Thursday, July 10, 2008

The trouble with Memin Pinguin.

I read Journalista in a sort of daily basis, but this is the first time I've felt compelled to write a long post over a story I found there. The story in question is the Top Story of yesterday, where a woman in Texas found an old Memin comic being sold, bought it and promptly declared it racist and offensive.


This is not the first time that Memin has caused controversy on the states, but last time I held on hopes that someone from my country would step up and explain what Memin is about, but no one did. Most of the posts in México were about how hystericals americans were at some stuff, not delving in the fact that there's a huge cultural difference between the States and México, and that most of the problem American's have with Memin is due to those cultural differences.

First point in fact: There's not that much racism in México against PoC. We have our own problems against the indigenous habitants, but not against PoC, and that makes us have troubles to relate to the situation north our border. What we have is a huge problem of class discrimination. Upper class looks down on Middle Class, who looks down on the poor. You could have green skin and purple hair but as long as you don't stray away from your own economical class, no one would bat an eye at you. If pressed, I'd say we have a huge discrimination trouble against Spainards in a very intricate level, mostly because a little over 200 years after our Independence from them, we still haven't forgiven them for Hernan Cortes.

Second point: No one in this huge complains against Memin has ever tried to actually read the whole story. I know it's daunting, as last I checked it ran around the 200 issues, but they could ask about it to people who had read it. Because when you get Memin in context, the story is quite different from what you might guess at the covers, or at a single issue.

The Wikipedia entry on Memin touches it a bit, but it doesn't quite goes in depth enough to explain why Memin is so popular here, or why no one in their right minds see him as a racist caricature. (I am aware of the history of the depiction of PoC in the States, and that Memin does borrow from those stereotypes, but again, history of both countries is completely different, and in 1940's, when Memin was created, even in America people didn't bat an eye to those representations. We have to remember that Memin is not being re-drawn, but reprinted. And knowing Sixto Valencia's art (the man behind Memin) if he had designed Memin now and not then, the kid would look completely different)

Created by Yolanda Vargas Duché, the first woman writing comics in México, hailed by many as the Queen of soaps, Memin Pinguin usually tackled social problems but it was very rare that Memin's skin color was actively addressed. In the very first issue, his classmates and professor are shocked to see him there, but it's not due to his skin color, but because he's very small, and thus, they all assume he's very young so he should be in another class. Once that mix up is cleared, Memin is just another student, nothing more and nothing less. To the seven year old reader that I was -and to many like me- it was Ricardo, the blond blue eyed rich boy, who was out of place in that class room.
He was a rich kid who was going to public school because his father wanted him to learn to fend for himself, snobish and standoffish at first, and he seemed like a sore thumb in a class filled with brown haired kids. They all also made him know it, and here's where we go back to class discrimination. The poor 'good' kids wouldn't give the rich 'bad' kid the time of the day, because he was rich. He didn't belong there, and he would never belong there.

Until Memin decided to befriend him, that is, and he became the fourth in the gang conformed by Memin, Carlos, the rude mouthy kid raised by a single mom (Like Memin himself, only due to very different causes), and Ernesto, the quiet, smart kid who was the very end of the social scale, being the poorest of the four.

In the run of the comic, only the villains of the piece tend to try and make Memin feel bad for his skin color. Ernesto's father starts the story being an alcoholic carpenter, so poor that his son has to go to school without shoes, and who spends most of the time completely out of his mind. At one point, in the middle of delirious tremens, he calls Memin 'the Devil'; later on, after Ernestillo almost dies due to alcohol poisoning, the father reforms, never drinks again, and becomes one of many Memin's friends, never mentioning again that particular bout of delirium. Carlos's paternal grandmother, who is a very rich woman set in never letting Carlos's father marry his mother (Carlos's mother is a prostitute, even when the comic calls her a cabaret dancer, it's obvious what she does. Carlos's father is upper class, and left her before Carlos was born, and there's a bit of soap-operaish plot going on that leds to Carlos and his father being reunited). However, the old grandma is more concerned about Ernesto stealing her silver, than about Memin being roaming around the house, and after a very tear-inducing issue, Memin also wins over the old woman and she repents of all her previous cruelty, little before dying.

Here I'd make a pause to mention that the only real happy family of the whole thing, the ones who didn't had a soap-operaish past, and whose only problem was the lack of money which is still true to this day for many Mexican families, were Memin and his mother, who was also the most important figure of authority for the gang, over their teacher and Ricardo's father. Even the teacher and Ricardo's father would bow down to Eufrosina's authority at times.

There are, however, three times when race does comes into play. At least, the ones I remember from the 200 and so issues. (In fact, they were short stories into themselves. Mrs. Duche spent far more time in Carlos's subplot with his mom, or with Memin confronting his own fat predjudice -although at the time it wasn't called that- than with race itself). The first one I remember, and I'd like to say it was the first chronologically speaking but I'm talking from memory so I might be wrong, was when Memin and the gang entered the Boy Scouts, with the help of Ricardo's father. The Troupe leader, upon seeing Memin, declares that in the Boy Scouts there's no place for those of 'his kind', and refuses to let him go with the rest of the group. Upon hearing that, Carlos first decks the troupe leader, then they smuggle Memin into the excursion and later, when the troupe leader still won't change his mind, they leave the camp because if the Boy scouts don't want Memin, then the gang doesn't want the Boy Scouts. (I think that was the time when Memin tried to wash himself with milk, under the belief that it would lighten his skin, but upon seeing his mother's dismay at that situation, he realized that the problem wasn't his skin color, but the hate filled mind of the Scout troup leader. If it wasn't that storyline, it was in one of the other two, but I honestly can't remember it right now)

The second one, and probably the most offensive to Americans was when, for some reason I can't remember, the school football team wins some tournament and is selected to go to play against an American team in Texas. The whole gang is on the team, and so they go. This cover, that I found thanks to Supermexicanos, shows pretty much the summary of that particular storyline when Memin faces for the first time in his young life institutional racism. While he had met some nasty people like the aforementioned scout leader, he had never been denied service in any place, or treated like if he was somewhat inferior until he had gone to the States. In the story, he and Carlos go to have a milkshake, and when the man refuses to serve Memin, Carlos gets angry, ends up hitting the man (A very common thing with Carlos, he always tried to solve things by fighting) and both Memin and Carlos find themselves in Jail, so Carlos's father, Ricardo's father and Carlos's texan aunt have to get them out of the mess.

The third one, and my personal favorite to explain why Memin isn't racist and in fact can be used to teach kids that racism is wrong, is when Memin and the gang are going to have their First Communion (Another cultural thing here. Even when we do have freedom of religion, and there are many different religions in Mexico, everyone is assumed to be Catholic until there's evidence that they're not, so seeing this type of religion storylines in comics is not even considered propaganda. It just is). At one point, another kid in sunday school points out to Memin that he is wasting his time, he's going to go to hell even if he has his first communion because there are only white angels in heaven. As a proof, he shows Memin all the paintings in the church where of course, all the angels are white and blond haired.

Memin gets so disheartened at that, that he really decides that there's no point in being a good kid, and so he starts not talking to his friends, being mean to people, talking back to grown ups, not doing his homework and so on. It takes a bit of sleuthing from his teacher, his friends and the priest to figure out what is the problem, and the solution presented by the priest is simple: He sends the gang to buy some brown paint, and task them to paint some of the angels in the murals black, because of course, even if they weren't painted by the artist, there are angels of color in heaven. That gives Memin hope, and he finally makes peace with his friends. The kid who started the problem though, if I recall correctly, is expelled from Sunday school.

Now, Memin was created back in 1940, and it hasn't changed since then. Should he get a revamped version, that draws less from the old design? Maybe, if they were paying Mr. Sixto Valencia, the artist (Mrs. Duche died a while ago) for redrawing his old work. As things stands now, what Editorial Vid is doing (And had been doing for a while even before the stamps controversy three years ago) is just reprint the old material, exactly in the same way as it had been published back then. There is no modernization, no attempt to make the material more current (And trust me, there's more than just Memin's appearance that reads dated when you start reading the whole story, for instance, the much critiziced corporal punishment against Memin by his mom. In 1940, mothers were expected to do that. Or have we forgotten all those Superman covers where Superman is spanking someone, or getting spanked?) and I don't think there's any interest for it to be. While Memin is a very loved character, and his comic has been reprinted at least 5 times if my memory serves, mexican comic books aren't treated with much importance by Mexican business, mostly because they 'don't sell' and thus, a modernization of Memin is probably seen as a useless risk. Reprinting makes money with very little cost for them, so it's seen as risk free.

Oh, one final word. There's a lot said about the language used against Memin (I've even read a blog that translated parts of it, by a man who claims to be fluent in both languages but obviously fails at contextual reading), but most of it forgets one thing: In Mexico, 'Negro' is not an insult, and, when used by members of your own family, or very close friends, is usually a term of endearment. So when Memin's mom calls him "condenado negro" (lit. "Damn Black") what she is saying in spanish is equivalent to a mother calling his kid 'naughty boy' even if the words literally say something different. But then translation is a tricky business, and usually, a literal translation will only translate words, but not real meanings especially if those meanings are culturally charged.

ETA: I sent my post to Journalista, because I feel strongly about finding solutions to cultural differences, and I see that it's been posted on other sites, sparkling discussion in them. I am now thorn between going there and explaining one point that seems that I failed to make clearly, or just editing, so I will do the editing. Hopefully, the people who already read the post and didn't comment here will read it. If not, at any rate, it is a point that should be cleared.

I am completely aware on how anyone living in the United States (Or, I'd even risk to say, outside Latin America) can be offended by Memin's looks (and, by extension, how his mother looks). He is, after all, drawn in the same fashion as many people of color were ridiculed back in 1940, and yes, that is offensive, and, even if I'm pretty sure that neither Mr. Sixto Valencia nor Mrs. Duché intended it to be, racist. That should not be up to discussion, and I'm really ashamed that I couldn't make that clear. I wish Editorial Vid (Because the Mexican Goverment has nothing to do with Memin or its publication) had the good will to ask Mr. Sixto to re-design Memin and redraw the old stories. It would be a win-win situation. We could keep the anti-racist message that Mexicans love so much, lose the ugly stereotypes that make that same message get lost, and Mr. Sixto would get paid more, but I honestly doubt it will ever happen due to the bad shape the comic industry in this country is in. My only point with all of this was to put a bit of perspective on the history of the comics, and to why so many mexicans defend Memin. Mostly? They aren't talking about the art, but about the story.

In any case, I also like to thank those commenters I read in those other blogs (That you can see in posts linking to this blog), because they have made me think a lot about not only the issue of Memin, but also how we all see our cultural neighbors. And that maybe a good subject for another post.


Anonymous said...

finally, someone adds some context to this story. thank you!

Ricardo Reyes said...

Adalisa, I have to thank you, I'm from Mexico (I interviewed you once).

i've been interested in african-american culture for many years and as you can see, we have very different views about race, the way Memin is drawn is for african americans kind of like a swastika for jewish people, so I understand why they can't just get past the drawing. We have to aknowledge too that at least on the days of the stamp controversy mexican media played the whole thing like "gringos butting in our business", gringos being Bush and the white house crew, it's sad because this controversy could have used instead to build a better understanding beetween the two cultures, and we even could have used it to better aknowledge the existence of afromexicans (who, first of all, are mexicans, I hate the segregating part of the term) and the powerful influence of Africa in mexican culture that is still underrated.

I wish that Manelick de la parra would have chosen to update the character at least graphically and I think that good will could even have brought him greater sales but instead he went the dumb route. Sad.

Adalisa said...

@anonymous: You're welcome :)

@Ricardo: I think I remember you... vaguely. Hi :) And Yes. That's the whole problem, the huge cultural difference between our two countries. I don't blame people for finding the image of Memin offensive, as I also am very interested in the fight against discrimination and I know the hardest battle starts with confronting your own privilege and predjudice. The problem is that no one is willing to meet the other halfway across. We can accept that the image is problematic and racist and yes, of course it should be updated if Manelick was a bit more sensible to this issues and less concerned with the bottom line. But at the same time, our dear neighbors should accept that while the image may be racist, and it does draw from offensive stereotpyes, but the storyline isn't racist, and doesn't follow those stereotypes, and our attempts to explain them that aren't just justifications. It's just a matter of talking things through and clearly.
I also don't understand the whole 'afro-' thing for afromexicans, but I guess it is the same as it is for us to acknowledge that we're the Bronze Race. Every culture has it's own reasons to be proud, but we really have to work on understand others.
It is at times like this when I miss Alberto "el Negro" Hinojosa, whose style was heavily influenced by Will Eisner and who, if you ask me, would have been the perfect man to redesign Memin, if Mr. Sixto had been unable to do so.

Gonzalo B said...

Thanks for an interesting post as well as for finally explaining other people what the class-based differences that not only affect Mexico but most of Latin America are all about.

jogs6000 said...

I really enjoyed reading your explanation of this comic. I'd love to get a chance to read it, if anything, for a look at Mexican culture and race relations in the 1940s.

Adalisa said...

@Gonzalo: See, this whole bru-haha could be avoided if we all tried to understand the other culture. Class discrimination also exists in the states, but for them, *that* fight isn't as important as the fight against Race discrimination, because their story with Race discrimination makes it impossible to ignore how important it is to end racism. In our country, is exactly the other way around. That doesn't mean we should get a free pass when something like this happens (Except when it happened, say 60 years ago! and it's not so much as a free pass but a 'hey, we get it. Don't keep doing it!) or that they should get a free pass with certain very Latin-offensive things in their media, but we have to find a middle ground to start changing both perspectives (If you ask me, if I never see another Mexican with a Sombrero in an american cartoon, I'll be happy)

@jogs6000: You're welcome. And well, if you're curious, getting Memines here is as easy as going to the nearest newsstand. You can find old issues at Mercado if you're lucky too. I recommend the earliest issues (Say, from 1- 60 or so) as they were the best narratively speaking, but any issue before 150 is good enough to get an understanding of 1940 Mexico City (After that, Duche started writing a lot of dreams sequences that, while amusing, wouldn't be that good to see our culture)

Nachomán! said...

Saludos Adalisa, ¡que gusto encontrarte!, No conocía tu blog pero ten por seguro que lo visitaré regularmente (luego cambalacheamos links)
Me encantó tu defensa de Memín, muy clara y al grano, solo un par de observaciones:
1) Cuando dices: "...because a little over 600 years after our Independence from them..." Esteee, apenas llevamos doscientos años de independizarnos de los españoles, pero creo que al calor de tu apología este es un error legítimo, nada grave, pues.
2) No creo que se deba rediseñar a Memín, me extraña que justifiques las historias al decir que fueron historias de los años cuarentas y refeljan esa idiosincracia, creo que pasa lo mismo con el arte, no creo que la intención del Maestro Sixto haya sido ofender a los afroamericanos, además que si ponemos las cosas en su contexto no debe ser ofensivo al tratarse precisamente de una Caricatura, es obvio que se marquen y exageren los rasgos raciales, si alguien considera esto ofensivo es que de plano no entienden lo que es una historieta y menos una caricatura, (sé que no debería decpírtelo, pero una relectura de los textos de Will Eisner y de Scott McCloud no nos caerían mal, y ami también, desde luego)
Bueno, pues te mando un beso y un saludo y me encuentras en: para lo que se te ofrezca.
Y por si no conoces mi proyecto te invito a visitarlo:
Saludos de nuevo:

El Nachomán!

Anonymous said...

Adalisa, you make a good first try in your discourse. I am Nigerian, born and raised in the U.S., which also makes me African-American.

Here is my take: I understand from my African roots how calling someone "Gordo" can be a term of endearment. Nigerians also have terms relating to skin tone, both light and black, that are teasing terms of endearment. However, the issue with many of us who have experience with cultures that state things out in the open even though there is no malice is that - we have never been in "Gordo's" or "Negro's" shoes. We assume people may not have a problem with those names when the insults may simply be a price they have to bear to be accepted by the status quo.

On MEMIN specifically, like the first poster noted, i don't think the issue (or at least my issue) is that anyone is saying Mexicans are racist or even that the story is racist. They are simply saying very factually that the depiction is offensive as it is a caricature. That something is not intended to be offensive does not mean that it is not and in this case the Mexican community may want to judge what adjustments they can make to this character to diminish its offensiveness if they want it to be appreciated by others as they do. When I see caricature of indians, all i see is a figure of a man with red skin and feathers. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE. But it is enough for a indigenous indian to tell me its offensive. Here, I don't even think it needs to be explained that a black boy that looks like a monkey is offensive .

"Afromexicans" who are both black and mexican are the ultimate brokers here, and they are not as fascinated with the character as the rest of Mexico is.

Adalisa said...

Dear anonymous 2: Welcome to this bloog. You raise some very interesting points, although there's also the fact that sometimes, the knowledge that people doesn't have a problem with words like 'Negro', 'Gordo' and 'Guero' is not an assumption. In México, we also usually (and this is a generalization, but there are few exceptions) ask if we can use said words as a nickname and not causing offense.

I know that the issue is not that Mexicans are racist... The problem is that the press, here in México, IS saying that that's the issue. It took me a lot of google hunting and reading in at least a dozen sites to figure out what was going on because for us, here? The Media simply said 'Americans call Mexico racist' or, my personal favorite 'Americans discriminate against our Memin'. See how they played us against each other? That's why in Mexico people have been so adamant to understand what's going on.
I'm not sure that we can't say that Afromexicans (And I'll be honest. I hate the word. I feel it creates a division where there shouldn't be ones) are offended. In another post, Ricardo Reyes gave me a link to an afromexican community, and there the general consensus so far has been that Memin (More particulary his looks) is a harmless cartoon, no offense taken. I'm aware that they're not All the afromexicans in Mexico, but so far, I haven't found anyone In Mexico who will speak against Memin (Except for one blogger, who is white).

Anonymous said...

Bola de babosos!, MEMIN is and was the sh!+, I used to read it when I was a kid and never ever did I hear anything racist about it in my country (Honduras) it was popular over there too and it was so hilarious! we even had little figurines! we love our black people in our country. People need to just open their mind and look at things beyond the lines, not between...there is a difference in that you may be racist to you, because that's how America is...anything and everything can be racist to anyone.

john said...

Awww, poor widdle Mexicans. did somebody tell you you were bad people? And you;re going to cry until you get a cookie? White media outlets may be sympthetic to you but we aren't. Don't hold your breath!
A LOt of people think Mexicans ar backwards people. And it's more than the fact you produce MOST of the world's beastiality porn. You guys are moral reprobates and PROUD to be degenerates. Jesus, and they're letting you into the US?

I get SICK of Hispanics using the word "culture" like it's some sort of shield to protect them from taking responsibility for their actions.

The Taliban beheaded women for having sex without being married. That's there "culture." I trust you'll protest the US putting an end to that. After all, it's an internal matter for Afghans.

Your "culture" is sick Adalisa and so are you. No matter what you or any other white/Hispanic racist with a chip on their shoulder (and pure crap their otherwise empty heads) wants to petend itls BLATANTLY obvious what is driving this. You get a kick out of trying to put down blacks and you can't believe blacks would actually fight back.

This has nothing to do with Mexicans learning moral values. It that were the case then you would have had DOZENS of Mexican cartoons based on this racist character. And they would have shown Mexicans with such distoted features that one would think them animals rather than people.

The character has a tiny nose (not at all inkeeping with the stereotype of blacks with large noses) he has enormous lips that take up most of his face and the shading is done in such a way where he appears to have fur. You know exactly why that is.

You're full of bullshit and I'm calling you on it. If you REALLY believe the crap you said then show me a Mexican character along the lines of Memin. Somehow I'm pretty sure that isn't going to happen.

Adalisa said...

Dear Jhon,

First, I'm sorry I had to delete the repeated comments you put here as the same message five times makes you seem like a troll, and I believe you make important points so it is better if it's only one message rather than five.

Second, I'm surprised you hunted this post as it's six months old.

Third, I had no idea that Mexico was the main producer of bestiality, as it is illegal to create porn in my country. In fact, I had no idea that there was a main producer of bestiality porn. Ick, to be honest, and don't worry, I'll never claim that that is culture at all.

Now... regarding the rest. I'm not saying that Mexico doesn't has discrimination, I'm saying it is different from USA discrimination as our two countries have different history and cultures. We didn't had that many slaves imported from Africa, as the native population was good enough for the Spanish, and we didn't had a bloody civil war to insure the abolition of slavery, for instance. On the other hand, our economic troubles make the gap between classes so huge that yes, there is discrimination against the poor. But since you think my culture is 'sick', I don't think you'll be interested in exchanging history facts so we can see how the two countries have a different outlook in discrimination. And hey, if all you know about my culture is that odd bestiality fact, the Memin controversy and the immigrant problem your country has, I don't blame you for thinking my culture is sick. Hell, throw in the mis-represented Aztec sacrifices if you want, and sure, it seems we're the sickest bastards in the world. But that would be like judging all USA because Fred Phelps is an asshole, or the Waco thing, or the constant highschool shootings. (As an aside, you can be sure I don't like USA dictating Afghanistan policies. But on the other hand, I'm very glad someone is putting an end to the most barbaric aspects of the Taliban regime. I just wish it could've been some other way)

Now, on the more specific parts of your post:
This has nothing to do with Mexicans learning moral values. It that were the case then you would have had DOZENS of Mexican cartoons based on this racist character.
I'm not sure what you mean here. Do you mean that we should've have dozens of animated shorts with Memin if the story was about moral values? Hate to tell you, but our animation industry isn't very strong now, and it was almost nonexistent back then.
(I'm not going to touch the character design issue. I agree that now that the editorial is no longer reprinting the original stories, they should first give the artist his author rights and then commission a re-design. What was good in the 40's is not necessarily good in the next century)

And about your challenge. Unfortunately, I don't have any issues of "La Serpiente desplumada", drawn by Sixto Valencia which shows many Mexican characters drawn in the same style and vein as Memin, and it seems that no one has scanned them as a google search was fruitless (the one image available was too small to see the features of the characters), but a short search of other characters I remembered on the top of my head had this:
El Gorda con Chile, from el Pantera, always drawn sort of simian in the realistic style of the artist:
Los Agachados y los Supermachos, drawn by Rius, every one looked a bit simian: and
And Cantinflas, from Cantinflas show, who always seemed to me like one of those spidermonkeys and it's a caricature of the real Cantinflas, one of Mexico's most beloved comedians:
Good enough?

john said...

I want you to show me a comic book produced by Mexicans in which everyone else is show looking realistic EXCEPT the Mexican characters.
You cannot defend this garbage. I wish there was a way to get you on American TV so they can hear you use the old "It's out culture, you don't understand what it means," line.

Americans may be pampered and isolated from the rest of the world's opinion, but at least we don't allow people to use "culture" as an excuse to carry on behaviors that we have LONG since proven are beastial. You can try to pretend Memin is no more harmful than Dennis the Menace but as I've pointed out (and you've utterly failed to refute) you can't produce even one example of a a Mexcican cartoon/comic book where there's a Mexican presented with an apelike appearance.

Whites LOVED minstrel shows. I'm sure you don't know what they were but they were just like the blackface routines that are so HUGELY popular in Mexico today. Only difference is whites have largely stopped such behaviors while you Mexicans keep saying, "We have problems but it isn't as bad as the US."
The last time the US had blackface showswas the 1940's. You still have them today. There's a term for people who engage in this type of grotesque and anachronistic behavior: "backwards!"

And no, I don't want to hear you insult my intelligence and morality by pretending you can tell me
I STILL hear Hispanics whining about Speedy Gonzalez, and all he ever did was run fast. That's hardly a negative portrayl, but Hispanics expect people to be sensitive to what offends them (like using the words "illegal alien" as if it were just another term for "Hispanic") whlie they defend their racism under the banner of "Well, we aobllished slavery without the need for a Civil War."
So did Britain, so you get no points for that. And Britain never made a racist caricature into a beloved national icon.
What does it say about your people that you defend this racist crap as if your entire country depended on it?
What does it say that the only refutation you can come up with is, "If you understood Mexcican culture you'd see it isn't that bad."

I don't need anyone to tell me that rape or murder is wrong in my culture but okay in others. Some things are simplt absolute on their own, and are NOT open to "inpterpretation" or "cultural understanding." You're going to "explain" to me that a comic in which EVERYONE else is present as realistic-looking humans EXCEPT the black characters it somehow, "not so bad?"
Now, blacks don't do comics or cartoons presenting Hispanics, or anyone else for that matter as animal-looking while only the blacks are presented looking like human beings.

And if you think this comic is merely a tempest in a teapot, I owuld remind you that there has been a storm of violent killings of blacks by Mexicans throughout the country the last few years. In Los angeles the so-called "Mexican Mafia" has declared they will drive all the blacks from the city. In Newark three black children were executed by your fellow "nationals." Two of the killers were illegal aliens.

Now, these killings are only part of a larger pattern of hostility and anti-black behavior by Hispanics (Mexicans in specific) against blacks.

So, let's stop pretending that Memin is somehow an isolated incident. It's part of your "culture" and that culture is sick to the core. If Hamas makes a so-called children's cartoon where they use a Mickey mouse type character to preach hatred of Jews should the US have simply said, "well, those arab have a 'culture' of hostility against Jews. We're sure ti doesn't mean anything?"
No, the US knew that that "children's show" was merely an expression of the deep=seated hatred the Palestinians have always had against Jews. The same goes for Memin. And it says a lot that you try to dismiss this with a hasty, "If you were a Mexican you'd see that there's nothing meant by it."

Mexico's "culture" of "acceptable racism" is finally coming to light, as is the cheap racism that is CLEARLY embraced by your backwards people. I for one was disgusted that Obama made his first foregin trip to Mexico. I would have withdrawn our embassy, put you people on the No-Fly list, taken out sanctions against you like we did against Cuba, set up troops at the border with orders to shoot to kill, and not said a word to you until you changed this racist crap --no excuses accepted!

There never was a civil rights movement in Latin America. Mexico would be a great place to start. It's interesting how peole like you say that racism isn't a problem in your country, and yet the blacks in your country refer to themselves as AfroMexicans. The fact they draw that disctinction should have been a clue that you are living in a dreamworld. People like you ALWAYS use the old line about, "I know plenty of black people and they don't object to Memin," or "None of the blacks I know take offense to being called 'Nigger,' or 'Negro. It's just a term of affection." You listen closely. Calling someone a "Damn Negro" is NEVER okay, in ANY culture and you can't hide behind the word "context." There is NO "good" way to call someone a nigger or damn black. And the fact you keep passionately insisting that there is PROVES how backwards your culture is, and how sick it's people are.
The blacks in your country are beginning to figure this out. And we need to foment a civil rights movement there. That way I won't have to put up with apologists for racism, like you, telling us how blacks don't mind. If this Memin thing was truly all fun and games then you would be able to show me where Mexicans created a ton of Mexican characters based on Memin. If this character is truly seen as a harmless ambassador of good human values then why is it your fellow Mexicans haven't produced a TON of other such characters, only Hispanic instead of black?
This is what happens with every other type of populat character in Mexico. When you people like something they aren't content to merely watch, they want to get in on the fun personally. Ah, but not where Memin is concerned. All of a sudden, "There's not enough money," and "cartoons aren't all that big here."

Sure, you make a national stamp with this racist character on it, you and an army of ignorant Mexicans take to the internet lecturing us all that we need to "understand" and that "Mexico isn't racist." And my personal favorite was from you. "Both sides have to be willing to meet the other halfway."
Meet you halfway? Are you nuts? I don't meet child molesters halfway. I don't meet rapists or murderers halfway. If you are wrong, then I will not try to accomodate you. I will try to change you, but if you resist that then I will defeat you. Your people's behavior and attitude is utterly deviant and deranged. America would be the same cesspool Latin America is if we tried to become like you. Slavery is gone, as are blackface shows. You won't be bringing them back.

I've been completely disgusted with this conversation with you. I feel the NEED to take a long shower and try to forget Mexicans or Hispanics exist. And I'll also do my level best to forget the cheap, vile racism you vermin represent. There is evil in this world, but it's not just in te Middle East. It's in Latin America too. Let us hope the black community can prevail on Obama to do something about it. Whether that be sanctions, or military action, I don't care.

But this is one cancer that MUST be stamped out.

Adalisa said...

Jhon, I still have no idea why you found yourself commenting in this old post but as I *still* think that it is a situation that should be addressed (And since I have explained it in the next post to this one, I won't bore you with the details), well, here I am, answering.

First things first. Of the examples I provided, Cantinflas Show was a mexican cartoon, produced by mexicans, and Cantinflas was the only mexican (As he went around meeting important historic characters such as DaVinci, Darwin and so on) one drawn in the simian look. Everyone else was, if not realistically portayed, at least highly stylized as human not caricatured as Cantinflas. I'm aware that it probably won't be enough for you, but I also want to point that Cantinflas is far more beloved and popular than Memin. (Now, I apologize for the other examples. I thought you wanted a mexican character that was portrayed, in your words, in the same style as Memin, not a whole cartoon. And of course, there's la Serpiente Desplumada which I'll try to find to scan)
(Regarding Speedy Gonzales. No, all he did wasn't run fast. He also never worked, was partying all day long, and all the other mexican mouses were lazy. But to be honest, I don't know any Mexican who has a real problem with Speedy, so I won't even try to compare him to the Memin situation)
Also, I'd like to know where the idea that Memin is a national icon came from. Yes, he's a beloved character, and yes, he's one of the very few that has been reprinted to death, but it's not an icon in any sense of the world. The stamps made in 2005 were part of a series celebrating mexican comic books, and when you only have five icons, you don't get to pick and choose. (In case you wonder, the other four are La Familia Burron, Los Agachados -whose title itself makes reference to the fact that Mexicans will let anyone walk over them-, Cantinflas and I think the last one was Fantomas.)
I also would like to tell you that the ugly racism situation in L.A and the USA between latinamericans and africanamericans is, unfortunately, an USA problem. While I can't say with a 100% certainty, I'm pretty sure that you can find more class-related murders than race-related murders in Mexico.
Now, there's a big misunderstanding here. When I say we have to meet in a middle point, I'm not telling you to shrug and ignore whatever it is that you find offensive, but to understand that we don't have the same history that you do and thus, our reactions will be different. I agree that Memin should be changed, I agree that Memin should be updated for this day and age, starting with the character design. Unfortunately, that's not for the government or even the readers to decide but for the editorial that publish Memin, and they have a long story of not listening to anyone (And before you suggest a boycott for Memin, it's already in place. Sales have been going down forever and the only way they manage to get them up is when they play the 'Big mean USA is censoring us'). At the same time, I want my fellow Mexicans to understand that no, USA doesn't want to censor us, it's not a way of controlling our government and the whole thing is not another example of how USA is trying to become the world police. That's the middle ground I want, so we can work together to fix the mess and change things instead of just pointing fingers of blame.
Oh, and just so you know... there have been civil right movements in Latin America. There still are, in every country of Latin America, mostly for the rights of the native races and women, as well as the poor and children.

john said...


You are SO far in denial about the racist attitudes of Mexicans it's not even funny. I truly regret having wasted so much time with you. It's like talking to a brick wall.

VOR: "The comic is racist and reflects the racism of Mecicans. You can't separate that fact Mexicans created it from the fact that Mexicans support it."
Adaliar: "No the way the character is DRAWN might be racist. But you have to understand, in Mexico we are 'enlightened.' We got rid of slavery before the US!"
VOR: "The character is drawn to look like a monkey, and so does his mother. So the problem isn't just Memin, it's how blacks in general are portrayed. This clearly steretypes BLACKS."
Adaliar: "Well, you know in Mexico we don't think of people as 'races," like you do in the US. To us there's only Mexcicans, no matter you color. Oh, and we abolished slavery before the US too!"
VOR: "Are you even listening to how crazy you sound? Color doesn't matter, so you defend a comic who's protagonist is the ONLY black person in his school, and the whole POINT of the comic is the problems he encounters are because he's black?"
Adaliar: "Well, yes, I do! In Mexico we didn't need a Civil War to get rid of slavery."
VOR: "Can you say anything besides that?"
Adaliar: "Yes. Mexico doesn't have racial conflicts, only social ones. And we got rid of slavery first too."
VOR: "You did? What a hardship it must have been to relinquish control over those forty or fifty blacks. Can't imagine how your nation survived. Just tell me what, if anything, does Mexico's freeing forty or fifty blacks have to do with anything?"
Adaliar: "Uhm, nothing really, but I was running out of talking points. Anyway, it means we're not racist."
VOR: "You defend a racist cartoon on 'cultural' grounds. You claim Mexico's not racist when everybody in the whole damned US is telling you it is. I think you're right. You're not racist --you're in denial!"
Adaliar: "Well, we may have problems but Memin's not one of them. The comic ISN'T about putting down black people."
VOR: "If that bullsh*t is true then why did the makers of this comic not distort EVERYONE'S feature? Why did they only distort Memin's and his mother? The BLACK characters?"
Adaliar: "Well...uhm...well, you see..Uhm, in Mexico we -we LIKE our comedy heroes to be exaggerated."
VOR: "Does that go for his mother? She was made to look ape-like too?"
Adaliar: "Well, Memin's about social values. If you read the comic you'd know that."
VOR: "Read the comic? You sound like the average white racist who says Amos & Andy or minstrel shows weren't so bad, and if blacks would only WATCH them then they'd see there's more to them than lampooning black people."

You really need to go back and look at your comments and the pretzel of contradictions you've created.
You show ALL the earmarks of being an irredeemable bigot. You think to defend racism before you think to even consider whether something is racist. Of course your categorical defense of all things racially offensive begins and ENDS with people who are black. Memin is "socially responsible, just a poor choice of how the character was drawn." Meanwhile Speedy Gonzalez is just wrong --period. No defense of him whatsoever. Interesting how people like you ALWAYS seem to react that way. But it's the Americans who just don't understand how this is all harmless fun. Because America had slavery...but you had it too. Only America was somehow TAINTED by the length of time slavery went on...and I guess it had no effect on you.
Look at how you shrug off slavery in Mexico as if it were no big deal and that in your view the effect it had on your coutnry's attitude toward blacks was nothing at all!
This illustrates that YOU are part of the problem.
If your neighbor rapes children for 50 years and you rape chlidren too but stop after 40 years that doesn't make you any better than your neighbor.
That is unless we're using the Mexican standard of "morality." Jesus, you people are so screwed in the head you don't even know that you are making the case against yourselves!

When you Mexicans sought to create a stereotype you IMMEDIATELY ran to a black character. You didn't lampoon Mexican's HUGE noses, their half-lidded eyes and overgrowth of body hair, nor their dwarf-like stature. Instead you went after blacks, who only comprise about 5% of your population.
And I'm supposed to give you a pass because you SAY that your beloved national icon (who you say is not really an icon -- but apparently he's important enough to your backward people to put him on a NATIONAL stamp!) looks like a monkey, while nobody else does, but Mexicans don't care about that. But the design has endured for 6 DECADES, and nobody wants to change it.
When it comes time to talk about the black character's appearance your first impulse is to DEFEND it. Not to indict it, or the cheap racism it UNDENIABLY represents. Instead you try to hide behind lame talk about how "We abolished slavery." If you people were really so virtuous you never would have had slavery to begin with.
You don't care to see what is wrong here. Your little comic is NOT harmless. It's a symptom of a FAR larger problem, a problem of Mexican hatred of blacks. A problem that you are part of.

How do I know someone is a racist?
When the bastard tries to look me in the eye and say that she's not.

I read some of your comments on NewsRama. I didn't see you saying that "Mexicans were never enslaved. There were never any signs saying 'Mexican Only." Yet, you didn't try to use either of those points to defend Speedy Gonzales as you've done with Memin.
This is not an issue where you can be on the fence or in favor of some aspects of it and opposed to others. Child rape is not "mostly bad," or "kinda bad." It's TOTALLY immoral. And if your culture permits it then YOU are totally immoral as well. Somebody has to have the moral courage to call you what you are.
You're engaging a double standard.

And stop it with the "Memim has socially-redeeming values," line. Speedy Gonzales ran fast, in direct contrdiction of the stereotype that Mexicans are slow. I could defend Speedy's protrayal using exactly that line of rhetoric and it would sound as sincere as your empty defense of Memin's "social value." Apparently excuse making is what Memin taught you.
Mexico's culture of racial discrimination is WELL known up probably think we're oblivious to it but we're not. And as the numbers of Mexicans in America grows the problems you bring with you from home are growing!
And you are wrong --AGAIN!-- that the Mexican violence against blacks is an "American/USA problem." These problems STARTED in your country. They are attitudes that were cultivated and protected (Gee, who would defend racism? I can't think of anyone who would do that!) in your country. It's a MEXICAN problem that you have exported here.

That you refuse, at this late date, to acknowledge this truth makes it where when you speak nobody listens. Or have you not noticed that the defense you offered six months ago in so many other web forums met with total rejection from Americans?
You can't say the way the character is portrayed doesn't matter as much as the story, then turn around and say "We like caricatures," then turn around and say "People don't really notice the character designs down here, beacuse we don't focus on race," then turn around yet again and say the reason he doesn't look human is because he's supposed to be an "ugly kid." But you didn't create a character with MEXICAN/Caucasoidal traits distorted beyond all recognition, you chose to lampoon AFRICAN characteristics. You don't even have many blacks in your country, but that's who you went after.

What part of this is failing to penetrate that cinderblock on your shoulders?

Where are the ugly lighter-skinned kids in these comics? Why don't they have beak-noses and pale white skin and hair like shaggy dogs? Everyone is shown in a realistic style EXCEPT the black characters. Not just Memin, but his mother too --a fact I noticed you conveniently don't address. So, Memin is "exaggerated" because he's an "ugly kid," and his mother is "exaggerated" as well because...hmmm, you don't seem to have an answer for that one.

We have people just like you in the US. They still exist, though they know better than to try what you have. Just like you they are full of excuses (and other less mentionable things) and they have a new excuse for every day of the week. You Hispanics seem to think using the word "culture" is some sort of magic shield, and that it magically makes people simply accept your backwards traditions and attitudes.
Well you only get to take this one so far. And you've oevrreached. And we fully intend to make this one of a list of hate-crimes Mexicans have committed. History and time will allow us to come up with a suitable punishment.

Oh, and just so you know, racism doesn't come with an expiration date. I'll comment on this garbage anywhere ANYTIME I choose. That's why I'm addressing this "six months later." I notice you've shown more ire over my apparently coming late to the party than you have to whether the cartoon is racist or not. You still say the character needs an "update."

Spoken like a true bigot. You don't want to change your backward mentality, you simply want peolpe to stop inconveniencing you with that complaints.
Get in the real world. Piece of advice: confine you ignorant and feeble defenses of your country's racism and your braindead denials of that racism to the internet. If you were so foolish as to go on American TV talking the racist claptrap you've tried here...well, I can definitely say your webpage would get a LOT more traffic.

Though not the kind you would like!

Adalisa said...

I think the worst part here is that we're both missing each other by miles and we both want the same thing, namely, an end to racism.
(BTW, now I want to find if anyone of my friends has a full Memin collection of the old issues since I'm pretty sure that there are more black people than Memin and his mother in one of the stories, and they're portrayed as realistic as everyone else.)
Oh, and the hardship Memin and his Mom have to go through are not because they're black. It's because they're poor.
Now, the one thing that really bugs me is that I never claimed Mexico was better than the USA. We have our huge share of problems, most of which you guys have solved long ago. Mysoginy is rampant, our goverment is a joke, economy issues are so huge that in turn that causes the illegal immigrant problem that you guys have, and discrimination against the poor is high. And that's only the beginning. But that doesn't change the fact that history of race relations in Mexico is different from history of race relations in USA and that's the root of this problem.
(Oh, and Black weren't the only slaves freed. Here, there where mostly natives. Nahuatls, Mexicas, Aztecs, Mayans, and so on. Far more than just 40. But as you don't want to talk about that anymore, we wont.)
(And also, I personally have no issues with Speedy. I like Speedy. But I understand why people might have issues with him.)
Now, it just hit me that it seems that you think my whole goal was for people to say 'Oh, of course. Mexico is at no fault here', when it was never that and if that's the idea you got, I'm sorry. My goal was to try and explain why mexicans were so flippant at the news when they hit here as the media played a lot with the 'anti-american' sentiment by saying that the USA wanted to censor our books as if they were our government (And yes, I know it wasn't the case, but many mexicans didn't and the newscast didn't help. Think about our newscasts as Foxnews, all the time, in all channels)as well as to try (in English, so both parties would understand) to make a bridge between both situations.
But you know? You're right about the timestamp. I let this sort of die because I hit some rl troubles, and thus I had no time to update the situation which I shouldn't. I still have most of the research I did on some of the myths about Memin (The whole beloved national icon thing, for example) and the facts. And while I will still believe that there was no ill-intent from any of the original creators, there is a problem of ignorance. We still agree, as Ricardo commented at the very beginning and I put in this and the other post, that the image is incredibly damning. The story you say it's the same, while I say that, had Memin been a mexican kid, a white kid, a chinese kid, the story would've been exactly the same. Also, Memin was not the only mexican comic book of that time, and in the others, many of those traits you mockingly mention -as well as a few you missed- are caricatured in the characters (Again, I quote the Agachados and the Supermachos, as well as La Familia Burron that kept the huge noses, but I don't know if you saw the links)
(Now, I have come to think that there's another cultural difference at play here. Mexico is *very* classist, and unfortunately, we middle and low class tend to be darker than the upper, richer class. I can totally see how that would translate to racism. There's also a huge sense of localism -as in, DF people discriminate against people from Guadalajara, Monterrey and so on- which also could be seen as racism even if it's not race-motivated. Institutional discrimination (And by this I meant all types of discrimination) has, for the most part, been fought successfully but Individual discrimination has never been really discussed which of course, leads to many problems).
(Oh, and now I'm very curious. By the racism documented in Mexico, you mean racism against the native races in Mexico, or against black people? Because I can find the former, but not much info about the later and if I'm wrong due to ignorance, I would like to correct that)

Adalisa said...

Oh, and I'm not angry that you came late to the party. I'm just honestly curious as to how and why since most people tend to shy away from old discussions. Hell, the only reason I saw your first comment was because I still had the comments tracked or I would've missed it.
Now I got a new question. Why you think an update is not enough? Why changing the character design -and the out of date story- wouldn't be good? It worked for Ebony White in the Spirit, for example.
Or do you think it would be better to do as Disney did with Song of the South and the black centaurs in Fantasy to sweep Memin under the carpet and never, ever mention him again? Because given the way Vid -the editorial that holds the rights to the character- has been treating him lately -with a new artist, a new writer and a more 'corporation' direction- , I can also stand behind that proposal. When I proposed the update was because I thought that the editorial was still doing re-prints of the old, 1940's dated, comics.

MICHIRU said...


Thoom said...

I just want to say that the content of the stories don't matter so much if the only black characters look like a monkey and a mammy.

"These stories were anti racist because they hardly even mentioned race, except to say it was bad."

Memin and his mother's appearance IS a comment on race, in every issue.

Say I wrote a TV series that had progressive, thought provoking stories. And the lead character was a hispanic woman who was the head of a multinational company. Her character is intelligent funny and complex.

Then say I got this very beautiful and vuluptuous Mexican or Spanish actress to play her. But I told her
she had to speak with a heavy accent like Speedy Gonzales and wear a G-String bikini in every scene, even in winter scenes.Her onscreen nuclear family of 50 would talk the same way and live in a one room house even though they are rich.

Also she and her family are the only people of Spanish descent on the cast and everyone else talks normal english and wears sensible outfits.

The actress might say "This is degrading to ask me to portray a stereotype and a sex kitten". Could I say "No no look at the SCRIPT! There is no mention of sex or race in here!"

The fact that she has to look and talk like that is "commentary" on race and stereotypes the same way Memin's appearance is in the comics.

M.P.'s look is the same as his character wearing a T-Shirt that says "I am inferior to every other character in this comic book and I am a Monkey" in every issue.

Also Don't tell me I wouldn't get a shitstorm for my TV show scenario, and rightfully so.. Memin may have great storylines for a comic book (and I'd have to read it to see how the character is actually portrayed. I wish there were full english translation reprints.) The fact that the only blacks looked inhuman negates any positive messages in the stories.

You know Memin's look was inspired by Ebony White, the sidekick to the American comic strip hero of the 40s The Spirit, one of the central racist caricatures in American comics history? Why couldn't she model him after a real black child instead?

I read this on wikipedia, referring to the comic being re-edited in 1988 and 2004: "Valencia still works on the comic, updating the drawings (clothes, settings and backgrounds) for the re-edits."
Why couldn't she update Memin's look while she was at it?

So, the spanish countries "love your afro-mexican, afro-cubans, etc." But do you love them like family or do you love 'em like a pets? There is a difference.

Now, none of this is earth shattering and in the end you are gonna like what you want. I just wanted to tell you that no one is buying the "Memin isn't a racist comic book because we never called him a nigger in our comic" line of reasoning. From your explanation these stories made Memin and his mom even LESS human, they were just caricatures, and old sexless mammy and a comical monkey. Meanwhile Carlos , Ricardo and the majority non black cast were fully realized humans with human trials and complex lives.

But as I said, I have to read the comic to come to that conclusion.

Also the the whole "We don't have a problem with race-- you gringos have a problem with CLASS" argument is like saying I may beat my kids, but you beat your wife! Class discrimination in the U.S. is a whole different discussion from this one.

Thoom said...

Adalisa wrote:

"We have our huge share of problems, most of which you guys have solved long ago"

So why are you defending your countrymen on THIS issue?

"we may problems with how we treat our WOMEN, our government is so corrupt we don't even try to hide it, we let our farms be taken over by corporations and push hard working farmers and their families into slums, but we got our shit together when it comes to the portrayal of RACE in our comic books! See, look at this comic that was originally written in the 1940s and reprinted, virtually unchanged since. Yeah the one with the lone black character who is drawn to look just like a monkey! Don't scoff! It's PROGRESSIVE!"

Adalisa said...


My reasons to write about this subject were mainly, to open a line of communication. As our cultures are different, there was something missing in the argument, mostly, I admit, from our part. In any case, my point -which I think I managed to make in my second post and if not, I apologize- was that while the whole of Memin wasn't racist, there sure are problems with Memin's image. And now it's sort of a moot point as the editorial changed artists, and thus, they should've changed Memin's design because while the old reprints had the same excuse as the reprints of the old Spirit stories with Ebony White, anything made in modern times doesn't has that excuse and should take in account history and context of what they do, so yes, while I haven't blogged about it, because I'm looking for more facts -namely how is Sergio Valencia involved in this, if he is, and if he isn't, why the hell didn't they change the design and in fact de-evolved all the drawings- . In short, while I still think that we should see the old Memin in context, the new one is pretty much impossible to defend, and I'm not even going to try, because the one thing that made Memin good, namely, the story, has been lost and now yeah, he's a bad caricature that shouldn't be published in modern times.
Second, Wikipedia is very wrong. Mr. Valencia (You're probably confusing him with Yolanda Vargas Duche, the writer who died years ago) didn't update anything about Memin in the 1988-2004 period. He was basically just paid to retrace his old originals so they could be colored. And why he based him on Ebony White? Well, I'd have to ask him, but when Memin was published first, it was pretty much the way in which black people was drawn (Not only in the Spirit, but in many other comics) so I'd guess it was more of external influence than conscious choice.
And finally: Memin and his Mom weren't the only black people drawn in Memin, but yes, they were the only ones drawn in caricature style. I have no idea how this would affect the criticism against Memin if we had the issue where his mother flashbacks to her wedding, and we see Memin's father is a very handsome black man, or when Memin goes to Acapulco and meets another family of black people, all of them drawn normally. Not the main characters, I know, and thus, not as important, but it should be mentioned.
But as I said, it might be a moot point with the new Memin being so much worse than the original, so the defense is not really applicable to what it's being sold anymore.