Last week Gustavo Arellano, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, wrote about a kerfuffle last year in Chula Vista, the second-largest city in San Diego County, between the mayor, Mary Casillas Salas, and a councilmember, John McCann. The two ran into each other in a local Mexican restaurant; after some pleasantries, McCann “admitted that he thought the restaurant’s food was too spicy.” Salas replied: “Oh, John, you’re such a gringo.” And, according to Salas, McCann laughed.
Nine days later, McCann reconsidered. Rather than calling Mayor Salas—his acquaintance of 20 years—and talking it over, he filed a complaint with the city’s human resources department, alleging, Arellano writes, “racial discrimination by the mayor for her ‘gringo’ jab.”
An outside lawyer was brought in. The verdict: “Though Salas’ use of ‘gringo’ was ‘inappropriate,’ it didn’t constitute discrimination.”
Old Gringo (1989), based on Carlos Fuentes’s 1985 novel The Old Gringo (Gringo Viejo). The title refers to the (real) American author Ambrose Bierce, played by Gregory Peck in the film.
Arellano writes: “The Voice of San Diego broke the story last month and also found out how much this combo platter of victimhood cost Chula Vista taxpayers: nearly $16,000.”
Arellano goes on to compare this “weak-salsa Gringogate”—I love that—with a lawsuit, also in San Diego County, over what some public-school parents are calling an “Aztec prayer” (actually a poem) that had been used in the ethnic-studies curriculum. But I want to stick with Gringogate. Where does gringo come from, and what does it signify? And just how offensive is it?