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History of Mexican American Culture

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President Roosevelt introduced the Good Neighbour Policy on March 4th, 1933. This approach marked a departure from traditional American interventionism. In his inaugural address he stated “In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others-the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of agreements in and with a world of neighbors. We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take, but must give as well.” President Roosevelt was determined to improve relations with the nations of Central and South America. The policy was successful in its attempt to improve relations between these nations, however, it had an especially significant impact on Latin Hollywood.

Silent pictures in the early twentieth century presented American audiences with portrayals of Mexicans as, among other things, murderers and thieves. Underlying these stereotypes was the name “greaser”, given to Mexicans in many films of this era. (Stacy 2002). Latin American actors throughout the history of the Hollywood Film Industry have been depicted in negative and stereotypical roles, which were often marginalized and underdeveloped despite their long history in film. They were rarely portrayed as the leading man or leading ladies. For example The Greaser’s Gauntlet (1908). The Greaser’s Gauntlet seemingly confirms Arthur Pettit’s analysis of the Mexican representa­tion in early American film: that the Mexican, “remains a subject, someone to be killed or mocked, seduced or redeemed by Saxon protagonists”.(Alonzo 2004). Mexicans were portrayed as dirty and dishonest characters in this film. They were also presented as violent with scenes of fighting and drinking too much. The Mexican men in this film were directly contrasted with the honest, hard-working cowboy who ended up being the hero of the film. The directors of the film were not Latin American and had different perspectives. Official complaints from the Mexican government in the 1920s did little to prevent Hollywood from portraying Latin in an unfavorable light. (Woll 1974). However, at the end of the decade, the Mexican government did eventually manage to stop studios from showing these films because of discrimination.

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There was a sudden change in 1933 when President Roosevelt introduced the Good Neighbour Policy. This attempt to improve relations between the United States and Latin America led to more positive representations of Mexicans in US films. These films were described as ‘Good Neighbour Films’, which were films that Hollywood put out during this period that were designed to incorporate Latin themes, characters, and destinations. However, these portrayals further isolated Latin Americans. ‘Down Argentine Way’ is a good example of a good neighbor film. The director Irving Cummings attempted to create an Argentine theme movie to showcase the beauty of Argentina. However, the authenticity and representation of Latin American culture are questionable throughout the film. The film contains numerous negative stereotypes of Latinos, such as portraying the locals as fools who speak in broken English, ladies’ men, or taxi drivers who constantly take siestas. The director did not make an effort to include actual Argentine music, fashion, or even dances that could reflect the accurate traditions of Argentina. The Spanish songs are even replaced with English songs. Down Argentine Way was made to represent glamour and good fortune for some, the content of the film sets South America to be a paradise free of war, while many were suffering and dying everywhere else. (Swanson 2010). Hence, somehow, Down Argentine Way is a historical misrepresentation where Americans can escape from reality and find their own haven in Argentina as a way to run away from the hardship of war. By 1941, film distributors in South America protested to stop the production of ‘good will’ films until they learned more about the different cultures of Latin America. 

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