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The Americas 63.2 (2006) 225-244

"As a Mexican I Feel It's My Duty":
Citizenship, Censorship, and the Campaign against Derogatory Films in Mexico, 1922–1930*
Laura I. Serna
Humanities Research Center
Rice University
Houston, Texas

In June of 1930, Dr. J. M. Puig Casauranc, who held the post of Jefe del Departamento del Distrito Federal (a post then somewhat akin to mayor) received a lengthy letter from the Confederación deSociedades Mexicanas in Los Angeles, California.1 The letter asked Dr. Puig if a Committee for the Supervision of Film could be constituted in Los Angeles, a committee to be made up of members of the Confederation and the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles. In their letter members of the Confederation's steering committee displayed a clear understanding of the history of Mexico's struggle to exert some control over the content of Hollywood films.

Their analysis of the situation, in which despite promises to the contrary Hollywood continued producing films that denigrated Mexico, postulated that Hollywood slighted Mexicans on multiple levels, which will be discussed below. What clamors for attention in their missive is how they attempted to resuscitate a conflict that had, at least officially, been resolved. They positioned themselves as transnational subjects who were closer to the inner workings of Hollywood than even the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles, whose official duties included serving as the first line of state censorship. These Mexicans living in the United States, regardless of their officially recognized citizenship, saw themselves as particularly well positioned to look out for the interests of Mexico abroad. [End Page 225]

Why did a group of Mexican immigrants, some likely naturalized American citizens, care enough about Hollywood's representational practices among the long list of other concerns they must have had to bring to the attention of the government in Mexico City? Why not take their issues to Hollywood and its representatives rather than the Mexican state? As their letter indicates their request to be included amongst the gatekeepers of Mexican censorship was part of a long-standing discussion amongst Mexican nationals—both within the republic and abroad—about U.S. produced films.2

This essay examines the critical discourse emanating from a series of embargos on American films by the Mexican government in 1922. I focus on the critical discourse engaged in by consular staff, citizens across the republic (though primarily from Mexico City), and Mexicans living in the United States. As a case study I look closely at the reactions of Los Angeles' Mexican immigrant community. A reaction to Hollywood's "derogatory" depictions of Mexico and Mexicans, the embargos represented a climax of sorts in an ongoing critical discussion amongst Mexicans both within the political boundaries of the republic and in Mexican communities in the United States about American films.3 These critical discussions engendered by the embargo represent an instructive point of intersection between the critical consumption of commercialized leisure culture and the formation of postrevolutionary Mexican nationalism. 4 Although we cannot create explicit profiles, the scant evidence that exists suggests that spectators' reactions varied according to their social position and lived experience of U.S.-Mexican relations. Varied as these responses were, common to all was the framing of their critical response through the lens of national identity. [End Page 226]

In analyzing the reactions of variously situated national subjects to not only American films as cultural products but also to the labor and distribution practices of the film industry in the United States, I enter into an ongoing debate about the politics of the consumption of mass culture.5 I propose that not only were Mexican audiences active consumers (and critics) of American mass culture with its racialized, gendered, and imperialist ideological content, but also that their responses to American mass media demonstrate the ways in which postrevolutionary Mexican nationalism was constructed and contested.

In the nineteen twenties, as now, almost 80% of the films screened in Mexico came from...


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