Hombres vs. Gringos
by Temerity Forthright
The mainstream media talking heads feigned outrage when, during the third presidential debate, Donald Trump referred to criminal illegal aliens as “really bad hombres.” How racist! How insensitive! How, how…
I looked up the word “hombre” in several online dictionaries. Hombre means “man” in Spanish. “Hom” in hombre has its origin in the Greek word “homo” meaning same, like, or common, as in homosexual, and in the Latin word “homo” meaning man, as in Homo sapiens.
That got me to thinking about the linguistic opposite – the word Gringo. I also looked it up in online dictionaries. My search found something quite different. The word gringo, in almost every online dictionary, had the same reference to the word gringo being offensive or derogatory as part of its definition of a foreigner, especially of American descent.
There is a restaurant chain in Missouri and another one in Texas called “Gringos.” The banner across the top of one of the Gringo Restaurant websites reads. “Have a taco Gringo!” Wow. I’m really offended! How racist! How insensitive! How, how…
There are a number of clothing businesses and restaurant chains in the United States that use the word Gringo or Gringos as part of their name. I’m not singling them out, I’m simply pointing out that the word is routinely used to sell clothing and food to Americans.
So, what’s in a name? Ask the founder of the Sambo’s Restaurant chain.
The first Sambo’s Restaurant opened in 1957 in Santa Barbara, California. Two decades later it had grown into the country’s largest full-service restaurant chain, with 1,117 locations in 47 states. Sambo’s was taking in a whopping $380 million annually (that’s $1.6 billion in today’s money).
But times were changing. The name and the decor depicting Helen Bannerman’s book “Little Black Sambo” fell out of favor. Protests across the country against the restaurant’s name and murals resulted in some of the locations changing their names. Sambo’s was renamed “Jolly Tigers” in the south, while those in the northeast were called “No Place Like Sam’s.”
By 1981, however, the outcry became too overwhelming. The Rhode Island Commission on Human Rights ordered the restaurant chain to change its name in the state because the name “indirectly” violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In November of 1981 Sambo’s filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and closed more than one-third of its locations. In some cases, patrons in the middle of eating their meals were kicked out of the restaurants so the doors could be locked. The following year many of the remaining restaurants were renamed “Season’s,” but within 2 years most of these were bought out by other restaurant chains.
The stigma of the “Sambo’s” name and the subsequent unfavorable publicity became too much for the company to overcome.
Ironically, the original Sambo’s Restaurant, the one started in Santa Barbara in 1957 by the son of an Italian immigrant, is still open for business! It is owned and operated by the founder’s grandson.
So why the double standard?
There was a 1960s band in Memphis called The Hombres. (They were white.) There is currently a rock band out of New York called The Last Hombres. (They are also white.) Then there’s the band Tres Hombres. (You guessed it – 3 white guys.)
There’s the Hombre Barber Shop in Missouri and the Tres Hombres Gold Mining Corporation in Nevada. There are too many restaurants and clothing stores to list that include the word “Hombre” in their names. One online clothing store is actually called “Bad Hombre.” Its logo is a head wearing a mask, a moustache, and (I’m not making this up) a sombrero hat.
It seems that some words are culturally offensive, even deemed racist, while others are tolerated. Who decides which words are subjectively targeted? What causes the paradigm shift in terminology? How are we supposed to know when a word becomes offensive or derogatory? Isn’t this a threat to our first amendment right to free speech?
So in conclusion, hombres, I ask a simple question. Why are there still companies and restaurants operating in the U.S. using the offensive and derogatory word Gringos? Let’s go to “Cracker Barrel” and discuss it over lunch.