A Federal Case II; 20; Chicanos and the Media
I would say that the crunch has come simply because there are few if any racist kinds of tricks left in the in the white man's trick bag I would hasten to add that the Black Sambo and Jim. Nigger kind of syndrome has been lost for all intents and purposes to most of white America and the advertising game like any other game it's just you know an exploitation kind of thing and so now they're focusing and coming down very hard on chickens and Spanish speaking in general. The speaker is Domingo and Nick Reyes who is the executive director of a Washington based organization called the National Mexican-American Anti Defamation Committee a group formed to combat what it sees as the stereotype image of the Mexican American. This is a federal case from Washington D.C.
the National Educational radio network brings you one examination of current issues facing our nation and its capital city. Here is Annie our own correspondent Vic Sussman. If you're not a Mexican You may find it difficult to understand why someone should be upset by a cartoon character like the Frito Bandito or by Alon Valdez the coffee bean plantation worker or by the television image of the Mexican with the broad grin in the white suit. The speech punctuated with lines like I being saying your if you're not a Mexican You may say this is harmless it's good clean American fun. Nick Reyes doesn't agree. One of the problems I think that we face in this country is that. As it is applied towards us that stereotype has remained for the most part fairly constant since the late eighteenth hundreds. I don't doubt that but are our folk dressed like the stereotype and I don't doubt that many of us. So continue to have the speech
problems. But I would say that for the most part in terms of employment in terms of housing in terms of gaining a rightful part in the in the American mainstream these stereotypes will continue to dog our footsteps. And I just don't know what the solution is unless the solution comes from us because I think we have to go through the educational process of teaching the American public that likely American Jews and the American taling Americans and American Indians. These are things that we have to do for ourselves and we must strive to educate the public about the how. Psychologically harmful these can be. All right the National American and the national Mexican-American Anti-Defamation committee has been in existence for about three years now. What is it that you are doing what are your methods. How are you trying to affect these changes. Well as I said earlier it's an educational process I think we have gone out past the area of issuing press statements and gone towards.
Trying to find sources of the ways in which we could produce a product which could be presented as an alternative when these three teletype Bandito type spots are taken off the air. We think there's a compensatory effort that needs to be made and we're assessing ways in which we can we can do these things through whether it be public service spots which are present a positive picture of our people or whether it be feature stories or drama scripts or posters. The whole gamut of the media to sort of compensate for the you derogatory and demeaning and defaming kinds of stereotypes. As I said earlier you seem to. Obstruct our way towards full participation in American society. Well let's take this to the Frito Bandito again because many people most people imagine familiar with that's the voice of Mel Blanc it's a little cartoon character with some barrel I think a gold tooth bundle there are six guns give me a Fritos or I will shoot your son you're this kind of thing.
A lot of encouragement to the children I think to imitate this kind of character. But many Anglos would say to you aren't you being a little thin skinned I mean we're all Americans we're all one big happy family sort of thing and you know it's just a sort of a social satire why be so upset over this. Well I I would add that you know when you on the surface it doesn't look like like like it's going to create any any socioeconomic problems. Unfortunately though that the media and the printed word they sociological studies the pervasive television commercials the programs etc. which continue to pound away at the stereotype on a continuous basis. You know multiply that by the hundreds of times a day that these draw your attention. I think especially for children. Children will grow up with a locked in kind of image of what Spanish people are
like. You know and then when they meet a real one that does have these traits or speech impediments and what have you you see that sort of closes the stereotypic loop you know. And by condescension or agreement you get out you get a kind of an Oscar Lewis an image of a particular type of people and not everyone fits that particular mold. But then these individuals get into the process like in positions of power or positions where they will deal with Spanish speakers and then of course that thing continues to surface as a kind of an obstruction to the participation of individuals and I give you case in point. The sociologist for the most part have been have been Anglos and they've started in Mexico they've started in Latin America. But the stereotype while it may be related to Mexico may be related to other countries in Central and South America those of us who are American citizens of Spanish descent
must labor with this handicap of this particular stereotype standing in the way of whatever participation were allowed in this country. And I think it's in its tracks. Sure we're sensitive we're about as sensitive as American Jews as Italian Americans and American Indians. When a false image is portrayed about us not only to our own peers but to the world and America is very much involved in the question of image look at the millions of dollars that we spend in creating an image for for other world peoples. The American image is land of the free home of the brave land of opportunity etc. but when people from other countries know about as they know only the image we project and that image is terribly favorite favorable. We don't project our faults we project only our good side and we feel the same way sure we're sensitive. How about some other things. There was another commercial which I don't think is on the
air and if you correct me if I'm wrong but I think your organization had something to do with its removal. I'm speaking of the Brillo soap pad commercial of some months or a year or so back in which there are two so pants one is the Brillo pad which has more soap. One is another pad which has less soap. The one with less soap is an aggressive soap pad who when the rain comes and his soap washes away is very distraught. Then the Brillo pad says to this second soap had Gee maybe you better go to Mexico. Now this is no longer on the air and I think this is just something to do with this and why what was this a more subtle Frito Bandito type thing. I think this is a subtlety continues. Not all necessarily tied into the Frito Bandito image but it's all of that kind of comes from that kind of thinking. Anything outside of the United States is bound to be inferior there is. There is this. There is this trend to think of anything that comes from other countries as having no value. And this is super Americanism of the worst
kind. You know I think thinking Americans would reject the idea that there aren't good people or good products that are created out outside of the United States. I wish I could take credit that we were the only ones involved in this. In this really old thing but there are many organizations throughout the country I would suggest to you whose charisma and image in San Antonio. In the Midwest in the Chicago area the Midwest Chicago media council and there is concern throughout the country among Mexican-Americans and other Spanish speaking people that these things are detrimental. I mean they're the creativity the genius of America. All of a sudden just seems to just seems to escape the creative and creative types in this country. When dealing with minorities I mean American ingenuity has always somehow surfaced in times of war times of need. Here's a here's a perfect example in time of stress and tension and racism
rampant in this land. No creativity with respect to how to deal with problems of racism. And I think indicative of the things that the Chicanos and other Spanish speaking people must do for themselves is at least as we see it. This is just one of the important areas like it like it is. To assert certain demands of the system in terms of poverty housing employment discrimination and all these other areas where I make one thing clear you are not a Mexican national is that right. There is a difference. There is a difference. I would point that out to the American public that the Mexicans from Mexico grow up with a very strong sense of self-worth. For the most part they are Miss Diesel's. That is to say there's a mixture primarily of Indians with Spanish surnames. We are of the same general. The only difference is that we were born in this country we've been conditioned to the institutions and this whole business
land of the Free and Home of the brave and yet we've not been able to benefit from these from these opportunities. We just somehow haven't been treated as equals we wind up as second class citizens in our own country the invisible minority so to speak there the difference is that Mexico Mexicans and Mexico even those that immigrate to this country have a very positive feeling about themselves they may not be as sensitive as we are about how these things seem to hang us up wherever we go. What about some other aspects of the media we've talked about television. How about of course the movie image has persisted much longer. What do you what are some of your feelings and reactions about the movie image of the Mexican. Well we never win the girl. It's unfortunate we are rarely portrayed as scientists or doctors or you know having the lead in a particular play or film or or script. And that too is unfortunate when we are involved we're usually involved it at the sort of
US second banana to some super white hero you know films continue to export this image who people overseas when people overseas hear about us as they are now hearing for example in Mexico is certainly not overseas. They grow up with a distorted view of what we're about one at talian producer said to our very close friend of mine in Los Angeles remarked Alice is right how do you people put up with this stuff. We have no control over most of our media is Anglo white control. We have no newspapers to speak of. There are some we have no radio stations that we own we don't own the television airwaves all the means of mass communication are not at our disposal. Do not at our bidding and yet we're consumers we taxpayers and we don't have freedom to to use it or access to it when we're given access to it. It's in a sense like like for
example the news we usually at the at the victim part of the scheme for example where there's a knife fight or a brawl in a in a bar or that kind of thing it's always on the criminal side. Nothing about our positive aspects of our community. As the executive director of the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation committee and that's a mouthful. You are you are really in some ways I want to get into your background you have more than 20 years experience in the media yourself. And and this committee is something newly formed is it not that that grew out of this experience. Well there are many activists in the Chicano movement and there is a movement in this country the need and that's the United Brotherhood of United races it literally translates. The concern up until a few years ago was merely to try to fight discrimination and to improve our
housing to develop ways in which people could or could do for themselves in economic development. Missing from this thrust was the media aspect you see because I think that is even more. I consider it more important than having been in the media I know that certain kinds of supply and demand conditions can be manipulated by people in the media. Brains can be conditioned. You know there's a Pavlovian kind of an effect that can be created by the media. And because this is so pervasive with respect to condos and other minority groups it is important to include that as part of our efforts to get on the mainstream of American society I'm not so sure that we will get on as as as homogenized types I think we're going to be. Leaving a bold imprint upon American society as equal participants
with some of our lifestyle some of our language in our culture of being a part of things that we will continue to retain. I think this is true of many other nationalities in this country that there we continue to keep what is sacred and what is ours. I know what let's get into the mechanics of it you're you're you're you're see a commercial on television or or an image in in a magazine or in the movies your committee swings into action to do something about it. Let's not take anything in particular but but what is the reaction of the people in the media now as you're going to them and in effect saying perhaps in a subtle manner that what they are preventing is racism and it's offensive. And what is their reaction. Well if I can sort of give you an elementary procedure many of our members of many organizations throughout the country Chicano organizations and Anglo organizations that are concerned continuously either call us.
It's much easier to call by the way they write to us or they somehow get word to us that certain things are happening that I think are related to this whole question of of a better image. We've been lucky enough to be able at times to respond very quickly through our local activists who are members of the Committee to give you a case in point in the Midwest recently the Pizza Hut. People have been putting out what they called the taco kid movement. Kid Billy the Kid bandit. You know that's the same Frito Bandito kind of thing. And they notified us we called the advertising agency and we also called the the their representative in the local area about the situation and we said we see we speak in a very conciliatory manner. We tell them that this is an educational process we speak in a restrained and reasonable
tone. We don't make any outrageous demands we just want them to hear us out. In the case of the Pizza Hut and Taco kid. Event that is occurring now in Wichita Kansas and other places in the Midwest. The individual that I talked to of the advertising agency was very genteel. He heard us on it he says I just didn't realize you know I've come from California I've grew up with Mexican-Americans. And I didn't know that this was happening. And and and I think we need to remember that the educational process is continuous. And so therefore the procedure simply we get notified we make some calls that may do it and that may not do it. And then we continue to monitor that particular instance of this what we call this kind of advertising game. We don't know really to what extent local people are concerned about this but we would hope that they'd be responsive enough and let us know what their feelings
are so that we aren't put in a position like we've had to recently in the Frito Bandito suit to speak softly conciliatory and try to be reasonable and try to negotiate. And if it isn't negotiable to sue. No get into that you said the Frito Bandito suit I know you probably don't wanna get into this too deeply because of the ramifications of court procedures but is there a defamation suit pending. Yes there is a defamation suit. We don't we don't think for one minute that that may change the mind of the industry. Because even in Advertising Age in the January 11th issue on the editorial page an editorial viewpoint by the publishers suggested that the Frito Lay company was acting in bad faith and they should take it off right now. Those are strong words from their own peer group. Quite obviously economists are concerned about this image and they they they they in a sense said they would take it all if they haven't. And this is what we're suggesting to other advertisers. If they're in the fast
food business or in the area who are you know the theme of Chicanos is used to the theme of Mexican-Americans. Certainly they are in the choir. They the marketing research is continue on almost every product. But I think that motivational research types have said here is something that gives an Anglo American and perhaps an unthinking person a chance to view himself in a superior kind of way and motivational research says that. The information cycle is close by identification with a particular product. Then that would reflect itself very favorably at the cash box and I'm afraid that unthinking advertising agencies would have you don't even consider the psychological harm it's doing to a people. You ever get the feeling you're on the next rung of the ladder down in other words as you're talking I couldn't imagine anymore seeing a Little Black Sambo character on the screen or a little black man with a razor. You see with a straight razor but we see the Mexican depicted with the
six gun you know the black man has sort of worked his way out of this in terms of the media that we don't see this and we're seeing more and more black people in a positive role if not unrealistic perhaps and in television advertising. But perhaps you're on the next rundown you said something in an earlier conversation with me about the. Well there's seems to be in this country a need to have that kind of a scapegoat. You know it seems like there is a pecking order system in this country. We can't seem to do you with all minorities at the same time I think. Pete Seeger's television program on any TV called quest for the rainbow is an attempt on his part to try to you know to present songs of every land and of every people that inhabit this country. And it seems to me that the American public the media has a responsibility to to learn about all the human resources.
And if this there's one thing that this country has is vast human resources people who bring to this land much of the positive side of their humanity which could be could be useful to to foster even greater country because here we have representatives of every nation in the world. And it seems to me that we ought to take advantage of that. You know here people find a haven for expression even in spite of the fact that I'm addressing myself to the media. I think that we're citizens of this country. We ought to have no person here consider himself a second class citizen. As far as the media is concerned we consider ourselves second class citizens. We wish we were at the bottom of the pecking order of the lower rung of the socioeconomic ladder. But that's where we find ourselves. How about in school textbooks. Well here's another area where a lot of goodwill has been fostered by many of the sociologists and many of the curriculum developers and publishers and what have you but if you look you
pick up any textbook today you will find positive roles for black people. And yet when it comes to brown people yellow people or red people. The stereotype prevails that shouldn't happen because children ought to be taught that they're going to live in a world and which is which has shrunk in size through technology and through to a flight through a transportation that they ought to be prepared to deal with the multiplicity of colors and faces and lifestyles and cultures. Unfortunately the textbooks aren't providing any kind of a means so that people will learn about themselves in. Earlier conversations you had made some comments to me about a television program which is so popular that to attack it in in in in the way you did is almost to attack the American concept of motherhood. You had some unkind things to say about Sesame Street. Well I thought it was practicing racism by excluding
the viability of the Chicano or the Spanish speaking participation in American society. Big Bird the Hela bird had better treatment on the on a television program for children which actually kind of children were watching then Chicanos what I had felt was that here. Do we have to go through this Mickey Mouse routine over and over and over again. Why didn't they include a Spanish speaking. Individual too again to provide some sort of sense of participation in this program for Chicano children as they were being through the Head Start centers around the country forced to watch it. When I say forced what I am suggesting is it that many Head Start centers were paying attention to this program because it did have ways in which television was used creatively. But here was a divisive tactic I thought racism being practiced by this program simply by not putting on a positive Spanish speaker type I understand
They've since changed it. The concept for example that you had to have a very strong black male you know to develop the participation of children you know from black communities was all well and good but to foist this on Chicano children when they have their own positive father figures was just simply unconscionable in my in my opinion and I felt and I stresses very strongly to the Sesame Street to people I've made an offer several times to visit with them in New York joined against Cooney and some of the other people. And for some reason or another until the our testimony before Senator Mondale's Committee in Washington they ignored us completely but I think that many people were just concerned as we were. And so they they are now using of I think very creatively a Puerto Rican character which is. Good unfortunately they're not paying any attention to the majority of the Spanish speakers in this country which are Mexican-Americans but it's a step in the right direction and I hope that they will see the
their way clear to develop participation of all people including Indians by the way in Orientals which they don't have on their Again in your view to prepare children as you said before to take their place in a multi faceted world. You know this is a mass media type program which is viewed by all kinds of people. There's no reason why the Chinese should not be included as Italians. Brown red. Black people yellow people. They are too. Let's get down to something a little closer to home here you are the national Mexican-American Anti-Defamation committee based in Washington. Where does the money come from. Well that is of course a very difficult continues to be a very difficult. Problem that needs solution as far as we're concerned we have very limited funds we have been very lucky that some of our own people have made contributions to small ones. We don't have large contributions. Some of the larger foundations don't like to touch defamation where
it involves the courts their IRS clearances sometimes can be threatened. We see no other way for us to get the kind of money we need to operate except to appeal to the public in general and to our own people. I think our own people see the need for this and I just hope that this education process doesn't take too long because we are very limited in funds and could use funds to operate in a way we would like to. Most of the activists who are involved in the in the Anti-Defamation committee have regular jobs and this is kind of part of their commitment their civic and social commitment to the movement to do with their talents. There is a commitment to change to social change. What is your hope for the future. Do you consider yourself better. In some respects I think I am probably more more hopeful than I am better.
There's no question in that I'm angry. I am better in some respects having been one of those you know people grew up in a country where I believed so much in the system that I thought just keeping my nose clean and being an average guy would do it. I've had to take steps now to change my attitude on that because it's not going to happen unless we make it happen if the Chicano media movement is where it is today it's because we help to move it in and mold it. And I'm not so sure that we can see any light at the end of the tunnel but we're very hopeful. I've been speaking with Domingo and Nick Reyes who is the executive director of the National Mexican-American Anti Defamation Committee. This is Rick Sussman in Washington. You've been listening to a federal case a weekly examination of the national issue from the perspective of our nation's capital. A federal case is produced with
- A Federal Case II
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- Chicanos and the Media
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- "A Federal Case II" is a weekly program produced by the National Educational Radio Network which examines current political topics in the United States and Washington, D.C. Each episode features interviews with experts, members of the public, and lawmakers concerning a specific issue of government.
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