Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Mexico and Racism

Memin has done it again....raised a ruckus in the United States about racism. It was just a short time ago when Mexico put Memin on some of their postage stamps as a part of a commemorative celebration of Mexico's comic books. Wikipedia describes Memin Pinquin as a fictional character from Mexico. Stories featuring him, a very poor Cuban-Mexican boy, first appeared in the 1940s and have remained in print since with periodic updates through 2004. Memin's mother is dona Eufrosina, an Aunt Jemima-like washerwoman who speaks Spanish with a Cuban accent. We often see Eufrosina in the Locos parades here in San Miguel.

Americans know nothing about the plot-line of the comic but are reacting to Memin's image which seems to be a variation of the Little Black Sambo theme.

Now Wal-Mart is in trouble because they recently made a Memin book available in their stores as part of a series of Spanish-language titles. After a customer complaint they immediately took the book off their shelves and issued this statement:

Wal-Mart carries a wide array of products that reflect the wants and needs of Hispanic customers. And we understand that Memin is a popular figure in Mexico. However, given the sensitivity to the negative image Memin can portray to some, we felt that it was best to no longer carry the item in our stores. We apologize to those customers who may have been offended by the book’s images.

These two Memin issues as well as President Fox's statement about the Mexicans doing the work that the blacks would not do, sent me looking for some more information about Mexico and Racism. Claudio Lomnitz's article, Mexico's Race Problem, in the Boston Review, states that,"Mexicans, by and large, seem content to believe that they have conquered racism through mestizaje. Indeed, Mexican opinion in response to the Memín affair predictably displayed a sense of superiority on racial issues." If you have time, read the whole article that explores the differences in racial attitudes in Mexico and the United States and affects our international relations.


1st Mate said...

In Sonora all you have to do is watch the Tube to grasp that while lip service has been given to mestizaje, the reality is that blondes, pale skin, blue or green eyes are the model characteristics on Mexican TV. No dark skin anywhere, least of all black skin.

YayaOrchid said...

Just wanted to let you know I recently found your blog through Mexico Cooks! I have really enjoyed perusing it, and have even added it to my blogroll. In short, I LOVE your blog! We have never ventured to travel beyond the border, so I enjoy reading what it's like in the interior of Mexico. Thank you for all your helpful info!

Steve Cotton said...

Every time I think the United States is doing a better job of finding ways to deal with racial issues, something like this pops up. And when it does, I realize that we have lost our vocabulary to discuss racial issues. Just as the Victorians resolved the issue of sex by refusing to talk about it in overt terms, we think we have conquered racism by refusing to talk about it -- or, when we do, we turn it into another zero-sum game.

I am not certain Mexico has any better solution. Racial attitudes are so ingrained in the social structure, my Mexican friends do not even see some of the racist sterotypes underlying their assumptions. A Mexican friend, who comes up to Oregon in the summer, was discussing a burglary in her neighborhood, and said: "Of course, when they catch him, he will be black. They are all poor, you know." She could not undestand what was wrong with what she said.

Billie said...

Yaya, how in the world did you find my blog...but I'm glad you are a regular reader.

Bliss and Steve, I have a lot of thoughts above the racial issue in MX and once I can sort them out some more, I may write another entry. But no matter what the Mexicans say they are "watching" skin color.

Anonymous said...

I live and work near the southwest border of the United States. It is common knowledge amongst the Mexican American population here, Mostly of Meztizo blood, that they are looked down upon by Mexico's light skinned socially elite "Fresas". These Euro-blooded Mexicans come frequently to this area to shop, eat, vacation, etc. Because they have money in the bank, they come legally. The locals (brown skinned Americans)who serve them in retail stores and other service related capacities hate to deal with them because they are treated like peons.

If Mexico is so superior to us on racial issues, then why do their dark skinned countrymen cross the border illegally by the millions?" The answer is simple. They are seeking opportunities that have historically been denied them in Mexico by the ruling elite social class. The divide between Mexico's socially elite and lower class is deep, and is evident when one observes social interactions between representatives of each group here along the border.

Alfredo said...


I took a seminar at the University of Washington on "Discriminación en América Latina". After we finished it, I came to the conclution that we humans are mean people to other humans. Just because someone of other race commits a crime, all his race is like him. The other day one of my white coworkers told a "mulata" coworker, "You are mulatta aren't you?" you should have seen the mixed coworker's reaction. She gave a huge lecture to my white coworker. It appears to me that being white in the US, you better watch what you say or else, the white folk is racist. Go figure. The truth is, she is mulatta! Why would she had to get upset. I don't know.

On the other hand, white US citizens consider themselves as the only americans. We are ethnic groups! All this time I thought the ethnic groups were in the amazon jungle. Nope, according to them, we live in the United States also. The egocentrism is quite prevalent, is that some sort of racism? ¿? and guess what, canadians are north americans! lol very interesting their geography. The american south is the southwest. The south is the southeast, central América is where it should be as well as South América but, América is the United States lol...interesting egocentric perseption. For the angloamericans, there are seven or nine continents in the world. For us Mexicans (maybe also for the rest of the world) we always learned at school that they were only five. The olimpic flag has five rings, each representing a continent and a race. Race matters and mexicans are no saints in this matter. TV portrais indian looking actors as servants. White or light skin people are the protagonists in any show. You can hear mexicans saying horrible things about gays or indians or middle eastern people now after 911. We need to learn to appreciate our differences and be consciencious about other people's feelings. I know that a lot of mexicans love black people but, in Chicago, all you hear is bad things about blacks in the south of the city. They are the worst. White people on the other hand, had learned to hide those fillings. But look at the minute man...they hate a lot of people and say it out loud. We all are humans and have negative thoughts about others that we don't like. Anyway, I guess racism brings a lot of stuff out and we just need to respect the other.

I love your blog and really enjoy your pictures. You see the world through that viewfinder really, really pretty. Thanks for sharing your pictures.