We’ve spoken about the racism inherent in many “beloved,” classic children’s characters before on Love Isn’t Enough. In a recent interview with Lamont Lilly published on Racialicious, Marco Polo Hernández-Cuevas talks about Memín Penguín, a Mexican character akin to Little Black Sambo.
LL: I found your research on the caricature Memín Penguín to be quite intriguing. Interestingly enough, such a caricature draws an awful close resemblance to Helen Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo. What is Memín Penguín’s cultural and political relevance to those of Mexican descent?
Memín Pinguín. Courtesy: brownplanet.com
Hernández-Cuevas: Well, the same thing that was done with Little Black Sambo is being done with Memín Pinguín. The first work I published on this was in 2003; however, I’ve recently completed a comparative study on Memin Penguin and two other comics. I like to refer to them as “the dark side of light reading.” Dr. Richard L. Jackson, (one of my professors) has produced a great deal of work reflecting such material’s utter detriment. Ariel Dorfman–the Chilean exile now at Duke University–speaks on this as well.
This sort of inexpensive media reaches a lot of people in terms of the masses…and is easy to reproduce. It’s composed at a level where our young are easily indoctrinated. I’m talking about the mind–the wellbeing of our psyches. In his Slaves of the White God: Blacks in Mexico, Dr. Colin A. Palmer articulates in detail the grave horrors our folks endured in New Spain. Far from connecting us to that history, the Memín cartoon actually creates an “other.” It caricatures that experience of us as humorous. It only feeds what Quince Duncan refers to as Endophobia (or a hatred of one’s self). In Mexico City, we had this saying growing up as a kid, “At least I’m not as black as you are!” So you see, it’s the African part that we choose to chop off. We laugh at it, learn to make light of it as if our culture were some comedy show.
In order to really understand Memín Penguín, we’ve got to filter through the historical murk of imperialism. We should know that such material is produced from the outside and is really aimed as an attack, having little to do with a sense of humor. This is nothing but European denigration against the very people who’ve worked the hardest! This is the colonial vacuum in which Africa and its current descendants are still encapsulated. The Afro contribution is serious; it’s no damn joke! It’s generally when the discourse is fed from the outside that the consequences prove to be negative. Sure, my perspective and essays on this can be questioned. However, when Memin defenders call it “pure entertainment,” I don’t believe their explanations to be true or sincere. It’s time we start feeding cohesion and strength, not ignorance!