4. Deep in the Heart of Whiteness: White Desire and the Political Potential of Love
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155 4 Deep in the Heart of Whiteness White Desire and the Political Potential of Love Nothing to show but this brand new tattoo. But it’s a real beauty, A Mexican cutie, How it got here I haven’t a clue. —Jimmy Buffett, “Margaritaville” One of the most popular and enduring songs of the late twentieth century , Jimmy Buffett’s 1977 “Margaritaville” is seemingly ubiquitous. It is probably fair to suggest that most white people in the United States over the age of thirty know the tune if not the words. This line where the singer describes his new tattoo as “a real beauty, / A Mexican cutie” encapsulates a key dynamic in the foundation of whiteness on the border : the romanticization of things Mexican and often Mexicanas.1 Of course, Buffett is neither new nor unique. This musical moment is but one point in a broad, ever-sprawling discursive constellation, and this line is more than evidence of a singer spending a night “drunk in Mexico.”2 Notably, the image does not require description beyond a “Mexican cutie.” The audience can fill the gaps, for the line draws upon and contributes to a long chain of visual, literary, and musical signification: the Erotic, Exotic Mexicana. Consider the image of the demure and potentially sultry Mexicana from cinematic history. The images from Duel in the Sun (1946) and The Wild Bunch (1969) typify this trope.3 The look, those eyes, speak of unspoken desire and desirability. Whether describing the “Mexican cutie” from “Margaritaville” or the Mexicana from The Wild Bunch, one must recognize that this image is not a woman; this image is not a Mexicana. Drawing upon Gerald Vizenor’s Manifest Manners , this is a type, a trope, a discursive maneuver deployed to invoke 156 | Deep in the Heart of Whiteness and reinforce social scripts.4 Importantly, as the image from Duel in the Sun illustrates, the bodies need not be actual mestizas or Mexicanas, for this Mexicana Pearl Chavez was played by the white Jennifer Jones. Deployments of white women in Mexican roles continue to fulfill the racial script, demonstrating how the Erotic, Exotic Mexicana is a discursive formation overlaid and inscribed upon material bodies.5 Moreover, as this chapter explores, these tropic embodiments are not simply objects of desire but critical fulcrums in the construction and imagination of white masculinity. Importantly, however, the “Mexican cutie” is not the only way the dynamics of whiteness emerge in “Margaritaville,” for the song deploys broader romantic impulses as well. After listening to the song, no one will doubt that Buffett loves Mexico and Mexicans, or at least his ideas of them—synecdoches for margaritas and good times. Indeed, one may well consider “Margaritaville” a love song, and that declaration of love functions as an occlusive force, foreclosing the legibility of racial hegemony . Here, another example may be useful. A few years ago, I sat across the table from Gwen. I had just explained my discomfort with a mutual acquaintance. Let’s call him Jeff.6 His comments, made in earnest and in jest, about ethnic Mexicans and other people of color weighed heavily upon me, and I was hoping for an ally and understanding. Gwen, however, saw things differently: “Jeff can’t be racist. I know him; he’s a good person. He loves Mexicans and Mexican culture; his first wife was Mexican. Did you know that?”7 Gwen’s deployment of love and goodness provides a rich point of departure, for it illustrates key aspects of racial hegemony in the contemporary United States. First, Gwen understands racism to be a malfunction in the proverbial content of one’s character. In contrast, most scholars and activists concerned with racial justice recognize that white supremacy emerges from and is characterized through social structures, actions, and language. Second, because racism is often popularly characterized as explicit bigotry and hatred, assertions of goodness contradict and obscure the possibility of white supremacy. Gwen was present when Jeff made the pertinent comments. Does her perception of goodness and love of all things Mexican cause her to “unwitness” these words?8 Confronted with claims of love and goodness, how does one respond? 157 Figure 4.1. Pearl Chavez (Jennifer Jones) gazes offscreen at Lewt McCanles in Duel in the Sun. Duel in the Sun, MGM. Figure 4.2. Unnamed Mexicana tosses her hair and gazes upon the white American protagonists of The Wild Bunch. The Wild Bunch, Warner Brothers Studios. 158 | Deep in the Heart of...


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican Americans -- Race identity.
  • Mexicans -- United States -- Race identity.
  • Whites -- United States -- Race identity.
  • Mexican Americans in popular culture -- United States.
  • Chicano movement.
  • Stereotypes (Social psychology).
  • Racism -- United States.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • Mexico -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • United States -- Race relations.
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