Tlahui-Politic. No. 7, I/1999

Chihuahuas, War & Indian Slayers

Información enviada al Director de Tlahui. México a 10 de Junio, 1999. Chihuahuas, War & Indian Slayers.


First, there's actor Ricardo Montalban doing Taco Bell commercials. Now, Luis Caldera, Secretary of the Army, is mounting a national Latino recruitment campaign by exploiting the image of the three recent prisoners of "war" in Serbia. Meanwhile, Spike Lee, director of "Malcolm X," is set to do commercials for the Navy. And then there's the town that wants to re-erect a statue to an "Indian slayer."

The question "What's wrong with this picture?" is appropriate here.

For some, images, like jokes, are at worst meaningless. For others, they have the subliminal power to influence minds. In advertising, a powerful image is worth millions, even billions. For us, their manipulation has to be viewed in context and can't be separated from reality. Take Dinky. He's a cute, bilingual Chihuahua. Nothing more, nothing less. Maybe so. However, his heavy accent takes us back to the movies of the 1950s when every Hollywood south-of-the-border type spoke similarly ("Hey, Cisco). If one grew up being insulted for not knowing English, one would understand why this is bothersome. Montalban, who starred in "Fantasy Island," founded NOSOTROS (an entertainment organization) in the 1970s to combat negative images of Latinos in Hollywood. One of those persistent negative images was that of actors speaking in mocking and demeaning accents.

Many people are not bothered by seeing a Chihuahua become what Montalban used to be: the most recognizable Latino actor on television. What bothers many is not the canine, but that his closest competitor in Hollywood on the recognition index is Juan Valdez, the Colombian coffee peddler.

As for the Spike Lee Navy ads, they'll probably be quite hip, and no doubt more urban youngsters will flock to the armed services. The Navy should get a lot of bang for its buck.

Meanwhile, Caldera, while touting the "tremendous opportunities" available in the armed services, is busy exploring ways to lower entrance standards in his efforts to recruit Latinos. They are, he notes, 11 percent of the population, but only 7 percent and 4 percent of the Army's enlisted forces and officers' corps, respectively.

In his recruitment drive, Caldera recently mentioned the "brown ones" who were captured by Serbian forces, but didn't mention that the Army's "tremendous opportunities" include the ability to participate in bombing countries back to the stone age. No need to sugar-coat reality.

Regarding the Indian slayer re-erection, it's most disturbing. Milford, Pa., put up a statue in the 1800s to Tom Quick, reputed to have killed 99 Indians. Elaine Van Raper, of the Native American Historical Truth Association, recently said that Quick "begged for one more on his deathbed to make it an even 100." He's credited as being the first to conduct germ warfare against native people (through the use of blankets infected with smallpox). In 1997, the statue was vandalized, and city officials are contemplating re-erecting it. "To have a monument re-erected that condones racism and violence is an atrocity," Van Raper said. City officials apparently believe that statues, like images, are harmless.

Charlene Teters, renowned for her struggles against racist logos in sports, commented to us about the relationship between images and reality: "When culture and identification are held hostage by the media, it can create hopelessness," she said. Among native people, this can contribute to situations such as what has recently occurred in South Dakota, where there were 40 attempted suicides by youths, she said.

The exploitation of racist images "tells us that there must be something wrong with us," she added.

Images are not innocuous. We've long maintained that when you reduce images of people to illegal and outsider status, society acts accordingly. For example, people are horrified at the concept of "Driving While Black," whereas they seem to believe that pulling people over for "Driving While Brown" is perfectly acceptable. Bucking the trend against "racial profiling," a recent federal appeals court decision said that in pulling people over, the U.S. Border Patrol can use racial/ethnic factors ("Hispanic appearance"). This is a go-ahead for singling out red-brown people. In other words, thumbs up for "Indian removal." Without a change in attitude, President Clinton's recent order to keep statistics on federal arrests will not actually stop racial profiling.

How did we get here? Perhaps even the courts have succumbed to the propaganda and have become convinced that these red-brown populations indeed must deserve less respect than a dog. "Ay Chihuahua!"


* Both writers are authors of GONZÁLES/RODRÍGUEZ: Uncut & Uncensored (ISBN 0-918520-22-3 UC Berkeley, Ethnic Studies Library, Publications Unit. RODRÍGUEZ is the author of Justice: A Question of Race (Cloth ISBN 0-927534-69-X paper ISBN 0-927534-68-1 Bilingual Review Press) and the antibook, The X in La Raza II and Codex Tamuanchan: On Becoming Human. They can be reached at PO BOX 7905, Albq NM 87194-7904, 505-242-7282 or GONZÁLES's direct line is 505-248-0092 or
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