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Brownface refers to the creation and propagation of racist Latino/Hispanic stereotypes and caricatures. "Latino" is the umbrella term for people of Latin American descent that in recent years has supplanted the more imprecise term "Hispanic." Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, and any people who trace their ethnic roots back to Central or South America are considered Latino if they live in the United States. 


Racist Latino Stereotypes

Hispanic Americans, like many other minority groups in the US, have long suffered from the effects of racial stereotyping. Typical stereotypes include: the Greaser, the Lazy Mexican, the Latin Lover, the Mamacita, maids, slum dwellers, drug addicts, gang bangers, feisty Latinas, the Mexican Spitfire, and the Exotica. 

The Latin Lover - Rudolph Valentino

The Latin Lover

The Latin Lover stereotype was first popularized by Italian actor Rudolph Valentino and became a film standard after his performances in The Sheik (1921) and Son of the Sheik (1926).


The Domestic

Hispanic domestics are a staple in media depictions of affluent American families. The Hispanic Maid and Gardener stereotypes speak heavily accented English liberally sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases. 

The Hispanic Buffoon - George Lopez

The Male Buffoon

The Male Buffoon always plays the fool for comic relief. He is childish, simpleminded and bumbling. 


The Hispanic Harlot

The Harlot

The Harlot is lusty and hot-tempered; a slave to her passions.


Hispanic Female Clown - The Mexican Spitfire - Lupe Velez

The Female Clown

The Female Clown is the comic counterpart of the Latino male buffoon and, like the harlot, exemplifies a common device that the Hollywood narrative employs to neutralize the screen Latina's sexuality. This is a necessary requirement because the hero must have a reason to reject the Latina in favor of the Anglo woman, thereby maintaining the WASP status quo. For that to occur, the Latina's sexual allure must somehow be negated. 

The Bandido - Alfonso Bedoya

The Bandito

The Bandito is dirty and unkempt, usually displaying an unshaven face, missing teeth, perhaps a gold tooth, and disheveled, oily hair. The face is scared and scowling to complete the easily recognizable stereotype. He is vicious, cruel, treacherous, shifty, and dishonest; psychologically he is irrational, overly emotional, and quick to resort to violence. His inability to speak English or his English with a very heavy Spanish accent is Hollywood's way of signaling his feeble intellect, a lack of brainpower that makes it impossible for him to plan or strategize successfully. The bandito lives on in American film as Latino drug runners, Puerto Rican toughs in New York, and East LA homeboy gang-bangers.

What these stereotypes all have in common is that they reduce to a one-sided, superficial and exaggerated depiction the real variety and depth and complexity of a struggling people. Significantly, the underlying social issues affecting Latino life in the United States have seldom been addressed in Hollywood films, and hardly ever have Latinos been portrayed as people in control of their lives, capable of standing up for their rights, or having an interest in their own future. 

History of Racist Attitudes Towards Latinos in America

Hispanics have been portrayed by the media as lazy, unintelligent, greasy, criminal, and alien. Their contributions culturally, economically, and historically have never been properly documented or appreciated. Instead, Hispanics in general, and American Hispanics in particular, have been the victims of racist stereotyping in an unbroken string of images and portrayals that began with the battle over Mexican land in the Southwest as America expanded during the frontier era. 

In the United States, especially in the Southwest, Manifest Destiny meant taking land from Mexico, displacing Mexican landowners, subjugating the natives, and exploiting them as cheap and expendable labor. In order to rationalize the displacement of the Southwest Hispanics, as they had done with American Indians in the East, Latinos - whether U.S. citizens, newly arrived migrants from the south, or Latin Americans in their own countries - were thought of as lesser humans. 

During the California Gold Rush, as many as 25,000 Mexicans arrived in California. Many of these Mexicans were experienced miners and had great success mining gold in California. Some Whites believed their success was a threat and began intimidating Mexican miners with violence. Between 1848 and 1860, at least 163 Mexicans were lynched in California alone.

An anti-Mexican law enacted in 1855 in California was thinly disguised as an anti-vagrancy statute but commonly known as The Greaser Act. The law defined a vagrant as "all persons who are commonly known as 'Greasers' or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood... and who go armed and are not peaceable and quiet persons." The law was repealed a few years later.

In the 1940s, imagery in newspapers and crime novels portrayed Mexican American zoot suiters as criminals. Anti-zoot suiters sentiment sparked a series of attacks on young Mexican American males in Los Angeles which culminated in what became known as the Zoot Suit Riots. During the worst of the rioting approximately 5,000 servicemen and civilians gathered in downtown Los Angeles and attacked Mexican-American zoot suiters and non-zoot suiters alike.

Hollywood operates on stereotypes as a shorthand way of defining characters in ways that are easy for audiences to identify and digest. But a steady diet of negative stereotypes as portrayed in the media can be very destructive to young people if there are also very few positive role models that they can identify with.



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Brownface! - Contents

Racist Latino Stereotypes

Brownface History in Film and TV

How Racial Stereotyping of Latinos
by Media Shapes Attitudes

"South of the Border"  
The most racist roadside attraction in America

About this Web Site

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Black Stereotypes

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Indian Stereotypes

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Arab Stereotypes

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Jewish Stereotypes


Racial and Racist Stereotypes in Media


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