Pinboard #5: Memín Pinguín

Memín Pinguín stamps, issued in Mexico, 2005

Memín Pinguín is the cartoon character of a popular Mexican comic book created by Yolanda Vargas Dulché and Sixto Valencia. The cartoon’s protagonist, Memín, is a young black boy drawn with large ears, bulging eyes, and plump pale lips. He is usually drawn in casual garb of a striped red t-shirt, blue jeans, and a baseball cap. The caricature represents an Afro-Mexican and he is drawn so his features resemble that of a monkey, this is heightened further by the difference in how other characters in the series are portrayed. His mother is a prominent character in the series and is depicted as a stout black woman, who wears a housedress and bandana, a reference to her Afro-Caribbean roots. First issued in the 1940’s as part of the comic strip Almas de niño, Memín got his own comic strip in the 1960’s and has since become one of the longest running comic books in Mexico [1].

In 2005, the Mexican government issued a series of five Memín Pinguín stamps in which Memín is drawn in various stances and activities. In one stamp, he wears a three-piece suit and bolero hat while offering the viewer a flower. In a separate stamp he is in a loud white tuxedo with red trim. The stamp showcasing Memín in front of an artwork strengthens his place in the visual culture of Mexico. These stamps stirred a controversy in the United States for its depiction of “racial stereotypes.” The U.S. government condemned the stamps making then White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan state: “Racial stereotypes are offensive no matter what their origin. The Mexican government needs to take this into account. Images like these have no place in today’s world”[2]. Mexican officials responded in defense of Memín Pinguín and the character’s history in Mexican culture. The mobile nature of the stamp and its access to travel across the countries transformed them from mere postage to cultural agents that spoke of Mexico’s long history and current struggle with race relations.

References:

1. Redrawing the Nation: National Identity in Latin/o American Comics. Ed. Hector Fernandez L’Hoeste and Juan Poblete.

2. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8410111/ns/world_news-americas/t/us-mexican-stamp-fuels-racial-stereotypes/#.ULASO65-Oqk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *