Sunday, January 28, 2007

Memín Pinguin

Another item I should have included in the final, "director's cut" of Tex[t]-Mex and had to omit because I found out about it too late (the book was in galleys as the controversy raged with mainstream journalists and blogonauts alike), concerns the contentious history of the very popular (in Mexico, and elsewhere) comic book hero to my right, Memín Pínguin, Afro-Mexican extraordinaire. A staple like Archie, Betty & Veronica, Little Audrey, Richie Rich, and Baby Huey (a guilty pleasure) for Mexican comic book heroes, Pínguin came to be known more widely when the Mexican government, then under the capable hands of ex-Coca Cola executive and Ronald Reaganesque politico, Vicente Fox, issued a series of stamps commemorating this redoubtable child.

What's fascinating about Memín Pínguin comics is not, in this author's view, the racist, auntjemimaesque stereotype said figure broadcasts to lascivious eyes everywhere--though indeed that is reason to pursue greater critical enquiry into his origins and popularity. More important however for our purposes and for ethnic studies work in general is the transnational perpective that a study of this Mexican boy forces on would-be semiotic/political commentators. The boy is African and Mexican, heroic and offensive, popular and embarrassing, human and facsimile--he's a comic book character after all. To be forced to speak of Memín Pínguin is to be forced to speak at once of visuo-cultural historiographies that span Africa, North and South America, just for starters.

Various journalists (some, in Spanish, and quite nostalgic), comic book fans, internet reference tools, and African American bloggers have weighed in thoughtfully on the controversy and origins of this character.

If I to have the chance to revise Tex[t]-Mex for a 2nd edition, I have a sneaking suspicion that Memín Pínguin will have a cameo role; in particular in that part of the introduction where, in attempting to gloss the intricacies of race in U.S. mass culture, I grapple with 19nth century anthropology, blaxploitation films, and the movie Mandingo in an attempt to blend the visual history of African American and Latino semiotic malevolence.


  1. I remember this controvery about Memin Pinguin last summer. The US condemned a set of stamps that were being issued on this comic book character and they were sold out almost immediately in Mexico. The cable news stations showed interviews of then President Fox and many Mexican citizens who said that Memin Pinguin is part of their culture and did not offend them - that he was a well liked comic book character and should not be offensive to blacks. I also remember one person commenting that who are we (the US) to condemn when it is our society who is racists.

  2. Always already revising, eh?! A re-visioning of the tex[t]-mex gallery. An edition to-come. An odd copulation/fusion of attributes, I agree. Memin's identity, a culmination of artistic gestures, remains undefined, indefinable, elusive...