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Speedy Gonzales, file image
Speedy Gonzales. Picture: Warner Bros.

Speedy Gonzales in a race against racism and negative stereotypes

The character of Speedy Gonzalez focuses the debate on negative stereotypes of Latinos in cartoons, books and television shows.

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This weekend, New York Times columnist Charles McRay Blow called for the censorship of two Looney Tunes cartoons that reinforce negative stereotypes and fuel a culture of violence. The characters in question are Speedy Gonzales and Pepé Le Pew, the former for contributing to the image of the "drunk and perky" Mexican immigrant, and the latter for reinforcing rape culture with scenes of harassment towards the Penelope Pussycat character.

A few days ago the same debate opened up following the news that six classic Dr. Seuss books would no longer be published and sold due to the racist and insensitive content of their stories.

This debate around many books, TV shows and cartoons is not insignificant, as these cultural products are part of the way we have as children or adults developed an approach to the world.

Social media did not take long to react to the discussion, and opinions on the matter can differ greatly.

The controversy about the character of Speedy Gonzales is polarizing within the Latino community itself, since many explain that the character of Speedy was the first one with which Mexican immigrants or Mexican Americans could recognize themselves on television in the 50s, when Speedy entered the Warner cartoons cast. 

Even Gabriel Iglesias himself, who will be the voice of the character in the next version of Space Jam, responded on Twitter 

I am the voice of Speedy Gonzales in the new Space Jam. Does this mean they are gonna try to cancel Fluffy too? U can’t catch me cancel culture. I’m the fastest mouse in all of Mexico  pic.twitter.com/Ov4wjO00kM

The truth is that cultural products are often the x-ray of an era and show us inside the normalized belief system of the time. And just as societies change and evolve, so must cultural content and products.

Characters can and should change and grow with the times, but making them disappear can even be counterproductive, as we would be denying this evolution and trying to erase part of a history we are not proud of, when we could accept and amend those mistakes. 

In the last month, Disney has given a guideline with the Muppet Show, deciding to put a 'warning' message about the content. The history is there, we can't change it, however the platform has decided to take a stand by notifying its audience that some of the content corresponds to a past that we now know was full of negative prejudices towards certain communities. 

Admitting and accepting that history is the first step.

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