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Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America (review)

From: The Americas
Volume 64, Number 4, April 2008
pp. 634-635 | 10.1353/tam.2008.0053

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Linguistically, conceptually and visually, Nericcio's Tex[t]-Mex is a colorful work. A self-described "post-Movimiento Chicano" this book should be an informative reading for most Chicana/o Studies students and scholars, as well as those interested in Cultural Studies, film and media studies, and popular culture. The overall purpose of Nericcio's book is to examine the nature and pervasiveness of stereotypes of the Mexican in U.S. culture. Nericcio makes clear that by analyzing stereotypes he does not mean to reveal "real Mexicans." An interesting question that he (and by extension, his readers) must deal with but cannot resolve is the question of that reality: If what people are surrounded by daily in the media are negative representations of Mexicans, then do not Mexicans in fact become these stereotypes? Each of five chapters focuses on the realm of visual representation (movies, movie stars, cartoon characters, and comics) and what one may argue are key parts of U.S./U.S. Latino popular culture. Throughout, he interweaves his ruminations on pop culture characters with discussions of theory by intellectuals like Derrida.

Nericcio begins his archive of stereotypes with an analysis of picture postcards of the Mexican Revolution and their use in U.S. popular culture. He then does a brief literature review of Chicana/o stereotypes in film. However, his reading is arguably more useful to those who are interested in Chicana/o stereotypes in all media, and not just in film. Although he discusses movie stars such as Rita Hayworth and Lupe Velez, he does not provide a close reading of their films so much as discuss their status as Latina icons in U.S. media and what that means for Latinas/os in U.S. society in general.

Some of the more interesting chapters include the first one, which delves into the mind of Orson Welles through his work Touch of Evil (1958). Nericcio's reading of Touch of Evil examines the usual points of race, borders, border-towns, gender and sexuality, and violence. However, he interestingly focuses on the sexlessness of Charlton Heston's character and contrasts this with the Chicanos in the film, who are "half-breeds" and do pose a sexual threat. He also frames the reading of the film with a discussion of Orson Welles's positionality as a white man who was married to Rita Hayworth, had an affair with Dolores del Rio, and was spokesman for the Citizen's Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth in the Sleepy Lagoon Case. Chapter 2 examines the personal life of Welles's wife, Rita Hayworth, and how she was transformed to look less "Mexican" and created as a palatable commercial product for movies.

More disappointing are Nericcio's short readings of the Ren and Stimpy cartoon characters and Jaime Hernandez's comic book Love and Rockets. Nericcio had plenty of material to cover in these two texts, and by merely mentioning these works without the same degree of extensive analysis as in his previous chapters he seems mostly to tease the reader.

Nericcio's writing style is very colloquial and frequently uses funny and/or risqué language. One example, from his close reading of a scene in Touch of Evil, should suffice: "it is as if Heath has captured the very orgasm of a metonymic moment. . . . Heath films a come-shot: the term 'Mexican' splooges, comes, shoots, as it reveals itself . . . I need a Kleenex" (pp. 54-55). This playfulness has its downside as well, as he often interrupts his own analytical train of thought with asides and witty wordplay, making it hard to figure out what his main point is. This can be distracting and annoying, though to Nericcio's credit he acknowledges that he creates "annoying neologisms." In addition, this book took almost sixteen years to write, and several chapters have been previously published as essays, thus at times it is not as cohesive as one would like. Relatively short but very dense, Tex[t]-Mex may fool you with lots of pictures throughout—colored, no less!—but this only underscores the value Nericcio places on visual icons, many of which are of Nericcio's own creation.