The recent Absolut Vodka ad created for the Mexican market has been pulled by the Swedish spirit distiller after a flurry of complaints by U.S.-based bloggers and conservative pundits. See the L.A. Times story here.
The ad is a map of Mexico before the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-48. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ratified by both nations in 1848, Mexico ceded more than 40% of its land to the United States. That land is now the present-day U.S. Southwest, home of at least part of ten different states.
The ad suggests that in a perfect or ideal world, the Mexican nation would still include the ceded territory. It doesn’t overtly speak to or about the U.S., the so-called “immigration debate” being waged within our borders, or the “rightness” of the war in the first place.
Of course, the rabid anti-Absolut responses fueled by conservative media outlets did make such connections. That these groups and individuals “read” the ad as something more controversial or even adversarial is not surprising, given their political outlook. But it is that outlook that is most illuminating.
At the very least, their outrage reflects as much ignorance of the history behind the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico as it reflects a particular myopic interpretation of the same. They don’t understand that past, as much as they don’t understand the present-day connections between the two nations as anything more than one nation (the U.S.) “defending itself” against another (Mexico) who is strategically trying to reconquer the Southwest.
These fears also confront the rising visibility of Latinos and other “brown” faces/bodies within the borders of the United States. This transformation–like the rabid fears which meet it–are not without precedent in the U.S. past. In the early part of the 20th century, as the chaos and poverty of the Mexican Revolution displaced more than 1 million Mexicans; and as Southwestern U.S. business interests saw in this condition the opportunity to recruit plentiful, cheap, and disposable labor; the U.S. population of Spanish-speaking migrants grew to visible proportions. At the time, newspapers in California and Texas drew attention to this flow with stories describing the “invading hordes.”
Today, panic is cultivated by an assortment of right-wing commentators and academics alike, all fearful of the “attack” on “America” and its culture. Political commentators like Pat Buchanan (see his The Death of the West) warn against the impending “reconquista” of the Southwest, while scholars like Samuel Huntington (see his simplistic and selective Who Are We) analyze the “threat” Mexicans pose to “the American way of life.”
Such demographic transformations do not have to be viewed through such fearful, culturally-biased, and, yes, racist lenses. (After all, they are a consistent feature of all history.) They can be opportunities of convergence and recreation, of what legendary Chicana author Gloria Anzaldúa, in her 1987 classic Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, frames as a process of “healing” the wounds of our interconnected pasts.
Ultimately, these transformations are part of the dynamism of history and of our present. They are a product of the institutionalization of capitalism as the world’s standard; they are linked to centuries of European and U.S. involvement in foreign countries (whether it was done in the name of imperialism, democracy, or free trade); and they are the product of more than a century of using Mexican bodies for work.
This land was Mexican once, / was Indian always / and is. / And will be again