UPDATES – 2/9/2008:
Personally, I am offended that Wal-Mart took the cowardly way out and removed these comic books from their shelves. I had planned to go to Wal-Mart to purchase a few of these comic books, but, had heard that Wal-Mart removed them from their shelves. I am against censorship of printed matter, be that books, newspapers, or comic books, and that is what this was. Yes, the comic books play into the worst kinds of stereotypes against blacks, but, why run from the fact of stereotypes? Yes, they are wrong, but, running from their existence will not make them go away. Seeing, discussing and challenging stereotypes is the only way to attempt to eradicate them.
MEXICAN COMIC BOOK CHARACTER CALLED RACIST
From Ed Lavandera
HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) — A comic-book character popular in Mexico for generations has run into a cultural barrier at the border, where Americans see him as a racist caricature.
Comic book character Memin Pinguin is “a disgrace,” an African-American activist says.
For more than 60 years Mexicans have followed the adventures of “Memin Pinguin.” But the dark-skinned Memin’s exaggerated features in “Memin for President” came as a shock to Houston, Texas, Wal-Mart shopper Shawnedria McGinty.
“I was like, OK, is that a monkey or a boy?” McGinty said. “To me it was an insult.”
She’d never heard of “Memin Pinguin.” She bought a Spanish-English dictionary and tried translating but still didn’t like what she saw.
“So I asked my boyfriend, does that look like a monkey to you?” she said. “And we went back and forth and he was like, no, that’s a black woman,” referring to the character’s Aunt Jemima-like mother.
McGinty and Houston community activist Quannel X want the comic books removed from the stores.
“This is absolutely insensitive toward race, in particular the African-American culture, and also people of color,” Quannel X said. “This is poking fun at the physical features of an entire people.”
But Mexican readers who grew up following the shenanigans of Memin say critics need to look beyond the cover and understand the stories.
“They will bring a smile to their face because we’re so fond of that character,” said Javier Salas, a Spanish-language talk show host on Chicago radio station WRTO. “We respect him, we love him. And that’s why it’s so absurd for us to hear complaints from people who don’t know, don’t understand Memin.”
Memin is a poor Cuban-Mexican kid with bug eyes, thick lips and protruding ears. The mischievous and caring boy helps his mother by selling newspapers and shining shoes.
“We grew up reading, learning and educating ourselves with a lot of the topics they always touched on, which was honesty, justice, tolerance. He was a very unique character,” Salas said.
Wal-Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said the retailer has instructed stores to remove the books from shelves and discontinue sales.
“We received the customer complaint regarding the book, which we knew was based on a popular cartoon character in Mexico. We looked into it further, and we decided to no longer distribute the book and are in the process of removing the books from the stores.”
The store has received no other complaints about Memin, Lopez said.
“We have a wide array of products that we provide to Hispanic customers, but when we looked at this more carefully and given the sensitivity of the topic, we thought it was best to no longer carry the book in our stores,” he said.
He did not know how many copies of Memin books the chain had or how long it would take to remove them from displays.
Memin is no stranger to controversy. Three years ago, a series of Mexican stamps honoring Memin ignited an international uproar. The stamps were discontinued because of protests from African-American leaders.
“This is saying we respect and regard the African-American community by making them look like Sambos on a stamp?” the Rev. Al Sharpton said at the time. “This goes over the line.”
Quannel X called the comic book “a disgrace.”
“Look how they portray his mother, with huge ethnic lips, dark skin, making her look like the big gorilla and him like the little monkey.”
But fans of Memin say the valuable lessons of a beloved comic book character tackling real-life problems have been lost in translation.
MEXICAN COMIC BOOK SOLD AT WAL-MART CALLED ‘RACIST’ BY SOME
M12:53 PM CDT on Tuesday, July 8, 2008
By Jeremy Desel / 11 News
HOUSTON — A popular Mexican comic book being sold at Wal-Marts in the U.S. is causing outrage.
Shawnedria McGinty was not sure what to think when she found a copy of “Memin Pinguin” on the shelves of the children’s book section at a Houston Wal-Mart
. After flipping through the pages, however, one word came to mind – racist.
“OK, is it a monkey or a boy? I mean everybody’s curious, so I was, like, OK, so I opened the book up,” she said. “This is rude.
Head south of the border though, and you get a different reaction to “Memin Pinguin.”
Historically, the character has been hugely popular on newsstands in Mexico and Latin American nations, with sales in the millions.
Is “Memin Pinguin” racist?
It’s racist. Wal-Mart should pull it from the shelves
It’s a part of the Mexican culture. Let it be
It was originally published in the 1960s, but has recently been re-issued and available on the shelves in Wal-Marts north of the border.
“They are calling him names. They call him an animal in one section. His mom is spanking his butt and it looks like they are drowning him,” said McGinty, who went so far as to buy a Spanish to English dictionary to better understand what was being said in the serial.
She found one passage particularly offensive. In the frame, Memin Pinguin is being kicked by a light-skinned man and is called “a black troublemaker.”
“To me it was an insult. Then I saw the cover of this one and thought, (was it) against (presidential contender Barack) Obama or what?”
That comic book cover featured a picture of Memin Penguin running for political office.
Houston activist Quanell X said the problem with the book is more than just words.
“This is poking fun at the physical features of an entire people. Making them look buffoonish (and) portraying the young (black) kid as stupid,” said Quanell. “Whenever they are beating him, they are referring to him as Negro. Even here when he is being punched, slapped (he is called) Negro.
“This is a disgrace.”
The Memin character is intended to be Cuban, but no doubt plays to dark-skinned stereotypes once thought to be reserved for white supremacists or the racially insensitive in this country.
Calls to Wal-Mart’s corporate offices for comment as to why the retailer carries the comic were never returned.
This is not the first time Memin Pinguin has stirred up controversy.
The character spurred debate in 2005 when the Mexican government issued a stamp commemorating Memin. At the time, many U.S. activists and political figures called the character racist.
The Mexican government protested the characterizations, asserting that Americans simply do not understand Memin’s cultural significance in Mexico.
That debate spurred the publisher to re-issue the old comics in a collector’s series that are available for purchase in the United States as, well as Mexico.
I have been familiar for over 20 years with the character “Memin Pinguin”, a negrito hero of the comic books started in the 1940s, featuring a Sambo-like character with exaggerated lips and eyes (comic strips which first appeared in 1947).
The comic book became so popular in Mexico that they were later exported throughout Latin America, to Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands, and to the Phillipines. Many people, black, white, etc., upon learning of this character’s existence are very offended by its racist and demeaning characterization of black people. And I would agree with them. It is racist, no matter how cute and cuddly the creators and maintainors of this degrading image try to defend it.
So, readers, what are your opinions of Memin Pinguin? Is this the first time you have ever heard of him? Do you think the Mexican people are racist who say that Memin is a beloved character and that he is not degrading in any way towards blacks, even black people, Afro-Mexicans, who live in Mexico? Should something that is of someone else’s culture that offends outsiders be considered wrong by outsider’s perceptions? Should Mexicans and the publishers of Memin Pinguin be given a pass on this character because they are from Mexico, and are not Americans?
A few years ago, Memin Pinguin, was put on stamps by the Mexican government, and this also caused an uproar in America. Many Americans felt that the Mexican government putting Memin on a stamp was an act of giving official government sanctioning of a racist character. The Mexican government angrily denied that Memin was an insult to blacks of any kind: Afro-Mexicans or Black Americans. How many of you knew of the stamp’s issuance? How many of you realized there were black people, Afro-Mexicans, who lived in Mexico?
Here is a link to the article on the stamp:
“Mexico’s Racist Postage Stamp: Afro-Mexican Scholar Calls “Memin Pinguin” An Insult”
How would you, dear readers, respond if you went to a Wal-Mart and saw this book on the shelf, and how would you let Wal-Mart, as well as the book’s publishers, know how you feel about such an image of black people, even if the book has its origins in Mexico?