Mexican As American Dirt

Mexican As American Dirt

Matt Sedillo


Debasing Mexicans is as American as land theft and genocide. It is a central theme of U$ culture and must be produced and reproduced with each successive generation in order for U$ culture to survive each generation of its dying advocates and practitioners. The publication of American Dirt fits well within that continuum. It was not a failure, an oversight, foolishness, naivety, or a symptom of a broken system it is a deep expression of U$ culture of which the humiliation, degradation and dehumanization of Mexicans is a central theme. 

I have not read this book. I do not intend to read this book. The time in which I am compelled by the very state itself to read things that debase me has long passed. The time of being forced to read On the Road and to be taught that my only place in the great American novel was to be as a tragic “mañana” is over. The time of being compelled to read Under the Volcano only to learn that the land of my ancestors was a fittingly strange and macabre place for a troubled white man to drink himself to death because you know, Mexico, is over. The time of being forced to hear the greatness of Walt Whitman, proponent of the Mexican American war who once said “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico—with her superstition, her burlesque upon freedom, her actual tyranny by the few over the many—what has she to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race?” is over. The days of hearing of the genius of Ralph Waldo Emerson who said “Mexico will poison us” are over. I will not read that book in a box, with a fox, or wearing a red, white and green or red, white and blue shirt, I will not read American Dirt. 

This all also has to be seen within a context broader than current print literature. In the 20th Century film and Television became the premier forms of cultural production and the U$ the world’s leading producer. The debasement of Mexicans was a central theme ran through U$ film and television beginning with founding father of racist cinema himself, D.W. Griffith. The same year he directed his deeply Amerikkkan racist opus Birth of Nation, a literal celebration of the Klu Klux Klan, he also produced a film called Martyrs of the Alamo also known as The Birth of Texas. In one of the earliest slides of the silent film the audience is informed referring to Santa Ana “Under the dictator’s rule the honor and life of American womanhood was held in contempt.” Both Birth of a Nation and its lesser known counterpart Martyrs of the Alamo or Birth of Texas were released in 1915. One hundred years later in the year 2015, Donald Trump began his presidential campaign stating Mexico was sending “drug dealers” and “rapists.”

In the 1920 the Mask of Zorro starring Douglass Fairbanks as Zorro/Don Diego Vega, created a great many of the tropes that came to define the action hero genre. While the stereotypes on display, and they are there, are not as galling as the Martyrs of the Alamo, it is important to remember that inspiration for Zorro was Joaquin Murrieta. A legendary figure of the California gold rush and the prototypical bad hombre. The details of Murrieta’s life are matter of historic debate. What is a matter of historic record however is that in 1853 a Mexican was beheaded and that man’s head, claimed to be Murrieta’s, was put on display and taken on tour by the California Rangers throughout the state. The severed head was finally housed in a museum and only then lost in San Francisco’s great quake of 1906. This grizzly trophy/artifact served as a reminder to Mexicans and non Mexicans alike how unruly Mexicans are to be handled and was an early symbol of Californian justice. Reminding Mexicans of their place in society is U$ culture. Decades later re-imagining a man’s beheading as a jaunty comedic tale of romance and adventure is also U$ culture.

In 1948, 100 years after the Treaty of Guadalupe, John Huston released the film The Treasure of Sierra Madre. This film is famous not only for its star studded cast, including Humphrey Bogart but also in large part for the scene where a federale says “Badges? We don’t need to show you no stinking badges!” The treaty of Guadalupe insured that the property rights of Mexicans would be honored with the incorporation of new territory into the U$. Instead between the decades of the 1850s-1890s Mexicans were lynched at the highest rate per capita of any racial or ethnic group in U$ history, often times in obvious naked land grabs under some specious claim of legal authority. Making Mexicans look ridiculous is U$ culture. Violating your own treaties and then pretending like other people have no respect for laws, agreements, paperwork or proper identification of authority is also U$ culture.

In 1969, Anti Mexican recidivist Sam Peckinpah reimagined the U$ army’s 1916 “Punitive  Expedition” as the Wild Bunch. The Punitive Expedition later relabled the Mexican Expedition was Led by John Pershing. Roughly fifty years later this murderous campaign to punish Mexico was reimagined by Sam Peckinpah as restless white men who ran out of frontier so they headed south and saved a bunch of Mexicans from themselves. The Wild Bunch is a film celebrated for it’s innovations in the depiction of violence and bloodshed on the silver screen a true landmark of U$ cinema. The blood that was shed was Mexican. 100 years later Donald Trump ran on the campaign promise to build a wall. He promised “Mexico will pay.” This too is U$ culture. 

From Speedy Gonzalez to Breaking Bad, Reefer Madness to the Trump Presidency we are awash in anti-Mexican imagery and ideology. This is insult to injury. We are oppressed in this country. We are source of cheap labor in this country. We are fodder for their wars and their prisons in this country. The culture emerges from the conditions. The insult does not stand alone randomly. They debase us because they exploit us. We cannot change this culture without changing the horrific debasing conditions we find ourselves in. 

That will take struggle across the board. In order to struggle here or anywhere the first step is building our own networks outside of their machine. We need to build our own infrastructures outside of their machine. It is central to their identity to debase us because it is central to their position in the world to debase us. They won’t stop. They can’t stop. It is who they are. We will not thrive in their system. We have to build outside of it. We need more of our own presses and we need those presses to work together. We need our own studios and we need those studios to work together. New technologies and demographic shift are making new things possible. Things can change. We must make them. There is no other way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: