The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Mexico unites around Memín Pinguín

It has all the hallmarks of an Ealing comedy: a community takes an independent stand, the suzerain comes down on it like a ton of bricks, the community fights back, the suzerain is shown up as an incompetent bully.

Passport to Pimlico is the classic.

Plucky little Mexico hardly sounds right. But there's certainly no sign I can see that government or people will be folding any time soon (details in my piece of July 4).

For instance, the publisher of Memín is suggesting that the character may transfer to TV or movies:
Muchas compañías importantes tanto en Estados Unidos como América Latina quieren llevar la historia como telenovela, radionovela, en capítulos animados o una película.

Meanwhile, at the G8 summit at Gleneagles, Vicente Fox has been waxing lyrical about Memín as well as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (recently exhibited in London).

A reprint of the first number of the seventh series of the Memín comic has appeared, with a print run of 300,000 copies.

And Fox's mouthpiece is pushing the Nothing to see - move it along message:
''No hay ningún problema diplomático, no hay ningún roce (aunque) va a seguir habiendo en Estados Unidos algunos líderes que tratarán de sacar provecho de esto'', explicó el secretario en entrevista por un noticiario radiofónico.

Aseguró que en Estados Unidos ''los verdaderos demócratas, los que sí leen, los que entienden, los que escuchan, han detenido cualquier tipo de crítica'' contra México. Además, continuó, ''ya hay gente en Estados Unidos diciendo que se ha hecho demasiado alboroto de una cosa que no tiene sentido''.

The government has decided not to reissue the Memín stamps, though. Pity, that.

Some media foghorns are trying to keep the indignation burning: a scribe, one Rose Russell, in the Toledo Blade - noted for its quality investigative journalism - trips up over herself in her anxiety to hit all bases simultaneously.

She says that
reminds you of Little Black Sambo.

Which he doesn't [1].

And - you can almost hear the U-S-A! U-S-A! chant! - she boasts
America got a grip and updated Aunt Jemima's image.


It's true that the image is no longer of a kerchief'd mammy, along the lines of Hattie McDaniel in Gone With The Wind.

But she's still called Aunt. Russell is evidently not one of
los que sí leen
- if she were, she would know that the title aunt was one of condescension, bestowed by Southern whites on older Negro women for the very specific purpose of avoiding an absolute taboo: use to and about Negroes of the honorifics Mr and Mrs..

Of course, a Negro woman of the time [2] may have been the sister of someone's parent, and thus, technically, an aunt.

But to parse Aunt Jemima in this ordinary sense even today would require monumental ignorance or an intention to mislead.

(LA Times writer Sergio Munoz - surely that should be Muñoz? - takes a combative tone under hed Judging a Cartoon by Its Character. In contrast to Hispanic organisations like the National Council of La Raza, which has shuffled like Stepin Fetchit on the issue.)

The political context can't be ignored: the competition for influence between black and Hispanic voters (or rather those who purport to represent them) is becoming ever more intense.

Two elements supply the leverage:
  1. To date, the Hispanic population has been disproportionately ineligible to register to vote (because it has been disproportionately alien and minor). The demographics favour a steady increase in Hispanic voters, as more turn 18 or obtain naturalisation, and more grow older (propensity to vote increases with age) [3].

  2. In marked contrast to blacks, many Hispanics are prepared to vote Republican - in the Bush-Kerry race, according to the exit poll, the vote split 44-53, compared with 11-88 for the black vote.

    Blacks are, so far as I'm aware, the only ethnicity which continues to maintain such a striking adherence to one party [4]; it's a sign that Hispanics, as an ethnic group, may be behaving politically more like previous generations of immigrants from Europe.

The Hispanic community is more diverse (!) than the black: rather less deliverable electorally by leaders of the community. It would be more than mildly insulting to suggest that mere considerations of skin tone [5] should lead to political common interests, let alone cooperation.

My guess is that resentment at the modest political success that Hispanics have achieved to date - and the much more substantial success that the demographics seem to assure in the future - is helping to fuel the cartoon controversy.

I wonder whether the average Mexican-American shares the rainbow outrage of his La Raza spokesmen about Memín Pinguín?

  1. Sambo had a long history before Helen Bannerman appropriated it for her story - set in India, of course.

    That, for instance, there is still a Sambos restaurant (there used to be a chain) in Santa Barbara (kinda-sorta aka Sunnydale in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is just weird.

  2. This was certainly the practice in the Jim Crow era. I'm not clear when it started: uncle one might date from the enormously quickly and widely diffused Uncle Tom's Cabin - but I'd be pretty certain that the usage came before the book. (I've no desire to resort to the dreary work to find out!)

  3. A Pew factsheet (PDF) outlines the numbers.

  4. One might compare the loyal Negro Republican vote from 1877 to 1928. Or, perhaps, the Irish Catholic vote in the days of the machines. But I'd want some actual information in front of me before taking the line of thinking further.

  5. Which, needless to say, covers a wide range in both communities.

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