“Violent and Sly” - Negative stereotypes of Mexican-American men in the american media

Term Paper, 2007

25 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Preface

2. Children’s books – Implicit stereotyping?
2.1 “A day’s work” by Eve Bunting
2.2 Undesirable stereotypes in “A day’s work”

3. Bad Stereotypes, Good Stereotypes

4. Biased reporting in the news and the problem of illusory correlation

5. The Social-Identity Theory and the Phenomenon of Mock Spanish

6. Stereotypes: a means of justification

7. A “famous” Mexican: The “Frito Bandito”

8. Conclusion


1. Preface

One might think that the immigration topic is “a well-squeezed orange”[1], as the late economic historian Charles Kindleberger used to put it, referring to subjects where he doubted that there was much new to say.

This might be true, if the focus lies on mere information. But as soon as the individual perspective is in the center of attention, there will always be something new to add, everyone’s perspective on a certain topic being unique.

In the following analysis I want to examine the negative stereotypes of Mexican and Chicano males[2] portrayed in American media. A definition that puts emphasis on the dangerous character of negative stereotypes is the one by Bruce Bower who considers them as “a breeding ground for errant generalizations about others that easily congeal into racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry.”[3]

Since a complete and thorough depiction of all existing stereotypes would go too far, I want to concentrate on the most prevalent stereotypical characteristics attributed to the male part of the minority group, which are vile, violent and sly. Moreover, I want to figure out where these negative sentiments toward the minority group originate from.

I’ve concentrated my research on the four most important media branches: books (in this case children’s picture books), news coverage, movies and advertisement.

In the first chapter I want to begin with the roots, pointing out negative stereotypes in one of the most popular American children’s picture book featuring Mexican protagonists, “A day’s work” by Eve Bunting. Furthermore I want to examine the “pitfalls”[4] of confronting children with stereotypes from an early age by introducing a psychological process referred to as “implicit stereotyping”.

The second chapter consists of a brief theoretical digression commenting on the question “Do stereotypes necessarily have to be bad, or can they be beneficial?” This chapter’s introduction also gives a brief overview on common definitions of the term “stereotype”.

Stereotypes and biased reporting in American news coverage are discussed in the third chapter. I want to connect the problem to a psychological phenomenon called “illusory correlation”, and thereby examine if biased reporting can lead to the creation and maintenance of stereotypes.

In my fourth chapter, I want to analyze the presence of Mexican-American characters and language in American movies, and thereby try to psychologically explain the phenomenon of “Mock Spanish” by means of a theory called “Social-Identity Theory”.

The fifth chapter tries to find the key to the negative image of the Mexican as being violent – a bandido – and therefore has to go back to the ancient cradle of American history.

In the last chapter I want to analyze stereotypes in American advertisement, and therefore examine one of the most infamous TV commercial characters epitomizing a Mexican stereotype: the “Frito Bandito”.

2. Children’s books – Implicit stereotyping?

“Recent research has shown that whether one will stereotype another may be influenced by previous exposure to information, information the subject is unaware of at the time of subsequent testing. This process is referred to as implicit stereotyping.”[5]

Although Nelson is in this case referring to certain psychological tests conducted with grown-up test persons, to me this scientifically supported thesis sounds perfectly applicable to the effect children (unconsciously) experience when exposed to stereotyping in children’s books. This assumption is confirmed by Greenwald and Banaji in their study “Implicit social cognition: Attitudes, self-esteem, and stereotypes” when they explain their definition of the phenomenon: “Implicit stereotypes are the introspectively unidentified (or inaccurately identified) traces of past experience that mediate attributions of qualities to members of a social category.”[6]

Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese have closely examined so-called multicultural picture books in search of subtle and evident stereotypes. They have exemplified their findings through two books with Mexican-American protagonists in order to illuminate issues and problems in the images the books present of Chicanos´ characteristics and every-day-lives.

At best, “picture books that depict the variety of ethnic, racial, and cultural groups within U.S. society […] allow young children opportunities to develop their understanding of others, while affirming children of diverse backgrounds”[7], they state. Unfortunately they have found some undesirable stereotyping in two of the most popular children’s books featuring Mexican-American protagonists, “A Day’s Work” (Eve Bunting, 1994) and “A Gift from Papa Diego” (Benjamin Alire Saenz,1998). I have chosen “A Day’s work” in order to exemplify the “pitfalls”[8] – as they are called by Mendoza and Reese – sometimes committed by multicultural picture books. To begin with, I want to briefly summarize the plot of the book and afterwards point out the more or less subtle stereotypes that are communicated to children through the actions taken by the protagonists.

2.1 “A day’s work” by Eve Bunting

At the beginning of the book, Francisco, a little boy of about 8, and his grandfather stand with other day laborers in a parking lot, waiting for work. Soon, Francisco reveals three facts to this group of strangers: first, that his father has died, leaving his family in financial trouble; second, that his grandfather has recently arrived in the United States to help them; and third, that he plans to use his own English skills to help his Spanish-speaking grandfather find work. Without telling his grandfather, Francisco decides to lie to an employer about his grandfather’s skill as a gardener. He and his grandfather hurry to the employer’s van, and the boy pushes away another man who tries to get in with them. The employer, Ben, takes them to an embankment to pull weeds and drives away. The two work all day in the hot sun. As they are congratulating themselves on a beautiful job, Ben returns and is outraged to find that they have pulled all his ice plants and left the weeds. Over Francisco’s protests, Abuelo offers to repair the damage and remove the weeds without pay. Ben sees that Abuelo is honorable, allows them to come back the next day, and hints that he might hire the grandfather for more than just day labor.[9]

2.2 Undesirable stereotypes in “A day’s work”

At first sight, “A day’s work” is a “normal” portrayal of Mexicans performing their “typical” profession: hard manual labor. This mere fact is not necessarily negative in itself; the way, however, the immigrants are obtaining and performing it to me seems highly alarming.

Francisco, for instance, is lying to get himself and his grandfather work. Next thing he does is to push someone else out of the way in order to get into the van, ruthlessly taking advantage of the situation.

When pulling the wrong plants out of the soil, Francisco and his grandfather are indirectly depicted as incapable of properly following the instructions given by the white employer. Although Francisco’s grandfather proves to be honorable when offering to fix the damage, this little incident puts the Mexican into the position of having to apologize to a superior white person for a mistake and to deferently offer to make it up.

Now one might consider this argumentation as being exaggerated, accusing it of desperately seeking for covert racism and stereotype. But in this case I agree with Ana Celia Zentella, who, originally referring to racist jokes about Chicanos, states: “If these usages seem innocuous or innocently humorous to most Americans, some of whom surely would warn us against adopting chilling attitudes of political correctness, […] the problem consists of the fact [that] Latin@s are always the butt of the joke.”[10]

Thus, when attempting to put myself into the place of a child reading or being read this book, I can only see the failing Mexican on the one hand and the generously forgiving white employer on the other: there is a whole value-system hidden in one seemingly innocuous book … and, as Nelson confirms: “Stereotypes also influence overall cognitive performance in children in much the same way as in adults.”[11]


[1] Kindleberger, Charles P.(1990):Historical Economics: Art or Science?University of California Press, Berkeley, p.109.

[2] Abundance as emphasis!

[3] Bower, Bruce. (1996): “Fighting Stereotype Stigma. Studies chart accuracy, usefulness of inferences about social groups”. In: Science News, Vol. 149, No. 26. p.2.

[4] Mendoza, Jean; Reese, Debbie. (2001): “Examining Multicultural Picture Books for the Early Childhood Classroom: Possibilities and Pitfalls”. In: Early Childhood Research & Practice (ECRP), Vol. 3, No. 2., p.155.

[5] Nelson, Todd D. (2006): The psychology of prejudice. Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, Boston, p.169.

[6] Greenwald, A.G., Banaji, M.R. (1995): “Implicit Social Cognitions: Attitudes, self-esteem, and stereotypes”. In: Psychological Review, No.102, p.12.

[7] Mendoza, Jean; Reese, Debbie. (2001): “Examining Multicultural Picture Books for the Early Childhood Classroom: Possibilities and Pitfalls”. In: Early Childhood Research & Practice (ECRP), Vol. 3, No. 2., p.155.

[8] ibid., p.155.

[9] all cf. Mendoza, Jean; Reese, Debbie. (2001): “Examining Multicultural Picture Books for the Early Childhood Classroom: Possibilities and Pitfalls”. In: Early Childhood Research & Practice (ECRP), Vol. 3, No. 2., p.160.

[10] Zentella, Ana Celia. “José, can you see?”: L atin@ R esponses to R acist D iscourse. p.52.

[11] Nelson, Todd D. (2006): The psychology of prejudice. Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, Boston, p.35.

Excerpt out of 25 pages


“Violent and Sly” - Negative stereotypes of Mexican-American men in the american media
University of Heidelberg
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ISBN (eBook)
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Sly”, Negative, Mexican-American
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Stephanie Geissler (Author), 2007, “Violent and Sly” - Negative stereotypes of Mexican-American men in the american media, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/76846


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