This article by San Francisco Gate’s Cinnamon Stillwell brings home something I was talking to my sister-in-law a while back about Mexico and I told her that I was not at all interested in visiting the at all country simply because to put it in simple terms, I didn’t think they cared too much about blacks in general. She was all hot and bothered about that statement so much so that she did not even give me a chance to explain why I had made that statement. I have a feeling that she probably has not been following the controversy brought about by the two recent news items that have been highlighted in the American press.
The first was the statement by President Vicente Fox who insulted the African-American community by stating that Mexican immigrants were willing to take on jobs that even African-Americans were unwilling to take. Now it is unlikely that he necessarily meant it to be an insult, but at the very least he probably did not think that the African-American community would perceive his statement in that way.
But the second and even more telling was the issuing of postage stamps by the Mexican government. These are a series of five stamps that features a minstrel (almost blackface) type comic book character called Memin Penguin, which first published in the 1940s is apparently still in publication today. What is even more astounding about this story is that the stamps are in great demand and this has resulted in long lines of people wanting to buy the stamps.
Suffice it to say, I don’t think the controversy is that all of a sudden there is racism in Mexico, cause we all know that racism or some sort or the other exists just about everywhere on earth and certainly here has been quite a history here in the US. So much so that even some of my favorite cartoons like Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny and Popeye had some racist episodes that would never fly today. So what is the big deal then? I think the issue here is the perception that the Mexican government is condoning racism by issuing these stamps. Placing Memin on a stamp is essentially honoring (or at the very least commemorating) him and all that he stands for. Despite the US’s long history of racism, the country has over the past few years and decades taken bold and at times very difficult yet the correct steps to right the wrongs of the past. Even going so far as to apologize to certain minority groups that have suffered under certain policies, laws or actions (or inactions). Maybe this is a good time for Mexico to reflect on it’s own past and address some of the issues that its own marginalized minority groups have faced. Stillwell’s article is also interesting in that she brings out the fact that Mexico has an old African-Mexican community and that most people do not realize this.
Now I must admin that I don’t know enough about this comic book to make an informed judgment about the Memin and what he stands for in the eyes of the Mexicans however, I do think that in this day and age, a little thought, reflection of history and some sensitivity needs to be examined before approving stamps. After all, even Mexicans have not been spared the past racist stereotyping too.
To learn more about racism in America, please checkout the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University.
Also Wikipedia has great information about history of minstrelsy (and blackface) in the US.