Dear Mexican: I was flipping through my television when I noticed the Spanish-language channel showed a man in a red suit with yellow pants, antennae on his head and a heart with the letters “CH” on his chest. It appeared to be a sitcom, and all the characters related to the insect guy as if he were normal. What really blew my socks off, though, was a part where the insect guy and his cohorts dressed as Confederate soldiers in the antebellum South. At one point, Insect Guy is suddenly in blackface! What’s the story of this sitcom? Was it a big hit for Mexicans? And what’s the deal with the racist stereotyping?
—Tree-Huggin’ Hippie Liberal Gabacho
Dear Gabacho: You’re referring to El Chapulín Colorado (The Red Grasshopper), a Mexican television icon and the character Matt Groening acknowledges is the inspiration for The Simpsons’ Bumblebee Man. El Chapulín Colorado originally turned up in a sitcom of the same name during the 1970s, and nearly every episode featured the same plot: Someone in distress would call Chapulín’s name, Chapulín would appear and proclaim, “¡No contaban con mi astucia!” (“They didn’t count on my astuteness!”), and then save the day in a bumbling manner and with his squeaky toy hammer. Seems childish, sí, but Mexicans continue to love Chapulín because the show contained all that’s brilliant about Mexican humor: satire (the show’s narrator always introduced him as “more agile than a turtle, stronger than a mouse, nobler than lettuce”), a working-class perspective, slapstick, self-deprecation, surrealism, muchos puns and double entendres and a slew of racial caricatures. El Chapulín is so popular that many Mexicans in los Estados Unidos dress up their children as him for Halloween; check out this picture of me dressed as Chapulín last year. As for the Mexican fascination with caricatures: I wrote about it in a previous column. Go find that edition of ¡Ask a Mexican! yourself, Tree-Huggin’ Hippie: You can’t teach a Mexican the meaning of the word “illegal,” but you can teach him how not to do the same job twice for a lazy gabacho.
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