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More on Memin Pinguin

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Mexican artist Adalisa Zárate gives some context to Memin Pinguin:

Now, Memin was created back in 1940, and it hasn’t changed since then. Should he get a revamped version, that draws less from the old design? Maybe, if they were paying Mr. Sixto Valencia, the artist (Mrs. Duche died a while ago) for redrawing his old work. As things stands now, what Editorial Vid is doing (And had been doing for a while even before the stamps controversy three years ago) is just reprint the old material, exactly in the same way as it had been published back then. There is no modernization, no attempt to make the material more current (And trust me, there’s more than just Memin’s appearance that reads dated when you start reading the whole story, for instance, the much critiziced corporal punishment against Memin by his mom. In 1940, mothers were expected to do that. Or have we forgotten all those Superman covers where Superman is spanking someone, or getting spanked?) and I don’t think there’s any interest for it to be. While Memin is a very loved character, and his comic has been reprinted at least 5 times if my memory serves, mexican comic books aren’t treated with much importance by Mexican business, mostly because they ‘don’t sell’ and thus, a modernization of Memin is probably seen as a useless risk. Reprinting makes money with very little cost for them, so it’s seen as risk free.


Zárate also explains the story that goes along with the above cover, and its a doozy.

The Beat says: Seriously, people, you’d have to be blind not to see the historical racist imagery inherent in this character.

[Via Journalista!]

  1. I was at the Amadora BD Festival in Portugal last year and there was a part of the exhibit devoted to Memin Pinguin. Like, an entire room of the gallery. I can’t read Portuguese so I didn’t know what was being said about the work on the accompanying plaques but it didn’t seem to be calling attention to the racist caricature. I remember being fairly shocked.

  2. When I saw that cover, for a second I read “We Don’t Serve Black People” as the comic’s subtitle, like “Daredevil, the Man Without Fear”.

  3. After reading that post, which, presumably, was supposed to invoke in us a sympathy for how warm and wonderful the character really is, I am instead imbued with a sense that some people are in deep denial about inherent racism in Mexican culture.

  4. Reading Adalisa’s description of the stories is valuable, and makes it pretty clear that the stories’ intent is the opposite of racism. I think the salient point is that despite all of that, someone who walks by that book in a U.S. Wal-Mart is very likely going to do a double take and ask what the hell that’s doing on a bookshelf, and all the context in the world isn’t going to change that.

  5. If anyone would like to learn more about the details surrounding that ghastly comic book from Mexico, I recommend you check out what this American-born blogger, Mark in Mexico, wrote about it almost 3 years ago when the postage stamps almost got published.

    I must fully agree that it’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. There are a few European comics with questionable depictions of blacks, but very few can come within even miles of being as offensive as Memin Pinguin is.

  6. Examples of inherent historical racist imagery abound all around us and such imagery has capital on various scales. Memin Pinguin is merely an example of how such imagery is deployed in Mexico for entertainment purposes. Similar entertainment examples are found in the United States in characters such Farina & Buckwheat of the Our Gang Comedies or living examples such as Flavor Flav.

    In the U.S. political arena we also see the deployment of historical based racist imagery — a prime example include the not so recent attacks via subtle racist imagery that the Clintons directed toward Sen. Obama during the Democratic presidential primaries. Another example a bit closer to cartooning is found in the Jeff Danziger characterization of Sec. of State Rice as a Stepin Fetchit female ‘Gone With The Wind” figure for daring to work under a Republican president.

    It is fine to focus on Memin Pinguin, but my particular point is that there is plenty of historically based inherent racism ongoing in the U.S. to keep us all busy.

    Perhaps Memin Pinguin is a skrull because he certainly has ignited a war of words going on in these threads.

  7. I’m from Latin America (Peru) and grew up reading Memin Pinguin. I am aware now that it’s completely racist, but unlike me there are tens of thousands of people that are unaware of this fact and just love little Memin Pinguin.

    There is a similar thread going on in Peru’s main newspaper blog. It is shocking to see how opposite the comments are, when compared to this thread. In the Latin America blog, everyone claims that people in the U.S. must be stupid for not liking Memin Pinguin. They say Memin in a ‘classic’ and that everyone should read it.

    Now, I should mention that people in Latin America are indeed in denial when it comes towards racism. We are aware of what it is and what it means, but it all boils down to the notion that mostly everyone grew up reading Memin Pinguin. Be aware that I’m 23 years old and I had no idea Memin Pinguin was that old. It’s just sad to see so many people unaware of the racist environment they live in.

  8. Pointing out historically based racism in the US in a discussion about a blatantly racist comic in Mexico is as invalid as pointing out racism in Italian comics to deflect criticism of racism in Timbuktu.

    Racism in one place does not obviate racism in another.

    The issue is that Memin Pinguin is racist, no matter how many people grew up with it and like it. And the blog post defending it is an unfortunate example of racist denial.

    To my memory, racism in US comics doesn’t get a free pass on this blog.

    Neither does Memin Pinguin.

  9. I wonder if people south of the border are not steeped in the racist conventions that are so obviously apparent in this caricature? Could it be possible that the practice of black face, caricatures of blacks in the U.S. are not as historically entrenched in Mexico and other countries?

  10. I think that if MP is an example of racism, it’s of a type I’d call “defensive infantilization,” where you imagine the representative of an ethnicity to be little and cute rather than being in any way threatening.

    Culturally, it could be a coping mechanism, rather than a sinister way to keep the non-dominant ethnicities down. The favorable sentiments expressed here by those who read MP in youth might suggest that honest sentiment is more the case here than media manipulation.

  11. In responde to Anon’s comment: You are 100% correct. People in Latin America are unaware of these racial conventions. We have a different culture in which sadly, most people make racist jokes everyday. Regretably, that’s the environment in which kids grow up.

    In fact, in Peru one of our ‘best’ comedians often uses black face. You can check out the following link. Just look at the 1st video. And bear in mind this is what’s considered good comedy. I know, it’s shocking.

    http://www.forosenperu.com/especial-del-humor/2113-negro-mama.html

    What’s worse, is that most people love this type of comedy. And when someone tells them that this is a clear case of racism, they just answer by saying you are exaggerating.

  12. Gianco…I’m wondering what the social aspect of all this is? Does Latin America have the kind of Jim Crow laws that America once endure?

  13. Well, I can’t speak for all latin american countries given that I’m not fully aware of each one’s history but I know this.

    There have been no Jim Crow laws in modern history and racism has never been as powerful here as it has been in the US. Maybe this is due to the fact that 95% of the popopulation is mestiza, or ‘mixed’. Rich, poor, medium class people are all mestiza. If we follow the theory that humans being by nature divide themselves into groups with similar characteristics, then it is awful hard to accomplish this on a race basis.

    I could say that society in Latin America is modeled in such a way that segregation is not racial. By this I don’t mean that there is no racism. There is but something much stronger is the social/economic segregation. Poor people simply don’t mix with rich people. Poor people often get kicked out from certain places like clubs, pubs, etc.

    And… people have learnt to live this way. There are no Jim Crow rules per se, but segregation is still alive and presen in an economic (not race) basis. In fact, it has become tacit knowledge and it’s employed in everyday life.

    Please bear in mind that this is my opinion and I can only talk for myself and what I see around me in Peru. I’ve also spent 4 years of my life in the U.S. (in St Louis, MO) and have witnessed racism there. It’s not the same here. What we have here is a completely different kind of monster.

  14. I bartend in NYC. I immediately asked my barback, the foodrunners and some of the busboys about Memin. They are all from Mexico. At first, they were laughing because I knew who Memin was and wondered how I knew. I explained, and one said what has been said in here. It just wasn’t viewed that way. However, attitudes over the years seem to have changed as another one said he will jokingly call a black employee “Memin”. While I know this person isn’t malicious when doing that, it seems clear that THEY consider Memin a black stereotype. A couple of them didn’t see anything wrong with it, some saw it as racist and a few others just didn’t understand why it’s a big deal.

  15. “The Beat says: Seriously, people, you’d have to be blind not to see the historical racist imagery inherent in this character.”

    I don’t see what you’re seeing. You would need to be more specific.

    The only racist thing I can infer from this cover is that the restaurant those two kids were trying to go into is run by racist individuals which is represented by the stereotypical (or default scapegoat) racist–a white man. I would need to read the book to see anything else.

    Wal-Mart should not remove it from the shelves.

  16. “I wonder if people south of the border are not steeped in the racist conventions that are so obviously apparent in this caricature? Could it be possible that the practice of black face, caricatures of blacks in the U.S. are not as historically entrenched in Mexico and other countries?”
    Yes it could be possible. I didn’t even knew what blackface was until I found it on the internet and if you ask any Mexican on the street what “black face” is you would probably get the completely oblivious answer of “a face that is black?” or just a simple “¿Que?” [what?]

    “Gianco…I’m wondering what the social aspect of all this is? Does Latin America have the kind of Jim Crow laws that America once endure?
    No, Mexico at least doesn’t, there was no sending to the back of the bus for racial reasons here and there is no such thing as a one-drop-law. Mexico has a great deal of social problems but mostly are because of classism not of sexism. Nobody gives a fucking damn how your skin color is if you have a few million pesos and no nobody will give a damn about you if your income is more like… ten, even if you are blue-eyed and blond.

    It seems most people are still understanding the issue backwards:
    1-. Yes, the physical portrayal of Memín is not right and should have redraw YEARS AGO for future printings. But guess where the original design came from… from the United States. As Sixto Valencia (the person who drew the strips) based his design in the character Ebony White drawn by Will Eisner. No, it doesn’t mean that makes it right but it means that kind of interpretations doesn’t came from us, and probably nobody here thought they would be offending somebody when the “borrowed” it.
    2-. Memín preached for equality of all people when most of your parents or grandparents would even think about it. In that cover you see the “we don’t serve black people” sign wasn’t the teaching of the day but the source of the problems in the episode. As the characters go to the United States and find they wouldn’t give service to one of them and are shown that sign, something they never found before in Mexico. And they are MAD because of that not supporting that idea.
    That number was written probably on the sixties, and it was a harsh critique to the treatment of the afro-american population on the United States on that time not racist propaganda. I’m not saying everybody should love Memin but for to see that comics as it really is, a story that fought for social change for EVERYONE and not racist propaganda as many of you seemed to think. The solution to all the problems would probably be as Adalisa says a redrawn of the character. As if the character looked different probably nobody would ever complained in the first place. Or probably this a true case of cultural difference when neither size actually understands the other or want too, as it looks to me that every side is thinking the issue in completely different channels.

  17. “I don’t see what you’re seeing. You would need to be more specific.”

    You don’t? Really? How about this, specifically. Take a close look at that cover. See how the two white characters are drawn in a realistic style? Then look at Memin. See how his racial physiogamy is caricatured to an extent that he’s barely even recognizable as a homo sapien? Well, I think that’s what Heidi’s getting at re: “the historical racist imagery inherent in this character.” Specifically.

    Also, while the particular story used to illustrate this post may have an anti-racist message, I don’t believe it’s actually the story in question in the Wal-Mart case.

    “Memín preached for equality of all people when most of your parents or grandparents would even think about it.”

    Come on now. Even Memin’s defender Adalisa Zárate says that this story was one of only three out of 200+ issues that even touched on the issue of Memin’s race. That’s nice, but it hardly seems like the series (which, admittedly, I’ve never read) has racial equality as some sort of ongoing, underlying theme.

    Also, I doubt that Memin’s creators based his depiction specifically on Will Eisner’s Ebony. The Spirit wasn’t that widespread in the U.S., was it even seen in Mexico? I don’t give Eisner a pass on Ebony, but he didn’t create that caricature. That visual imagery evolved long before Eisner put pen to paper.

    “Or probably this a true case of cultural difference when neither size actually understands the other or want too, as it looks to me that every side is thinking the issue in completely different channels.”

    Well, I guess I agree with this, to an extent, since we’ve now heard from several people from South of the Border who seem to share a basic opinion on the character. However, it must be pointed out that the woman who found Memin in her local Wal-Mart is not complaining about the use of Memin in Mexican culture, but its presence in HER community. You can defend or justify the character’s place in Mexican culture – I honestly don’t know enough about Mexican culture to comment on that, and I’ll take your word for it, I guess – but if I’m willing to do that, then you must be willing to acknowledge how the character is seen over here, especially by African-Americans.

  18. “ou don’t? Really? How about this, specifically. Take a close look at that cover. See how the two white characters are drawn in a realistic style? Then look at Memin. See how his racial physiogamy is caricatured to an extent that he’s barely even recognizable as a homo sapien? Well, I think that’s what Heidi’s getting at re: “the historical racist imagery inherent in this character.” Specifically.”

    I don’t see how that’s “racist”. I see how it’s a stereotypical portrayal, but I don’t see any racism present. I see how someone could be offended, but I don’t see any reason to remove it from the store. The kid looks human to me. I wouldn’t say the other two characters are in a “realistic style”, but I do think the Memin character is exaggerated.

    “However, it must be pointed out that the woman who found Memin in her local Wal-Mart is not complaining about the use of Memin in Mexican culture, but its presence in HER community.”

    That doesn’t give her to right to dictate what they sell at the local Wal-Mart. She has the right to not shop there anymore though, and I would encourage her to exercise that right. She has already utilized her right to free speech.

  19. “That doesn’t give her to right to dictate what they sell at the local Wal-Mart. She has the right to not shop there anymore though, and I would encourage her to exercise that right. She has already utilized her right to free speech.”

    Well, agreed that she doesn’t have the right to dictate what Wal-Mart sells. She doesn’t have that right, or that power. As you noted, she does have the right to free speech, and to use that free speech to object to what that Wal-Mart is carrying. People do that all the time, with private businesses, public libraries, schools, etc., on all manner of political or religious grounds. They can either choose to capitulate or not. You could use your free speech to protest their decision to pull the comic book, if you like.

  20. “The Beat says: Seriously, people, you’d have to be blind not to see the historical racist imagery inherent in this character.”

    You’d have to be remarkably entrenched in your own, tiny world view not to see that a) in Mexico, this kind of imagery is not historically racist; and b) you are bringing your own cultural baggage to the proceedings. Most Americans are way too thin-skinned and defensive when it comes to issues of race or racism, and do everything in their power to not appear as such (especially white Americans). As others in this thread have said (and I can only speak for Mexico here), Mexico never had any Jim Crow laws, the Spanish abolished slavery in Mexico in 1811 without the need for a civil war, and most of our races and ethnicities are pretty well mixed. Our divisions come from class and wealth, not race. It is quite possible for two brown-skinned Mexicans to have one dark-skinned child who can pass as black and one light skinned-child who can pass as white, and they’re all going to read Memin Pinguin (as well as have pet names for each other like “negrito” and “guero”).

    So, while Memin Pinguin may seem racist to Americans steeped in racism (though not necessarily racist themselves), it simply is not in Mexico. It’s not viewed that way by any segment of the population.

    All that said, Wal-Mart gets to choose what to sell and what not to sell in its stores, for whatever reason, and consumers will either applaud and continue shopping or boo and hiss and go somewhere else. That’s the beauty of capitalism. If Wal-Mart does not satisfy your need for Memin Pinguin, please visit any of the thousands and thousand of bodegas around the country who will no doubt carry Memin Pinguin as well as many other Mexican comics (like my personal favorite Condorito).

  21. “You could use your free speech to protest their decision to pull the comic book, if you like.”

    Agreed, or rant about it and/or the silly circumstances which preceded whatever their decision may be.

  22. A black character in a comic book was never drawn this way out of respect. It was the way blacks were viewed. Yes, this imagery probably originaetd in the US but it was never harmless, only white people thought so. C.C. Beck told the story of how a similar character in the old Captain Marvel comics (named Steamboat) was discontineud after a black child came to their offices and explained that this image made him feel bad whenever it appeared in his favorite comic. It had never occurred to them because that was just the way blacks were drawn in comics in the 1930s and 1940s. But once their eyes were opened they stopped doing it. Black people don’t view this old stereotype as harmless and seeing it reprinted now cannot go down well. In the 1970s when Warren began reprinting The Spirit, Will Eisner suddenly found himself having to defend his old character of Ebony White, and his excuse that he never realized it was racist at the time didn’t go down very well and it remained an embarrassment for him. Just because someone somewhere doesn’t see something as being inherently racist doesn’t mean it isn’t. That image in the Mexican comic is demeaning to blacks whether in Mexico or elsewhere. It isn’t harmless.

  23. When I learned about the polemic about Memín Pengüí on the United States…I was aghast! Here in Puerto Rico one of the more memorables characters of Mexican Comics is Memín..& never (i asked a lot of people who remembered it) we saw it as racist…what the artist on the blog here told was true about the physical punishment on the decades were Memín was created ( i read it on the reprinting of 1983)…my Grandfather & my Parents told me that was like that when they behave wrong. But that aside, if North American People read the Memín story you will see why was so much loved on Latin America…Memín is a little Black Kid with the heart of Gold …he made his friend to end in trouble cause He wanted to hrlp others but not ith the right methods.

    And always loved his Mother “His Ma’Linda” (slang for Beautiful Mom)…and they were always showing the importance of Friendship & how the Blond Rich boy learned to appreciate his friend without thinking of skin color or social status. THAT IS MEMÍN PINGÜÍN!

    And speaking about racism…We Latin American/Hispanics we are always been seeing by North Americans (not all North Americans) like inferior but we had proved that we can be as good or better than anyone. Here in Puerto Rico, we don’t see Memín as racist because we aren’t completely white, we have Black people, Meztiso, ..we are a Blend from African, Spaniard & our Natives : The Taínos.

    Thanks.

  24. When I learned about the polemic about Memín Pengüí on the United States…I was aghast! Here in Puerto Rico one of the more memorables characters of Mexican Comics is Memín..& never (i asked a lot of people who remembered it) we saw it as racist…what the artist on the blog here told was true about the physical punishment on the decades were Memín was created ( i read it on the reprinting of 1983)…my Grandfather & my Parents told me that was like that when they behave wrong. But that aside, if North American People read the Memín story you will see why was so much loved on Latin America…Memín is a little Black Kid with the heart of Gold …he made his friend to end in trouble cause He wanted to hrlp others but not ith the right methods.

    And always loved his Mother “His Ma’Linda” (slang for Beautiful Mom)…and they were always showing the importance of Friendship & how the Blond Rich boy learned to appreciate his friend without thinking of skin color or social status. THAT IS MEMÍN PINGÜÍN!

    And speaking about racism…We Latin American/Hispanics we are always been seeing by North Americans (not all North Americans) like inferior but we had proved that we can be as good or better than anyone. Here in Puerto Rico, we don’t see Memín as racist because we aren’t completely white, we have Black people, Meztiso, ..we are a Blend from African, Spaniard & our Natives : The Taínos.

    Thanks.

  25. I don´t think Memi Pinguin is racism in that case Hello!!!!! Speedy Gonzalez is offensive to.

    Mexico had African American president 200 hundred years before United States if you don´t believe look for Vicente Guerrero Biography He was one of the first presidents in Mexico her mother was spanish and her father african, He was not only president, He is one of the most important part of Independence of Mexico

  26. Given the comments from most whites and Hispanics in this thread I think they must live on a steady diet of idiot-pills.
    Now I realize that asking these two groups to give up their anti-black attitudes is like asking a crackhead to kick the habit cold turkey, but the world has changed, there’s a LOT more change to come and there’s not a damned thing you can do about that! The color of power is no longer white –THANK GOD!– and it’s not brown either. It’s multi-colored. And one of those colors is black. We have the power to stop people from denigrating us and we will use it ALL THE TIME! Your whining about that won’t change it! You don’t matter!
    Whether you like it, whether you don’t like it, LEARN TO LOVE IT!

    If Hispanics refuse to change with this new world then like so many of the white whiner-class you will be condemned to a future where you bitch and moan non-stop that your favorite racist caricatures of yesteryear are being taken away. For you this racism is a comforting reminder that there’s people who are meant to be beneath you. And you can’t believe those people would fight back.
    Shows how “stoopid” you are.

    Anyone who thinks racism went away with Obama’s election needs to read this thread and see the strident racism on display. We see the same old feeble attempts to excuse racism: “Anyone who doesn’t like this is the racist!” “Whatever happened to the First Amendment?” “Black people pulling the race card!”
    Why is it whenever racism gets exposed we see a parade of whites frothing at the mouth and barking like dogs demanding that hate speech is merely free speech? This isn;t racism from “everyone,” it is specific to whites and hispanics. Notice we reference WHITE and MEXICAN cartoons lampooning blacks, NEVER the other way around? We will call a spade a spade. The reason we even have to have this discussion is because we gave anti-black speech a free pass. No more.

    Whites and Hispanics are so warped in their thinking (?) that they rush to defend a blatantly racist cartoon character as if their very lives depended on it. You would think that somebody sodomized their child the way they’re gong on.
    Look blacks have dismissed your predictable and weak defense of the indefensible. And that seems to be the main problem Memin’s fan club has: they are SO angry that their “right” to buy their racist rag anywhere anytime they want has been abridged. Worse, that people –especially BLACK people!!!– are allowed to speak against it and –horrors of horrors!!– actually DO something about it!
    What kind of world do we live in where peolpe can protest imagery that dehumanizes them and actually get it removed?
    What’s next? Full voting rights for all races?

    Al Jolson was around 60 years ago and it was wrong then too. Seems everyone is entitled to demand respect except blacks. We will not only demand respect but will punish you if you don’t give it. So I say to you, “GET OVER IT!”

  27. One thing.
    I’m a black mexican.
    And I think that everybody has the right to fight for their rights in their own country.
    In Mexico we don’t have a history of racism and slavery or humilliation because our skin color.
    We did not get killed becouse we were black.
    Africanamericans were in the USA.
    In Mexico we are not africanmexicans, we are simply mexicans.
    And I say that with pride.
    I feel offended by the way the black race was treated in USA-
    But here in Mexico not me, not my family ever was treated as another race.
    What you do in your country is your business.
    Here in Mexico we “blacks” love Memin.
    So get used to it.
    Oh, and yes my country makes me feel like a human being, not like “another” race.
    Thanks

  28. Miguel H. I too am a Black Mexican…woman. And if you say that in Mexico we dont have a history of racism and slavery or humiliation…sweetheart do some reading up on history. Look up Yanga…one of the first slaves to revolt and create the first freed slave pueblo in America…and when i say America…its the Continent.

    Yanga…the first slave revolt in Veracruz right after the Spanish…SO CALLED CONQUEST.

    And as far as here in Mexico we ” blacks” love Memin…dont generalize. Its a caricature of what real dignity and respect should be to a race…any race.

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