Thursday, March 25, 2021

Chicanonautica: The Living Death of Stereotypes


by Ernest Hogan



Stereotypes keep making the news, and I've been meaning to write about them for a long time. Now that a new world is forming and Dr. Seuss, Speedy Gonzalez, and Pepé Le Pew are competing with a horrendous mass shootings, it's a good time to get down to it. Of course, with all due respect to Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Ratsus.

A lot of people get the idea that stereotypes are always a bad thing and they should all be banned. This actually is a bad idea. Pardon me while I duck.

Okay, let’s start with the dictionary definition that comes up when you Google the word: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

It doesn’t say anything about it being insulting or derogatory. This is because stereotypes are not necessarily negative. There are positive stereotypes. People rarely complain about them.

And everybody uses stereotypes. Even you. Even me. It’s actually hard not to use them. They are a shortcut, a way of categorizing something that you aren’t familiar with. Part of the learning process. You make a simple rough sketch before you can do a detailed rendering or understanding.

It’s also what lazy people use instead of learning. If you learn a few randoms facts about anything then go acting like an expert, you are being obnoxious and stupid.

Stereotypes can get grotesque and ugly, and are often used to put, and keep, people down. I am against that, especially when the stereotypes are used by those with power against those who don’t have it.

I understand that people can get sensitive and not want to see certain things or hear or see certain words.

But I'm a peculiar creature with a thick skin. I’ve been called just about everything. At my current age and weird experience, it would be difficult for anyone to insult me.

Really. I’m a Chicano writer/artist/satirist. I’ve got that rasquache thing going, and that means that my sense of humor can be weird and vicious. Call me a bad name and I’ll pick it up, twist it up, and throw it back at you.

I’m also a free speech fanatic. My career has been a long fight for the right to be outrageous and, yes, insulting.

I often try to insult certain people in my work, and it’s a joy when they let me know that I’ve been successful.

Yeah, now and then people I didn’t mean to hurt get caught in the crossfire. I never claimed to be writing for everybody. I’m always warning people about me. I am my own warning label.

I also don’t expect the entire fucking universe to be according to my liking. I learned that long ago.

As a cartoonist--cartooning is a language of stereotypes, like hieroglyphics--I have studied the history of the art form and know that stereotypes come and go. Like individuals, societies use stereotypes, then outgrow and then discard them. Cartoons from even just a few decades past have images and jokes that are considered just plain wrong today. As long as I can remember, there have been controversies. 

I remember that some Chicano students petitioned Dr. Demento against playing Lalo Guerrero’s The Ballad of Pancho Lopez. When I told my dad, he said, "They have to go home and ask their parents about Lalo Guerrero." Treasure of the Sierra Madre was banned from television in L.A. because of Alfonso Bedoya's role as Gold Hat, the "we don't need no stinking badges" guy. And the Frito Bandito got offed by MEChA . . .

Some Latinxs have come to the defense of Speedy Gonzalez--who is the closest we have to Hollywood creating a Mexican superhero, and he won an Academy award--and does anyone mourn the Frito Bandito? I won’t mention Go-Go Gomez, who was a human version of Speedy on the Sixties Dick Tracy cartoons.

I still don’t think the old, stereotypical stuff should be banned. It shouldn’t be randomly presented as children’s entertainment either. It needs to be studied, remembered, dissected in broad daylight in front a live audience. Also, things activists in the U.S.A. find offensive are seen as part of the landscape, and even are beloved, down in Mexico. Different generations often disagree. Is the decor of Mexican restaurants demeaning?

We all need to talk.

¡Hijole! I got rambling here . . .

I’ll end with a bit of advice. The best way to fight back against abusers of stereotypes is not be what they think you are and put it in their face. It’s something I can’t help, being so damned nonstereotypical, with the Irish surname, what my grandmother called my “paddy” accent, being interested in all kinds of things that “Mexicans'' aren't supposed to know about, and constantly going where no Chicano has gone before.

Chicanonautica is the best defense.

Ernest Hogan wears a spaghetti western bandido moustache because people keep mistaking him for black or Arab.


Fun at the Library said...

Well said, Ernie. If people only understood what they're doing or saying with stereotypes they could say and do it better. They could use irony, humor, love in their interactions with the world. Stereotypes can be understood and appreciated for what they are. And they shouldn't ever replace our knowledge of what the real world is like just because we use stereotypical approximations as an amusing way to look at things. I agree with everything you said, the mustache looks good on you.
-=-Ken St. Andre

Daniel Cano said...

Like stereotypes for "smart" people are called archetypes.