MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) — The Mexican government has issued a postage stamp depicting an exaggerated black cartoon character known as Memin Pinguin, just weeks after remarks by President Vicente Fox angered U.S. blacks.
The series of five stamps released for general use Wednesday depicts a child character from a comic book started in the 1940s that is still published in Mexico. The boy, hapless but lovable, is drawn with exaggerated features, thick lips and wide-open eyes. His appearance, speech and mannerisms are the subject of kidding by white characters in the comic book.
“One would hope the Mexican government would be a little more careful and avoid continually opening wounds,” said Sergio Penalosa, an activist in Mexico’s small black community on the southern Pacific coast. “But we’ve learned to expect anything from this government, just anything,” Penalosa said. In May, Fox riled many by saying that Mexican migrants take jobs in the United States that “not even blacks” want.
Carlos Caballero, assistant marketing director for the Mexican Postal Service, said the stamps are not offensive, nor were they intended to be. “This is a traditional character that reflects part of Mexico’s culture,” Caballero said. “His mischievous nature is part of that character.”
However, Penalosa said many Mexicans still assume all blacks are foreigners, despite the fact that at one point early in the Spanish colonial era, Africans outnumbered Spanish in Mexico.
The 6.50-peso (60 cent) stamps — depicting the character in five poses — was issued with the domestic market in mind, but Caballero noted it could be used in international postage as well. A total of 750,000 of the stamps will be issued.
Publisher Manelick De la Parra told the government news agency Notimex that the character would be sort of a goodwill ambassador on Mexican letters and postcards. “It seems nice if Memin can travel all over the world, spreading good news,” de la Parra said, calling him “so charming, so affectionate, so wonderful, generous and friendly.”
Oh those charming, affectionate, wonderful, generous, and friendly Negroes. They are such a happy bunch. I know that I’m certainly not offended. Why? Because Carlos Caballero said they weren’t offensive. Good thing he said so, there might have been some confusion.
Sure it’s a stereotype and we don’t want to encourage those kind of images and stereotypes. But while we’re so proud of ourselves and how far we’ve come as we wag our collective scolding finger at Mexico, a few things gave me pause. For example, on my way to work this morning, I counted no fewer than four lawn jockeys. But, whew!, they had been painted white. And though we once had Aunt Jemima looking like this:
(Note the resemblance to Memin Pinguin’s mom, or Mrs. Butterworth for that matter) in our age of continuing sensitivity, we’ve given her a perm. In fact, as I continue to go through our cabinets, I come across a box of Uncle Remus’, I mean, Uncle Ben’s rice.
Let’s see, a Pickaninny, a Mammy, a Tom and a couple Coons; throw in a big black angry Buck, we’d have the whole set of popular depictions of black people through the ages.
Good thing no one was trying to be offensive.