Is Mexican Spanish RACIST? 7 Problematic Mexican Idioms

In Mexico, the vast majority of us are very cool, friendly, warm people who treat everyone well.

That’s why it’s hard for us to recognize that we have a problem with racism and discrimination against indigenous populations.

But it’s time to face the question: Is Mexican Spanish racist? Well, unfortunately, we can’t completely rule out racist remarks but Mexican Spanish has great alternatives to avoid such wrongdoings.

Is Mexican Spanish RACIST? 7 Problematic Idioms

Even in our everyday way of speaking, we find phrases that are as common as they are questionable. Today we will look at 7 of these Mexican Spanish phrases!

Disclaimer
This content is for educational purposes only, aiming to highlight and critically examine phrases in Mexican Spanish that may be considered discriminatory or racially insensitive. We do not intend to offend or harm anyone. Our goal is to promote respectful and inclusive language use.

Click on any of these from the table to learn more about them!

SpanishEnglishWhy it’s problematic
El verbo “negrear”The verb “to negro”It implies that abusive work conditions are related to black people, stemming from slavery, which is dehumanizing.
Trabajar como negro para vivir como blancoTo work like a black person to live like a white personIt implies that hard work is exclusive to black people and that living well is exclusive to white people.
Se fue como las chachasLeft like the maidsIt derogatorily refers to domestic workers, often indigenous, reinforcing social hierarchies based on occupation and race.
No tiene la culpa el indio, sino el que lo hace compadreIt’s not the Indian’s fault, but the one who makes him a compadreSuggests indigenous people are inherently less capable, perpetuating colonialist stereotypes of incompetence.
Mejorar la razaImprove the raceEncourages lighter skin preference, implying darker skin is undesirable.
Traer el nopal en la caraHaving the nopal on the faceUses indigenous traits as a marker of Mexicanness in a derogatory way, can be used to single out or mock people for their heritage.
Es morenita, pero es bonitaShe is dark-skinned, but she is prettyImplies that beauty and darker skin are mutually exclusive, perpetuating a standard of beauty that devalues darker skin.

1. The verb “negrear” – To “negro”

The verb “negrear” has acquired this specific meaning in the Mexican context and is used to describe situations where a person is being subjected to abusive working conditions, where they may experience long working hours without adequate compensation or be treated unfairly in the work environment.

The root of this comment is linked to the era of slavery.

Non-racist alternatives to “negrear”

  • Me explotan. (I’m being exploited)
  • Me hacen trabajar demasiado. (I’m made to work too much)
Is Mexican Spanish racist alternatives explained by female brunette teacher

2. “Trabajar como negro para vivir como blanco.” – To work like a black person to live like a white person.

“To work like a black person to live like a white person.” Or simply “To work like a black person.”

Whoever mentions this phrase intends to show that their workday is excessive, but they endure it because it has economic benefits.

Non-racist alternatives to “trabajar como negro”

  • Trabajo demasiado pero me conviene. (I work too much but it’s worth it)

3. “Se fue como las chachas.” – Left like the maids.

First of all, what is a chacha?

In Mexico, the term “chacha” is used in a derogatory way to refer to domestic workers. Many people, incorrectly, call domestic servants “muchachas” (young ladies).

So “chachas” is the short version of “muchachas.”

Se fue como las chachas” is used to refer when someone quits a job without prior notice. Also when someone leaves a place without saying goodbye.

In all cases, this expression implies an alleged lower position of domestic workers compared to the rest of the population. It should be noted that domestic workers often belong to indigenous groups much more frequently than their employers.

Unfortunately, there are several phrases in Mexico that discriminate against people of indigenous origin.

Non-racist alternatives to “se fue como las chachas”

  • Se fue sin despedirse. (Left without saying goodbye.)
  • Se fue sin avisar. (Left without notifying.)

4. “No tiene la culpa el indio, sino el que lo hace compadre.” – It’s not the Indian’s fault, but the one who makes him a compadre.

The common expression: “It’s not the Indian’s fault, but the one who makes him a compadre” emphasizes that the responsibility for a mistake does not lie solely with the one who commits it, but also with the one who entrusts him with that task.

Here the word Indian is used to refer to people of indigenous origin.

However, this statement is based on the idea that indigenous people are considered incapable or have limited skills, a perception that has its roots since colonial times.

5. Mejorar la raza – Improve the race

When in Mexico you have a partner who has darker skin than yours, there will always be a family member who tells you that you are not doing the right thing, that you better be with “a güero” or “a güera”.

For what?

To “improve the race.”

As you probably already know, “güero” is someone with white skin.

This phrase reflects the preference in Mexico for lighter skin colors.

Unfortunately, in Mexico, there is indeed a relationship between how light or dark the skin is and the socioeconomic level of people. According to studies by Colmex, a respected educational institution in Mexico:

“People in the 20% of lighter skin have more than twice the likelihood of reaching the upper socioeconomic quintile, compared to the 20% of darker skin (28.4% vs. 12.4%). In contrast, people with darker skin are 3.5 times more likely to remain in the lower socioeconomic quintile (32.2% vs. 10.2%).”

6. Traer el nopal en la cara – Having the nopal on the face

The phrase “traer el nopal en la cara” alludes to attributes, both physical and cultural, linked to the indigenous peoples of Mexico or in general to Mexicanness. In this context, the expression degrades such characteristics.

The truth is that I have used this phrase many times myself… I’ll explain:

Sometimes I have been confused with a foreigner. I don’t know, but some of my compatriots have come to think that I am Asian. So, when they ask me what country I am from, I say:

  • ¡Ay señor! ¡No ve que tengo el nopal en la cara! Soy de aquí de Cancún. (Oh Lord! Can’t you see I have the nopal on my face! I am from here, from Cancún.)

Using the phrase in this way, I mean that I am evidently Mexican, but many times it is used to refer to someone pretentious or who wants to show themselves different from their reality.

For example, Mexicans often get annoyed that Mexican-Americans do not know how to speak Spanish and say things like:

  • ¡Mira, ese se cree muy gringo! ¡Trae el nopal en la cara y dice que no sabe hablar español! (Look, that one thinks he’s very gringo! He has the nopal on his face and says he doesn’t know how to speak Spanish!)

7. “Es morenita, pero es bonita.” – She is dark-skinned, but she is pretty.

“She is dark-skinned, but she is pretty.”

Oh boy!

Sometimes we Mexicans really go too far! This phrase implies that being brown, having dark skin, is bad. Unfortunately, it’s super common. It has been said to me. I’ve heard my relatives say this phrase about babies, even. It’s very true.

Better simply say:

  • Es morenita y es bonita. (She is dark-skinned and she is pretty.)

So, Is Mexican Spanish racist?

My recommendation is that if you hear these phrases, don’t take them too much to heart.

The truth is that the vast majority of people in Mexico who use these phrases really say them without thinking. Without reflecting on what’s behind them.

Most Mexicans are good people… although we can be a bit weird… 😉

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