By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
As a little boy growing up in Laredo, Texas, William “Memo” Nericcio used to watch Speedy Gonzalez cartoons like any other American kid in the 1970s.
“I used to laugh a lot with that little mouse,” said the San Diego State University English professor. “I used to laugh at the way he talked, the way the other mice used to behave.”
In Laredo, Nericcio was part of the Mexican majority there, that’s why he never questioned the negative portrayals of Mexicans through the cartoon.
"Everybody looked the same as me, everybody talked the same as me, so it wasn’t an issue,” he said.
It wasn’t until he made it to graduate school that he started looking at media stereotypes of Mexicans more critically.
“I began to look at it as a scholar, with different eyes,” he said. “I realized that those images were wrong.”
Nericcio has collected his critical views of those stereotypes in his new book, titled “Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the ‘Mexican’ in America” (University of Texas Press, 2007).
In his book, Nericcio tackles some of most common negative representations of Mexicans in American television and film.
In addition to “dissecting” Speedy Gonzalez in “Autopsy of a Rat,” Nericcio also writes about comic book writer Gilbert Hernandez and Latina actress Rita Hayworth.
“This is the closest that Latino studies has come to a revolutionary vision of how American culture works through its image machine, a vision that cuts through to the roots of the U.S. propaganda archive on Mexican, Tex-Mex, Latino, Chicano/a humanity,” said Professor David Carrasco, of Harvard University. “Nericcio esposes, deciphers, historicizes, and ‘cuts-up’ the postcards, movies, captions, poems, and adverts that plaster dehumanization... through our brains.”
Although the book is published by a university press, it doesn’t look like an “academic” book.
It contains lots of pictures, drawings, photos, icons, and digital media experiments made by Nericcio himself.
“Some scholars don’t like my writing because they say it has too many jokes, and some general readers say the book is to scholarly,” he said. “Sabrá Dios quién lee el libro!”
Nevertheless, the book has been selling steadily since it appeared a few weeks ago. It has sold about 100 copies per month, a hit for an “academic” book, Nericcio said.
He said that the appeal of the book comes from the fact that it deals with contemporary, timely issues and characters, such as Speedy Gonzalez, Salma Hayek, and other popular culture icons.
“Maybe the world is becoming more and more interested in Latino intellectual material,” he said.
Most of the essays were originally published in scholarly journals, such as “Camera Obscura.”
Nericcio, who is chair-elect of the English Department at SDSU, said he hopes this book “inspires the next generation of Chicanos to become college professors.”
This Fall, he will become the first Chicano to head the English Department at SDSU.
“We need more Chicanos not only interested in studying cultural history, but also archiving it, broadcasting it,” he said.
Nericcio has been busy promoting “Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the ‘Mexican’ in America” locally.
He had a reading on May 17 at the Borders bookstore in Mission Valley.
If you would like to find out more about the book, purchase a copy, or simply see the crazy ideas Nericcio posts on his blog, visit http://textmex. blogspot.com/, where you will find a lot of material relating to Mexican stereotypes and other stuff.