Sleeping latino statue offensive?
October 1, 2007 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Is a statue of a sleeping man crouched down with a sombrero over his head offensive to people?

My wife and I were recently at a home decor shop and picked up a metal sculpture of a crouching man with a sombrero covering his head. My wife thought it was very quaint and had a southwest flare so we purchased it.

Yesterday my son was watching an episode of George Lopez and he summoned me to the TV. The entire episode turned out to be about a racist neighbor who insisted on having a "sleeping mexican" statue in his yard. George and his wife maintained that the statue depicted the stereotype of Mexicans being lazy.

After watching this (and having my wife watch this) I told her that we'd better get rid of it. She however, insisted that she sees nothing wrong with it. She is part Latino and pointed out that neither she or I found it offensive and neither of us thought of it as depicting any one as lazy. Instead we both viewed it as a kind of idyllic representation of a man relaxing. In fact when I look at it I always think to myself "I'd like to be doing that right now". My wife commented how this is just political correctness taken to the extreme.

So what does everyone think - racist or not?
posted by tr45vbyt to Human Relations (73 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you got rid of something every time someone thought it was offensive, you would be naked and homeless. And then you'd have to kill yourself.

Keep it. Ain't nobody's business but your own.
posted by nasreddin at 2:00 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I personally don't see it as racist, any more than the other strange stuff people put on their lawns.
posted by DMan at 2:01 PM on October 1, 2007

From Salon:

And the original Taco Bell sign -- the proverbial lazy Mexican dozing against a cactus -- was to Mexicans what the golliwog was to American blacks.
posted by porn in the woods at 2:05 PM on October 1, 2007

Put it in the backyard. Then the only people who will see it are people to whom you can explain it, and you won't have to worry about whether your neighbors are judging you or whether you're offending them.

It's one of those things where it's offensive if the person who has it is already a racist creep in other ways. For example, if you spent your weekends volunteering to police the border with an assault rifle, and you had a sleeping Mexican statue in your front yard, it might raise some flags.
posted by crinklebat at 2:06 PM on October 1, 2007

Only get rid of it if it offends you.

It doesn't offend me, for what it's worth. How can you tell a guy is Mexican if he's under a sombrero? Heck, I'm lazy - it might be me under there.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:09 PM on October 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

I would say that it reflects well on you that you did not see the possible racist connection till it was put in front of you.

However, if you are going to keep it, I would suggest that you have a serious conversation with your son about what he sees.

The reason that some would embrace it as racist, in my opinion, is because it reinforces a stereotype. If you have not seen it, watch the South Park episode Chef Goes Nanners. It seems to reflect exactly the questions you are dealing with about keeping the statue.
posted by slavlin at 2:14 PM on October 1, 2007

FWIW, it would never ever occur to me that that might be a racist symbol (speaking as a white Canadian). In fact, I had to read the full [more inside] before I even understood why anyone might think it was racist.

Keep it.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 2:24 PM on October 1, 2007

There are people who live to be offended. They're on a hair trigger to start screaming about anything that could even remotely be considered demeaning to anyone.

Since you've raised a child, you know what you have to do with a 2 year old who has tantrums. You cannot give in, or he will rule you.

Same with this.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:28 PM on October 1, 2007

Not racist, just a guy sleeping. Keep it if you like it.
posted by frobozz at 2:28 PM on October 1, 2007

Arguing about whether it's 'racist' isn't very helpful. It's a statue. Was its designer racist? is its intended audience racist? We don't know, and its history is complicated

What it is is loaded. It means something important, and negative to a lot of people. To me, that's not worth it for a law ornament, maybe it's worth it to you. Would I think you were racist if I saw it on your lawn? Maybe, not unnecessarily, but I'd for sure think you were naive.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:29 PM on October 1, 2007 [13 favorites]

lawn ornament. A law ornament would be different and more useful maybe.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:31 PM on October 1, 2007

Is a statue of a sleeping man crouched down with a sombrero over his head offensive to people?

Apparently, yes.

If you're trying to take a poll to find out how many, and base your future actions on that number, then I would suggest that it may be worth thinking about whether a bunch of white people saying they are not offended by the stereotyping of another race is exactly the strongest endorsement for keeping the statue.
posted by occhiblu at 2:38 PM on October 1, 2007 [9 favorites]

it really depends on that statue. is the man wearing a white tshirt with stains on it, a gold tooth, and possibly bloated?

pictures would be helpful to answer this.

and yes, this image could be viewed as offensive if don't untastefully.
posted by Stynxno at 2:39 PM on October 1, 2007

if done untastefully.
posted by Stynxno at 2:40 PM on October 1, 2007

The Denver Art Museum moved artist Red Grooms "Cowboy and Indian" sculpture out of public sight because of cultural sensitivity,
posted by hortense at 2:41 PM on October 1, 2007

It seems that racism against Mexicans is one of the last holdouts of "socially acceptable" racism in the United States. Stereotypical icons that feature Native Americans, African Americans, Asians and Jewish people are almost always greeted with disdain and outrage by the retail public, yet archaic imagery that depicts Mexican men as lazy, napping, sombrero wearing derelicts is somehow still acceptable.

Displaying a statue like this makes you look clueless, culturally insensitive and semiotically illiterate.
posted by pluckysparrow at 2:42 PM on October 1, 2007 [8 favorites]

I think that crabintheocean has it dead on. It is a loaded item that, from the way your question sounds, you do not want to get involved in.

Now that you know that some would find it offensive, will you ever be able to look at it and not think that way? There are good reasons that you would want to get rid of it, but the only reason I can think of to keep it is because you like it. Remember that you accept the consequences of what it will say to others if you keep it though, even if that is not what you meant.
posted by slavlin at 2:44 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's the problem. It's offensive to Latinos. End of story. It doesn't matter if you see it as offensive. Knowledge is a bitch, huh! Because now that you're aware of the problem, you have two options - keep it up or remove it. If you keep it up, you will offend some people and to others appear naive and deaf to history. If you remove it, you will have given in to the vast left-wing conspiracy of people aware of historical stereotypes, and shown yourself as a coward. Choose wisely.
posted by billysumday at 2:44 PM on October 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

To say it's racist is a bold statement. Is it tasteful? I mean, no more or less than putting a statue of an orthodox Jew in full regalia praying or an Eskimo with a harpoon in an igloo or a german in lederhausen drinking a mug of beer....
posted by sneakin at 2:46 PM on October 1, 2007

Sneakin, so you are saying that, to Mexicans, sleeping is as natural as praying for Jews, hunting for Eskimos and drinking for Germans? Based on that, I say keep it, since it is that simple.
posted by slavlin at 2:50 PM on October 1, 2007

I think it'll look great across the driveway from the lawn jockey.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:52 PM on October 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

I think it'll look great across the driveway from the lawn jockey.

Apparently, one can't tell stories to illustrate points in AskMe. C'est la vie. Just get rid of the sombrero muchacho.
posted by billysumday at 2:54 PM on October 1, 2007

I don't think anyone can answer this question for you. Try turning it around on yourself and see how you'd view it - i.e. I'm Scottish and I'd sure as heck not be offended by a little statue of a fat scotsman in a kilt, playing bagpipes.

Does this mean I play bagpipes or own a kilt? Nope, neither. I'm Scottish but don't find Scottish stereotypes in the slightest offensive. A statue is a statue. If people want to interpret it as racist then that's their problem. Unless you're explicitly stating (perhaps in a small plaque?) that Mexicans Are Lazy then it would be ignorant of anyone who finds it offensive to see it as anything more than a piece of art depicting a sleeping man.

I didn't understand why anyone would be offended until I read the comments. Sure it's people's right to be offended but again, sometimes a statue is just a statue...
posted by TheAspiringCatapult at 3:02 PM on October 1, 2007

slavlin, haha! Awesome logic. No, I was giving examples of stereotypical behavior.
posted by sneakin at 3:11 PM on October 1, 2007

Let me clarify. What I meant by "stereotypical behavior" is "stereotyped behavior."
posted by sneakin at 3:13 PM on October 1, 2007

A statue is a statue. If people want to interpret it as racist then that's their problem.

I just absolutely cannot understand this line of reasoning. If people interpret a statue as racist and you keep it up, then presumably it most certainly is your problem. Take for instance the red-capped lawn jockey. At one point in our history it was an important symbol used in identifying houses on the Underground Railroad. Hey, that's good for blacks, right! Yep, sure was. But over time it became associated with a certain type of paternalistic, semi-benevolent racism until eventually it was widely recognized and reviled as an essentially racist symbol. It doesn't matter if that's how you view it or not. Even if you knew the history of the statue, what are you going to do? Stop every person who drives by your house and tell them the story of the lawn jockey and how it came to be so prevalent in American society? I wholly and completely support the idea of collecting these objects as curios that can be kept in your house or your backyard where you are able to invite guests and can explain why you own such an object and the interesting history of said object in the constantly evolving American consciousness. But if you put it on display in your front yard where you do not have control over how the object will be received and have no way to counter the reactions that some people will have, then don't be surprised if people think that you are dumb at best and a racist at worst. Once you know that something you own is a contentious object with a loaded history, it is not good enough to say, "well that's not how I see it, I'm keeping it!"
posted by billysumday at 3:19 PM on October 1, 2007 [8 favorites]

neither of us thought of it as depicting any one as lazy

And to some, a blackface lawn jockey is merely nostalgia for a happier time.

It's a little gauche.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:20 PM on October 1, 2007

A quick poll of the Mexicans in my office (14 of them to be exact) not one of them found the idea of the statue "offensive" in the least. The answer might depend greatly on your geographic location and the general atmosphere and culture there. (I'm in South Texas)

A few people here even commented on how the idea of "A mexican napping under a sombrero" had zero to do with any sort of stereotype and or depicting someone as "lazy" but instead is an example of adhering to the cultural tradition of a Siesta. Or mid-day nap. A practice I'm quite fond of myself.
posted by ninepin at 3:25 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

A quick poll of the Mexicans in my office (14 of them to be exact) not one of them found the idea of the statue "offensive" in the least.

So here's the question you have to ask yourself: are you concerned about offending Mexicans, or offending billysunday? I say keep it, and just don't invite billysunday over for Sunday dinner.
posted by languagehat at 3:34 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also be sure not to extend an invitation to George Lopez, who apparently cared enough to center one of his shows on the subject. (and my name is billysumday)
posted by billysumday at 3:37 PM on October 1, 2007

In high school, our senior theme was "south of the border" and we had t-shirts with this cute cartoonish guy in a sombrero. Our administration promptly got offended by our portrayal of "lazy Mexicans" and told us we couldn't have the shirts. We protested, asking around our (largely Mexican) cleaning staff to see if it was a problem; they all looked confused and said no, they didn't see any problem.

The all-white administration continued to insist it was offensive and said that the janitorial staff, by the nature of the employee hierarchy, were in no position to tell the truth as to whether or not it was offensive.

Frankly, I thought their opinion of the veracity of the janitorial staff's claims was more offensive, but what do I know.

Anyway, point is, whether or not you think it's offensive, or whether or not actual Latinos think it's offensive, lots of people will think it's offensive and will think badly of you for it. It all comes down to whether or not you're okay with that.
posted by olinerd at 3:45 PM on October 1, 2007

The division of answers here tells you all you need to know-- it's definitely a problem with some people and not with others regardless of background or race.

Which isn't something you'd have to even worry about with a sundial or a hummingbird feeder.
posted by hermitosis at 3:57 PM on October 1, 2007

Man, I wish that I was napping in the sun, ice fishing, bag piping, drinking beer in liderhosen. I do have watermelon in the fridge. Thanks askme!

To be unoffensive to anybody you have to take the approach of including no depictions of any people or animals. Also, fungi are pretty phallic. Personally I'd wonder about it, but I remember such statues on porches when I lived in a Hispanic neighborhood not too long ago.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:11 PM on October 1, 2007

If you are no longer comfortable with it because of what it represents to a few people, then maybe get rid of it, but if I liked it I'd look blankly at anyone who ever said anything and say that I thought it represented the wonderful cultural tradition of the siesta, or more generally a civilized way of life that shows that relaxation is an important part of the day. I'd hope that would shame them. :)
posted by Listener at 4:12 PM on October 1, 2007

Yet another Seinfeld Moment, an episode in which Jerry faces exactly the same question regarding a Cigar Store Indian.

Sometimes TV can be very helpful.
posted by Neiltupper at 4:15 PM on October 1, 2007

I grew up mostly in San Antonio, among Latinos/Hispanics/Mexican-Americans/Chicano(a)s/etc. (I was a census-taker in 1980, and I had people use all of those terms, and more, to describe themselves). I never even saw one of those statuettes until a few years later when I was living in Washington, DC. I received a small wooden one as a gift from the estate of a dear friend -- Filipino, btw -- who had died of AIDS. (As Anna Russell used to say, "I'm not making this up, you know.") Anyhow, it never occurred to me until reading this that anyone would consider it racist. Odd. Quaint. Silly, maybe.

Anyhow, I'm keeping mine in memory of my friend Manny. I don't know what it meant to him, but the meanings I ascribe to it are more important than what someone says on television.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:19 PM on October 1, 2007

Don't forget that George Lopez is a sitcom. That means that the things that happen on it are jokes, as well as fiction.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 4:21 PM on October 1, 2007

All the latinos mentioned / consulted here have no problem with it. A few people (I am guessing very semiotically literate and historically well informed white liberals) find it offensive. If you ditch the statue, the latter group will find something else about you to take offense at, so I'd say there's no point trying to please them.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:25 PM on October 1, 2007

Post a picture of it. There are resources where it can be identified possibly. If it can be identified as an offending statue, I think you should toss it.

If it can't be, then keep it.

But I think if you can at least show us a couple of photos of it, it can be more clear if it's just an unfortunate resemblance or something made to stereotype an entire group of people negatively.
posted by cashman at 4:27 PM on October 1, 2007

The person who thinks it depicts a lazy person and therefore must be depicting a Mexican is the racist, not you.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:31 PM on October 1, 2007

FWIW, if I went around & quizzed all the Mexicans in my office about whether something was racist I'd probably get in trouble. So obviously people have very different experiences & environments. Just adding a bit of my experience.
posted by Wood at 4:32 PM on October 1, 2007

The problem is that this (as many other issues) is cast as a personal problem when it is really a political one. Sambo is not a problem because he is "offensive." It's not because some people's feelings will get hurt; it's because that image historically has been used in the service of the Powers That Be to marginalize, dehumanize, keep people down and out, etc. Asking all the Mexicans you can find isn't the point, the point is that all the Mexicans you can find are janitors (with no disrespect meant to the janitorial professions). And, yes, the Lazy Mexican no longer holds the same cultural weight that it once did, but with fears of illegal immigrants what they are can you blame some people for being a little bit suspicious?

Also, people of color and marginalized folks of all stripe have long been used as screens on which the rulers have projected their fears and desires. The Lazy Mexican fits into the tradition of blackface, depicting the simple life of simple people, enjoying life's simplest pleasures. Sympathizing with the image in some way ("I'd like to be napping/eating watermelon, etc.") doesn't absolve one of the responsibility of thinking about these issues.

More generally, having a little person in your yard seems pretty paternalistic, regardless of what activity they're engaged it. "This little Mexican will add a bit of Southwest flair to our house" comes across as a bit ... off.
posted by wemayfreeze at 4:38 PM on October 1, 2007 [7 favorites]

So here's the question you have to ask yourself: are you concerned about offending Mexicans, or offending billysunday?

Well, I'm glad that there are so many people here to speak on behalf of Mexicans or go and poll them! My only qualification is that I actually am a Mexican-American.

No, no, its not offensive or racist. It is a bit... either charming or clueless, depending on your intentions. And it certainly is more than a bit tasteless. Like the Irish leprechaun or the Italian with a big mustache holding a pizza pie, its a somewhat cute but unfair stereotype.

Before you encountered that show on television you could claim to be semiotically illiterate, defending your sculpture out of uncorrupted aesthetics. After you learn that it may have an unintentional meaning, you can no longer claim to be naive. But, what exactly is the statement you're making?

Honestly, if my Mexican-born mother walked by your house she might point it out, giggle and say "how cute!" On the other hand, if my married-into-the-family aunt, whose family has been here for generations, saw it, she would likely get a bit angry. You see, she was one of those people who was here in the 60's and fighting for this abstract thing called "Chicano rights" and whatnot and fighting to dispel negative images of Mexican-Americans in American culture. And the lazy-Mexican was one of those pervasive images. Honestly, she'd be upset.

Now, I don't get along very well with that aunt. Personally, I think she's a bit over-militant and whatnot. But, that doesnt change the fact that she would indeed be offended by your sculpture. You can choose to say "Well, who cares about her. She's being oversensitive and is stereotyping me too." and thats fine and all.

I suspect that the George Lopez thing, not having seen it myself, was partly poking fun at people like my aunt - those who confuse images with intent, who are fighting useless and petty semiotic battles.

Again, I want to emphasize that those above who have "consulted Mexicans" may have consulted the wrong people. There are recent transplants, like my own immediate family, who still have one leg in Mexico. And there are Mexicans who have been here if not decades, then centuries. Like the Chinese-Americans and the irish-Americans and many other immigrant groups, they have been struggling for a long time to gain respect, to gain equality, to gain dignity.

For those people, people like my aunt - a Mexican-American of many generations - this is a tiny but still painful barb.
posted by vacapinta at 4:39 PM on October 1, 2007 [8 favorites]

Wow. I am really surprised by some of the folks who are defending that kind of imagery here.

It is most certainly representative of a long history of stereotypical representations of Latinos, and especially Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. As several people here have pointed out, it is directly comparable to pictures of picaninnies eating watermelon. You don't have to feel bad that you bought it, I'm sure you're a good person, but there's no reason to keep it that's good enough to overcome the baggage that stereotype carries.


And as far as "But Latinos have them..." goes... my Aunt, who is African American, has a collection of Sambo dolls. Is this because she is a racist? No. I am white. Would it be appropriate for ME to have such a collection? No f'ing way.

I think the civil rights struggle of African-Americans has made these issues a little more apparent (and a little less instantly-super-touchy) for white folks like you and me... but that does NOT mean they are any less significant for Latinos.
posted by YoungAmerican at 4:44 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I meant a little MORE super-touchy and sensitive w/r/t African Americans, relative to Mexican-Americans.
posted by YoungAmerican at 4:47 PM on October 1, 2007

All the latinos mentioned / consulted here have no problem with it. A few people (I am guessing very semiotically literate and historically well informed white liberals) find it offensive.

Just one more point before I retire for the evening to my pillow-soft, white-lit room of perfect liberal non-offensiveness. As far as I'm concerned, I would personally not care or even look twice if I saw the statue described by the OP (except maybe for the fact that lawn ornaments in general are pretty gawdy). I am however aware of the fact that some people would be offended by it and to say that I'm not offended by it means jack shit in the context of whether or not it is appropriate. Some people will see in it the stereotype of a lazy Mexican. Whether or not this is how you personally see it, or how I personally see it, is completely insignificant. The objection that this is a concern cooked up by oversensitive white liberals may be a fair point. Nevertheless, that does not mean that a negative reaction to the object is not out there in the general population. People are aware of the fact that the statue contains loaded imagery, and that makes it contentious. Is a watermelon offensive? No, it's delicious. Is it offensive in contexts related to race? Yes. Why? Well, personally, I don't actually know the whole history of it, I'm just aware that it exists. Therefore I'm wary to say things like, "have you ever noticed that lots of black people enjoy eating watermelon?" because instead of people thinking that this is the first time I've ever considered whether or not a certain group of people enjoys a certain fruit, they will assume I'm being racist, or ironically racist, or trying to make a joke about race. Similarly, is putting white paint on your face offensive? No, mimes do it all the time. Is putting black paint on your face offensive? Yes. And whether or not the African-American janitor at your high school laughs at the star quarterback singing R. Kelly in blackface at the annual talent show, many people are going to see a white person in blackface and their minds will immediately take them to a very different place. In a very extreme example (quite far from what the OP is doing), the nooses hung from the tree in Jena meant more than just nooses hung from a tree. Presumably the ignorant 17 year old hilljacks who hung the nooses didn't have a complete grasp of the "semiotics" of the image of a noose hung from a tree in the south - remember, it was just a "prank" - but many people did, and regardless of the intentions of the kids who did it, many people saw something more than that.

So, essentially, no you wouldn't offend me, personally, with your sculpture, but I do know that you would offend other people, and regardless if it's actually Hispanics, or just super-sensitive liberals, or meddling school administrators, or the screenwriters of America's sitcoms, why would you?
posted by billysumday at 4:59 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

It doesn't matter if everybody who responds to this question tells you that your sleeping Mexican lawn ornament "doesn't offend me, for what it's worth." It doesn't matter if, at the time you purchased it, you were unaware that there is a specific history of essentializing and stereotyping of Mexicans that is connected to the depiction sitting in your yard. What matters is the historical context in which this item/image is rooted. Obviously, you are free to be ignorant of that context, or to ignore it once you know about it, but that doesn't make it disappear.

Also, the fact that your wife is "part Latino" is not a valid excuse for making the argument that the lawn ornament is not offensive. She can, obviously, say that the ornament is not offensive TO HER. She can even say that she's part Latina, and as such the ornament is not offensive TO HER. But the fact that she is partially of Latina background does not enable her to say that, ipso facto, the ornament is not offensive.

It is really interesting to me that this particular image is viewed so ambiguously, while other comparable images are more straightforwardly acknowledged as based in racist stereotypes (or, less often, not ever considered to be essentializing at all). I found a reference to a forthcoming book that will examine exactly this: “The Sleeping Mexican Phenomenon: Popular and Artistic Interpretations of a Stereotype”; brief description at this page. In the meantime, the essay "Viva Mexico: The Expression of Latino Graphic Identity in Chicago" might be of interest.
posted by splendid animal at 5:01 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

More people will think you're racist with the statue than without it.
posted by Reggie Digest at 5:58 PM on October 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

(and my name is billysumday)

Sorry—I do try to get usernames right.

Obviously my comment above was a tad flippant, and sure, some people will be offended, but seriously, you can't go through life without offending anyone. If you and your wife like it, I don't think you should worry overmuch about the hypothetical offense that might be caused to certain hypothetical people who might see it.

I have various things that might offend people in my house. I'll bet you all do too. Seriously, should we all get rid of everything that might offend somebody someday?
posted by languagehat at 6:30 PM on October 1, 2007

Put it in a small boat or canoe.

I once was in a guy's office and saw a painting of a small crouched man wearing a big covering hat sleeping at one end of a canoe. The guy saw me looking at it and and asked if I liked it and said his wife painted it. I asked him if he knew what it meant and he said no. Barely constraining my laughter I asked if his wife came up with the idea or had her painting instructor suggested it. He said it was her idea. I eventually explained about the little man in the boat. I presume he was clueless about it because the painting was gone the next time I visited him.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:34 PM on October 1, 2007

I personally wouldn't find it offensive, but I could see how it could be taken that way.

You need to find a statue like this instead.
posted by Ostara at 6:49 PM on October 1, 2007

The person who thinks it depicts a lazy person and therefore must be depicting a Mexican is the racist, not you.

That's right, the person displaying the statue depicting a racist stereotype is perfectly fine, while the person who objects to the depiction of racial stereotypes is wrong. Really.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:56 PM on October 1, 2007

Why do otherwise english-speaking people feel the need to say "sombrero" for "hat" when talking about mexicans?
posted by signal at 6:57 PM on October 1, 2007

signal says: Why do otherwise english-speaking people feel the need to say "sombrero" for "hat" when talking about mexicans?

Ummm. Because a big Mexican sombrero is a distinct type of hat not to be confused with a homburg, fedora, or panama.

Your profile says you live in Chile. Are all hats there no matter how little sun-shade they give called "sombreros"?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:05 PM on October 1, 2007

Are all hats there no matter how little sun-shade they give called "sombreros"?

Yes, as they are in Mexico, Spain, and any other Spanish-speaking place.

"Sombrero" is the exact literal translation of "hat". Not "big sun shade giving mexican hat", just "hat".
posted by signal at 7:16 PM on October 1, 2007

Signal, because we're referencing a specific sort of hat, not any old baseball cap or cowboy hat or do-rag, all of which I've seen worn by Mexicans this week?

languagehat, wouldn't you find it a bit odd to visit someone's house and find them enthusing over how well the Aunt Jemima statue on the porch coordinates with the couch cushions?
posted by desuetude at 7:21 PM on October 1, 2007

rossmik, I was too brief. Of course Scots have been persecuted, but they have not, in the United States, been subjected to pervasive racism spanning multiple generations.
posted by desuetude at 7:26 PM on October 1, 2007

desuetude: please read the post immediately above yours.
posted by signal at 7:44 PM on October 1, 2007

To the extent that lazy Mexican is a negative stereotype, it's not comparable to a Jew praying. It's more comparable to a Jew counting money. Nothing wrong with having money, nothing wrong with counting money, nothing wrong with sleeping or even being lazy, BUT yeah, I would find it problematic for sure.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:49 PM on October 1, 2007

signal (from Chile) says: "Sombrero" is the exact literal translation of "hat". Not "big sun shade giving mexican hat", just "hat".

Well maybe you should give us the politically correct way to refer to big sun shade hats in Spanish. English speakers refer to the big Mexican hats as Sombreros see google pics English speakers also refer to the sunshading asian hats as Coolie hats google pics

What is your point other than trolling about being (pc) Politically Correct?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:58 PM on October 1, 2007

What does PC have to do with anything? I was asking an honest question about code switching.
You need to get over the whole PC thing, it seems.
posted by signal at 8:00 PM on October 1, 2007

I'd never heard of sleeping-Mexican statues (or blackface jockeys for that matter) but I've never lived in an area with a significant Mexican population. It seems that you'd be better off with some alternative lawn decoration now that you know its history. Plus, most lawns look better without little statues in my opinion.

Signal - I wish I spoke Spanish better, but are you really saying that there is only one word at all for a hat? I vaguely remember learning different words for "hat" and "cap" but it's been a while. I'm not sure why you are so suprized that sombrero has a slightly different meaning in English. It's fairly obvious why - probably when an anglophone first encountered this type of hat, he asked the wearer what was on his head, and the wearer was most likely a Spanish-speaker and said "sombrero".
posted by fermezporte at 8:19 PM on October 1, 2007

languagehat: I have various things that might offend people in my house. I'll bet you all do too.

Hm, I can't think of a single example of anything in my house that carries racial or cultural baggage, so I'm not sure what could be offensive. I also can't think of any examples from friends' or relatives' houses.

I guess vegans would be offended by the milk and eggs in the fridge, Apple aficionados would be offended by my PC, and devout Christians would be offended by the lack of a Bible, but that's really not what we're talking about here, is it? This is just kind of a weird generalization for you to make without having visited our houses. I don't know at all what you might be referring to. What is some incredibly common object that is also likely to be offensive?
posted by desjardins at 8:23 PM on October 1, 2007

Sleeping Mexicans in a sombrero (yes, sombrero is only used to describe a specific style of hat in the US, otherwise we'd say "hat"), blackface jockeys, and a little Mexican boy with a burro are all "quaint" stereotypical lawn statues. Are they possibly cute if you see them with innocent eyes? Maybe. I'd say that if intent is positive, they're no more ridiculous than the little boy peeing statues. But they've been historically "quaint" not because they're silly but because they represent a stereotype.

Sure, anyone could be wearing a large hat and napping, but it's a cultural shorthand that means nothing to you but will mean something to others. Where you see a man, because it's a man that seems familiar and typical to you, others will see a Mexican man because they're prone to notice race, and how that race is depicted.
posted by mikeh at 8:33 PM on October 1, 2007

signal, Americans (don't know about other English speakers) have borrowed the word for "hat" from Spanish to indicate a sort of traditional Mexican hat that has no name in English.

Similarly, salsa means nothing more than sauce in Spanish, but we use salsa to indicate a Mexican sauce, generally salsa fresca.

Often, use of foreign-language words are italicized within an English passage, such as in the preceding example, but when such a word becomes passes into widespread understanding in English, it is often "adopted" as to be the English word for said object-from-X-country.
posted by desuetude at 8:45 PM on October 1, 2007

racism is a cultural ill, not an individual failing. When determining whether some artifact or image or symbol crosses the threshold of acceptablity in terms of propagating memes that support racist attitudes, asking a sampling of members of the given race whether they as individuals find the symbol offensive is irrelevant.

Let me put that a little stronger: it's fucking stupid, and an intelligent educated person ought to know better.
posted by lastobelus at 11:17 PM on October 1, 2007

A couple of personal anecdotes to put your question into a different context.

A guy came to interview for a web design position where I work. In presenting his web design portfolio, he showed us one webpage featuring these lounging Mexicans. Our boss, a Mexican-American woman, made the final decision as to who was hired. Guess who didn't get the job?

Another guy I knew had a big, thick swastika tattooed on his back. He also shaved his head regularly. When I asked him about the tattoo, he explained that the swastika was an ancient symbol for power (true enough), that he hated racism, and that he just shaved his head because he liked the look.

You don't sound like you meant any harm-- just like these good people didn't. Whether you decide to keep this sleepy statue is your business, but you can't deny it's in pretty poor taste for a lot of people. The fact that this did not occur to you when you bought it, I think, says a lot about your awareness of and sensitivity to some important social dynamics.
posted by Rykey at 4:18 AM on October 2, 2007

Racist/offensive? Probably.

Tacky? Definitely.
posted by emd3737 at 7:21 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hm, I can't think of a single example of anything in my house that carries racial or cultural baggage, so I'm not sure what could be offensive. I also can't think of any examples from friends' or relatives' houses.

Wow. You don't have any books other than, say, technical manuals? Because novels are frequently found offensive, and we won't even talk about political stuff (like my books by Marx and the Ayatollah Khomeini). No paintings or photos? Because those would be offensive to observant Muslims. No pork products (Jews, Muslims)? No beef (Hindus)? Oh, you say, but I don't have to worry about that stuff. Right, because we all choose who we want to worry about hypothetically offending and who we don't. Note that the poster has not had a single actual person express actual offense.

it's fucking stupid, and an intelligent educated person ought to know better.

Comments like that make me want to fill my lawn with lawn jockeys. Christ, some people enjoy self-righteousness.
posted by languagehat at 7:29 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I guess Applied Statistics for Public and Non-Profit Administration could be offensive.
posted by desjardins at 7:36 AM on October 2, 2007

Eh, I think the whole question of whether someone will find it offensive kind of misses the boat. Languagehat is right that most of us have something that someone would find offensive in our house (for me, I'm sure that xtian fundies would find some of the titles of my feminist library offensive).

But really--do you avoid doing racist things in other parts of your life because someone would be offended if you did them? To me, that's a strange reason; it may be better than going ahead and doing racist/sexist/whatever-ist things, but I'd really hope that you have a bit deeper of a reason for not being racist than you're afraid someone will get mad. I mean, personally, I try to avoid doing racist things and sexist things because I think those things are wrong. Not in the simplistic, trite, kindergarten sense, but in the sense that they unnecessarily limit human potential and contribute to the sort of world that I'd rather not live in.

So perhaps the answer will be clearer to you if you don't try to divine whether there's some critical mass of people out there who would be offended, but rather look to your own beliefs--obviously, this statue is loaded with more meaning (for at least some people) than you realized when you bought it. Do you think that loaded symbols are best dealt with by ignoring their ignoble past and "reclaiming" and reshaping them as non-offensive, or do you think it's better for society to rid itself of those symbols entirely?

You can't really control how other people react to anything you do, and you shouldn't base your actions on how other people will react to them. (Although other people getting offended often functions as a useful flag for us to more deeply investigate what we're doing and whether we should keep doing it.) Ultimately, you should do whatever you think is right, whether it is criticized or not, whether it offends people or not, as long as it's square with your values in how you think loaded racial symbols should be treated.
posted by iminurmefi at 7:53 AM on October 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

No paintings or photos? Because those would be offensive to observant Muslims. No pork products (Jews, Muslims)? No beef (Hindus)?

My understanding is that mainstream Jews/Muslims/Hindus have no issue with those of us without such religious beliefs eating these foods/displaying such decoration. (I have heard this explicitly explained, even, to overly-apologetic acquaintances. I even know of a Muslim chef who worked in a soul-food place who simply didn't taste the pork, and the NY Times just did a little article on a Muslim bartender in Manhattan.)

The only groups I can think of who wish to enforce the notion that everyone should obey their own taboos are the conservative right-wing American Christians, vegans, and authoritarian non-secular governments.
posted by desuetude at 10:10 AM on October 2, 2007

I am Mexican, born and raised, living in Mexico, and I don't find it offensive. At all.

The ability to laugh at our own foibles is a big part of our culture. I say keep it.
posted by Cobalt at 1:35 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

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