AskDefine | Define barrio

Dictionary Definition



1 a Spanish-speaking quarter in a town or city (especially in the United States)
2 an urban area in a Spanish-speaking country

User Contributed Dictionary

see bario



  1. An area or neighborhood in a U.S. city inhabited primarily by people speaking Spanish or of Hispanic origin.

Classical Nahuatl

Alternative spellings


From Spanish barrio.


  1. A district of an altepetl.


  • Lockhart, James. (2001) Nahuatl as Written, Stanford University Press, p. 211.



Compare Portuguese bairro

Extensive Definition

Barrio is a Spanish word meaning district or neighborhood. The word has come into use in English mostly through the large Hispanic populations on both coasts of the United States.


In its formal usage, barrios are generally considered cohesive places, sharing, for example, a church and traditions such as feast days. In Cuba, Puerto Rico and Spain, the term barrio is also used to denote a subdivision of a municipio (or municipality); the barrios are further subdivided into sectors. In the Philippines, the term may also simply refer to a rural village and is spelled in Filipino as baryo.
In Argentina, a barrio is a traditional division of a municipality officially delineated by the local authority at a later time, and sometimes keeps a distinct character from others (as in the barrios of Buenos Aires -- though they have been superseded by larger administrative divisions). Here, the word does not have a special socioeconomic connotation, except that it is used in contrast to the centro (city center or downtown). The expression barrio cerrado (translated "closed neighborhood") is employed for small, upper-class, residential settlements, planned with an exclusive criterion and often literally enclosed in walls (a kind of gated community).
More commonly, however, in the United States, barrios refer to lower-class neighborhoods with largely Spanish-speaking residents, basically the Latino equivalent of a "ghetto". The word often implies that the poverty level is high in such a neighborhood, but this inference is not universal. While there are many so-called barrios in the United States, Little Village, Chicago and Pilsen, Chicago are among the largest and most well-known, and are simply referred to as "El Barrio" by natives of the surrounding areas. Also, barrios most portrayed in national media and pop culture are Spanish Harlem in New York City and East L.A..
In the United States barrios can also refer to the geographical "turf" claimed by a Latino gang; this usage is generally limited to the Chicano gangs of California. The dramatization of gang life in music videos and movies has popularized this usage among the general population. Some gangs spell the word varrio, a common variant as some Spanish speakers (such as Mexicans) pronounce the letter "v" like the English "b". In yet another colloquial usage of the term, ethnic "ghettos" and "-towns" are often referred to by Spanish speakers as barrios appended with the appropriate qualifying adjective. For example, Chinatowns are known as barrios chinos.
The United States usage is also seen in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, where barrio is commonly given to slums in the outer rims of big cities such as Caracas, as well as lower to middle class neighborhoods in other cities and towns.
The word barrio was used to refer to the locality-based campsite sectors of the Camp for Climate Action in 2007.

Other appearances

Barrio and Barrios are also Spanish surnames. The equivalent French spelling, Barriault, is a common name in Quebec. In Portugal the derivated surname Barros is very common.


barrio in German: Barrio
barrio in Portuguese: Bairro
barrio in Swedish: Barrio

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bowery, Chinatown, East End, East Side, Little Hungary, Little Italy, West End, West Side, black ghetto, blighted area, business district, central city, city center, core, downtown, ghetto, greenbelt, inner city, midtown, outskirts, red-light district, residential district, run-down neighborhood, shopping center, skid road, skid row, slum, slums, suburbia, suburbs, tenderloin, tenement district, uptown, urban blight
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