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Beauty and the beef

25 August 2010

With a spate of interest in beauty queens in my patch of the cyber-swamp I couldn’t resist this teaser from the wonderful 1942 MGM “Travel Talks”  short visit to Mexico City.

In May, 1942,  Mexico formally declared War on the Axis Powers, joining the United States and Great Britain in what historians here call the  “War Against Nazifascism”.

As I wrote in Gods, Gachupines and Gringos:

The United States was providing most of the Allied force’s weapons, food and fighting men. Mexico’s military forces had never strayed further from home than Nicaragua, when a small army contingent was sent to assist a revolt in 1927. Within México itself, the army was seen more as an internal police force than anything else. At most, the country could only provide token military assistance to the Allies, but, México had resources vital to the Allied cause beyond just oil and minerals. In the end, it would supply forty percent of the raw materials and food the United States needed to fight the war. The United States was only able to turn out weapons by converting factories that normally made consumer products (things like cars, refrigerators, washing machines and radios) to weapons production. Even though there was not much consumer demand in the United States, Mexican industries suddenly found they had a huge new export market. Some U.S. factories simply moved their regular equipment to México, where they could continue to do normal business.

The huge numbers of soldiers and sailors from the United States also created another problem for the Allies… The United States was desperately short of workers. The bracero – temporary, non-immigrant worker – program recruited workers willing to go north. Volunteering to work for the gringos was not only profitable for individual Mexicans (then, as now, the U.S. paid significantly higher salaries than a Mexican could earn at home), but it was patriotic as well. If the United States would provide the soldiers, Mexicans could do anything else that was needed.

There was, however, a problem. For the last thirty years, the United States government had not seen Mexico as a friendly nation — at times seeing “Red Mexico” as an ideological enemy — and, given Mexico’s importance to the war effort, undoing the years of negative official comments and unofficial anti-Mexican propaganda would take some doing. The State Department supported pro-Mexican works like Anita Brenner’s “Wind That Swept Mexico” while media outlets were encouraged to do their part as well.

Disney’s “The Three Caballeros” is probably the best of the new pro-Latin propaganda films, but this MGM Travel Talks piece is interesting not only for how hard it tries to portray Mexico as “just like us” (with it’s talk of democracy and freedom… and George Washington and U.S. business ties), but in what it gets wrong. Bull fighting was extremely popular in the 1940s, but not the most popular sport in Mexico (that would have been either fronton — Basque handball — or futbol) and bullfighting certainly dates back a bit before 1587… like at least 600 B.C.E. in the Phoenician colonies on the Iberian Peninsula. But, not appealing to their northern neighbors, it seemed to require an explanation, or rather justification for U.S. audiences. And then say… well, it’s not so bad… there’s also polo.

And, as we all know, polo is about as the sport of all democratic and freedom-loving peoples.

Daniel Hernandez posts the full nine and a half minute piece, with some discussion, on is site, Intersections.  I had trouble opening several websites last night, and had to go to the original youtube upload here.

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