I had a number of "disagreements" with folks in cyberspace last week because I basically saw the Mexican point of view regarding this postage stamp featuring a popular cartoon
who happened to resemble old "darkie" images that make most black people cringe. I found this article via Negrophile.com
today and I think it sums up what I was trying to relate to people as I defended Vicente Fox's stand.
I was pondering all that and wondering about the hidden history of peoples of African descent in Mexico when it happened. I ran into Memin Pinguin at a newsstand. My reaction upon looking at his face was conflicted. There was the immediate joy of re-encounter with an old love long forgotten. How could I have lost all memory of him? Yet almost simultaneously, I recoiled at his sight. How could I have loved something so obviously insensitive and harmful?
The answer, of course, was that there was nothing "obvious" about the meaning of Memin Pinguin. He did not have the same meaning for Mexicans as he might for Americans, or for Mexicans like me with more knowledge about the history and power of images similar to his in U.S. culture and society at large. My experience in the United States and the knowledge I had acquired about its history had made me sensitive to questions of race, racism and stereotypes. I saw Memin in a new light because I had changed. For most Mexicans, however, he had not changed in the intervening years. There was no reason, because Mexican history had not changed in this regard.
Thus, rather than condemning Mexico for issuing Memin Pinguin stamps, the federal government and U.S. citizens would be better off encouraging a cross- border conversation about race in all its complexities. Such a conversation might then inspire youth on both sides of the border to ask the questions I never asked, not only about the history of people of African descent in Mexico, but also about the root causes of racism, discrimination and inequality in both nations. Surely, that is a concern people across both countries share -- and the reason why we all care about Memin Pinguin.
One of the first things I heard from both sides about the stamp was reference to America's own "stereotypical" cartoon: Speedy Gonzales. Mexicans claimed they didn't get offended by the cartoon so Americans needed to shush. Americans were charging that Mexicans wouldn't like it if we issued Speedy Gonzales stamps. That made me think.
I was too young to associate Speedy Gonzales with a nationality or ethnic group. It was a cartoon to me and I never really thought of cartoons as people. The same went for Quick Draw McGraw and his sidekick Baba Looey
. Further, though I see the rather blatant stereotypes now, I never related many of those old television characters to real human beings. Among them were: Pancho from the Cisco Kid, Tonto from The Lone Ranger and Hop
Sing from Bonanza ... yet those were popular and classic TV shows. I know Bonanza still airs on TV Land but I imagine you can still find the other shows on random channels someplace in the cable universe. So, as "racist" as those shows may have been and as aware of their content as I now am, I think I understand how Mexico feels about Memin Pinguin.
Given that I still burst into laughter as I remember catching the wrath of my HS Biology teacher (and the raucous laughter of my classmates) when I made a small habit of squealing "Amoeba, meba, meba!" (instead of Arriba as Speedy Gonzales did), in biology lab every other day, I might be hard pressed not
to buy Speedy Gonzales stamps if they were ever issued because of the memories attached to that character.
As I stated in my other posts regarding this topic (listed below), I think we have bigger and more important issues to worry about given the state of our country -- both domestically and abroad. Folks need to lighten up, laugh a little and reminisce about favorite books, TV shows or cartoons from days gone by.