and possibly even the only one in all of Latin America. I think she is super chévere.

Meet Edison Peña’s Translator! (interview!)

All of you remember how excited I was about the Chilean Miner, Edison Peña appearing on David Letterman, right? Remember the hilarious video I shared with you and the charming female translator we fell in love with? Well, I managed to find her and had the distinct pleasure of interviewing her for!

Cassandra was hired to translate for Edison Peña by the David Letterman Show through Geneva Worldwide, a company in New York that provides interpreters, translators and other language services. They kindly put me in touch, and Cassandra generously agreed to answer a few questions. I was surprised to find out that interpreting is just one of many things Cassandra does. I think you’ll find her as interesting, amazing, clever, and fun as I did. Here is the interview below.

Cassandra interpreting for Edison Peña.
Hello, Cassandra! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. After seeing your appearance on David Letterman as the translator for Chilean miner Edison Peña, the internet has been buzzing with the question, “Who is that translator?” … Everyone loved you and I’m so pleased to speak with you. Please, tell us a little about yourself.

Cassandra: Hola, everybody! ¿Qué tal? Mucho gusto y muchas gracias, Sra. López. First of all, Congratulations for creating este espacio de reflexión on having one foot on each side of the cosmic cultural canyon! I think we all do in one way or another, even if we don’t know it.

Pues, la pura verdad es que estoy un poco chiveada pero, bueno, here goes. Soy Cassandra, a sculptor by trade who freelances as an interpreter for Indigenous Peoples in United Nations negotiations on the environment and human rights. I have also been known to sell roses at the farmers’ market and teach English to Otomi mariachis at dawn.

I am currently building my dentist a yacht. So forgive the unabashed self-promotion but if you have work for me, definitely holler. No job too small. Según el sapo, la pedrada. I can travel at the drop of a hat and have my own translating equipment.

Además if you wanna see me out of UN drag, verify that women do, in fact, weld, commission a major monument or personal altar or just check out my sculptures, pica la salsa aquí: OJO: Bronze statues ain’t chilaquiles. So piensa en what a small used car costs. Now, we know that you speak Spanish since we saw you translate for Edison Peña. How did you come to learn Spanish? Are there any other languages you speak? Have you always loved language?

Cassandra: Aprendí a medio-masticar español cotorreando en las calles de Tenochtitlan. When I was 19, I went to México with three words: hola, amigo, and adios which, when you think about it, sort of covers the span of el convivir. I wanted to read Neruda without translation and hunt down l@s niet@s de Siquieros. For twelve years, I basked in México’s phenomenal legacy of la plástica concientizadora.

Por otro lado, I am the sheepish runt of a long line of linguists. I can chew the fat in French and Portuguese, too. I adore the crazy salad of speaking several languages all at once because it makes the colors in your paintbox shimmer infinitely.

Creo que slang is the cutting edge of language, the wiry green potato shoots of parlance. Homemade slang allows you to playfully skate the idiom and plasmar tu realidad mágica in your own terms. I especially love el huapango del albur.

Asímismo considero que la alegría es el secreto de la resistencia – joy is the secret of resistance -y contar un buen chiste que ilumina una sonrisa o un knee-slapping carcajada es unos de los mejores regalos que se puede brindar. I also have a special fondness for translating prayers.

Perhaps this sounds nerdy but etymology actually excites me. Digging for the twists and turns of meaning is like foraging for sassafras in the swamp. It gets you muddy, makes you bow in reverence to the Earth and, ultimately, heals you.

Para mi, consciousness of origins goes hand and hand with la vida’s invitation to Signify. There is nothing more deadening than the flight from significance and the copout of being innocuous As Le Chic says, “Don’t be a drag, participate.” Daring to give a damn is where it is at. What is the best thing about being a translator/interpreter?

Cassandra: The best thing about being an interpreter is bringing people together and helping the voiceless have a voice. Ya sabes, ¡la traducción de la liberación! What is the most challenging thing about being a translator/interpreter?

Cassandra: Whether at the UN or at the grassroots, getting caught in the crossfire can be dangerous and draining. Sometimes I really wanna hold up a sign that says “Don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player!” Are there any Spanish accents/dialects you like best?

Cassandra: I enjoy working with Indigenous Peoples because the poetry of their cosmovisión moves me. How did you feel appearing on David Letterman? Is this your most exciting moment as a translator/interpreter so far or have there been others?

Cassandra: Truth is bright lights don’t float my boat. What turns me on as an interpreter is when people feel each other. Memorable moments include sitting on a dock on a bay watching dolphins play in the turquoise waves while helping an Inuit and a Kuna compare notes on kayaks and canoes. Another special chat was between a German geneticist and a Zapotec curandero on the effects of consuming GMO corn. (They both agreed it hinders digestion and depresses you aka te empacha y te debilita el espíritu.) I also treasure the time I translated for Berito KuwarU’wa in front of the International Court of Justice. So many readers and friends of have said to me both publicly and privately that they adore you. Did you realize how many people were charmed by your performance on David Letterman, or were you shocked at the response?

Cassandra: I am thrilled that Edison rocked the house. The man has been there and come back. (Goya and Dante ain’t got nothing on this dude.) One can only be dazzled by his wonderfulness and luminous afán to live life to the hilt. So, frankly, I didn’t give a thought to myself. But the other day at the Laundromat, I heard Carol King sing “Show the world all the love in your heart!” and realized that is certainly my aspiration.
The way you and Edison Peña interacted, you seemed like old friends! After working closely with a client, do you often have the opportunity to stay in touch? If not, do you ever feel a little sad to have made friends and then have to say goodbye?

Cassandra: Pues, I am very blessed to interpret for people that I care about and believe in so I almost never conceive of them as a “client” and almost always stay friends for life. Cassandra, thank you again for taking the time to speak with me. It is a real pleasure and I know my readers would also like to extend their thanks and good wishes to you. Buena suerte in everything you do!

Cassandra: Thank you! ¡Pórtense mal y cuídense bien!

Chilean Miner, Edison Peña (and the art of translating the untranslatable?)

I shared this video interview already via FB and Twitter. I’ve also watched it about a dozen times and it still makes me laugh. When the Chilean miners were rescued, everyone thought for sure that “Super Mario” was going to be “the funny one”, but I think he’s got some competition. Edison Peña, (the one who loves Elvis and used to run in the mine for exercise), is hilarious. He’s visiting the U.S. on an invitation to run the N.Y. City Marathon and see Graceland. He was also interviewed by David Letterman where he broke into a spontaneous Elvis impersonation mini-concert.

I have a little trouble understanding Edison’s accent, so I’m not totally sure, but does any native Spanish speaker, (particularly those familiar with the Chilean accent), agree with me that the translator isn’t exactly translating word for word? She seems to add more on to what he’s said, (maybe she’s answering with things he’s said to her in previous conversations.) Maybe there wasn’t a way to literally translate what was said by Edison or David Letterman, but she’s quite funny herself and did an admirable job.

Hopefully Edison will love Graceland, but apparently he isn’t all that impressed with New York. When taken to see the Statue of Liberty he’s quoted as saying, “It is not white? I thought it was bigger and whiter…In the movies, it looks whiter.”

Then after eating a hot dog with ketchup and mustard from a cart downtown he gestured that they were “so-so” and explained, “In Chile, they are better!”

While some Americans might take these sorts of comments as insults, I find them hilarious. Edison reminds me very much of my Salvadoran in-laws when they come to visit. I guess watching so many Hollywood movies gets the expectations up a little too high and reality just can’t compete.

[Quote source: Flores.]

Push Carros

On the border between Guatemala and El Salvador, people use push carts on tracks to travel back and forth. A resident interviewed by Univision who uses the “push carros” says, “Para nosotros, no hay frontera. [Somos] iguales.” (Translation: “For us, there is no border. We are equals.”) … What a beautiful thought.

Click the image below to go to the video on

Fuerza Mineros

Fuerza Mineros, (the Twitter hashtag #fuerzamineros), a wish of strength to the miners, these two words I typed dozens of times yesterday as I watched the rescue unfold in Chile.

I tweeted some of the rescues as they happened, and once I started, I found that I had to stay there for the very last one.

Part of the intrigue for me was pride in watching the true international effort at play – seeing how we are capable of such greatness when we work together. This rescue in Chile could not have happened without the help of the United States, and dozens of other countries. It’s a lesson in cooperation and humbleness, in allowing others to help when you can’t do something on your own. It’s a lesson on strength in numbers – just as the Chilean miners pooled their talents to survive below ground, the world pooled their talents above ground to save them. We are all unique individuals with unique abilities, which we should use to help others.

The second reason I watched, was for the pure happiness it gave me. The rescue allowed us to forget our own problems, like any other distraction. I think for a lot of people, it was a much needed respite from the usual depressing political and economic news. Maybe watching the families reunite gave us a moment to recharge and recalibrate – to realize just what is important in this world.

When these kind of amazing stories happen, it’s inevitable that the characters in the story will be granted a sort of legendary status, becoming unforgettable to an entire generation. The Chilean miners have been described almost as saints, called heroes, been ascribed attributes such as “resilient”, but I’m going to take an unpopular stance … As horrific as their ordeal was and as intelligent and strong as they were to survive, they are not saints or heroes, and they are no more resilient than most other human beings who find themselves in a situation where they must fight for their lives.

The Chilean miners are men – and flawed men, just like the rest of us. Perhaps none has exemplified that as publicly as Yonni Barrios – the miner who had both a wife and mistress show up to the site calling his name, (and word has it, he isn’t the only one who had multiple women claim him.)

But the truth is, all of the miners have skeletons in their closets, just like the rest of us – and I’d be willing to bet that the contract they signed with each other in the mine was that they’d never tell a soul about the things they must have confessed to each other during the days when they thought they might not make it out.

And while the miners have captured the world’s attention, there are human beings who never get to tell their stories, who are never praised for their survival, who are suffering in all kinds of situations every day all over the world; from starvation, poverty, illness, separation from family or homeland, to loneliness, unjust incarceration, abuse, slavery, and mourning. It is the human condition, and those of us who are not touched by the worst of this kind of suffering are the lucky minority.

It may seem I’m being cynical – on the contrary! This should give you hope! What I’m saying is that, like the miners, though we are not saints, we all have hidden reserves of strength, we all have the ability to pull through difficult times. We all have the capacity for faith in something greater than us no matter how “religious” we consider ourselves. We all have the ability to be reborn in this world, to change our ways. Each day that you wake up and feel the sunshine upon your face, it is another chance to try again.

(Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)

“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world…Strive to be happy.”-Desiderata/ Max Ehrmann