Friday, February 5, 2010

Jim Crow Museum Question of the Month: Understanding Memin Pinguin

February 2010

Q: Why do you have Memin material in a museum devoted to American racism? Memin is not racist and not American. The so-called Memin stamp controversy is not helped by having Americans who know little about Mexico and its culture sticking their opinions where they do not belong.

--Angel Rodriquez - Los Angeles, California

A: Rather than just reacting to the Mexican government’s recent attempt to honor Memin Pinguin, a popular comic strip character who also looks every bit the pickaninny caricature, with moral outrage we should see it for what it is: an opportunity. The debate over the inherent racism of the stamps and what it says about the Mexican attitude on race is an opportunity to address two issues of race that are becoming increasingly important in the U.S. and around the world. One is the empty idea of racial blindness, particularly in relation to racist images of the past, and how it impedes a true sense of racial understanding. The second is the need to better understand the subtly complicated nature of race and racism in Latin America. Both are important as the ethnic face of the U.S. continues to change and local problems around the world become international ones.

Memin Pinguin is the 58 year-old creation of the late Yolanda Vargas Duche. The character, whose name translates roughly to “Billy the Little Devil,” is something of a Dennis the Menace, a lovable mischief-maker character in name as well as attitude. The series follows Memin’s adventures with his three friends Ernestillo, Carlos and Ricardo (all “white” Mexicans), but the central relationship of the series is between the “negrito” and his mother, Ma’ Linda. In 1947 Vargas Duche returned to Mexico after a period of working in Cuba. She was apparently so inspired by Havana’s many black children that she patterned Memin after them.

For the complete response essay from Troy Peters, visit: http://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/question/feb10/

Troy Peters, the author of this essay, is a Policy Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future, a progressive political institute based in Washington, DC. The Jim Crow Museum thanks The Black Commentator for granting permission to reprint this essay, which originally appeared at http://www.blackcommentator.com/147/147_guest_peters_pickaninnies.html

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