|Amigo Racism: Mickey Mouse Meets the Taco Bell Chihuahua|
By Carolina Ponce de León
Corporate advertising and the media are flooded with images of diversity and "photogenic" depictions of race. The fashion industry is inspired by exotic ethnicity, by the homeless, by S&M aesthetics —by unlimited otherness. Racial diversity in the media attempts to illustrate a glossy, picture perfect—and marketable—multicultural society. However, racial, cultural, and ethnic representations are promoted in ways they can be celebrated: they are stylized, infantilized, or exoticized to the max. The "positive" racial and ethnic representations that pervade corporate advertising, the artworld, the media, and pop culture promote the illusion that American society—and "global" culture in general—have come to terms with ethnic and racial diversity. However, the fact is that these representations are refracted in a white mirror.
Latinos received their own dose of media attention last year with the so-called and quick-to-be-forgotten "Latino-Boom" with the Taco Bell chihuahua at the forefront, surrounded by Salma Hayek & Banderas, and pop singers Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, et al. ("Et al." meaning maybe a few more names.) Salsa, Spanglish —the code language politicians now use to spice up their appeal to "los otros"—the Elian hysteria and G.W. Bush's "little brown" nephew are also all part of the "living la vida loca" aftereffects. Needless to say, whatever level of representation these safe versions of ethnicity have gained in the media over the last 10 to 15 years, only 1 out of every 50 characters on prime-time TV is Latino…* But that's another story. However, does this represent a society that has allegedly trascended racism, or are these the strategies of denial and of endemic racism?
Who would have thought that all this good-looking, amigo friendly, Latino flavor is not the result of battles won, but of battles lost. Simply, because it is symptomatic of a new type of racism. Not your everyday, discriminating, violent racism of racial profiling, police brutality, DWB, and negative media stereotypes, but its most "gracious" form… the "benign racism" of corporate & pop multiculturalism. Look at the Taco Bell chihuahua, the infantilized Mexican icon that insinuates a "safe" amigo Other —the gallant reincarnation of Speedy Gonzalez. Fast food couldn't become more exotic. This is but one minor example of cultural commodification.
Gap advertisements, for example, seem based on a very simplistic reasoning. It could sound something like: "Transcend race. We'll embrace you as long as you wear our white middle-class tribal attire (while our white middle-class children wear yours). Just look at the camera. Smile. Freeze." In this case, "transcending race" means following the white role model. If you don't want to be feared, wear Gap clothes… Corporate multiculturalism is a tricky affair built on a double agenda. Oblivious of the "global" sweatshops The Gap has established throughout the third world, its slick multi-culti advertising attempts to pass on a message of acceptance of diversity and a friendly "democratic" view of globalization; on the other hand, the politics of globalization in third world countries is quite another matter. We get "globalized", forced into the economy of poverty that feeds colonial capitalism.
Amigo Racism features video, photography, painting, cartoons, sculpture, installations, online art pieces, and tourist souvenirs by eighteen artists—both established and emerging— from South America, The Caribbean, Mexico and the United States. Opening night also features performance artists and an "ethnic Chihuahua fashion contest." The selection presents samples of how artists of color have internalized, deconstructed, and transformed racial and cultural representations perpetuated through the media and pop culture. These artworks offer counter-images and represent the artists' engagement with larger critical issues of racism and multiculturalism such as the gender and sexual politics of race; ethnic commodification; cultural tourism; corporate globalization; transculturation; and race & art history, among other topics. This brief view ranges from humor to satire to critical deconstructions of racial representations. It's yet otra cara de la misma moneda.
Adál, Adrienne Hughes, Adriana Arenas, Alex Rivera, Alicia Hoey, Christine Altman, Chucho Pérez, Daniel Salazar, German Martínez, Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Isabel Urbina, Isis Rodríguez, James Nadeau, Laura Molina, Juan José Rivera, Lalo López Alcaraz, Liliana Porter, Nadin Ospina, Pilar Wiley, and Rico Reyes.
* Mike Davis, Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. Big City, Verso, 2000