- Do Latins Make Lousy Lovers? A reputation revisited
It was the automobile ads that drew me to the stacks of old magazines on a rickety table on upper Broadway. They were all clumsy gas guzzlers, but the names still ring with the glamour of another era: Auburn, Cord, LaSalle, Pierce-Arrow, Packard—steel chariots long ago oxidized into oblivion. Their faded images and the details touting their beauty and power provoked a pleasure different from any available at the elegant megastore down the block, where even the classics have the sheen of the newly minted. I flipped through the crackling pages under the weary eye of the vendor, an old man who kept his stories to himself, although his tattooed arms offered a few hints. Then I read the title: “Latins Are Lousy Lovers.”
The article was signed “Anonymous” and wedged between ads for cars and electric shavers. The clichéd title was as dated as rumble seats and radio’s Lucky Strike Hour. It was too old and irrelevant to be offensive. Yet it was oddly unsettling to me, a Latin and a lover (not always at the same time). I read the brief article on the spot, bemused by its spoofing of Latin manhood. I looked at the date: it was the October 1936 issue of Esquire.
“That’s twelve dollars,” said the old man, nodding in my direction. My browsing time was up. I paid for the magazine, stuffed it in my backpack, and headed uptown.
Back home I shelved the magazine where I was least likely to find it again, a sure sign that I would never part with it. It popped up time and again, interrupting insignificant chores: dusting an abandoned top shelf, looking for a decent pencil, hunting for an overdue library book. Each encounter with the article induced a weird kind of satori, whose power surprised me but whose sense eluded me. I tried to stir up some anger but found none. It could be that in the sharp angles of an ancient spoof about Latin manhood, I recognized scraps of Cuban history, faded images of barrio lore, personal recollections, the ragged baggage of all exiles.
In the 1930s the mission of glossy Esquire was to sell the “New American Standard of Living.” Such a phrase appears alongside pictures of houses, furniture, gadgets, tweed overcoats, and, of course, cars. Supreme among those long-hooded road warriors was the [End Page 2] legendary Packard Super Eight: eight cylinders, 150 horsepower, 385-cubic-inch engine, with a price tag of almost four thousand dollars, enough to buy at least six brand new Chevys. The Packard wasn’t just a car; it was an emblem.
Technology meets luxury and comfort, all just for you. A full-page spread about a new house proclaimed: “‘New American’ is not a new style of architecture. It is a new and better way of living.” The style promoted new appliances, central heating, and an upper-class patina, all desired by New Deal consumers able to pay in easy installments. Who wouldn’t drink to that? Then as now, Esquire was in the business of selling luxury items, among them the luxuries of irony and contradiction. In the correspondence section the common reader presented himself, and sometimes herself, as someone refined yet down-to-earth, elegant yet easygoing, savvy, tolerant, even open to erotic possibilities that might disturb the square folks down the road. Whether sophisticated Manhattanites or dentists from Wabash, Esquire readers participated in a virtual community that seemed more cosmopolitan and was certainly hipper than the real cities and towns they inhabited. Cars and fiction by Ernest Hemingway were sold in a single package. Issues included pieces by Langston Hughes along with cartoons that relentlessly ridiculed African Americans. Other cartoons depicted the silly antics of barefoot hillbillies. The editors made no bones about the identity of their ideal reader: the “Horsey Man.”
Used in advertisements for men’s clothing, the term referred to the long-limbed, impeccably tailored, white young men featured in the pages of the magazine. Roosevelt’s New Deal had opened a door for these men, many of whom, newly employed and years...