OPINION: Why ‘Gusano’ Is an Ethnic Slur

May 8, 2015
9:13 AM

I think we’ve all agreed that racism and ethnic slurs are not OK in 2015, haven’t we?

Maybe we haven’t.

In today’s world, a lot of bigoted/racist/xenophobic sentiment creeps up not overtly, but in the subtle ways that are less perceptible. For example, we all constantly hear racist jokes, see stereotypical costumes and read publications with magazine covers that equate “spicy” Latinos with “chili peppers” and the like.


LatinoRebels.com has been very consistent in criticizing such actions again, and again, and again and again. I applaud LR for it, because our society needs a voice to point out these less overt, but nonetheless harmful elements of our public discourse. As myself, I personally have spoken out and against bigotry, stereotypes and ethnic insensitivities that are commonplace in our daily life, by commenting on Latino Rebels’ Facebook page (and my own page), as well as on my own pro-immigration album, Panamericano.

The retort to all this, of course, is to relax, that it’s just a joke. Laugh it off. No harm is meant by it.

But is it really? Many argue that it is actually harmful, in subtler ways, because it obscures the humanity of a group of individuals behind facile stereotypes. Especially when redundant ethnic stereotypes are the scant drops of information out there. Bottom line: subtle jokes, images and casual remarks have more impact than people think.

For example, did everyone laugh at The Daily Show’s recent segment with Al Madrigal about El Yebe? While much of this was actually funny, one thing stood out like a sore thumb to me: the subtle insinuation that Cuban Americans like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz somehow aren’t “authentic” because you know, they’re Cuban. (See 2:03 of the video.) To say that Cuban Americans are somehow less authentic (or less qualified to speak on Latino issues by mere virtue of being Cuban) is the exact same kind of subtle and insidious bigotry that the above Latino Rebels articles are fighting against. Latinos are all races, all colors and all ideologies. Even if you think that the policies of Rubio and Cruz stink, or that they are sellouts, or even if you think these two U.S. senators are insane—they are no less Latino for it.


But somehow, it seems acceptable in the Latino community to attack Cuban Americans on a level that goes beyond attacking the merits of one’s politics. It’s somehow acceptable to attack and question the “authenticity” of Cubans.

Nonetheless, if that were the extent of it, I could live with it. But it goes deeper. Too often I hear Latinos attacking Cuban exiles or Cuban Americans not for their (perceived) political views but instead on an ethnic level. Why is this OK? How can someone get angry over the stereotyping of Latinos but then turn around and slam Cuban Americans with by saying they are “not Latino,” or even worse—some going as far as using ethnic slurs?

And that brings me to the bigger point of this piece, which is to discuss the term gusano. Gusano (“worm” in English) is specifically directed at Cuban exiles, an ethnic subgroup (i.e., Cubans who are not living on the island of Cuba). In some circles, it’s considered acceptable to use such slurs against Cubans, simply because of their perceived beliefs or other such ridiculous reasons.

Please do not respond to say that “anyone of any race can be a gusano” or that “it’s an ideological term, not an ethnic one.” That is patently false. My family, friends and fellow Cuban Americans all know the history of this word. It was created by the Castro regime as a propaganda tool. It refers to (and is solely meant to) discredit the entire group of Cubans living outside of the island. It was created to discourage collaboration and communication between Cubans on the island and off the island. It was created in order to make two sides of an ethnic group become enemies, instead of family, based on their geography.

Sadly, this slur was adopted by Castro supporters—and somehow, suddenly, it because OK in some circles, even academic circles, to call an ethnic subgroup of human beings “worms.”

This is hate speech. There is no other term for it. It’s just not acceptable by the social standards of today. And yet, I’ve even seen some Latino Rebels readers use the term without thinking when commenting on the site’s Facebook page.


In essence, when one uses this term, you are calling me and all other Cuban Americans and Cuban exiles “worms.” Just as if you used any other ethnic slur against a single individual or several individuals—it offends the entire group.

Therefore, I would ask the entire Latino Rebels community to be on the lookout for this ethnic slur, and categorize it as what it is: hate speech. How can we possibly live in a world where it’s highly offensive to use ethnic slurs EXCEPT a select one or two groups?  Or to say (or even joke) that one subgroup “doesn’t really count?”


Dave Sandoval is a Cuban American musician.