Greaser (derogatory)

Greaser was a derogatory term for a Mexican in what is now the US Southwest in the 19th century. It most likely derived from what was considered one of the lowliest occupations typically held by Mexicans in what is now the US Southwest, the greasing of the axles of mule carts. It was a common usage among US troops during the Mexican-American War.

The term was actually incorporated into an early California statute, the Greaser Act (1855), an expression of a virulent form of anti-Mexican sentiment among many Anglo Californians.

The term persisted in use through the silent film era, as evidenced by films such as Ah Sing and the Greasers (1910), The Greaser’s Gauntlet (1908), Tony the Greaser (1911), The Greaser and the Weakling (1912), The Girl and the Greaser (1913), The Greaser’s Revenge (1914), Bronco Billy and the Greaser (1914), and The Greaser (1915) Subsequently, however, Hollywood began to cut its usage of this particular derogatory term to improve its distribution in Mexican and Latin American markets.

The racist eugenicist Madison Grant made mention of the term with respect to the Mexican of mixed ancestry in his notorious work, The Passing of the Great Race, published in 1916 (pp.76-77, 1921 edition online at Google).

The term has also been used as a shortened form of "greaseball", an ethnic slur for someone of Italian origin.

The term was used in 1978 by rock critic Robert Christgau who called Willy DeVille "the songpoet of greaser nostalgia,. although it isn't clear that this usage had anything to do with Mexicans or other Latinos rather than an allusion to the 1950's teenage style.

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