Mexican Goverment Issues Racist Postal Stamps


By MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press Writer

The Mexican government has issued postage stamps depicting an exaggerated black cartoon character known as Memin Pinguin, drawing protest from U.S. activists Wednesday just weeks after remarks by President Vicente Fox angered American blacks.

The series of five stamps released Wednesday depicts a hapless boy 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, which started in the 1940s and is still published in Mexico.

The Mexican government defended the stamps, saying that like Speedy Gonzalez — a cartoon mouse with a Mexican accent that debuted in the United States in 1953 — the Memin Pinguin character shouldn’t be interpreted as a racial slur.

“Just as Speedy Gonzalez has never been interpreted in a racial manner by the people in Mexico, because he is a cartoon character, I am certain that this commemorative postage stamp is not intended to be interpreted on a racial basis in Mexico or anywhere else,” said Rafael Laveaga, the spokesman for the Mexican embassy in Washington.

Activists criticized the stamps as offensive, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the NAACP demanded they be withdrawn.

Dennis Courtland Hayes, interim president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called on Mexico to immediately cease printing and distributing the stamp.

“It is inexplicable that the Mexican government would not comprehend the insensitivity of the negative depiction of blacks on this stamp,” Hayes said.

In May, Fox riled many by saying Mexican migrants take jobs in the United States that “not even blacks” want. Fox later expressed regret for any offense the remarks may have caused, but insisted his comments had been misinterpreted.

“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.

Carlos Caballero, assistant marketing director for the Mexican Postal Service, said the new 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.

“At this point in time, it was probably pretty insensitive” to issue the stamps, said Elisa Velazquez, an anthropologist who studies Mexico’s black communities for the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

“This character is a classic, but it’s from another era,” Velazquez said. “It’s a stereotype and you don’t want to encourage ignorance or prejudices.”

The 6.50-peso (60 cent) stamps — depicting the character in five poses — was issued with the domestic market in mind, but Caballero noted they could be used in international postage as well. A total of 750,000 of the stamps will be issued.

Ben Vinson, a black professor of Latin American history at Penn State University, said he has been called “Memin Pinguin” by some people in Mexico. He said the character’s mother is drawn to look like an old version of the U.S. advertising character Aunt Jemima.

The stamps are part of a series that pays tribute to Mexican comic books. Memin Pinguin, the second in the series, was apparently chosen for this year’s release because it is the 50th anniversary of the company that publishes the comic.

Publisher Manelick De la Parra told the government news agency Notimex the character would be a sort of 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.”

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One Response to “Mexican Goverment Issues Racist Postal Stamps”

  1. Mark in Mexico Says:

    Mexican postage stamps under fire

    By our standards, it is blatatantly rascist. By Mexican standards it is not. Mexican society is a rascist society kind of like that of Japan. Intermarriage, even fraternization, between the mestizos and the indigenous peoples is frowned upon and is r…

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