Chilango is a Mexican slang term used to refer to a person from Mexico City, or as an adjective to refer to something from Mexico City. It can be considered pejorative when used by people outside of Mexico City.
A more neutral term to denote a person from Mexico City is “capital.”
There is a monthly magazine called Chilango that covers current events in Mexico City.
Who uses the term chilango?
In other parts of Mexico, especially in the northern states, the term chilango is definitely not considered a compliment. For some, the word only refers to a person who was born and raised in the capital of Mexico, but not everyone makes that distinction. Supposedly there is a chilango accent that distinguishes a person from Mexico City.
There are other terms to refer to the residents of Mexico City that are less problematic. One is “defeno,” which is a coined word that comes from the initials of the city’s official Spanish name, Distrito Federal (DF).
And the term “capital,” while not exactly a compliment, is considered mostly neutral and may refer to someone from a suburb of Mexico City rather than the city itself. If someone from another state within Mexico calls a Mexico City resident a capital, it is usually a humiliation.
Among residents of Mexico City, the term chilango is used affectionately, and there is even the concept of “chilangolandia,” or a home state of chilango. In the United States, chilango is sometimes used to refer to a cooking style from Mexico City. And there is the Chilango bus service, which travels between the United States and Mexico.
Origins of the term Chilango
There is some debate about the origins of the term chilango. One theory is that the word is a derivative of the Mayan word “xilan,” which refers to someone with a bald head or frizzy hair. Another suggestion is that chilango comes from the word “chilanco” in the Nahuatl language. This is literally translated as “the reds,” or red-skinned, and that is how the Nahua referred to the Aztec people.
When to avoid using ‘Chilango’
If you are not from Mexico City and do not live there (or in a nearby suburb), your best option is to avoid using this term. While city residents can wear it with pride, there is not much scope for outsiders (especially Americans) to use the term in a way that is not offensive.