Mexico in cartoons

Yesterday was not only Cinco de Mayo but also Cartoonists Day, so of course I spent some time looking at the two cartoons in which Mexico has been primarily represented to Americans: the animated Speedy Gonzales cartoons and the print comic Gordo. Both began by retailing stereotypes, but shifted in tone over time: Speedy became a powerful defender of Mexican mice (against the intended depredations of them by Sylvester the Cat) and supporter of them (by extracting cheese for them from the Ajax Cheese Co.); and Gordo’s creator came to see himself as an “accidental ambassador”, presenting Mexican culture to American audiences.

Speedy on Wikipedia:

Speedy Gonzales (commonly shortened to just Speedy) is an animated caricature of a mouse in the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons. He is portrayed as “The Fastest Mouse in all Mexico” with his major traits being the ability to run extremely fast and speaking with an exaggerated Mexican accent. He usually wears an oversized yellow hat of [the] Mexican charro, white shirt and trousers (which was a common traditional outfit worn by men and boys of rural Mexican villages), and a red kerchief, similar to that of some traditional Mexican attires. To date, there have been 46 cartoons made either starring or featuring this character.

… Feeling that the character presented an offensive Mexican stereotype, Cartoon Network shelved Speedy’s films when it gained exclusive rights to broadcast them in 1999 (As a subsidiary of Time Warner, Cartoon Network is a corporate sibling to Warner Bros.). In an interview with Fox News on March 28, 2002, Cartoon Network spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg commented, “It hasn’t been on the air for years because of its ethnic stereotypes. This is widely believed to refer to Speedy’s fellow mice buddies, who are all shown as being very slow and lazy, and sometimes even appear intoxicated.”

Despite such controversy over potentially offensive characterizations, Speedy Gonzales remained a popular character in Latin America. The Hispanic-American rights organization League of United Latin American Citizens called Speedy a “cultural icon”, and thousands of users registered their support of the character on the hispaniconline.com message boards. Fan campaigns to put Speedy back on the air resulted in the return of the animated shorts to Cartoon Network in 2002.

What Americans now take to be a “Mexican accent”derives to a considerable degree from Speedy. And then there’s Speedy’s signature exclamations: ¡Ándale! ¡Ándale! ¡Arriba! ¡Arriba! ¡Epa! ¡Epa! ¡Epa! Yeehaw!

Here’s a still of Speedy triumphantly bringing home the bacon, um cheese, to his fellow mice:

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And a clip of Speedy outwitting el gringo pussygato Sylvester on Cinco de Mayo:

Gordo on Wikipedia:

Gordo was a comic strip written and drawn by the Mexican-American artist Gustavo “Gus” Arriola (1917-2008) that introduced many Americans to Mexican culture. The strip was praised by the Mexican Government and the California State Legislature for its promotion of international understanding.

… The strip introduced America to such now-popular words and phrases as “hasta la vista,” “amigo,” “piñata,” “compadre,” “muchacho,” and “hasta mañana,” as well as Mayan, Aztec, and Mexican customs, history, and folklore. Periodically, Arriola also included traditional Mexican recipes in Gordo that proved popular. He told one interviewer, “In 1948 we ran Gordo’s recipe for beans and cheese — which got me into 60 extra papers, by the way.”

… The strip chronicled the life of Mexican bean farmer, Perfecto Salazar “Gordo” Lopez (“Gordo” approximately translating as “Fatso”). Other characters in the strip included his nephew, Pepito; his pets, Señor Dog and Poosy Gato (a cat); a black cat named “PM” and her kitten “Bête Noire”; the ‘hip’ jazz-loving and artistic ‘beat’ spider, Bug Rogers, drawn with only six legs; Paris Juarez Keats Garcia, a poet; Artemisa Rosalinda Gonzalez, a widow determined to marry the bachelor farmer; and Tehuana Mama, Gordo’s housekeeper.

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This image appears on the cover of Accidental Ambassador Gordo: The Comic Strip Art of Gus Arriola by Robert C. Harvey and Gus Arriola (University Press of Minnesota, 2000). From the overview on the Barnes & Noble site:

On these pages is ample evidence of the warm humor and cultural insight that distinguished Gordo’s run in America’s newspapers for almost forty-four years. More by accident than by deliberate intention Gordo evolved into a cultural ambassador who represented life in Mexico to an American audience.

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