I’ve always had issues with the guy.
I know his good qualities outweigh his bad ones. After all, he’s smart, crafty, occasionally funny, and in his own way, even heroic.
But he’s a thief. And he’s a filthy rodent, which is hard to overlook.
So what do we make of Speedy Gonzalez?
Let’s not get all freshman term paper here, but there are obvious cultural connotations to the old Looney Tunes cartoons. Like every piece of art, they reflect the society and times in which they were created.
The only Hispanic character, to my knowledge, was Speedy Gonzalez. He was a leading man whom kids were supposed to root for. And he always won the day due to his bravery and quick wits.
But the symbolism is inescapable: He was a sneaky mouse determined to steal cheese. I might add that all his friends were lazy cowards. And if the connotations weren’t clear enough, how about that time the mice were trying to sneak across the border?
To be fair, Latinos actually come off better in the old Merrie Melodies than do blacks, Asians, or Southerners. The animators seemed to have special disdain for the French, whom they personified in Pepe le Pew – a rude, oblivious, dimwitted sexual harasser who reeked (and he wasn’t funny either).
They were ahead of their time when it came to gays, however, unless you think it was a coincidence that Bugs Bunny was always cross-dressing. Somebody on that writing staff was just dying to out himself. But I digress.
In any case, the creators of Speedy Gonzalez were, I believe, trying to be positive. They just couldn’t get past the stereotypes. And they were also culturally confused when it came to Latinos. After all, why else would the king of Spain have a Mexican accent (as displayed in the immortal line, “It’s flat like your head”)?
By the way, if anybody knows if they still air Speedy Gonzalez cartoons, let me know. It would be a shame if the kids of today missed out on him… or maybe it wouldn’t, I’m still not sure.