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Viva la Political Correctness

The relationship between Mexico and the United States has never been, let’s say, comfortable. As far back as the 19th Century when the U.S. acquired the states of Texas, New Mexico and part of what is now California as well as that small dispute (read 13 day siege) over at a San Antonio mission called Alamo — remember that? — there has been a pubic tension that has left both sides unhappy with each other’s close geographical company. Even the NAFTA, an agreement that strived to open commerce between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada only managed to open more wounds and has yet to see positive light. Over recent decades drug cartels and illegal immigrants have been the thorniest issues between the two countries. And today we can add racism to the list of matters to deal with.


Set of stamps issued by SEPOMEX

This past Wednesday the Servicio Postal Méxicano (SEPOMEX) issued a new set of stamps with a comic book character called Mem�n Pingu�n. Originally drawn in 1946 by illustrator Sixto Valencia, Mem�n is now, unfortunately, a crude stereotype of black people with his thick lips, big ears, ape-shaped head and stumbling ways. There is nothing that can be argued against this: What you see is what you get. The stamp ignited concern from African-American activists and Reverends Jesse Jackson — what doesn’t ignite his concerns? — and Al Sharpton as well as the White House. Spokesman Scott McLellan publicly condemned the stamps and argued for their immediate removal from the public.

As a response Mexican President, Vicente Fox, said of the complaints “They don’t have information, frankly,” calling Mem�n a character that all of Mexico loves. Later, Fox’s spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, added, “By no means is Mexico considering the possibility of withdrawing the stamp,” and in good defying Mexican fashion added, “[The government] emphatically rejects these complaints, which are the products of lack of knowledge or people who want publicity.” While the majority of Mexicans can’t see the big deal — more on this below — one newspaper (La Jornada) did criticize Fox’s actions by claiming that Mem�n is paying the consequences for Fox, who according to sociologist Armando Bartra, “is indeed racist,” and added, “which is evident in those improvised declarations that come so natural to him.” Bartra is referring to a comment Fox made last month about Mexican immigrants doing jobs that “not even blacks want.” Suddenly, drugs smuggled in body cavities seems politically correct in comparison.


A sampling of Mem�n covers

While accusations of insensibility float around and flaming comments abound in blogs (one calls Mem�n a “long running, racist-as-a-motherfuck Mexican comic book”) there is context to consider. Not one that serves as an excuse but one that perhaps explains why this character is still depicted in such fashion in the year 2005. Mexico does not suffer from the same racism concerns as the U.S., race is not an issue, economic and social class is. The tremendous gap between the rich (the minority) and the poor (the majority) has long shaped Mexico’s culture and the racism in this regard has been as devastating as any from the Jim Crow era. And unlike racism towards African-Americans in the U.S., class racism in Mexico is still rampant. Add to this that the African-Mexican population in Mexico (specially in Mexico City) is close to non-existent and it may shed light on Mexican’s brushing off the U.S.’s reaction to a comic book character that has been in circulation for almost 60 years.

Mem�n Pngu�n, developed by Grupo Editorial Vid and written by Yolanda Vargas Dulché who decided to include the little black boy in the comic after a trip to Cuba and coining the name Mem�n after the nickname of her husband who happened to be director of the editorial group, has reached number 372 in its series. During that time, from the early 50s to today, along with his friends Ernestillo, Carlos and Ricardo, Mem�n, despite being a lighthearted comic book, has tackled themes like poverty, unemployment, death and has at most times been a reflection of the political temperament of Mexico. Most of the stories show Mem�n, and his friends, faced with moral dilemmas ascribed with a solution in hopes of being a source of education for lower class citizens who may not afford schooling. This goes for both children and adults. In 1985 the Education Ministry of the Philippines declared Mem�n Pngu�n required reading, speaking to the wide acclaim of this character.


Mammy, Tom, Nigger and Coon caricatures

Interestingly, and the main reason for the current state of affairs, Mem�n has not been politically corrected. Ever. His caricaturizing is eerily reflective of the depiction of blacks during the earliest parts of the 20th century when a few simple attributes were necessary to illustrate a black person: big, red lips, large, white eyes and, of course, the blackest black skin. From these basic traits black people could be portrayed in different lights. Coon and — please excuse the term, only included for necessity — Nigger caricature often reflected blacks as careless, brutes, lazy and ignorant. Sambo caricature — what Mem�n most closely resembles — meant to show blacks as more docile, easily dumbfounded and carefree. Equally harmful were the Tom and Mammy caricatures that rendered blacks as happy servants and warm, caring people — considered at the time, scarily, a positive view of blacks. Mem�n’s mother, Do�a Eufrosina, illustrated in typical Mammy fashion — with bulging cheeks, big loopy earrings and bandana — has not had the privilege of undergoing a makeover like her most famous American counterpart, Aunt Jemima. A common target by Mexico in lieu of this debate.


Aunt Jemima, then and now

In Design Literacy (Second Edition), Steve Heller writes “…Vestiges of benign racist trade characters remain, including Aunt Jemima, the former plantation mammy who over the years has been transformed into a housewife…” (p.348). Also relevant to this point and to the stereotype flinging that the U.S. and Mexico are engaging in are the defunct Frito Bandito — who was retired by Frito-Lay after outbursts from the Hispanic and Latin communities — the Taco Bell Chihuahua, Speedy Gonzalez and I would possibly add all burritos and Paul Rodriguez to the list. Conversely, in Mexico there are no other traces of stereotypes towards blacks, besides, now anyways, Mem�n.

Unfortunately, blacks have been more prone to odd stereotyping for marketing purposes. The main object for discussion in the essay cited above by Heller, is Darkie Toothpaste, a product sold as late as 1990 in Hong Kong and Taiwan. After complaints, the product’s name was changed to Darlie and showed a well-groomed black man. In Finland, a licorice product shows, Cheshire-style, eyes and lips of a black person against a black background. In Italy another licorice brand, Tabu, showed a caricature of a black man. In Bangkok, a series of household products are simply called “Black Man”. And what’s to be said — perhaps in a bit of a stretch — for the annoyingly famous “Waaaazup” Budweiser men? Weren’t they, to an extent, an extreme simplification and caricature of language and black male bonding behavior?


Fat Albert, The Super Globetrotters and Waaazup Guys

Segueing back to black people in comics and hopefully coming full circle to Mem�n, what of Fat Albert and his posse of misfits, or the Harlem Globetrotters and their eccentric powers or, one of the most animated characters, Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav? What role do they play in the portrayal of black people?

These issues make for fragile discussions and situations as is clear with the current problem between these two neighboring countries. The U.S. argues for sensibility to world issues and removal of stamps from circulation; while Mexico asks for understanding of their culture and for their northern neighbor to mind their own business.

Neither willing to give in just yet.

That’s the true problem.

Most blogs discussing this have gone to become offensive bitch-fests, I ask that you refrain from any offensive comments.

There are too many links that point to the Mem�n story to include here, please Google at your own pace.

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ARCHIVE ID 2356 FILED UNDER International
PUBLISHED ON Jul.03.2005 BY Armin
nick shinn’s comment is:

People in countries who have been bombed by US warplanes might not take too kindly to receiving mail bearing the upcoming US "aviation" stamps.

On Jul.03.2005 at 08:20 PM
beto’s comment is:

There's few, if anything, that can be said about this subject that hasn't been discussed ad nauseam somewhere else. However, I remember when Mem�n became a comics sensation here in Central America in the early eighties - and hey, a lot of us kids of that era were hooked on it - and we didn't became racists because of that. What was more impressive to me now was to discover it was of Mexican origin, something really odd since I lived some months in Mexico City fairly recently and I can attest to Armin's claim that there are really no "black" communities on that country, so that partly explains how is it possible this comic would still remain practically unchanged after 60 years.

60 years ago, little if anything had changed upon the perception of the african-american person in America (the continent) from what was it like at the turn of the 20th century. "Coon" jokes, cartoons, films and vaudeville acts that are considered highly racist and offensive today were highly popular and sought after back then. If not, how can you explain the tremendous sucess of Al Jolson and The Jazz Singer just to name one example?

Of course, all that changed with the figures of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. But still... In an intriguing twist of irony, I still keep a Speedy Gonzalez figurine on my desk, that I got at... La Lagunilla market in Mexico City, of all places.

On Jul.04.2005 at 12:10 AM
marian’s comment is:

Well, when I saw the stamps, my jaw dropped; they do make me extremely uncomfortable.

But I'm also uncomfortable with the depiction of women in most comic books.

Not to get all feminist on y'all, but this is the kind of crap that is so common we don't even notice it. The mainstream comics' idea of "progress" for the depiction of women is to give them special powers to match their gigantic tits. And I don't see anyone getting particularly upset about it, either. Including me.

If you can imagine that the Feminist movement of the 70s had had as successful and long lasting effect as the black equality movement, these images of women would be as anachronistic and shocking as thick-lipped, round-cheeked blackies are.

So, back to your Mem�n character ... clearly it comes from a place where there was no vocal movement from a black community to either eliminate or modify the image. So in Mexico, the image is considered as commonplace and harmless as the depictions of women are here.

Does that make it benign? I don't know.

But I do think that the U.S. should keep their noses out of other people's stamps.

On Jul.04.2005 at 01:46 AM
sosa’s comment is:

The truth is, my dear gringos, that Memin's character is a person, a mexican with cuban ascendance. That's it.

We do not, repeat do not discriminate people because of their skin color. I'm not meaning that we are perfect but racism and discrimination are not part of our latin culture. White people IS racist because historically they have been teached that they are superior. Mexicans are not "white", we have been culturally been teached that we are inferior than white people by our spanish conquerors and that hasn't changed a lot.

Now, Memin depiction is cuban-like ... would US care what Cuban Government thinks about this? 'course not. Who are the racist?

On Jul.04.2005 at 02:21 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

"Coon" jokes, cartoons, films and vaudeville acts that are considered highly racist and offensive today were highly popular and sought after back then".

Racism, in America is defined by who has the POWER. Certainly, White America is in Power. Those Sterotypical Images created by Al Jolson and many others are simply Exploitation of A Race of People. Who ultimately were not in the decision making process at those Hollywood Studios.

Minstrel Shows were Popular due to Ignorance, Stupidity, and Lack of Sensitivity of the Powers that be.

Entertainers that occassionally performed as Minstrels in an episode or two such as The Bowery Boys, Mickey Rooney, The Marx Brothers readily embraced African Americans. As well, featured them in their movies. Can't say the same for Jolson, regardless of his talent.

There are White Skinned Mexicans and there are Black Skinned Mexicans. Although, the origin of the Mem�n Character is Mexican. It nevertheless, depict Black Skinned People in a Decadent and Offensive manner.

I'll guarantee you; if that Mexican Character (you all so belove) had White Skin, wore a YARMULKA and had a HOOK NOSE and Slouched Shoulders we wouldn't even be Entertaining this Editorial.

No disrespect to my Jewish Brethren.

Only sighting a camparison of Sterotypical Imagery.

Louis Farrakhan, once mentioned on National Television that Jews enslaved people.

A spokesman from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League repudiated Farrakhan's statement. And quipped, "Jews never enslaved Black People"

Louis Farrakhan, remarked, "No you didn't, however, you enslaved Slavic People. Regardless of the Race of People. It is my interest, dedication, and mission to fight for all Enslaved People.

This is the same Mission; Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton has taken upon themselves. To rid the World of this Decadent and Offensive Imagery. Regardless of its origin.

Reminder, I was the first to introduce The Frito Bandito to this weblog's attention, October 1, 2004, 911 am. When Debbie Millman wrote an Editorial on Advertising Icons. My First Love, Discussion.

Not knowing anything about the Advertising Icon. Any notion of a Character from Mexico Represented as The Frito Bandito ultimately Repulsed you, Armin.

Your outragged below at The Frito Bandito.

You can also click on the link to re-read my commnets and yours.

Armin Vit's Comments on The Frito Bandito.

Frito Bandito

Man, they sure wouldn't be able to get away with this in the new millenium:

I am the Moon parking lot attendant.

Talk about stereotypes.


Why would you think, a publication depicting PEOPLE OF COLOR with Bulging Eyes, Big Red Lips, and Funny Shaped Heads, regardless of Race or Origin. Not be offensive to African Americans or any Ethnic Group of African Decent ???


"The truth is, my dear gringos, that Memin's character is a person, a mexican with cuban ascendance. That's it".

"We do not, repeat do not discriminate people because of their skin color. I'm not meaning that we are perfect but racism and discrimination are not part of our latin culture".

I respectfully disagree. You do not discriminate against White People because you are not impowered to do so. You do discriminate against you own kind. Latins are no different than any other Nationality. When it comes to RACISM or PREJUDICE.

One of my Best Friends is from Columbia; lives in Virginia. He constantly is at War and fighting El Salvadorians Mexicans, as well, other Latins. Because of their insecurity and prejudice. My friend is Upper Middle Class. A Real Estate Agent. Needed to purchase a HAND GUN to protect himself from the onslaught of verbal and physical aggression from his Latin Brethren,

Lighter Skinned Latins tend to associate themselves with Caucasions. Darker Skinned Latins tend to associate themselves with African Americans or Darker Ethnic Groups. In this country, that's the norm. However, not etched in stone.

Your Nationality does not define whether or not you're RACIST or Prejudice. How you TREAT people LIVE your LIFE and provide OPPORTUNITY or the LACT THEREOF to disinfranchised less fortunate people is the determining factor whether or not you're a Racist or Prejudiced.

Nationality has nothing to do with it. It's whats in your Mind and Heart.


P.S. Armin, I would think instead of putting Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton on BLAST. You would use your considerable TALENT and INSIGHT to BLAST, LOU DOBBS on CNN. Not a Day goes by, that LOU DOBBS doesn't Fan the Flames of Shutting Down and Closing off the Boarders from Illegal MEXICAN Immigrants. Looking for a BETTER LIFE !!!!!!

Apparently, if it were up to LOU DOBBS

there wouldn't be any MEXICANS in the United States.

That my Friend, justifies an Editorial Topic of Discussion. Not PEOPLE OF COLOR fighting for the DIGNITY of PEOPLE OF COLOR !!!!!

I assume its easier to BLAST two Powerless Freedom Fighters Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton than it is to BLAST, BIG BAD BWANA, LOU DOBBS. And his Spin Machine CNN.

On Jul.04.2005 at 04:38 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Rather than discuss who's racist or who's not, I'd prefer to focus this discussion on the representation of African-Americans — and for that matter, any race — in advertising, design and culture. Much like the discussions on pornography, what is our responsibility in this matter? Specially when every other client asks for "diversity" in the photographs of their annual report, brochure or web site.

And as I mentioned in the post what of Fat Albert? Obesity is a big problem among African-Americans (all Americans actually), shouldn't he have shed a few pounds by now?

Where do you draw the line that you need to play the political correct card?

> P.S. Armin, I would think instead of putting Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton on BLAST.

And Maven, you are right, my slight at Jackson should have been left out. Note to self: Objetcivity in Journalism, Objectivity in Journalism.

On Jul.04.2005 at 08:43 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


I AIN'T MAD AT CHA. Only pointing out the FACTS.

Fat Albert, was created by William H. Cosby Jr. aka, bka, Bill Cosby. It wasn't created by White America.

Racism and Prejudice in Advertising will ULTIMATELY change. When there are African Americans sitting in the Board Rooms with White America at the Strategy Sessions, and participating in the Focus Groups. Deciding their own Fate. When African Americans are involved in the Decision Making Process. And gain Considerable Economic Power that Negative Imagery will change.


On Jul.04.2005 at 09:44 AM
Meryl Friedman’s comment is:

As a query to Maven, Armin and others:

Why wre "negative stereotypes" acceptable when they are created or embraced by those they portray? Fat Albert is the obvious example, and a verbal one is the term "nigger/nigga" in rap and hip-hop. Were someone NOT of African descent to have created Fat Albert, would he still be accepted? And the same of the term nigga, if someone other than Mos Def, 2 Pac, or 50 Cent had a song with that word in it, wouldn't they be blasted? Is it merely a case of 'owning' the sterotype?

I think that there is little reason to overhaul defunct chacters like Fat Albert, because his value today is as a very retro figure, obviously outdated and appealing to those who grew up with him, rather than to children today. However, a character like Mem�n seems like he could go for a bit of an overhaul, particularly since he is still in use. It doen't have to be all at once: look at the evolution of Batman's costume & styling from the 60s & 70s to today. As times change, so do characters, and if that is to make him more realistic as a figure, maybe that might settle some of the trouble of his obsolete charcterizations.

(Also, just being in my 20s, I can tell you, the first time I saw a black character depicted in a way like Mem�n when I was a child, I was confused as to why it was so strange. I think my generation is more or less unfamiliar with that outdated chacterization, and regards it as merely passe as opposed to very offensive. A stereotype my generation is more familiar with would possibly be more from blaxploitation films.)

On Jul.04.2005 at 12:54 PM
Matt’s comment is:

To digress, I've noticed that the two Canadians who have posted thus far have both taken a slightly different viewpoint: in a nutshell, that what one country does with its stamps is its own business. Very Canadian - I like that.

On Jul.04.2005 at 06:30 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Meryl Friedman:

What do you find sterotypical of African Americans in Fat Albert.

Is Homer Simpson Sterotypical of All White Men ?

He essentially plays a Buffoon. Yet, represents White America. Albeit being endeared.

Again, another friend of mine is African American 410 lbs a Successful Entreprenuer. If I decided to create a cartoon character based on his life or take creative license. What's sterotypical of that ?

Do you find the name MINNESOTA FATS Sterotypical of All Whites ?

Do you know who MINNESOTA FATS was ? If you don't you should look it up. Is that name and demeanor sterotypical of all White Men.

Birth name Rudolph Walderone.

Do you find the name FATTY ARBUCKLE sterotypical of White Man and their Culture ?

Don't know who he is. Look him up.

Do you find the Beverly Hillbillies Sterotypical of All Poor White Southerners ? If you haven't seen the sitcom you can probably find re-runs on TV Land. My all-time favorite sitcom.

As well, Andy Griffith.

Are all small town sherifs as dumb as Barney Fife(Don Knotts) Floyd the Barber (Howard McNear), Goober (George Lindsey)the Gas station attendant. Are these characters indicative of White America ?

Do you find Bevis and Butthead Sterotypical of White Culture and its Race ?

Is the OZZBOURNE's the typical White American Household ? That Reality Show was essentially a Buffoon Show.

Legendary Character Actor, Phil Silvers played a Fast Talking Con Man, Hustler and Ripoff Artist in all his movies and television appearances. Do you find his character indicative of White America ?

Don't think certain Imagery is Sterotypical because a given Race of People depicted in it Created it.

What you find if you do some SOUL SEARCHING. You don't Identify with the Imagery because that Culture is not your LIFESTYLE nor Experience.

You can't learn anything about a Race of People by watching television or movies. You have to spend time in the trenches and pay some dues.

Other than that negative imagery of the Mem�n Character and early Advertising. There are as many negative imagery of all Nationalities to include White America and Ethnic Groups. Who gets to see what depends on who's spinning the story. And who has Economic Power.

All the above iterations of White American Sitcoms or characters were essentially Buffoons, except Phil Silvers and Minnesota Fats. Whom simply portrayed Hustlers and Con Men. Fats, as he was known was not a televison character. His persona was depicted in a movie. Again, I ask you do you find their characters indicative of White America.

Every movie or television sitcom ever made in America depicting Mexicans either portrayed them as Gardeners, Bandits, or Thieves.

If television characters were of Asian Descent, they were portrayed as indentured servents within American Movie Culture.

Is Hopsing typical of all Asians. He played an indentured Servent on BONANZA. As well, every Asian Actor during that era appearing in American Television or Movies.

Funkadelic made an album over thirty years ago. Titled America Eats its Young. Truer words were never spoken. You should buy the album. You can probably find it on eBay.

America the Beautiful, America the Brave is equal opportunity when it comes to decadent character portrayal. Its all about Captital Gain.

Your Hip Hop Language question can only be answered by African Americans of the Hip Hop Culture.


On Jul.05.2005 at 04:47 AM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

>Every movie or television sitcom ever made in America depicting Mexicans either portrayed them as Gardeners, Bandits, or Thieves.


Cradle will rock

Up in smoke


Favorite bizarre NAFTA cultural moment (well, it was pre-NAFTA, but involved all 3 countries):

Ricardo Montalban as Louis Riel in an episode of The High Chapparal (I think, or a similar horse opera.)

Ricardo Montalban was a Mexican actor who played leading man roles

On Jul.05.2005 at 01:15 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Nick Shinn:

"Ricardo Montalban was a Mexican actor who played leading man roles."

Noted Mexican Actor Cantinflas; until this date died the riches Mexican Actor. Starred in Around the World in Eighty Days. Owned a lot of Business and Real Estate. Died a millionaire.

Not a leading man. Yet, Mexico most prolific actor do date.

Unfortunately, every Cowboy Movie made feature Mexicans as Bandits or Thieves.

To refresh you memory, you revisit at John Huston's, Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Not a CowBoy Picture. Nevertheless, features Mexicans in a Decadent and Sterotypical Manner. I can name you hundreds. No time.

There's always Exceptions, that break barriers.

Up In Smoke one of my Favorites. Nevertheless Buffoon Movie. That exploited Mexicans as Drug Dealers and Drug Users.

Although, Cheech Marin had total creative control. It Glorified Drug Culture.

Cheech Marin, is Mexican American born in East LA.

Selena, Jennifer Lopez, is of Puerto Rican Descendant born in the Bronx New York.

We are discussing Mexicans aren't we ???

My point was referemced to illustrate and show Early American Television from its inception through the 1970s or 1980s. Perhaps, I should've given a timeline.

Yes, television has evolved. Not much.

African American Actors, Ossie Davis Played Leading Man Roles. So did Paul Robinson. As well, as Sidney Poitier. (many others)

What you have illustrated is an exception to the rule. For the most part all none White Rolls in American Television or Movies. Historically, you were either Indentured Servents or Subservient.

Such is the case with West Side Store. Nick Shinn, Do you think that was an accurate portrayal of Puerto Ricans ?

As Legendary Actress Rita Morino, eloquently stated. "The biggest Disappointment with West Side Story the lead of a Puerto Rican Women was portrayed by an American White Woman, Natalie Wood".

Shouldn't Mexicans and American Indians any Ethnic Group be allowed to portray themselves in American Pop Culture. Often times the lead roles and characters were played by American Whites. If you looked closely enough.

Couldn't American Movie Directors get an American Indian to portray Geronimo and not Chuck Connors.

The same holds TRUE for the American Indian. Why depic the American Indian as Savages.

When the American Indian Historically is only Guilty of befriending him. Teaching the White Man to plant crops and harvest and hunt food.

Jay Silverhills, Legendary American Indian Actor broke barriers. He played leading rolls. He was still subservient; in his role as Tonto. In the television series The Lone Ranger.

Your arguement isn't Bullet Proof. There are always one or two exceptions. Your illustration is far and few between the norm or what is acceptable.

Other than Ressurection Boulevard why not more Mexican Television. I looked at Ressurection Boulevard Religously. None of my Mexican or Latin friends looked at Ressurection Boulevard. Why, they informed me the program was not an accurate portrayal of Mexican Lifestyle.

At the same time, the show had far to much sexual innuendo.

The otherAmerian Family, the PBS Mexican Family sitcom an excellent program. Although short lived.

The aforementioned are excellent examples of decent Ethnic (Mexican) televison programing.

Nick Shinn, why isn't there a Balance of Programing in American Television for all Nationalities and Cultures ??? Television today is still either Black or White.

On Jul.05.2005 at 03:36 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


To refresh your memory, you should revisit John Huston's, Treasure of the Sierra Madre.


On Jul.05.2005 at 03:39 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

The crux of The Treasury of the

Sierra Madre was that Mexicans were so Mentaly Challenged and Buffooned. They weren't even SMART ENOUGH to recognize GOLD. Wealth and Riches indicative of their Homeland.

Mexicans very much wanted the possessions of the White Man. They rummaged throught their belongings. Stole their merchandise and discarded the Gold. Which they DUMPED on the Ground. Road off the White Man's personal belongings, hides from animals essentially used to camoflage the Gold.

Only in America !!!!!


On Jul.05.2005 at 03:56 PM
Steve Jones’s comment is:

I have to say that I take exception (and frightened of the ignorance) with most of the responses. My thoughts in no particular order... DesignMaven seems to be the only voice of reason (and facts). The Memin Pinguin (MP) stamp is larger than an African/American issue - it's speaks to the historical dehumanization of the Black image and personhood in popular culture/media.

Jan Nederveen Pieterse wrote a great book on characters like MP, “White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture.” In it he states a character like MP: “represents White people’s desires and fears... multiplied a millionfold in advertising, cartoons, film, television, and books... (MP is) an easygoing, non-threatening figure reminiscent of a distant past; for African Americans, a symbol of denigration and domestication of Black identity and of the way African Americans have been reduced to functionaries in White fantasies.”

The fact that Mexico has a small Black population (2%) does not excuse the stamps. Mexico does not live in a bubble - even if there were no blacks in Mexico, to not know that MP is an universally racist icon does not hold any weight. Mexico is not alone in revering (cultural) iconic images that depict Blacks negatively (from Piet Swart in the Netherlands to Jim Crow in the US to the Golliwog of Great Britain). It’s precisely because of the small Black population in Mexico that MP is so damaging - there are no positive Black role models or images to counter the MP image. Because of this, many Mexicans have/will experience Black/ness through a racist stereotype (made more insidious - because of it’s comic nature, MP is experienced by young children and imprinted at an early age). Picking up on DesignMaven’s point, if all we knew or saw of white manhood was Al Bundy (Married with Children) one would think all white men were inept, sloven and lazy - but that image is countered by, say, Frasier. Along with the Beverly Hillbillies or Jeff Foxworthy, these white characters are seen as that - characters. There are other positive/counter images of whiteness to present a broader picture - sadly minorities (save for a few tokens) do not have that luxury. There should be a total outcry to the MP stamp, and not just from the Black community - as most would be in solidarity against anything that was, say, as overtly anti-semitic.

To say Mexico does not suffer from the same racism concerns as the U.S. - Armin in the article states “race is not an issue, economic and social class is" - is also not accurate - speak to any indigenous Mexican or one of African descent and they will argue your point. Lighter skinned Mexicans are at the top of the social class and the darker, browner are at the bottom - race and economic status go hand-in-hand in Mexico as they do in most countries. I found it interesting to know that MP was actualized after a trip to Cuba - whose racial policies also mimic Mexico’s and the US. Any criticism Mexico, Vicente Fox or respondants’s have with America’s "meddling" in Mexico's affairs reminds me of Antonio Gramsci, who theorized “The dominant culture must constantly strive to expand its hegemony while fending off challenges and interventions from the very classes and groups it seeks to subjugate.” Vicente Fox’s comment sound like something out of slavery or Jim Crow - to say that MP is universally loved in Mexico, reminds me of the Master who said his slaves were happy - just to them whistle while they work... The fact that Mexico would celebrate this on a postage stamp (it’s not enough to keep the racism in your borders - now it lives in a vehicle to travel across borders?) is either one of sheer ignorance or pure brazenness.

The difference with comparing Fat Albert, Flavor Flav, et al to MP - (characters that are not universally embraced as MP is in Mexico) is that the US Postal Service is not putting out a stamp with those characters sanctioned by the President. Besides, all those Black icons/characters have been condemned and scrutinized - and you don’t justify a racist image with another racist image. To rationalize MP, as Armin seems to do when he says “...what of Fat Albert? Obesity is a big problem among African-Americans (all Americans actually)... Where do you draw the line that you need to play the political correct card?” Besides the fact Fat Albert looked like a real person - how is not being racially offensive being PC?

As graphic designers we should be particularly vocal in our opposition to this. It appears however, that many graphic designers still lack a conscience and remain unregrettably ignorant of anyone or any group beyond the edges of their own self interest or their own culture. Unfortunately we create images that say as much about the imagemaker as it does about the message. Euro-Americans have became accustomed to dominating another race and exercising power over them, this includes control over images which depict negative Black imagery. The history of inaccurate portrayals of Blacks is well documented - portrayals that were born of a white majority and used to justify the second class citizen status of Blacks.

Meryl Friedman’s comment “a character like Memin seems like he could go for a bit of an overhaul, particularly since he is still in use.” - Or to say “Memin is now, unfortunately, a crude stereotype of Black people with his thick lips, big ears, ape-shaped head and stumbling ways" - Now? Those images were never acceptable. The Black image never accurately reflected the Black experience in America. Today one would think the majority of Blacks are athletes and wear sporting gear. The fact is, no matter how he looks, MP is still a reminder to many Blacks of our history in servile positions and as second class citizens. MP and the coon/sambo he exemplifies, regardless of all attempts to refine his image, are too firmly rooted in the subconscious of white culture to erase — even if the picture changes. Shame on Mexico - Memin Pinguin needs to die.

p.s. DesignMaven, drop me an email - and everyone needs to watch “Ethnic Notions” and Color Adjustment” - both documentaries by Marlon Riggs.

On Jul.06.2005 at 01:41 AM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

Maven, I agree with your argument about stereotyping and power, I was just pointing out that there have been occasionally non-stereotypical portrayals of Mexicans, and by Mexicans, in American media, not the "exclusively" gardeners bandits thieves that you stated.

As for Cheech being a "buffoon", he IS a comedian!

And compared with Tommy Chong, he is the smart one.

(A moot point, admittedly.)

Steve, I'm not excusing the Mexican Post Office by drawing attention to some problems with US stamps, merely pointing out that sensitivity to stamps is complex. I first noticed the problem with bombers on stamps when I was about to mail an invoice to a client in a large city in Germany, and realized that I had put a (Canadian) stamp on it, from a series commemorating Canadian aviation, depicting a WW2 Lancaster bomber.

The Americans who have criticized racism in Mexico also criticize it in the US. But they have to be wary that in criticizing Mexico, there is a completely different power-play in operation, where the issue is not race but imperialism.

On Jul.06.2005 at 08:08 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Steve Jones:

Amen Hallelujah, GOD BLESS YOU MY SON.

Will contact you this afternoon.

Nick Shinn:

We can agree to disagree. I just recently purchased several copies of BIG BAMBOO off eBay.

Cheech Marin's character portrayal was that of a Bufoon.

Everyone writing on this Design weblog rent a copy of John Huston's, Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

It is the most Decadent depiction of Mexican's ever witnessed in a movie.

It has received critical acclaim soley because it Entertained The Powers that Be.


On Jul.06.2005 at 12:25 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


'Cheech Marin's character portrayal was that of a Bufoon'.

Referencing the Hollywood Movies, Up in Smoke, etc.

I do treasure BIG BAMBOO.

On Jul.06.2005 at 01:09 PM
Héctor Mu�oz Huerta’s comment is:

I have been trough this topic in another forum and I found it was very difficult to understand the view of each others when having significatively different cultures (of course I speak for myself too) so I won't speak for the stamp but about the situation.

Are black people in Cuba or Brazil offended by this stamp? I don't know, but until now I have only heard the north american complainits and aside their right to speak their opinion, the demanding actitude behind their comments and claims is not ok.

Maybe some could be interested in the sales of this stamp (altough they could be easily predicted after this situation). More than 80% of the 750,000 printed stamps are sold only after four days the stamp reached the market.

On Jul.06.2005 at 11:06 PM
Arturo’s comment is:

Just one fact this was a collectible run of the stamp (75,000) a pretty small quantity compared to any regular stamp, of course this can be used to send a letter, but their primary objective is to be a philatelic edition celebrating classic cartoons and well... Memin Pinguin is a classic mexican cartoon.

Neither willing to give in just yet.

Armin you are right, my government should have some sensibility to their neighbors yes... not necessarily taking out the stamp but explaining in a more considerate way the issue and well... U.S. gov should understand other countries culture and values instead of simply "enforce" their way around, but well Dubya is not very good in the crosscultural arena either.

On Jul.07.2005 at 12:53 AM
Tan’s comment is:

I can't believe that Mexicans don't really see the racial offensiveness in these caricatures. I think that they just refuse to. There's definitely a cultural difference between US and the rest of the world, but it has more to do with tolerance and acceptance, rather than acknowledgement or awareness of it.

I definitely believe that Americans are more racially PC than most of the rest of the world. And granted, most of the time, it's over-sensitivity. But I think that when it comes to ethnicity/race/stereotyping, it's better to be aware than ignorant.

I've had some experience with localization, and the country that seems to be most racially intolerant is Germany. German consumers simply won't buy products with non-caucasian faces on it. And they will openly admit to their racial bias in group studies without guilt or shame. Most of the Asian market has the same attitude — though to a slightly lesser degree.

As an Asian designer, I know what it's like to be stereotyped. Even when it's subttle things, like when people use the word "Orientals" instead of Asian, or assume that all Asians can read and write Kanji. Hell, I think Chopstick-type Fonts are incredibly racially offensive, yet it's everywhere — from A&F tshirts to AIGA promos.

If I was black or dark-skinned, these Mexican stamps would be incredibly offensive to me. There would be no excuse that would be sufficient to make me feel otherwise.

As a designer, it's your responsibility to be aware of what constitutes messaging in your work — especially if there's a reasonable chance that it's offensive to someone. And if you're aware of it, then you're responsible for correcting it. It doesn't matter whether or not the messaging was purposedly created with that intent.

On Jul.07.2005 at 02:01 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:



Your experience as a Designer is mine.

Except, When I walk into an office. The expression is a Double Take and Jaw Drops. What the hell am I supposed know about Corporate Identity.

I just very Snidely Laugh, and Feed them with a very long handled spoon.

Many thanks and heartfelt appreciation.

Héctor Mu�oz Huerta:

"Are black people in Cuba or Brazil offended by this stamp".

To my knowledge, within Cuba and Brazil, as well other Latin Countries.

History of the African American Holocaust and Slave Trade are not taught in those countries. Their only experience like Mexicans is what they've been conditioned and accepted on Blind Faith.


My Prayers go out to London. Referencing the recent Terror Attack

On Jul.07.2005 at 06:02 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Steve, your points are well taken. However — and regardless of any specific comments I made that you take issue with — your basic premise is that the whole Memin ordeal is plain wrong no matter what the context. I don’t disagree with you that the Memin cartoon is harmful. I assume my article sounded as if I was defending Mexico or Fox. I was not. I was merely trying to explain a point of view of someone who grew up in Mexico. (We could also discuss ad nauseam the differences between racial and economic racism in Mexico, but it’s really not the intention of this article or this blog; and, trust me, an “indigenous” person in Mexico with plenty of money can do quite well despite his/her appearance).

Back on the subject... To deny the context in which Memin was created — and to simply state “Memin must die” — is very short sighted. I am, again, not defending Memin. But your argument applies equally to war (war is wrong, and it shouldn’t take place, yet it still does), HIV (HIV is bad, and it shouldn’t exist, yet it still does), hunger (hunger is not right, and it shouldn’t take place, yet it still does), and even Ugg boots (Ugg boots are ugly, and they shouldn’t exist, yet — guess what? — they still do). Simply saying something “can’t be” does not solve anything without understanding where something came from. If you neglect every single bit of context you can’t judge anything in perspective. Being totalitarian — despite good intentions and for good causes — is rarely a good solution to anything.

To confirm: I am not defending the depiction of black people through Memin.

On Jul.07.2005 at 08:59 PM
Héctor Mu�oz Huerta’s comment is:

Design Maven:

First, you may call me Héctor, second:

"To my knowledge, within Cuba and Brazil, as well other Latin Countries.

History of the African American Holocaust and Slave Trade are not taught in those countries. Their only experience like Mexicans is what they've been conditioned and accepted on Blind Faith."

The fact that the history of black north american people may or may not be taught at school in Cuba or Brazil is not relevant since both countries have a significative black population whose ancestors suffered slavery and discrimination too (altough not as recently as in the USA). Still they have no claims in the topic (by the way you can go to jail in Brazil for racist verbal insults).

But, should they be offended if they knew such history? (which by the way is frequently featured on tv movies) I understand this can offend people in some places, mainly in the USA where many people think this is wrong and should be taken back, I understand that, but USA is not the center of the world and not everyone shares such opinions.

If it wasn't by news and some groups with political interests who enlarged the topic almost no one would know except some mexican filatelists or comic fans.

Did anyone ever notticed the stamp featuring a character of La Familia Burron" of the same series to which the mem�n post stamps belong?

Yes, our culture is very different and for example we have no problem in calling our family and friends "gordo"(fat), "g�ero" (blonde, even if you are black), "negro"(black, even if you are white), pel�n(bald), prieto(dark), chaparro(short), etc.

Also we have no problem with cartoons like Mem�n or La Familia Burr�n (which also features mexican stereotypes).

This is a conmemorative stamp because the figure of Mem�n has been very important to our national culture, and this figure also gave various generations of mexicans a possitive appreciation of black people in despite of it's appearance: Mem�n was a role model who led a group of white boys trough their adventures in a time where black people in north america had to go to separate bathrooms, hospitals and schools.

On Jul.08.2005 at 12:06 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


Being aware and understanding the culture and struggle of any people is astute. With that knowledge bridges the gap

of communication. Provides an awareness and sensitivity to subject-matter.

The photos you've showed me only further exacerbate the problem. If Memin is such a beloved character, then why is he facing Racial Discrimination. Boggles the mind.

Furthermore, Memin is not a Human Being, His character is dehumanized. Compared to the other characters apparently Latin. Memin features are exagerated beyond recognition.

Hector, you seem to be an intelligent person. The character I'm about to show you has been a part of American's children book series for over sixty (60) years to be exact sixty four (64) years.

This character may have given birth to the Memin character. You can see the similarity. Except, in American this character was never portrayed or marketed as a Human Being. He was always a pet. Apparently, Mexican Artist took parts of this likeness to create a similar version of the character. And tried to humanize him.

If you don't see any similarity between these two characters then you are less than Honest.

Load these links into your browser.

Please inform me if you see the similarity or likeness between characters American and Mexican.

This beloved American Character was created by Hans & Margaret Rey.




Various illustrations:


"Mem�n was a role model who led a group of white boys trough their adventures in a time where black people in north america had to go to separate bathrooms, hospitals and schools".

Hector, your mixing Fantasy with Reality.

History Lesson, All Civilization was born out of Africa. When the World was only divided into Asia Major and Asia Minor.

Africa was Asia Major and a Civilized Country.We invented Math, Science, Physics, and Medicine. When Europeans were uncivilized and living in the Caucaus Moutains. We didn't ask to come to America. We did and we excelled. We buit this country by the sweat of our brow.

This Land is our Land !!!!!!

Can the influx of Mexicans coming to the United States claim the same ???

On Jul.08.2005 at 03:11 AM
Héctor Mu�oz Huerta’s comment is:

I'm not going to participate any further in this discussion, because I think it is not going to take us to any good conclusion. I'm leaving for vacations tonight so anyway I would have stoped.

On Jul.08.2005 at 04:50 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I have to say that I appreciate the fact that Armin has the balls to tackle such a controversial topic.

But I don't really see a constructive conclusion either.

People will either think the context of the stamps is enough to justify/excuse its existence, or people will be offended by its overt racism.

Is there really any middle ground? I don't think so.

On Jul.08.2005 at 05:11 PM
Steve Jones’s comment is:

�This looks like breaking news - but I'm a little confused - I thought that 750,000 stamps were sold - or was this a pre-order and folk will be refunded their money - because according to the story below - the stamps were withdrawn (before distribution?).

MEXICAN PRESIDENT FOX WITHDRAWS RACIST STAMP: Hutchinson praises leader, thanks public for action.

July 8, 2005)

Bowing to public protest from black and Latino civil rights groups, the Mexican postal service has announced that it would not reissue a series of commemorative stamp featuring a cartoon character that was offensive to blacks, according to a press release from political activist/analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

"This is a solid international victory for racial justice and fairness," says Hutchinson, a leader in the campaign to withdraw the stamp. "In light of the monstrous tragedy of the London terror bombing, it's even more important that world leaders such as Fox take strong and consistent stands against bigotry and intolerance globally."

The series was to feature a black cartoon character known as Memin Pinguin, drawn with exaggerated features, thick lips and wide-open eyes. His appearance, speech and mannerisms were ridiculed by white characters in the comic book.

Hutchinson thanks “the many public officials, as well as those in the press and the general public that responded to the campaign. Without your efforts we could not have succeeded."

On Jul.09.2005 at 11:39 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Thanks for the update Steve. The funny — not funny-haha, funny-ironic or even funny-sad — is that almost 60,000 (of 75,000 printed) of the stamps have been bought. The claim in the article above is that they won't be reissued. So… there you have it (where there might not actually be a good thing).

> I have to say that I appreciate the fact that Armin has the balls to tackle such a controversial topic.

I was very wary of bringing this up, knowing that it wouldn't be a "nice" conversation. But, hey, what the hell? We are all adults here.

And I agree, there is no intended, nor probable, resolution. Not reissuing the stamps is some sort of solution, but if the activist groups against the stamps consider this a full resolution I do have to question if their motives were nothing more than a publicity stunt. If they are really serious they will ask Grupo Editorial Vid to cease publication of the comic strip.

> This character may have given birth to the Memin character. [...] Apparently, Mexican Artist took parts of this likeness to create a similar version of the character. And tried to humanize him.

Maven, sorry, but that is a claim based on nothing and more than likely untrue. And I would venture out and say that the illustrator, Sixto Valencia, had no idea that at the very exact time (60 years ago) somebody in the US would be drawing Curious George. Much less that he would base Memin off of George in an attempt to "humanize" him. Now you are beginning to stretch it.

On Jul.09.2005 at 04:54 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Funny, Armin I was aware of Memin Pinguin

many years ago and forgot about the image.

When this recent editorial was posted. My first impression was this is CURIOUS GEORGE dressed in clothes.


Mission Accomplished and we can all put this behind us.

I'd feel much better if you addressed LOU DOBBS. Mexicans real enemy, Not Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or Hollywood Studio' ignorance, stupidity and lack of sensitivity.

Aware you can't because of your present corporate situation. If not, I know you would Rip his ass like anyone else.

Your apology in reference to Rev. Jesse Jackson graciously accepted.

African Americans, Mexicans and the Latino Community have made Great Strides, in-roads and Major, Major Contributions to the World. We must not forget our past. And remember the sacrifices our Ancestors made to get us where we are today.



Many thanks for breaking news.


On Jul.09.2005 at 06:39 PM
Eugene Randolph Young’s comment is:

I'd like to thank Hector for the link to the page from Memin. It sheds some much needed light on how the character was used.

The editorial cartoonist in me sees a sophisticated use of humor and grotesque caricature to tackle a serious issue. Yes, I'm reading a lot into a single page and a handful of images, but it's all I have to go on at this point, and I trust my instincts.

Making a character awkward and grotesque can be a powerful literary tool. I remember a similar controversy around Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in public schools here in the U.S., partly because of the character Jim, and escaped slave, and the repeated use of the word "nigger." A careful read of the novel reveals Jim as one of the most respectable, human and just characters in the story in spite of how he appears on the surface (illiterate, superstitious, naive, pitiful etc.). But I had to read and comprehend the novel to understand this, even if it meant reading the word "nigger" over and over and over again. It therefore seems reasonable for me to at least read an issue of Memin before attacking the image.

In some of my own creature designs, I twist, stretch, and distort black bodies into forms that are truly monstrous and grotesque. They are not a reflection of racisim and belong to a larger concept and context. I'd hate to have some opportunistic scholar target my work, claiming to have some window into my subconscious fears an desires without checking with me first. That's the kind of intellectual dishonesty and irrepsonsibilty that is turns critiques of art and art history into exercises in psychobabble and gossip about the dead.

As a student at City College of San Francisco, I drew cartoons for topics including Proposition 209, affirmative action, sex education, PBS, gays in the military and cloning. I learned that the best political and editorial cartoons provoke, challenge and entertain the reader. It isn't always about being nice. You have to take a stance on an issue, tell a good joke, and sign your name. Every panel is designed. Every drop of ink, a decision. Memin is no exception. So little has been published here (or maybe I haven't looked hard enough) about or by the artists and writers, or specifically, about their views on their work on Memin Pinguin, and that's too bad. Their voices belong in this discourse. The fact that the series played a role in improving race relations in Mexico and literacy in the Phillipines is noteworthy and worth commemorating.

I once drew Elmo as a cross-dressing porn star for a cartoon about the lack of funding for PBS. It was the height of the "Tickle Me Elmo" craze and I came up wih this one panel gag showing what happens when Sesame Street meets skid row. A classmate called it sexist. In poor taste? Maybe. But sexist? I learned from that that people will inevitably see whatever they want to see in a given work of art, including my own. If someone sees a cartoon of a muppet in a lingerie as sexist, I can't do anything about that. Some of us here in the U.S. will only see echoes of Little Black Sambo and bigotry in Memin. I only wish they would be consistent.

None of us complained about Steve Urkel from ABC's Family Matters (1989-1998). The character (a nerdy genius with a high, squeaky voice, big glasses, and funny clothes) reflected the disdain for "being smart" or "acting white" that still plagues the black communities in the U.S., regardless of economic background. Yes, it was comedy, but on another level, Urkel was a slap in the face to every black kid that ever kicked ass in a science fair or chess competition. I'm a man in my 30's and people still scowl at me for sounding too "white." So I have to balance a cover of Memin Pinguin that reads, "Vamos a la escuela!" against home-grown popular images like Urkel and the harmful messages they send. But I also choose to be fair. I acknowledge that the show was intended as a positive sitcom depicting black American family life. You'll never hear me say "Urkel must die." In several episodes, the writers used his awkwardness to tell stories about acceptance, friendship, tolerence, character, integrity, and so on, much like Memin Pinguin.

I live in a city near San Francisco with a large and growing Mexican immigrant poplulation and I hear Spanish spoken daily. I've even lived in San Jose, CA. Not once have I heard anyone yelling, "Mira al Memin Pinguin!!" as they drove by. ("Mayate!!" once or twice, but never "Memin!!") That should count for something.

Would any current or former Memin Pinguin fans be willing to share with us either what drew them to the comic or what kept them coming back for more? Could you share any examples of how the stories influenced you? I have no access to the comic, and think this side of the issue is missing from the discussion.

On Jul.11.2005 at 02:45 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


You say you cannot find any material on Memin Penguin.

You haven't looked hard enough.

There are 540 entries on eBay for Memin Penguin.

I suspect the people selling the material on eBay are Caucasion or Mexican not African American.

If you don't believe Memin is Racist. Look at how the item is titled and sold. That should be enough.


I've said my last words in reference to this matter. I would contact you offline. Don't have the energy or interest.

I don't speak for Steve Jones. Suspect he will address your comments.

Ignorance is BLISS !!!!!


Disclaimer, DesignMaven doesn't Endorse nor Condone the items sold on eBay.

Eugene, no disrespect for what I'm about to say !!!



On Jul.11.2005 at 03:18 PM
Terabanitoss’s comment is:

You are The Best!!!

On May.03.2007 at 10:02 PM
Héctor Muñoz’s comment is:



On Feb.04.2009 at 08:17 PM