Ilan Stavans, professor of Latin American and Latino Cultures at Amherst College, may be an intellectual but he enjoys using pop-culture as a way to push boundaries, to tear apart the way society conceptualizes Latino culture.
It explains why he has written scholarly work about Cantinflas. He’s also written extensively about – gasp! – the importance of Spanglish. (I’m with you, Ilan.)
Now, he has published a graphic novel called “Mr. SPIC Goes to Washington.” I haven’t read yet; I just found out about it, from this piece in Hispanic Online: click here.
With such a hopeful goal, why use a derogatory term as an acronym for the main character’s initials? Stavans says the context is “a mere social convention … The novel seeks to turn the nastiness infused in the term upside out.” This, it seems, is part of a trend. As such insults are adopted by the groups they were intended to offend, they lose their power However, as the book points out, not all is well in intercultural relations. For the ﬁ rst time in American history, an African American could be president of the United States and at the same time, though seemingly paradoxically, anti-Hispanic sentiment is at an all time high.
“To be to be mexicano in the United States these days is to be the target of endless harassment,” Stavans says. “On the other hand, the U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that minorities will become a majority nationwide around 2045. Corporations realize that Latinos are a huge portion of the market. They say: We want your money! Mr. Spic Goes to Washington speaks to this bifurcated, hypocritical attitude.”
Stavans will take heat for the title, no doubt. Being a provocateur, he’s used to it.
What really bothers me, though, is that many Latinos take issue with him saying he’s not a “real” Latino and for that reason his Latino scholarship is more palatable in intellectual circles. The detractors say even though he was raised in Mexico his parents are European so he is essentially Caucasian. That logic is baffling to me. Does that make him any less Latino, any more white? He’s an amalgam of his Jewish heritage, his European ancestry, his Mexican nationality, and so many other things. That is what makes his thinking rich; it’s what makes his ideas textured.