Greasers and Gringos

Latinos, Law, and the American Imagination

293 pages

October, 2005

ISBN: 9780814798881



Also available in


LawLatina/o Studies

Part of the Critical America series


Steven W. Bender is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at Seattle University School of Law. He is the author of Greasers and Gringos: Latinos, Law, and the American Imagination (NYU Press, 2003), and One Night in America: Robert Kennedy, César Chávez, and the Dream of Dignity.

All books by Steven W. Bender

Although the origin of the term “greaser” is debated, its derogatory meaning never has been. From silent movies like The Greaser’s Revenge (1914) and The Girl and the Greaser (1913) with villainous title characters, to John Steinbeck's portrayals of Latinos as lazy, drunken, and shiftless in his 1935 novel Tortilla Flat, to the image of violent, criminal, drug-using gang members of East LA, negative stereotypes of Latinos/as have been plentiful in American popular culture far before Latinos/as became the most populous minority group in the U.S.

In Greasers and Gringos, Steven W. Bender examines and surveys these stereotypes and their evolution, paying close attention to the role of mass media in their perpetuation. Focusing on the intersection between stereotypes and the law, Bender reveals how these negative images have contributed significantly to the often unfair treatment of Latino/as under American law by the American legal system. He looks at the way demeaning constructions of Latinos/as influence their legal treatment by police, prosecutors, juries, teachers, voters, and vigilantes. He also shows how, by internalizing negative social images, Latinos/as and other subordinated groups view themselves and each other as inferior.

Although fighting against cultural stereotypes can be a daunting task, Bender reminds us that, while hard to break, they do not have to be permanent. Greasers and Gringos begins the charge of debunking existing stereotypes and implores all Americans to re-imagine Latinos/as as legal and social equals.


  • “Greasers and Gringos is a typically insightful work by one of the most creative critical writers of our time.”

    —Berta Esperanza Hernandez-Truyol, University of Florida

  • “Bender's got a noble goal: to show that the stereotypes Americans heap on Latino immigrants don't just make for rude conversation, they directly shape policy decisions. The book compellingly articulates just how deeply ingrained the images of lazy, thieving, drunkard Latinos and sexually voracious, fertile Latinas are in American culture.”

    City Limits

  • “Is any society able to exist free of stereotypes? Steven Bender tackles the question head on as he dissects the cornucopia of Latino types, prototypes, and archetypes that populate our mendacious imagination. His answer takes us into the realms of politics, jurisprudence, and cartoons. It involves an attack on poverty, a strive for an equal, more honest educational system, and the 'reinvention' of the future tense in American English. Let Bender challenge your ignorance!”

    —Ilan Stavans, author of The Hispanic Condition and On Borrowed Words

  • Greasers and Gringos is a typically insightful work by one of the most creative critical writers of our time.”

    —Berta Esperanza Hernández-Truyol, University of Florida College of Law

  • “A hopeful and empowering challenge to those who work to transform American life.”

    —Gerald Torres, University of Texas School of Law