Ep. 1: Three Words Controversial in Latin America

Publishing here on my own website should, as I understand it, send the audio file to all the major podcasting platforms. This is a test. Let’s see if it works on Spotify, Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, Pandora and Pocket Casts. Direct feed link is https://expat-chronicles.com/category/podcast/feed/.

Show notes for episode 1 of the new Expat Chronicles podcast. I wrote this inaugural episode word for word. Can’t say that will always happen, but this is a gift for you literates out there.

[Me frustrated with audio software, shouting] WE’LL DO IT LIVE!

Welcome to the Expat Chronicles Podcast: culture, news, stories and rants from a gringo formerly in Latin America. I’m that gringo, Colin Post, and this is Episode #1, which means it’s going to suck. Blog post #1 was titled Anticipation of Expatriation, and reading it today it makes me want to do drugs to numb the pain, it’s so bad.

I lived in South America for 10 years. Expat Chronicles was my blog and grew popular off salacious content. Drugs, sex violence, often in the first person, but not always. It peaked with 15 minutes of fame among the expat community of Colombia. Fame’s not the right word. Small fame. Small Notoriety.

The salaciousness set the blog apart from the rest of the expat blogosphere. Most gringos are boosters. Whether they’re selling something or not, they’re all puff pieces upon puff pieces. I would criticize. I’d also do positive stuff, but those posts wouldn’t get any traction. People want conflict. Scandal. That’s a basic element of story. You want conflict because your life is boring. You must be in a dull moment right now if you’re listening to this. And I’ll deliver.

At some point I started writing articles that had nothing to do with Latin America. I don’t even live down there anymore. So I’ll do general interest too, like a variety show. That’s a perfect recipe for marketing failure. Trying to be all things to all people. No niche. Maybe a failure pod.

Of course there will be a lot of Latin America. I spent enough time down there that it will come out even if I’m not talking about Latin America IT’S INSIDE ME. But this is a variety show.

Today, Ep 1, we’re talking about three controversial words at the heart of Expat Chronicles:

  1. gringo
  2. American
  3. expat

Gringo

Now, a word on “gringo.” First of all, it’s not offensive. It’s not a bad word. It’s not a slur even if it is delivered as one. You can make Mexican sound like a slur if you want, it doesn’t make “Mexican” a bad word.

Latin America is generally less sensitive when it comes to race, to a fault. They do blackface, brownface, negative stereotypes, all that. It’s just not a big deal.

La Paisana Jacinta is a televisión show in Peru starring Peruvian actor Jorge Benavides as an indigenous woman in the big city … clueless and ignorant Jacinta is. Blacked out teeth.

Like most Hispanic comedy, it’s just not funny to anybody but them. That’s why they watch our comedy. This show was criticized by United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

What happened? This show aired for years on network television. They made a movie. There was a Jacinta-themed circus in north Lima.

In the U.S. they phased out Aunt Jemima, but her counterparts in Latin America aren’t going anywhere. Some of the biggest companies step in it, but nobody cares much. You hear presidents making distasteful jokes. This year Argentina’s Alberto Fernandez said Brazilians are from the jungle, Argies are from Europe. That’s the leftist president of the region’s most progressive country.

Of course there is racism, the sensitivity level is a little lower, and gringo is not on the spectrum. But even if they are making a racist statement, it’s just not a big deal. You gotta lighten up.

BACK TO GRINGO.

Some people will disagree with my definition, but here it is. A gringo is a non-Latin foreigner.

Of course there are shades of gray. Or to use another term in vogue, it’s nonbinary.

  • Spaniards or Italians? Probably not.
  • German or Russians? Usually.
  • A Frenchman? That’s tricky.

Some people think gringos are only Americans, so even a Canadian wouldn’t be one.  I’ve had to suffer Englishmen insist that they are not gringos. I imagine they do that a lot, not just to other gringos, but to the Latins. My advice, don’t take the bait. You say, whatever mate … or, if you want to clown, OK compadre.

The word also varies between countries.

  • I spent less than two weeks in Brazil, but they told me that in Brazil a gringo is any foreigner, so even a Peruvian in Sao Paolo would be a gringo.
  • In Colombia I saw Colombians called gringos, these would be my old deported buddies. Colombian but raised in New York or South Florida, hip-hop culture and maybe a little accent.
  • Peruvians call other Peruvians gringos if they’re white enough or have blondish hair.

Summing up, gringo is not offensive.

“Gringo” aside, here’s your reminder that Expat Chronicles was never a politically correct safe space. We were the ugly American of the expat blogosphere. Kenny Powers in writing. If you can be triggered, you will be. I’m going to say controversial things like, for example,

  • Soccer is a girls sport.
  • Colombian food sucks.
  • Gringos, FFS stop saying “Latinx.”
  • And just to show you I’m not some right-wing blowhard … Donald Trump is a cult.
    • I’m far from the only one saying that, but I deserve extra credit because I keep saying it despite losing readers every time. I can’t help myself. What are you guys on? Get your faces out of the Kool-Aid bowl, this is fucking Hugo Chavez taking control of the steering wheel.

Sorry sorry, let’s move on.

American

You may be surprised to learn that is the most controversial on this list. Here I’m going to read from my 2011 article, We’re not all Americans, you dumb asses.

Reading this episode? Not pasting it here. Read it at the link.

Expat

This controversy wasn’t always around, only since about 2014, and is best summed up in title of the Guardian op-ed “Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?” I’ve devoted three blog posts to this controversy.

My first article looked for exceptions. This is the scientific method. You come up with a hypothesis, you test it. Try to shoot holes and disprove it. And I didn’t have to try hard. It was a walk-off home run … Is a Black American in Peru an expat? Yes. Are the white Polish construction workers in Chicago expats? No.

I know a Russian internet bride who married a Peruvian in Lima. Is she an expat? Not in my book.

The distinction is economic. Not racial.

The word expat communicates a different experience, what kind of country you’re going to and what kind of work you’ll be doing. If you’re leaving a poverty-stricken country to earn higher wages picking lettuce in the fields, that’s a very different experience than the retiree buying a house on the beach in Costa Rica.

Can we have a word to differentiate the two? Or is that two hurtful? Is that too unfair? We would never want life to be UNFAIR.

Most people rich enough to move to a cheaper country are white, and most laborers moving to a richer country for higher wages are not, but concluding the difference boils down to race is a CAUSAL FALLACY.

Correlation is not causation. Not all black people are from poor countries and not all white people are from rich countries. You’re the racist! You’re the ignoramus.

My second post posed a simple question, a test to define yourself as expat or immigrant. To make the most money in terms of dollars, where would you go? A) I would go to my home country. B) I would leave my home country.

If you answered A, you are an expat. B, Immigrant.

Gray areas

English teachers in Saudi Arabia. For English teachers, Saudi Arabia is the highest paying market in the world. Why? Because nobody wants to live in Saudi Arabia. You have to pay gringos six figures or nobody would go. You can’t get a drink in the bar. And if there were a bar, there wouldn’t be any women allowed, would there?

Gringos who strike it rich in Latin America. These are the expats who set up a business serving the domestic market, and it blew up. If they went home, they’d be losing money. But in keeping with my test, I’d call them immigrants. That’s the dream. That was my dream.

I ultimately built a business supplied by Peruvians, but the consumer market is in the United States so I had to come back. But if you build a business in Peru, serving Peruvians, that is HARD. I think immigrant is another level above expat. It’s like a graduate degree. I aspired to be an immigrant. I failed. I’m a failure, and this is the FAIL pod.

The last gray area are those corporate warriors on assignment in a foreign country. They are making their best salary, that’s why they’re abroad. They didn’t choose to move, their multinational employer sent them. Ironically, these are the traditional lifestyles we think of when we think of expats.

Maybe a fatal flaw in my first test, so I devised another one in my third post on this subject. Maybe you can take both tests to determine what you are. Maybe we should develop an algorithm, build an app. AI in the metaverse. OK, here’s the second question.

Would you like to obtain citizenship in your resident country? Whatever the process is, let’s say you’re approved to begin. Do you want citizenship?

  • Yes, please! = immigrant
  • Nah, I’m good = expat

I have a friend who has three passports, and I don’t think he pays taxes in any of them. And I have some internet friends who are pushing this passport alchemy on social media, and obviously it sounds attractive to have a second passport to avoid gringo taxes or whatever.

But as someone who tried but failed to get citizenship in a second country, and someone who has had a little experience with the criminal justice system, and just being old, I came to believe that having a second passport will have a cost. It might not come for a while, maybe a decade or more. But there will be a cost for what is inherently a political act. Immigration is a political act.

Migrant laborers may claim they’re only in the U.S. or wherever for the money, but economics is inseparable from politics. The government sets the rules for commerce. If you’re voting with your feet for U.S. dollars, you’re effectively voting for America’s political system too.

When Latin American countries need to raise money, they sell debt in U.S. jurisdictions because nobody trusts their courts of law.

If you’re forced to put skin in the game, and you have to assume there is some cost to citizenship, probably paying taxes, people will choose the government they trust. Not the language, food, music or whatever bullshit. They want predictability, stability and fairness in government and the law, because that will affect their money and livelihood.

How you answer the offer for citizenship in your country of residence implies your level of trust in their governance and long-term prospects. Are you just expatting or immigrating?

Again, I’m not some reactionary blowhard. I’m always open-minded and reevaluating my positions. And because I’m a big moderate, centrist pussy, I have moderated on this subject too.

I am a huge fan of journalism. I’m an admirer of journalists and I hope to have many on this podcast.

I watched with dismay the rise of Trump on misinformation and propaganda-based media. It led me to take a second look at the principles of journalism. Many people think of verification and fact-checking, but just as important is the meaning of words. What is the official definition? Are we using words correctly?

There are many examples in recent news, but being Expat Chronicles I’m going to pick the most scandalous: pedophile.

Definition of pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult has sexual fantasies about or engages in sexual acts with a prepubescent child. Key word, prepubescent.

Under that definition, it’s not accurate to say that Jeffrey Epstein was a pedophile. Maybe he was, and I only watched the popular documentaries, but it seemed to me that he, like Jared Fogle of Subway fame, were into pubescent girls. Girls who had begun puberty, so legally children, but not adults. The word for that is hebefile.

Now Michael Jackson was a pedophile. He liked prepubescent boys. Epstein and Fogle were child molesters, and even rapists in the statutory sense, but to say they were pedophiles is an incorrect use of the word. It is poor English.

Do you even speak English, bro? Do you consider your English to be good? If so, use the correct meaning of words you illiterate.

“Welcome to America, now speak English!”

Now, going back to my hardcore moderation, let’s take a look at the definition of expat.

  • Merriam-Webster – a person who lives in a foreign country.
  • Oxford – person living in a country that is not their own.

I like how the Oxford definition leaves room for an expat to cease being an expat if he gets citizenship. Hence, graduating to immigrant.

So, if we go by definitions, as a journalist would, the Venezuelan hawking trinkets on the street corners of Lima are expats just as much as the Africans floating on rafts off the coast of Italy. WE ARE ALL EXPATS.

Speaking of Venezuelan expats and definitions, here’s a fun tangent.

The United Nations modified its definition of “refugee” just for Venezuela. Under the previous definition, a migrant must be escaping some kind of war or armed conflict to be considered a refugee and enjoy legal protections and diplomatic response under international law. The sheer number of Venezuelans fanning out across the continent resembled a refugee crisis, and required a diplomatic response, but there was no armed conflict. So they changed the definition of the word to accommodate these specially designated refugees, an amazing achievement of 21st century socialism, as Hugo Chavez branded his revolution.

“Expat” under my informal, unacademic definition is a different experience. We’re weird. Why would you move down the socioeconomic ladder, to a less developed country? We’re going the wrong way. We’re strange.

Peru has plenty of things going for it, but progress isn’t one of them. There are fewer comforts than in the States. Technology is behind. If you could quantify your material standard of living, no matter the income, it’s less than it would be back home. Who does that?

I know some Latins look at us as freaks. In many cases they’re right.

A common accusation toward male expats, and this is not just expats in Latin America, but anywhere, is they can’t get laid in their home country. We’re trolling the lower classes of the global south. That’s not completely unfounded. I’ve had expats tell me in so many words, that’s why they’re there.

Others are down there for the drugs. In Colombia I paid $5 a gram for cocaine, and that was the good stuff. You could get it for $3! I used to tell my friends back home, it’s cheaper than beer.

Others are down there because they just couldn’t make things work at home. They had no good prospects, so they opted out.

I’ve worked with many companies in corporate Peru and Colombia, the highest educated professionals at the biggest companies. Everybody’s all smiles, but I imagine some of them looked at me with a little contempt. They’d kill for the opportunity to work in the United States or Europe, and here I am choosing South America. What the hell’s wrong with us?

When I hear the word “expat,” I think of my informal definition, far from racism, but of these kooky rich-world gringos opting out of being serious in life for an adventure in a third-world hole. But we have to respect the English language. So when we say “expat” here on the podcast, take it to mean the official definition from Oxford.

But I’ll probably only use it when talking about weirdos like myself. I am not a journalist.

That sums up the three words, and now a passage from blog post #1, Anticipation of Expatriation. I’m trying not to puke as I read.

I don’t intend to come back. I bought a one-way ticket. I don’t know if I’ll end up in Peru, but I hope to make a new life somewhere in Latin America. I even have a backup plan. In case I can’t find work in business and need money, I’ve been certified to teach English.

It’s going to be hard. But I’m not afraid. I have a dream, an abstract dream of becoming a marketing professional who can facilitate international business in Latin America.

Oh my god, I want to go back in time and slap myself upside the head.

If you enjoyed the show, contact me for advertising at [colin] -at- [expat-chronicles] -dot- [com]. Get in now before we blow up. If you just want to listen, help keep the podcast alive by rating and reviewing. For inside scoops, sign up for the Expat Chronicles newsletter at expat-chronicles.com. Freebies going out every month.

Next time we’ll talk about The Mick’s Prison Murder. Now, as my dad says to me … if I never see you again, no big deal!

First time here? Let me tell you why this show rocks!

4 comments

  1. Ditto – the complaining about “americano” thing is so tedious. People who do that are the equivalent of the hyper prog set in the US: smug, elite types who preach, preach, preach like a Pentecostal minister on blow except that they’re atheists generally (or some “spiritual” whatever number). After speaking Spanish for decades very well, I can finally say “estadounidense” without feeling like I have marbles in my mouth, so I use it when in or near South America in general unless I’m just like Fuck it. Plus it also doesn’t mean anything, really. In my experience, Mexicans and also Caribbean Spanish speakers never bat an eye at “americano,” it’s just the lefty university set of South America that gets a bee in their bonnet who have probably read Las Venas Abiertas De America Latina like five times (it’s actually quite educational if I recall correctly – going to Potosi after reading that was a major eye opener… The same people are still mining, but there isn’t any silver left. It’s grim conditions [or at least it was 32 years ago]). Cubans refer to us as “yuma” frequently – like gringo, also not a pejorative.

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  2. The first time I ever heard a Latin American complain about the use of the word “American” was with a Costa Rican in Ohio that was studying at the same college I was. Very much the type to read “Las Venas Abiertas De America Latina.”

    After living in Mexico for some time, I’ve also seen it as a mixed bag here as well. There has been no shortage of Mexicans who have referred to me as an American or ask if I am from America.

    If we were talking about the street food guy who is 50 and cooks gorditas and huaraches, I don’t see him complaining about the use of the word “American.”

    The dude who is 29 and sweeps the streets of Roma Norte but lives in Iztapalapa? No complaints from him either.

    A local woman you met on Tinder who was born and raised in a small town of Puebla? I have my doubts. Maybe if she has purple hair, goes to UNAM in CDMX to study Gender Studies, is 40 pounds overweight, uses feminism to justify her hate of men and has been used as a cum dumpster by 7 gringos who never wanted a real relationship and now she hates gringos.

    However, I don’t agree with the opinion that there are no Mexicans that take issue with it or that it is not common to find one. There are those who do just like in the rest of Latin America because what motivates the need to be an ass about it exists here like elsewhere: an inferiority complex with the need to “punch up” at Americans and perhaps a difference in geography.

    There are Mexicans who feel the need to “punch up” at the American by reminding them that they are “American” too.

    I remember less than a year ago where I was living in some “barrio popular” of CDMX where I was just casually talking with a neighbor who lived in the same building. He was young in that he was in his early 30s or maybe late 20s. He probably had a college education given his work but he didn’t seem like the “social justice” type who reads Las Venas Abiertas De America Latina.

    More of a computer geek type who probably does use Mexican Reddit 9 hours a day.

    And, during our casual conversation late at night, I forgot how we got to this point but he felt the need to make a casual remark about how “we are Americans too.” I didn’t even use the word America. Didn’t say I was from there or that I am American. I completely forgot why he brought it up. Was just random. But it had that same sense of “just to remind you, I’m American too” where said dude feels the need to “punch up” at the American for whatever reason.

    Just a casual remark he made snidely. I laughed it off and didn’t feel the need to argue about it. I know where Latin Americans stand on the topic and it really is a non-issue as they are not going to change how everyone on the planet understands the word “American” (including themselves as, like you said, they never refer to themselves as American either in any other normal context).

    Some typical case of a Latin American — Mexican in this case — who probably generalizes all Americans into thinking that we think we are better than them and so is his way of “punching up.”

    Which is weird because, in a moment like that, they come across as the type who is being an arrogant ass by trying to make an issue out of nothing and coming across as the judgemental type that they group all of us into being.

    Mixed in with coming across as socially stunted also in any context be it the American actually used the word American or not.

    Imagine a couple of dudes having some beer. All around it’s been a good night. Then someone says casually that “in America, x happens.” And then some Latin American jumps in actually socially retarded: “UH NO!!! I’M AMERICAN TOO!!”

    ….Right.

    He’ll probably go home afterwards to type on Mexican Reddit about how he “totally owned” some “arrogant American.” In the same hour, he might also get mad when he sees a local Mexican gal he’s been trying to get out on a date over the last 6 months posting a picture of herself with a gringo on Instagram or Whatsapp.

    The poor fella!

    Fact is though that, among Latin Americans, I’d say that Mexicans on average hold a greater grudge or bias or whatever you want to call it against the US and people from there given the long history between our countries, the modern politics of it all (like with Donald Trump types), etc.

    While the US has a history of fucking around with all of Latin America, I’d say that our history between the US and Mexico has extra tensity to it.

    Similar, in some respects, to the history and tension between Chile and Bolivia.

    One could argue though perhaps Mexicans do feel less of a need to bring it up than other Latin Americans given so many more have family in the US, dual citizenship, any other type of connection to the country, etc.

    Maybe — though you got those who spent time there and have great resentment in some regards to the US after experiencing racism, being a minority in a country, perhaps deported even, etc.

    It depends on the person. Some are like that, many are not.

    Such a resentment though from life experiences like that could, in my opinion, perhaps create an individual who feels the need to punch up and say “he is American too.”

    Outside of Mr. Computer Geek, I have seen a handful of other Mexicans take issue with the word but almost exclusively online.

    It’s similar to the hate you see people discussing regarding the recent wave of expats to Mexico City. Most of the hate is just people bitching online and not actually saying anything to your face.

    Still, I can’t say though if Mexicans feel the need to remind us that they are “American” more often than South Americans though. I spent a few years traveling through the rest of Latin America (mostly South America) and can’t remember, as of right now, if anybody that far down like with Argentinians ever felt the need to remind me that they were American.

    I saw some comment though in your other article where some dude claimed an Argentine professor got mad about his use of the word “American.”

    Maybe it happened but I have a bad memory and it’s been over 6 years since I last stepped foot in South America.

    Still, regardless of who wins the contest of being the most annoying about the word “American,” I just wanted to clarify that there are Mexicans who do the same and the reason for that can perhaps be broken down to differences in education surrounding geography (though I’m not sure how Mexicans are taught it to be fair as I’ve never been in a public school in Mexico) but also because the same inferiority complex and the feeling the need to “punch up” at those Americans exists among Mexicans in the same way it does for other Latin Americans.

    Funny enough though, the description by D regarding the type of character who would be annoying about this as someone reading constantly “Las Venas Abiertas De America Latina” is pretty funny and probably accurate. Someone should do a study to see if there is any correlation between how often one reads that book and how often they get annoyed about the use of the word “American.”

    I’d claim the same for any Latin American who spends too much time on Reddit.

    Finally, one character that often gets overlooked regarding who gets upset about the use of the word “American” is the gringo.

    And, when I say gringo, I’m using the word more liberally to mean anyone from “the west.”

    Be it the US, UK, Canada, etc.

    Be it the snotty European though who wants to look down on us Americans or actual self-hating Americans who are more on the political left, probably voted for Bernie Sanders and who feels the need to use social justice issues as a weapon to bludgeon others.

    Someone who takes up the social issues of groups they are not part of as a way to feel better and judge others with.

    This same type of character — be it the snotty European or the self-hating American — also gets offended equally and does a bit of the leg word arguing against the use of the other words like expat.

    I’ve seen it every once in a blue moon on Facebook Expat groups where someone with an obvious non-Latino sounding name feels the need to be an ass about it after someone else says they are “American” or from “America.”

    For whatever reason — and I’ve been guilty of this also — this character gets overlooked when discussing who is the bigger ass about the use of these words and the focus a lot of the time seems to boil down to “which Latin Americans take the most offense?” At which it always seems that the consensus is Argentinians. Which, to be fair, I could see that being the case (though sometimes I feel Argentinians get a bad reputation for other reasons that are not fair but that’s another topic for another day).

    Fun podcast to listen to, Colin. Take care.

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