I think I’ve written about this, but the topic came up again today at work, and I’m still a bit bugged by it. The word “yanqui” or Yankee is commonly used here to describe Americans, or North Americans anyway. Some foreigners come to accept and embrace this term, including Yanqui Mike, who I met during a taping of BA Cast, and the Buenos Aires Shankees baseball team of U.S. expats. I, however, have never liked the term and continue to find it insulting. The reasons I have for finding the word offensive range from simple to complex. A simple explanation is that I’m from Boston, not New York, and thus hate the Yankees. I liken it to calling me River Plate if I were a Boca fan. People here understand that most of all.
A more complex explanation dates back to the Civil War era, and even into today. Southern Americans call us Northern Americans Yankees, but to me the word carries a much deeper meaning than a regional distinction. It’s just a feeling, because of course it finds itself in conversation without ill intention just as often. But basically, I have never heard anyone here use the world yanqui in an endearing or non-offensive manner. To me, the word is always vitriolic and meant to point out an enormous difference in style, class and culture. “Those people are clearly yanquis…That’s very yanqui…That fucking yanqui…etc.”
I’ve often had people ask me if the word “gringo” offends me, and sometimes friends have apologized when saying it in front of me. But the truth is that gringo is a much less offensive word to me than yanqui. Maybe because it can be used endearingly, like “Aww, he’s a gringito!” Or maybe it’s that the word is more Spanish-sounding that simply using an English word against us. No one says gringo here, however, and they stick to yanqui. No one will ever say “yanquito!” I find that when people are talking on a normal basis they’ll use “americano,” or failing that “estadounidense.” Yet when the porteños get angry and are venting, they immediately throw out yanqui. I don’t know, does that mean my mind should conjure up an image of Uncle Sam and that tacky American stereotype.
My friends tell me not to take offense, that 1. they’re not referring to me (which doesn’t make it any better) and that 2. it’s just a common word that everyone uses as part of custom, and it’s not offensive. I believe that the person who says the word is never in a position to say whether or not it’s offensive, and only the person affected by it can say whether or not it is. Unless of course the speaker is hoping to hurt someone’s feelings. Yet just because everyone else is saying it and they grew up saying it does not mean that I’m overreacting. I would never try to compare yanqui to other racially insensitive words which you’re obviously aware of, but think about this. Those words were too at one point normal and in common speech until someone finally stood up and said enough is enough, that’s unacceptable.
Who knows? Maybe I’m just being too sensitive about it and should just accept it as another one of those words which I’ll never understand the true root of. But if you look at the top picture here, you’ll see how I come to the conclusion that the word is a source of contempt and disdain. And if you’re an Argentine and use the word, I urge you to think about it next time and look at the context in which you say it.