BY GUSTAVO ARELLANO
Dear Mexican: Why did the Mexican comedian Cantinflas never catch on in Hollywood? I thought he was supposed to usher in the Mexican wave of actors and movies that would help transform Hollywood. Instead, that movement ended up flat as a tortilla.
Dear Curious Gabacho: Do people even know who Cantinflas is anymore? For those of you not familiar with the actor, Cantinflas was Mexico’s Charlie Chaplin — wait, do people even know who Charlie Chaplin is anymore? For those of you not familiar with the actor, Charlie Chaplin was the greatest star of the silent film era — wait, do people even know what silent films are anymore? Sorry for the digressions, but your pregunta is so wonderfully anachronistic that most people might think it’s as relevant to the present day as the Nez Perce. But Cantinflas (born Mario Moreno) offers a valuable lesson to today’s Mexican thespians. Instead of accepting every stereotypical Mexican role Hollywood offered, Cantinflas signed on for only two: as the butler Passepartout in the 1956 film Around the World in 80 Days and the titular character in 1960’s Pepe. He drew praise for his acting in the first but bombed in the second, mostly because of a linguistic comedic barrier: his verbal humor, a mishmash of double entendres, non sequiturs, and puns so genius it notched its own verb (cantinflear) in the Royal Academy of Spanish dictionary. Understanding that the nuances of his craft were virtually impossible to translate, Cantinflas decided to focus on Mexican films and never appeared in another English-language production.
The lesson for today’s wabby Oliviers? Maintain your dignity, don’t sell off your talent for a cheap buck, and never offer your services for something called Beverly Hills Chihuahua — wait, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Edward James Olmos, Paul Rodriguez and George Lopez are starring in this fall flick? Virtually every modern-day Mexican actor that studios respect are willing to voice dogs?! Unless it’s a social satire on the level of The Importance of Being Earnest, this Disney movie seems like the worst Mexican disaster since NAFTA.
I’m a California white boy with many Mexican friends. In addition to that, I’ve been running a fantasy baseball league for nine years. For the first time, we have a large percentage of Mexicans in our league — of the 14 teams, Mexicans run three of them, and one gabacho has a Mexican wife. One of those Mexican-run teams came up with the name The Fence Hoppers. This doesn’t really affect me personally, but as commissioner, I need to make sure other people don’t get bent out of shape over it. Should I be worried, or is it the equivalent to blacks dropping N-bombs on each other? You or Bud Selig are the only two people who can help me.
Dear Gabacho: First off, fuck Bud Selig: the man wouldn’t know how to run Major League Baseball if you gave him two balls and a Louisville Slugger. Considering the sport features the Cleveland Indians, whose mascot is a grinning, red-skinned Injun named Chief Wahoo, and allows a team to ridiculously name itself the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, The Fence Hoppers is benign — and, if anyone asks, say it refers to horsehides landing in the bleachers instead of Mexicans plopping onto American soil.
CONFIDENTIAL TO: The lady who sent me a profane rant weaving together Poles, Mexicans, Ellis Island, taco necks, and leprosy. Chula: I loved your letter, but I’m not in the habit of printing thoughts; I answer questions. Same goes for the rest of the Know Nothing nation: Guatemalans are smart enough to turn their bile into preguntas — are ustedes dumber than Guatemalans?
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Gustavo Arellano is an investigative reporter on staff at the OC Weekly in Orange County, California. His “¡Ask a Mexican!” column began in 2004 and today is syndicated in 32 publications nationwide. He is also the author of a book by the same name. An extensive interview with Arellano can be found in the EW archives online for Nov. 29, 2007. Arellano can be contacted at TheMexican@AskAMexican.net