2009
10.28

Speedy Gonzales has been on my mind for the longest while.  Images like Speedy are intriguing; their presentation and manifestation within the psyche of audiences is a striking research topic I am currently studying.  This parallels a time when people celebrate Halloween and dress in festive costume garments; unfortunately, costumes featuring stereotyped characters of ethnic images appear on the store shelves of major stores and on the Internet. Here are some of the stereotypical concoctions that are appearing in stores right now of the Mexican image.

illegalalien51Q2sYQb4hL._SL500_AA280_41BiiH3pqgL._SL500_AA280_59543

The image of the sarape, sombrero and thick-mustache has burned into the mind of Caucasians and non-Latino Black population.  This prompted me to question where this image emerged from and why people still revel in adorning themselves with outfits of these stereotypes.

There are several ideas of the perception of these images I have encountered; first there are a few of these notions I’d like to relate from my childhood.  They are memories.  These memories I hope, serve an importance into my research as I wrestle with the fact why certain images are uncomfortable.  Through this, I hope to come to a satisfactory conclusion, at least for myself.

Before Star Wars, Godzilla and Inframan took my imagination into places I never conceived of, there was Batman, Mexican Luchadores and of course, yours truly, the fastest mouse in all Mexico.   It did not raise a concern with me.  Of course, I was just child at the time; I remember hunkering around the small television set in Monterrey, watching all the Warner Brothers cartoons in Spanish.  Nobody in my family ever imagined that they, the creators of the entertainment, were actually typing us; the feeling was opposite: Speedy was one of us.  Besides having superpowers, he always outsmarts and beats El Pussy Gato at virtually any obstacle El Pussy Gato presents to our hasty mammal of the rodentia family.   In fact, when a child, I thought Speedy was cool. Along with all the friends from the neighborhood, I would always look forward to the next Speedy Gonzales adventure.  What else was there from Mexico that contributed to the whole of entertainment for its population?  Most of the television shows were from and still, from the entertainment industry in the United States (You can easily argue this point, which a totally different topic to research).

speedy_gonzales

Speedy and I were simpatico.  Not only was I in tune with that character, any other character or personality remotely Latino that would come up on television.  Other notable personalities that would enter my macrocosm would be Maria of Sesame Street, Chico of Chico and the Man (although the only thing I remember of this image was news of his death, I don’t remember seeing the show, I was too young) ; Que Pasa USA, Ricky Ricardo (the great Desi Arnaz) of I Love Lucy and Ana Cani from The Laurence Welk Show (My heart still flutters, I think she’s my anima figure, though it may be a quincianera picture of a cousin that was hanging on the wall of my aunt’s house in Monterrey). And of course, Villa Alegre and Carrascolendas.

But we’ll focus for now on the fastest mouse in all Mexico.

I got together with old friends one night for a round of drinks and Speedy Gonzales came into the conversation.  Of course, my friends did not care for the mouse, subjecting the cartoon to a level beneath the worms.   I had to agree but still the question remained why?  Why did I find him offensive and not Admiral Bill Adama, Captain Aceveda or Betty Suarez.

I can break it down into two basic interpretations:

  1. Actions
  2. Vernacular

Foremost Speedy’s actions; and with actions we define his character, since all action is character and all character is action, his directions, movements, and design creates an image on the preliminary moment one perceives the rodent, even before he begins yell “Yeeehaaww Andale-Andale—Epaaaahhh!”.   Second, we have his Spanish accent; a modification of the English language is always met with ridicule or jest.  The “Yeehaaww Anadale-Andale-Epahhh!” verbal paroxysm of Speedy Gonzales creates such a stigma even today a twist in the pronunciation of the language suddenly denounces any person from the mainstream.  People are suddenly looked down upon.  They are different: They have accents, they are the Other.

This here is Speedy Gonzales in Tabasco Road (1957) directed by Robert McKimson.  One note, notice the characters around our rapid friend, notice the imagery and actions all the characters possess.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

The usual storyline: a couple of Mexicans are intoxicated and it takes another Mexican with superpowers to help out.  Although El Pussy Gato wasn’t Sylvester, the antagonist was Mexican, indicated by the hat and pants and by the savage-grotesque nature of the cat (Sylvester never looked that ugly.)

Sylvestercat_tabasco_road

Very different contrasts in style and design…

Other notable images: Speedy’s two amigos, Fernando and Pablo are sleeping in a can of sardines; Mexicans conglomerate in tequila and dance in a cantina. Notice before we jump into the story with Speedy dancing around the sombrero, the picture begins with the cartoon real world.  In the cartoon human world we are shown a bartender tending to his bar; in the transparent cartoon universe, there is a bartender with patrons, (just like in the real world). There, in the cartoon universe, it is reasonable to have lazy Mexicans drowning themselves in tequila and cerveza; whether cartoon or cartoon-human, a transcendental image is being animated here and will juxtapose into the real world where we, you and I, dwell in.  Even Speedy, the ever-watchful friend, tells Fernando and Pablo not to drink, “No mas tequila, already muy loaded”.  As if noting Mexicans get too ‘mucho boracho‘.

1163820574Speedy Gonzales: Ever watchful amigo

Observe Fernando and Pablo’s hats and actions; it reminds us of the classic bandido stereotype.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

The famous line uttered by Alfonso Bedoya, in Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) directed by John Houston.  Kind of resembles these fellows:

tabasco80051GS3n+pwZL._SL500_AA280_frito_bandito

Although I really like the original dialog by B. Traven better in the  original novel:  “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out there from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

Really dig the original dialog.

So where did this image come from, for that I would have to direct you for a more detailed explanation and in-depth study in Tex{t}-Mex:  Seductive Hallucinations of the ‘Mexican’ in America by Mr. William Nericcio (Great read, highly recommend for you to get. Also has an excellent essay about Lupe Velez).  Where Mr. Nericcio states in his research that this image originated during the Mexican Revolution.  Cinema being the new technology during the early 1900’s astounded audiences around the world; in serials across the country, heroic Anglo cowboys needed an antagonist; why not those greasers from the south?  Thus was born the bandido image in cinema and deeper into the minds of many. Simultaneously, before and around the 1910 Mexican Revolution; the image of the Mexican in bandoleros, dirty-white peasant stocks and large sombrero was further etched into the cerebrums of Anglos in the United States through the production and use of postcards.  These postcards as Mr. Nericcio states and I paraphrase ‘were the email and spam of their day’.   I could only imagine Ma ‘n Pa in Arkansas opening up their mail box, after a ride on the wagon from the farm house, having their eyes gaze upon pictures of dirty Mexicans doin’ dirty deeds.

13273310666191066293

Images of Mexicanos in sombreros either dead or committing crimes, or just minding their business being Mexican; the Mexican image slowly became the Other in many Anglos’ minds.  Servicemen sent these cards across the country when the United States got involved in the Mexican Revolution (you can argue the U.S. was within it from the outset).  Anglos got booty-hurt when Pancho Villa thumbed his nose at them (Remember, before Osama Bin Ladin, Villa was the original terrorist by invading our sacred land of ours in Columbus, New Mexico). The U.S. sent the valiant General Pershing to capture that evil Pancho Villa. As history explains, the venture was all for nothing. Pershing entered Mexico and went on a tour trying to find Villa.

2510246395_034c912023

Mr. Nericcio indicates also, that Speedy Gonzalez wears a frock worn by Veracruzanos, the port where the United States invaded Mexico. It sure looks like Speedy’s clothes…

So you can make a correlation, between the images in the media of their day.  This can be attributed to those who created Speedy.  Somewhere within their minds, they must have seen these images and Speedy was born.

So this brings back the question, why is this image still with us today? Is it easy to pick on Latinos, because we’re not in the binary of Caucasians and African-Americans?  Are we third on the list and will not be allowed into the all-exclusive club? Are we actually changing the scope where language and image frighten those in the exclusive club?  Yes we are.  Just hear what Hopper says about Ants (Mexicans) in Disney’s A Bug’s Life.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

So yes, the Illegal Alien Halloween costume and others are in poor taste.  The image will change and will move into the history books, such as the black face image, but these stereotypes will be with us for a long time. As long as there is an Other, these images will exist, whether it be in a disguised form like the Bug’s Life clip or the Mexican Halloween costume.  So people will adorn themselves with these costumes, just like people will paint their faces black, or dress up as a Native American.  Either way, the image is dangerous and in poor taste.  Some will counter with the argument nobody is being hurt, it’s all in good fun or political correctness is bad, etc.; it is a negative image of a people and a seed for prejudice and inferiority.  Either way, shining a light on this matter is important and a first step in extinguishing such images to proceed again.

© 2009-2017 Ricardo Reyna Jr. All Rights Reserved -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright