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Contextual Stereotypes

In the United States, we are very racially sensitive. Given our dark past and turbulent present, racial stereotypes and language weigh heavily on our collective conscience. That’s why a couple other Cri Cri songs made me wiggle uncomfortably in my seat while my husband and kids danced and sang along with what seemed to me to be overt stereotypes. Then I remembered that the US and Mexico are two very different contexts, each with its own past and sensibilities. Our stereotypes do not apply to Mexico’s black population.

Take a look at these songs and see if you understand what I mean:

The title of the song, “Negrito Sandía” (Little Black Watermelon Boy), seemed offensive to me, but then came this verse:

Negrito Sandía, ya no digas picardías
(Negrito Sandía, don’t say any more dirty words)
Negrito Sandía, o te acuso con tu tía,
(Negrito Sandía, or I’ll tell your aunt on you)

y mientras ella te va a agarrar,
(And while she’s gonna get you)
en los cajones he de buscar
(In the drawers I’ll have to look)
una libreta para apuntar
(for a notebook to jot down)
los garrotazos, que te va a dar.
(the beating she’s gonne give you)

Con el palo que utiliza
(With the stick that she uses)
el castigo te horroriza,
(the punishment is terrifying)
y después de la paliza
(and after the beating)
me voy a morir de risa.
(I’ll die laughing).

Then there’s the song, “Negrito Bailarín”, which could also seem immediately offensive. Keep in mind, though, that in Mexico there is nothing wrong with calling someone, “negro” (black) or “moreno” (dark-skinned) or “güero” (light-skinned). The song is about a toy that dances when you pull the string. It seems to have all of the stereotypes that Americans created and have since been working to reverse. Remember that these stereotypes do not belong to Mexican culture. The one stereotype that does correspond to Veracruz’s black population is the way in which the dancing boy talks. Have a look:

Un negrito bailarín
(A little black dancing boy)
de bastón y con bombín,
(With cane and with bowler)
con clavel en el ojal,
(with a carnation in his buttonhole)
pero que se porta mal.
(but how he misbehaves)

Eh, negrito, lo compré
(Hey, negrito, I bought you)
para ver bailar a usté.
(To watch you dance)
perezoso, mueva los pies.
(Lazy, move your feet)…

… Morenito ¡vamo’ a ver
(Morenito we’ll see)
si por fin se anima usté.
(if you finally cheer up)
y nos baila algo de tap!
(and dance a little tap for us!)

Finally, there is the song called “Cucurumbé”. It’s about a little girl who goes to the beach and stands in the waves so that they may make her face white, like the seashells and the moon that she envies. The fish come up to her, tip their hats, and say, “¿qué no ves que así negra estás bonita, negrita Cucurumbé?” (Don’t you see that you’re beautiful black, negrita cucurumbé?)

You can listen to Negrito Sandía here:
Negrito Bailarín here:
Cucurumbé here: