Bilingualism, biculturalism, and the Cisco Kid cycle.
A full treatment of the Cisco Kid cycle requires an entire book, and this is precisely what Nevins and Keller have completed in The Cisco Kid." American Hero, Hispanic Roots, which will be published in late spring 2008. The book references historical social bandits such as Pancho Villa as well as other fictional noble bandits of popular culture including Zorro, Joaquin Murrieta, the Bandit Queen, and Anita Delgado, the Avenging Angel.
Here, while I refer briefly to other aspects of the Cisco Kid, the focus is on the bilingual and bicultural nature of the character, which has been a constant, despite enormous changes in his ethnic identity and relationship to the law. I will particularly focus on three stations in the transcourse and discourse of the Cisco Kid:
* his birth in the form of O. Henry's short story, "The Caballero's Way";
* his 1928 appearance in In Old Arizona, which won an academy award for Warner Baxter for the first sound interpretation of Cisco on the silver screen; and
* his acquisition of Chicano traits avant la lettre--as a character set in the Mexico of Benito Juarez during the French Intervention of the 1860s--in the elaboration by Luis Valdez and interpretation by Jimmy Smits for the HBO-funded television film The Cisco Kid (1994).
It is useful to evaluate this larger-than-life figure, the Cisco Kid, along the axis of good and evil. The Cisco Kid evolves from irredeemably bad to various gradations of good-bad to awesomely good.
The conventional American Western was straightforward in its depiction of good and bad. The good cowboys wore white hats, shot straight, and practiced a sort of gallantry that in a different and "fallen" Spanish seventeenth century (fallen with respect to chivalric standards) Don Ouixote attempted to recover. The bad cowboys wore black hats, were lousy shots, and were cheats--often shrewd, lewd, and cynical ones. Nevertheless, there was always a subgenre of the Western that amalgamated the good and the bad within the same cowboy or occasional cowgirl, and in both the literary and historical interpretation of noncowboy bandits who struggled against authority, good-bad has been the gold standard. Even Robin Hood, often the good-good exception, has partaken of the good-bad lode, as in Robin and Marian (1976, starring Sean Connery), in which Robin's wanderlust drove Maid Marian first to desperation, then to a nunnery, and finally to mercy killing. It would appear that in popular culture, depictions of struggles by outsiders against the authority of the state reflect an important paradoxical phenomenon that Saint Augustine succinctly summarized in his De civitate Dei (City of God, 4.4):
Take away justice, then, and what are governments but great bandit bands? And after all, what are bands of bandits but small states? The gang itself consists of men, it is directed by the authority of the chief, it is bound together by a pact of mutual support, and the loot is divided in accordance with an agreed law. If, as a result of the recruitment of desperadoes, this evil grows to such an extent that it takes control of a territory, establishes bases, occupies cities and subjugates peoples, then it assumes the name of a government, the more openly because this is now plainly applicable: not because the robbers have renounced their rapacity, but because they are no longer at risk of punishment.
St. Augustine goes on to illustrate this paradox with the reply that a captured pirate made to Alexander the Great, which Augustine considered apposite and legitimate. When the ruler asked the man how he could justify making the sea a dangerous place, he answered with defiant outspokenness, "In exactly the way that you justify doing the same to the whole world. But because I do it with a single paltry ship, I am called a robber; while you do it with a large navy, and are called an emperor."
Cisco begins his literary existence, as penned by O. Henry, as an irredeemably bad figure. Then he transitions to film, first during the silent period (these films have been lost) and then with In Old Arizona (1928), but he continues to be bad, although less so than in the original O. Henry version. Next the character evolves into a good-bad one who is essentially good (the interpretations of Cesar Romero and Gilbert Roland), and he later becomes an emphatically good guy, in the chivalric mode of Don Ouixote, in Duncan Renaldo's interpretation. Finally, as interpreted by Jimmy Smits in the Luis Valdez film, he is cast as a proto-Chicano, pretty good but not totally so, and especially confused with respect to his social identity as a sort of American in Benito Juarez's troubled Mexico during the French Intervention of the 1860s.
Cisco emerged from the gut or gullet of O. Henry and never looked back. !Gracias a Dios! Cisco's enduring relationship with world popular culture is roughly analogous to Don Quixote's relationship with Miguel de Cervantes and then with world high culture in the fashion that Miguel de Unamuno conceived it, namely, that of a character who, proper to a genuine archetype, transcended the limitations of any one author's personality and imposed his reality on art and culture.
Miguel de Unamuno surmised that Don Quixote's will to "live" and to perpetuate himself was so strong that he imposed himself in Cervantes's imagination and converted himself from a mere character in a short story to the principal personage of a novel. He assumed control over Cervantes until he became El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (the novel known as "Don Quixote, Part I") about three centuries before the publication of "The Caballero's Way" by O. Henry. The novel came out in January 1605 and it was an immediate success.
Don Quixote accomplished his wizardry a second time, imposing his persona on Cervantes's imagination and personality to the extent that the author published a second, sequential novel in 1615. Subsequently, both parts became known as the complete El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, and from there the character took off to all cardinal points of the world, turning up everywhere in the form of adaptations literary, musical, theatrical, and so on.
The salidas of Cervantes's Don Quixote were multiple, and then the character migrated far and wide. The salidas of the Cisco Kid are transauthorial from the beginning. Nevertheless, there is an instructive analogy. While O. Henry's Cisco Kid had only one salida, the character was able to liberate himself from the imagination of its bigoted author to eventually enter world popular culture at a serendipitous time when film had begun to impose itself as the "seventh art" and to particularly take hold in the popular imagination. Then, in 1928, the archetypical Cisco performed his magic again, perching himself squarely on the just emerging medium of sound film. Finally, in 1994, Cisco became nuestro, a Mexican and Mexican American hero, even though his character roamed the land some eighty years before what Luis Leal has termed "the Chicano period," which began with the Zoot Suit riots of World War II. Through the artistry of Luis Valdez, el Cisco Kid nuestro was captured in the lens on that river, call it Rio Bravo or Rio Grande as you will, that separates and bridges Mexico and the United States and that is the via crucis of lo chicano.
Moreover, as we shall see, the relationship of Don Quixote and Sancho to Cisco and Pancho is more than merely heuristic. It is tangible. One cannot fully comprehend Cisco and Pancho without recourse to the mediation of Don Ouixote and Sancho.
Thus Cisco, like Don Quixote, is a moving target. One that has grown neither old nor stale since he emerged 100 years ago from his origins as a bad but Mexicanized gringo, then a bad Mexican, eventually becoming a Hispanic hero who confronts assorted malefactors who would do harm to innocent and defenseless people. Ultimately, in the 1994 Luis Valdez version, Cisco is transformed from a character controlled by the creative capital of Anglos into a proto-Chicano persona who incarnates the challenge of being a hyphenated American and meets that challenge with gallantry and heroism. What is next? ?Quign sabe? Cisco takes on new dimensions according to the tenor of the times and our nation's and Latino communities' mutating needs for heroic vindication.
Cisco's Primera Salida: Gringo in a Cornucopia of Ethnicity
Like Don Quixote, the Cisco Kid has had more than one salida in his development of a pedigree over the many years of his pop culture existence. However, he didn't begin with a pedigree; he started out as a mongrel. When O. Henry published the story "The Caballero's Way" in Everybody's Magazine in 1907, the character that emerged from the author's ingenious but also sour imagination was not Hispanic but a gringo with a Mexican demeanor. O. Henry's Cisco Kid lived and found refuge part of the time in a Hispanic world, had a Mexican lover, and above all had a sense of honor shaped by Hispanic culture.
His creator, William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry, was an odd duck. In addition to his twist endings, ironies, and rhetorical flourishes, he was not averse to cultivating the discourse of the ethnic and racial superiority of the white race common to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some of it attached to specific currents of social Darwinism.
The influence of social Darwinism would appear to have an echo in "The Caballero's Way" in the story's preoccupation with Nordic versus Latin peoples. Darwin's theories of evolution were used by others with peculiar vested interests to distinguish differences between the races of man based on genetic branching and natural selection. Genetic branching is the process that occurs in all species in which groups of a species become separated from one another, each developing its own genetic characteristics. Popular at the time of O. Henry's writings was the idea in one branch of social Darwinism that as a result of genetic branching and of natural selection working at a faster pace in the frigid north, the weak and unintelligent were eliminated more thoroughly than they were in warm climates. Nordicists reasoned that if animals adapted to their own climates, both physically and mentally, then humans did as well.
Another strand of social Darwinism expressed alarm about the status of the white race. In this view, it was the white race that had created the great Western civilization and therefore deserved to survive from the viewpoint of "survival of the fittest." However, in the modern world the white race was becoming a victim of internal politics while the yellow and brown races were gaining strength and threatening to overthrow the white man's domination of the globe. Many believed that it was only a matter of time before white people and Western culture would be supplanted by "inferior" races and cultures. This voz de alarma was being sounded by many influential individuals in the early twentieth century, including the American journalist Lothrop Stoddard in his book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920) and later the heroic aviator Charles Lindbergh, who believed that the white nations should keep technological advances, especially aviation, to themselves for their own advantage. Both these strands may have been given some play in "The Caballero's Way," the first in the imposing figure of Sandridge, a strapping Nordic type, particularly with respect to sexual selection (a key concern of social Darwinists) and his superiority over the Cisco Kid as an object of physical ardor in the mind of Tonia. The second current may be evoked in Cisco's triumph over Sandridge in the story.
The influence of these and similar currents of social Darwinism on O. Henry, or for that matter on his short story "The Caballero's Way," is subject to speculation. What is not is that the author was capable of the most injurious and prejudiced anti-Mexican verse imaginable. One of his poems, "Tamales," evokes a "greaser" who opens a tamale stand in Austin and avenges himself on the Texans for having killed his grandfather in the battle of San Jacinto. Don Jose Calderon serves his unwitting white Victims tamales with fillings made of cat, terrier, and other such delicacies. Some of the poem is as follows:
What boots it if we killed only one greaser, Don Jose Calderon? This is your deep revenge, You have greased all of us, Greased a whole nation With your Tamales ... ("Tamales" 257-58)
Notwithstanding verse such as that cited above, O. Henry was well acquainted with both Mexican culture and the Spanish language, to the degree, as we will review below, that some of his literary devices preceded and anticipated what Ernest Hemingway has become internationally recognized for with respect to the elaboration of Spanish through English. We need to examine the use of Spanish by O. Henry in some depth. In its invocation of Spanish, O. Henry's short story sets the stage for a characteristic that was at the heart of the first Cisco Kid sound film, In Old Arizona. Spanish was a major factor in the film, which received an Academy Award for Warner Baxter as best actor. In fact, Spanish in all of its good, bad, and good-bad varieties is one of the elements that have defined the Cisco Kid persona from its very inception.
The first salida of Cisco through the creative imagination of O. Henry was inspired by and modeled somewhat on Billy the Kid. The element of "Kid" is notable in the nicknames of both Cisco and Billy. In Mexican culture, during the time frame of the latter figure's exploits and misdeeds and subsequently his first glorification, Billy the Kid was known as "el Bilito," with the Spanish diminutive -ito functioning as the Hispanic analog of the affix -y that makes William into Billy, Michael into Mickey, Thomas into Tommy, and so on. "Bilito" in Spanish simply adds to a Hispanicized pronunciation of Billy, in the form of Bili, the diminutive -ito, which stands for such attributes as "small," "young," or "dear," depending on the context. In the Mexican view of Billy the diminutive -ito may stand for all three: it certainly stands for youth, probably for small size, and possibly for affectionate feelings, given the folk claims of Billy the Kid's alleged affection for the Mexican communities of the Southwest. In the film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), the view of Billy as an Anglo hero who was inextricably part of Mexican culture and a defender of Mexicans from some truly evil bandits is a significant factor that endows him with the bona tides of a good-bad bandit.
While the American view of Billy the Kid as a folk hero with high regard for individual Mexicans and Mexican communities is pretty consistent, from the Mexican side it is somewhat less so. It is a positive sign that Billy was called "el Bilito" in the time period contemporaneous with and shortly after his exploits and the formation of his persona, although it may be simply a convenient translation of Billy without any genuine affection attached to it. On the other hand, we have identified two early New Mexican corridos composed by anonymous authors who claim that they aided Pat Garrett in the stalking and slaying of el Bilito. "Campana de los Bilitos" ends in this fashion:
Pat Garrett ha sido el hombre A quien todos le debemos Este gran beneficio Que nunca olvidaremos. En fin jovenes reflegen La maxima del pasquin Que ustedes han escuchado Y tienen escrito alli. Todo hombre que recio anda Su carrera es muy cortita Y antes que lo piense se halla Rodeado en su casita Como se hallaron los "Bilitos" Y toda su pacotita. (Lucero-White Lea 142)
The second corrido ("Muerte del Afamado Bilito") is primarily about el Bilito's escape from the Santa Fe prison after killing two guards "in cold blood" and how finally "the Kid" is killed by Pat Garrett. Billy is seen in a negative light and is described variously throughout the poem as "el Bilito malvado," "con criminal sonrisa," and with other such epithets. The corrido concludes:
Con la muerte del Bilito Se halla este pueblo aliviado Pues les daba temorcito Hallerse por el rodeado. Esta accion tan afamada. Ya concluyo el Bilecito Despues de tan corta vida Cometio un delito Oue su muerte fue aplaudida. Y asi siguio Bilito A sus compafieros buenos Tom Foillard y Charley Bowdre Pues no se podia menos. (Lucero-White Lea 143-44)
Now let us turn to O. Henry's Cisco Kid. Three elements of "The Caballero's Way" that merit attention here are
* the artful use of Spanish to develop the theme, including the use of Spanish for conveying intimacy and honor;
* the characterization of the main characters and others through recourse to their ethnicity or race; and
* the use of the motif of "the pear" and the "forests of pear" (prickly pear cactus) for various symbolic reasons, but particularly to distinguish the ingenuous Anglo, who is unfamiliar with the terrain, from the Hispanified Kid, who is an expert.
Spanish in the Service of Characterization in O. Henry's "The Caballero's Way"
While the folk hero Billy the Kid was called "el Bilito" by Mexicans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, keying on his first name, in contrast, in O. Henry's story the Mexican characters call Cisco "el Chivato," which refers to the apodo "Kid." Actually, although the character is a gringo, he has two apodos. Cisco is a nickname form of Francisco (as is Pancho). Francisco is a curious name for a gringo, but it is yet another reason that Cisco quickly became a Hispanic character. Putting the -ito on Cisco (e.g., Cisquito) is theoretically a possibility, but as a native speaker of Spanish I've never once heard it, probably because it is overkill, since "Cisco" itself is an endearing version of Francisco. So, in Spanish, keying on the element of the Kid is the obvious recourse. O. Henry's use of "el Chivato" and other Spanish locutions in "The Caballero's Way" points to a high level of understanding of the Spanish language and Mexican culture on his part in that the word chivato is not particularly common in Spanish and that O. Henry was able to use it accurately and with semantic resonances that enhance his short story. The primary meaning in Spanish of chivato is "kid" (baby goat, adult goat being chivo) between six months and a year old. Through the use of chivato, the O. Henry story confers youth on Cisco in the Spanish language in a connotative fashion. This connotative usage is analogous to but different from the specific designation of youth that is expressed by the name "el Bilito" in Spanish. Of course, at the same time we remind ourselves that "Billy" is the English analog of "Bilito" and that it customarily implies youth as well. In the English name, the quality of youth is overdetermined, being expressed both through the affix -y and the term "the Kid."
The nickname "el Chivato" works well in the text of "The Caballero's Way," for it does double duty. Chivato textually refers both to the human, Cisco, and to an animal, a baby goat, but it also conveys its meaning on an emotional level in an ingenious passage in which Tonia identifies a young, crippled goat as her companion and the object of her affections from which she wishes to "graduate" when the Anglo Sandridge comes into her life.
I play no spy; nor do I assume to master the thoughts of any human heart; but I assert, by the chronicler's right, that before a quarter of an hour had sped, Sandridge was teaching her how to plait a six-strand raw-hide stake-rope, and Tonia had explained to him that were it not for her little English book that the peripatetic padre had given her and the little crippled chivo, that she fed from a bottle, she would be very, very lonely indeed. ("The Caballero's Way" 195. Subsequent page references are to this text.)
With respect to his youth, the Chivato/Kid is introduced in the second paragraph of the story as follows: "The Kid was twenty-five, looked twenty; and a careful insurance company would have estimated the probable time of his demise at, say, twenty-six" (191). Additionally and poignantly, the Kid as chivato, baby goat, is highlighted by the "other" recipient of Tonia's affection until Sandridge enters her life. That entity is none other than the "little crippled chivo" referred to above, which the Cisco Kid would also appear to take very much to heart, as evidenced by the following passage:
On his way the Kid suddenly experienced the yearning that all men feel when wrong-doing loses its keen edge of delight. He yearned for the woman he loved to reassure him that she was his in spite of it. He wanted her to call his bloodthirstiness bravery and his cruelty devotion. He wanted Tonia to bring him water from the red jar under the brush shelter, and tell him how the chivo was thriving on the bottle. (196-97)
A second, colloquial meaning in Spanish of chivato is soplon, a rat, canary, or informer. Obviously, both the primary meaning of baby goat and the colloquial meaning have resonance for "The Caballero's Way," inasmuch as the Cisco Kid accomplishes his ends not through the direct way of using his gun, but in the roundabout way analogous to that of a soplon. Thus, O. Henry's use of "Kid" in "The Caballero's Way" documents his understanding in depth of what is implied by the word chivato, the term that the Mexican characters in his story choose to describe the Kid.
In addition to this use of chivato and other examples of Spanish that we review below, an intensely Hispanic component of Cisco's character in "The Caballero's Way" is the form in which he devises an ingenious means of revenge in order to redress the transgressions of his lover, Tonia, despite the superficial and sporadic nature of his relationship with her. Using a form of Spanish that requires a deep knowledge of the language, the adverb muy with the noun caballero, a turn of phrase that is colloquially accurate, O. Henry describes the Kid as having, in addition to his marksmanship,
another attribute for which he admired himself greatly. He was muy caballero, as the Mexicans express it, where the ladies were concerned. For them he had always gentle words and consideration. He could not have spoken a harsh word to a woman. He might ruthlessly slay their husbands and brothers, but he could not have laid the weight of a finger in anger upon a woman. (203)
This caballerosidad and the quality of revenge that it determines is utterly alien to Sandridge, who is grief-stricken and foiled by the bad, Hispanified gringo. "Just then all that Sandridge could think of to do was to go outside and throw himself face downward in the dust by the side of his humming-bird, of whom not a feather fluttered. He was not a caballero by instinct, and he could not understand the niceties of revenge" (208).
The successfully executed revenge plot is consistent with the Hispanic sense of aggrieved honor and is constructed within a Mexican and Latin frame of reference. Cisco's plot for exacting retribution for what he judges from his Hispanic sense of masculinity to be Tonia's perfidy with the Viking-like intruder, Sandridge, is not far removed from some of the honor plays of the Spanish Siglo de Oro, for example, Pedro Calderon de la Barca's El medico de su honra [The surgeon of his own honor]. In this, one of the most famous Calderon plays, the character successfully plots the murder of his wife, even though she is innocent, because his sense of honor has so warped his perceptions. Here we have a Spanish notion of marital honor that is pervaded with the ubiquitous and malicious "que diran," the "what will people say," that demands the saving of face. By the standards of Calderon's play, Tonia, guilty as hell from Cisco's point of view, clearly had it coming.
Race and Ethnicity in the Service of Characterization in "The Caballero's Way"
Generally, in both Hispanic art and in life, Spanish and Mexican notions of honor, transgressions of honor, and retribution for those transgressions rarely go outside the Hispanic world. However, interethnic rivalry is the norm for American popular cinema when Mexicans, Mexican Americans, or other Latinos are involved. Moreover, ethnicity is the coin of the realm in "The Caballero's Way." In this story, not only is interethnic rivalry cultivated, but the honor grievance, the matter of pundonor (point of honor) as it is expressed in the Hispanic world, is both felt and resolved by a Hispanified gringo. Extraordinary!
In addition to the Kid and Tonia, other characterizations on the basis of ethnicity abound in the O. Henry story. The Anglo rival, Sandridge, is described as "blond as a Viking, quiet as a deacon, dangerous as a machine gun...." The family member with whom Tonia lived is "a father or grandfather, a lineal Aztec, somewhat less than a thousand years old, who herded a hundred goats and lived in a continuous drunken dream from drinking mescal."
Mexicans were an ambiguous lot in the eyes of the bad gringo, the Cisco Kid. As the opening of "The Caballero's Way" makes perfectly clear, the Kid's Hispanic sense of honor was no hindrance whatsoever to his murdering Mexicans: "The Cisco Kid had killed six men in more or less fair scrimmages, had murdered twice as many (mostly Mexicans), and had winged a larger number whom he modestly forbore to count. Therefore a woman loved him" (191). The story also makes it apparent that the Kid killed for the fun of it, and Mexicans had taken cognizance of that fact. When Lieutenant Sandridge came around asking about the Kid, logically enough the first people he asked were the Mexicans, but their response was less than rewarding.
Far more than the law, the Mexicans dreaded the cold and certain vengeance of the lone rider that the ranger sought. It had been one of the Kid's pastimes to shoot Mexicans "to see them kick": if he demanded from them moribund Terpsichorean feats, simply that he might be entertained, what terrible and extreme penalties would be certain to follow should they anger him! One and all they lounged with upturned palms and shrugging shoulders, filling the air with "quien sabes" and denials of the Kid's acquaintance. (193) [The phrase "Terpischorean feats" was not uncommon during the rime O. Henry was writing. The etymology is from the Latin form of the Greek Terpsichore, muse of dancing and dramatic chorus. Hence the theatrical slang "terp," "stage dancer, chorus girl."]
Just as the Kid had no qualms about killing Mexicans, he didn't have any about killing Anglos or anyone else, either. Mexicans were not his exclusive target. He was an equal opportunity murderer, and Mexicans simply happened to exist in force within his six-gun's range. O. Henry tells us that the Kid's "habitat was between the Frio and the Rio Grande" (191). This is south Texas and for centuries it has been and continues to be preponderantly Mexican, and, after the independence of Texas, the Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, Mexican American. Almost all of the rivers in Texas run on a diagonal from the northwest to the southeast and empty into the Gulf of Mexico. And almost all of these rivers retain their Spanish names. From north to south are the Guadalupe River, the San Antonio River, the Frio River, the West Nueces River (the Frio and the West Nueces join a short distance before the Gulf), and finally, the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo (the latter is its name in Mexico.) The Cisco Kid lived in south Texas, south of where O. Henry lived for a number of years, which was San Antonio.
While the Kid was tine with killing Mexicans along with anyone else, he was attached to "the woman who loved him," who was a person of mixed race, Caucasian and Mexican. Tonia, the Kid's love interest, is a proto-Chicana, living on the hyphen. And she is a looker and a Carmen look-alike! It is worth noting that our broad Bold Caballero and Noble Bandida project is attentive to the enormous influence that the figure of Carmen--the archetypal and stereotypical Hispanic vamp created by Prosper Merimee in his 1845 novel Carmen--had on the formation of the identity and character of Mexican, Mexican American, and other Latina female characters of popular culture, most especially in United States film. The shadow of Carmen looms large in the Cisco Kid's love interest: "Tonia Perez, the girl who loved the Cisco Kid, was half Carmen, half Madonna, and the rest--oh, yes, a woman who is half Carmen and half Madonna can always be something more--the rest, let us say, was humming-bird" (191).
Thus "The Caballero's Way" establishes the Cisco Kid as a Hispanified gringo in love with or at least attached to a half-Mexican of desirable physical qualities. She is attractive, particularly on the Spanish side, e.g., the Carmen half of the ledger; on the other hand, the Kid has a physical appearance and cultural features that could place him in the Mexican community as well as give him the conventional status in American pop culture of one who goes down to defeat in the "all's fair in love and war game" at the hands of an Anglo rival with Nordic features. The brown character defeated in love or battle by the white one is a classic American pop culture theme. This is precisely what happens to the Cisco Kid in his 1914 filmic appearance, this time as a Mexican.
The Motif of the Mexican Pear
In O. Henry's story, the Kid is depicted as one who can hardly compete physically with his Anglo rival.
Never before had Tonia seen such a man as this. He seemed to be made of sunshine and blood-red tissue and clear weather. He seemed to illuminate the shadow of the pear when he smiled, as though the sun were rising again. The men she had known had been small and dark. Even the Kid, in spite of his achievements, was a stripling no larger than herself, with black, straight hair and a cold, marble face that chilled the noonday. (194-95)
The Kid was short, dark, profoundly bilingual and bicultural, and unable to physically measure up to his "good-guy" albeit trickable gringo rival, the strawberry-complexioned Sandridge. What the Kid lacked in appearance, he made up for not only with his six-gun expertise, bur in bicultural cunning of the eminently mongrelistic kind. The Nordic Sandridge may seem to Tonia to "illuminate the shadow of the pear," but he is in the wrong forest. This is not the pear forest of colder climes; it is the forest of the Mexican pear. The Kid is the master of this pear forest, and this particular milieu first appears when Tonia is introduced in the story:
Back of the jacal a tremendous forest of bristling pear, twenty feet high at its worst, crowded almost to its door. It was along the bewildering maze of this spinous thicket that the speckled roan would bring the Kid to see his girl. And once, clinging like a lizard to the ridge-pole, high up under the peaked grass roof, he had heard Tonia, with her Madonna face and Carmen beauty and hummingbird soul, parley with the sheriff's posse, denying knowledge of her man in her soft melange of Spanish and English. (192)
"Illuminating the pear forest" in "The Caballero's Way" is simply ah espejismo. The pear forest by its very nature is not accessible to illumination, and for that matter, except for experts, it is not accessible to navigation. O. Henry uses a technique that is very common among Latin American writers (for example, the author Jose Eustasio Rivera in his 1924 novel La voragine). In this work Rivera personalizes the adverse environment of the rainforest. As the novel communicates, se los trago la selva, "they were swallowed by jungle." In similar fashion, O. Henry anticipates this sort of personalization and in fact associates the forest of cactus with the hardships of the Amazonian jungle:
More weird and lonesome than the journey of an Amazonian explorer is the ride of one through a Texas pear flat. With dismal monotony and startling variety the uncanny and multiform shapes of the cacti lift their twisted trunks, and fat, bristly hands to encumber the way. The demon plant, appearing to live without soil or rain, seems to taunt the parched traveler with its lush gray greenness. It warps itself a thousand times about what look to be open and inviting paths, only to lure the rider into blind and impassable spine-defended "bottoms of the bag," leaving him to retreat, if he can, with the points of the compass whirling in his head. (197)
O. Henry concludes, "To be lost in the pear is to die almost the death of the thief on the cross, pierced by nails and with grotesque shapes of all the fiends hovering about" (Ibid.).
It is from his secure hiding place in the pear that the Kid witnesses his betrayal by Tonia and in which he hatches the cunning scheme that is so alien to the culture and logic of Sandridge:
Considering this extremely courteous idiosyncrasy of the Kid and the pride that be took in it, one can perceive that the solution of the problem that was presented to him by what he saw and heard from his hiding-place in the pear that afternoon (at least as to one of the actors) must have been obscured by difficulties. And yet one could not think of the Kid overlooking little matters of that kind. (203)
Out of this prickly pear/nopalito environment the bad gringo Cisco first emerged, plotted maliciously and successfully, and got off scot-free. Nevertheless, this is the persona who over decades developed into a good U.S. Hispanic figure that thrilled children, gained the admiration of adults, and engendered the pride of ownership among Chicanos that was consummated in Luis Valdez's version. What a guy! What a country! !Ay bendito!
Good Spanish, Good-Bad Spanish, Bad Spanish
Let us turn to some additional considerations of Spanish, both in "The Caballero's Way" and its abundant use in the early sound film In Old Arizona.
In this diglossic world of ours we have a multitude of forms of Spanish, such as the standard normal variety heard on Spanish-language television and the various vernaculars that populate the Hispanic world--including Mexamerica--used in relaxed and casual speech, in the baseball stadium and the taqueria. An example of the latter is fuimonos, the Spanish construct that is the basis of "lezwent," which was used by Leo Carrillo in his interpretation of Cisco's sidekick, Pancho. It is a vernacular and idiomatic case of "good" Spanish, although it is hardly standard normal Spanish. But while fuimonos is certainly a colloquial form, it is intelligible and is used by native or otherwise fluent speakers.
Then we have various types of Spanish that cross la frontera of acceptance by the Spanish-speaking community. One of these is "no problemo," made famous by the current governor of California. If you google "no problemo" you get over a million hits. Another is "mucho macho." If you google this, you'll be surprised with 1,960,000 hits. My favorite of the dozen I sampled was "Williams College Mucho Macho MooCow Military Marching Band." Hooray for the Beatles, who live on in mock Spanish! "Mock Spanish" is the category in which examples of this kind are pigeonholed. If you google "mock Spanish" you get over four million hits! The dozen that I looked at were divided among the condemnatory and the exculpatory.
On the condemnatory side, the extremist view of linguistic anthropologist Jane Hill has received more attention than others. It has become common in American discourse for the far out to get the lion's share of attention. Hill condemns "mock Spanish" as a covert form of racism in her symposium presentation, "Mock Spanish: A Site for the Indexical Reproduction of Racism in American English" (1995). It is a rather weighty matter to decry as racist discourse the ilk of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Hasta la vista, baby" and "no problemo" as well as numerous other "derogatory" phrases like "Adios, cucaracha." Hill claims, "It is important to emphasize that Mock Spanish is used almost entirely by Anglo speakers of English when addressing other Anglos. All parties to the usage can be (and usually are) monolingual speakers of English." That assertion is simply wrong.
On the exculpatory side is an interesting editorial (March 2, 2000) in the student newspaper, The Daily Wildcat, of the University of Arizona, where Hill teaches. Entitled "Editorial: Mock Spanish not racist, just natural," the newspaper takes issue specifically with Hill:
A University of Arizona professor recently lectured on the use of "Mock Spanish"--Spanish words adapted into pop-culture expressions--as a form of racism, sparking a number of letters commenting on the idea.... Anthropology professor Jane Hill discussed varying levels of offensive speech, from racial slurs, down to "Hasta la vista, baby." While the former is obviously more hurtful than the latter, Hill argued that all levels of Mock Spanish are potentially offensive and vulgar. It's true that with any mixture of faces, misunderstanding of culture and ignorance of customs can hurt feelings. Bur in the real world, where a white teenager from a white town can come to school and live with someone directly from a reservation, for example, this is a risk that must be taken. In the daily struggle to understand each other and unearth internal stereotypes, words are thrown around and customs are explored. That would lead to a dull world. All whites would be white and live only like other whites. But that's not the way it is, and it never should be. Border town residents often speak a Spanish-English hybrid, if only out of convenience for living among members of two cultures. Friends greet each other with, "Que pasa?" And Ricky Martin--like him or not--bridges musical genres with Spanglish lyrics and bilingual albums. It's a good thing.... Every language of the world has adopted [sic] and mutated because of proximity of other languages. It's a natural part of human evolution, just as every human's blood contains elements of other "races." When all lectures and studies are said and done, unless it's meant with disrespect, it really is no problemo.
While we can view the phenomenon as good, bad, or good-bad--and I prefer good-bad because it fits so well with this book and the overall noble bandit multimedia project--some of the most common forms of mock Spanish have acquired a huge pop culture cachet. This cachet is so widely dispersed in all sectors of society that Chicanos--whether native Spanish speakers, fluent nonnative speakers, or speakers who have suffered Spanish language loss at various levels--find themselves parroting "no problemo" and the like for any number of reasons, one of them being humorous self-deprecation and another a sort of polyphonic, polyvalent irony that can serve a wide number of purposes since it points to something, but the algo needs to be interpreted through other clues.
Another form of "good-bad Spanish," if I may be permitted the conceit to use such a term for "heuristic" purposes, is of the sort that we bilinguals use. Dame una quebrada, which is a "semantic transfer" or calque derived from "Give me a break," is a phrase that my Chicano buddies and I have been using for at least forty years. Apparently there is now a television show in Puerto Rico called Dame una quebrada. The converse phenomenon among our set of jolly language argonauts searching for a felicitous linguistic golden fleece is the phrase "you threw yourself out," which is the calque from Spanish into English of te aventaste (you outdid yourself). When I was a teenager, our set used to lament, "Necesito un datile," or boast, "Ya tengo un datile." "Datile" (more commonly "datil") is encrypted Spanish that can only be understood in context by a proficient bilingual since in standard Spanish it stands for a "date" strictly of the fruit kind (that comes from a tree), and not the animal kind that goes to the prom. In the bilingual lens it is transformed into a synonym for the English "date" in its social behavior meaning.
Examples like dame una quebrada are often used by sociolinguists to document all sorts of language mixing and sometimes to express la voz de alarma over the imminent apocalyptic pidginization of Spanish in English-language contact areas. There also exists the phenomenon of a nonbilingually encrypted, unselfconscious use of Spanish that is derived from English. Maybe a problem exists here, but hardly of the apocalyptic kind, when someone uses without sub rosa bilingual intent damelo para atras, which comes from English "give it back to me" but in Spanish sounds strange and suggestively sexual. However, the set of educated bilinguals with whom I am familiar use dame una quebrada and the like emphatically self-consciously and for novel humorous effect. Likewise, "no problemo" has caught on and can be used by a bilingual who knows what s/he is doing for a variety of humorous effects of the ironic kind.
Here is a rather famous, liminal case of Chicano Spanish that displays all sorts of interactive effects with English:
Desde el porche de mi chante, en mi barrio de Eastlos, Aztlan, watcho a mis carnales cruziar por los cales rumbo a sus cantones despues del jale, vatos cabuliando con sus jainas, pachucos fuliando afuera de la marketa de don Charlie, aguelitas con chavalios de la mano y un bonche de raza que sale de los boses que vienen del daontaon. Toda esta es mi Raza, alegre, orgullosa y muy jaladora aunque la placa siempre los este tisiando. (Rodriguez del Pino 129)
Just because you are a native speaker of Spanish doesn't necessarily mean you are going to decode this easily. Hence, here is a transcription into standard normal Spanish of this passage.
Desde la varanda de mi casa, en mi barrio del este de Los Angeles, California, contemplo a mis hermanos pasearse por las calles rumbo a sus casas despues del trabajo: jovenes platicando con sus novias, pachucos divirtiendose fuera de la tienda de don Carlos, abuelitas con ninos de la mano y grupos de gente chicana que sale de los autobuses que llegan del centro. Toda esta es mi Raza (chicanos), alegre, orgullosa y muy trabajadora, aunque la policia siempre los este provocando. (Ibid.)
Now, finally, let us note the existence of simply bad Spanish that has never caught on in the Latina/o community but like crabgrass on the lawn has taken hold in Anglo parlance and seems to be rooted there. This sort of thing, notwithstanding the misattribution of gender in "no problemo," is based on ignorance of Spanish morphosyntax and includes the ubiquitous examples from American film and film criticism, "bandito" and "federale," as well as some less common ones such as "frijole" or "amore," in the latter case when it is clear that the speaker is trying to communicate Spanish rather than Italian. Sometimes you can find these in the same sentence, as in this Web commentary on a famous film: "The mythical Sierra Madre is where the famous line in Treasure of the Sierra Madre was uttered by a bandito posing as a federale: 'Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges.'"
Where do we situate the Spanish used by O. Henry in "The Caballero's Way"? From the point of view of language usage, this is no Anglocentric short story sprinkled with a few Mexicanisms or pidgin Mexicanisms like "bandito" and "federale" for local color. To begin with, he uses a considerable number and variety of Spanish words and phrases. Words include jacal and jacales, mescal, chivo, lavandera, frijoles, alma, caballo, caballero, tule, and many others. Some phrases include quien sabe, muy mal muchacho, muy caballero, pues senor, and valgame Dios.
The canonical version of "The Caballero's Way" in the Complete Writings of O. Henry does not have the proper diacritical marks with the exception of the tilde in senor. Thus standard Spanish !Valgame Dios!, !Que mal muchacho!, and the surname Perez are typeset in the facsimile edition respectively as Valgame Dios!, Que ma/muchacho/, and Perez. This should not surprise us, as American publishers have been omitting Spanish diacritical marks ever since the founding of the nation with no end in sight.
Ernest Hemingway has justifiably been recognized for the introduction of certain techniques that use English in a noncustomary form in order to call attention to underlying Spanish. One of those techniques is his use of "thee," "thou," "thine," "wert," and other form of the English second person singular. In Old and Elizabethan English these were the familiar and intimate forms in contrast to "you," "ye," and so on, which were the formal singular. Over the centuries "you" became dominant and "thou" has almost disappeared. In fact, the English omnibus pronoun "you" can be translated in this millennium into Spanish as tu, usted, ustedes, vosotros, vosotras, ti, te, os, lo, la, le, los, las, les, and se. Nevertheless, although archaic, "thou," "thee," "thine," and related forms are still generally understood in English. What needs to be recognized is that, while Hemingway is noted for the technique of using "thou" and its analogs to represent Spanish tu and its second person singular forms, in fact O. Henry had made use of this technique already in 1907, preceding Hemingway by decades: "But then ... I had not beheld thee, thou great, red mountain of a man! And thou art kind and good, as well as strong. Could one choose him, knowing thee? Let him die; for then I will not be filled with fear by day and night lest he hurt thee or me" ("Caballero's Way," 200).
Cisco's Fungible "Espanish" and the Academy Award
As stated earlier, the Cisco Kid, like Don Quixote and Sancho, had more than one salida. Eventually the hero of this enduring cycle became a protector not only of people, but of el pueblo in the distinctively Hispanic sense. Whither such a seemingly counterintuitive vector over the course of one hundred years of solitude and solidarity? The film In Old Arizona (1929) played a major role in the establishment of that trajectory. The film won an Academy Award for Warner Baxter as Best Actor for his performance as the Cisco Kid and was also nominated for Best Picture of 1928-1929. This was the first Academy Award competition, and it coincided with the appearance of the first sound films, a key element in the phenomenon of In Old Arizona's garnering the popularity it did. In fact, Raoul Walsh is generally thought to have been the first director to use sound recording equipment in a full-length movie shot outdoors. In Old Arizona, shot in Utah, was that film. Microphones hidden in the environment captured for the first time the sound of gunshots, a stampede, the galloping of horses, and the tour de force: sizzling eggs. The film also boasts the first Mexican song (more or less) sung in a full-length film, "My Tonia."
Throughout its history, the expression of Spanish in American film has been wholly unsatisfactory. In contrast to the standards of the American film industry, the use of Spanish in O. Henry's "The Caballero's Way" was a model of fidelity. Emilio Garcia Riera, in his seminal six-volume Mexico visto por el cine extranjero, points out the deficiencies in the rendition of Spanish by the American film industry beginning with the first fifty-two films of thirty seconds each produced by Edison Kinetoscope in 1894. One of these films, Pedro Esquirel and Dionecio Gonzales-Mexican Dud,
... revealed simply by its transcription of the names, the inattentive spirit that would guide American film in its treatment of Mexico (and of everything exotic or strange, it should be acknowledged).... The first Mexicans on film, real or simulated, were called, according to the film, Pedro Esquirel and Dionecio Gonzales. Things were bad from the very beginning. What is likely is that the first character in reality was Esquivel and the second Dionisio Gonzalez; bur these characters were afflicted by the enduring American confusion of zetas and eses that appear in Spanish names. Sixty years later, another Mexican character in American film, Speedy Gonzales, evinced the same mistake: Gonzales instead of Gonzalez. (Mexico visto, 1: 15; my translation)
Much of Garcia Riera's book is dedicated to a review and analysis not only of the shortcomings in the expression of Spanish in American film, which is merely a side effect, bur also of the negative stereotypes and prejudicial assumptions that suffuse the characterization, plot, choreography, props, sets, and just about everything else that goes into films. Spanish malaprops appear in In Old Arizona as well. Instead of the standard Spanish "Tona," the lead female is called Tonia (admittedly, just as it appears in O. Henry's story).
All that said, In Old Arizona benefited mightily from its use of Spanish in order to establish characters, to introduce music and song, and to support the plot, which is premised on the rivalry between a gringo and a Latino for the affections of a senorita. And it managed this feat in a genial, counterintuitive manner, bucking the trend that was to cut short the careers of well-established actors in the beginning of the sound period because of their poor control of English.
Nuevo Mexicano author Nash Candelaria has written a short story, "The Day the Cisco Kid Shot John Wayne," that phenomenologically documents the veracity and effectiveness of Warner Baxter's Cisco not only for mainstream viewers bur for Latino audiences as well. (Candelaria has generously consented to our reproducing the short story in its entirety on a Web site dedicated to noble bandidos/bandidas of Iberoamerican culture; it can be found at http://noblebandits.asu.edu/Text/KidShotWayne.html.) In Candelaria's short story, movies mediate the protagonists' transition into biculturalism. The Spanish-dominant New Mexican kids "barely tolerated those cowboy movies with actors like Johnny Mack Brown and 'Wild Bill' Elliott and Gene Autry and even Hopalong Cassidy. !Gringos! we'd sniff with disdain. But we'd watch them in preference to roaming the streets, and we'd cheer for the Indians and sometimes for the bad guys if they were swarthy and Mexican" (14). In the story, the character of Zorro was a contested one.
Zorro drew mixed reviews and was the subject of endless argument. "Spanish dandy!" one would scoff. "?Donde estan los mejicanos?" Over in the background hanging onto their straw sombreros and smiling fearfully as they bowed to the tax collector, I remember. But at least Zorro speaks the right language." Then somebody would hoot, "Yeah. Hollywood ingles. Look at the actors who play Zorro. Gringos every one. John Carroll. Reed Hadley. Tyrone Power. !Mierda!" That was what Zorro did to us. Better than Gene Autry but still a phony Spaniard while all the indios y mestizos were bit players. (Ibid.)
It is the authenticity of his ethnicity that has the New Mexican kids rooting for Cisco.
... our favorite was the Cisco Kid. Even the one gringo who played the role, Warner Baxter, could have passed for a Mexican. More than one kid said he looked like my old man, so I was one of those who accepted Warner Baxter. Somebody even thought that he was Mexican but had changed his name so he could get parts in Hollywood--you know how Hollywood is. (Ibid.)
Thus In Old Arizona enjoys a fundamental level of significance in the transition of the Cisco Kid from his earlier persona as bad gringo to U.S. Hispanic hero. The Cisco Kid in this film is still fundamentally treacherous, but he is the first figure in the sound period to achieve a level of Hispanic veracity, psychologically and in his Spanish language use, which helped win an Academy Award for Warner Baxter. That Hispanic veracity is acknowledged, at least on the basis of Nash Candelaria's fictional, nostalgic memoir, by the U.S. Latino community as well. Even as Warner Baxter provides the platform, the Ciscos that follow Baxter are accepted even more wholeheartedly in the Candelaria story:
... we conveniently leaped from that to cheering for the "real" Cisco Kids ... Gilbert Roland, Cesar Romero, Duncan Renaldo. With the arch-sidekick of all time, Chris-Pin Martin, who was better any day than Fuzzy Knight, Smiley Burnette, or Gabby Hayes. "Si, Ceesco," we'd lisp to each other and laugh, trying to sound like Chris-Pin. (14-15)
It is useful to briefly profile the silent films that preceded In Old Arizona as well as those that followed it. In Old Arizona built upon its predecessors. Numerous analogous films then followed and borrowed from this major landmark that was such a hit. However, the key to understanding the significance of In Old Arizona lies in the fact that it was the first Cisco sound film and in fact one of the first sound films of any kind. Additionally, the use of Hispanified, highly accented English by Warner Baxter was a huge novelty and an integral part of the film's critical and box office success. That fortunate circumstance of being situated at the dawn of the sound era and making inspired use of sound could not be replicated by any film before or after In Old Arizona. While numerous film stars of the silent period, including native Spanish-speaking stars, had their careers cut short due to their accents not being accepted by the film-going public, the Anglo actor Warner Baxter and the Latina actor Lupe Velez, the "Mexican Spitfire," were prominent exceptions. The action hero and the comedienne noted for her malaprops and her untrammeled emotions countered the tide and in fact advanced their careers on the basis of their Hispanicized English.
The Hispanic element present in In Old Arizona did not emerge out of a vacuum. Quite to the contrary, it was built on a platform of numerous silent films. Similarly, numerous Hispanic-focused sound films followed the model ser by the highly successful film directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Warner Baxter.
Song, Dance, Music, and Fiesta
Hispanic-focused song and dance, the playing of musical instruments associated with the Latin world, and fiestas are frequent in films of the 1920s and earlier. Of course, there were limitations on what could be achieved during the silent period. Pianos, violins, and even guitars were used in the movie theaters to accompany the films and to provide certain sound effects at appropriate times, such as crescendos during battles featuring cannons and musical renditions of horses trotting or galloping. Songs, however, were not customarily sung but rather communicated through intertitles. The fiesta in all of its exuberance was beyond the capacity of silent films.
One silent film that made use of musical props was A California Romance (1922, director Jerome Storm, starring John Gilbert and Estelle Taylor). John Gilbert, who was soon to achieve superstar status and make several films with Greta Garbo, plays the guitar in this film opposite Estelle Taylor, who in 1922 also was the lead in the Emmett J. Flynn-directed version of A Fool There Was. Gilbert Roland's professional name was created by combining John Gilbert's name with Ruth Roland's. In Yankee 8peed (1924, director Robert N. Bradbury, starring Kenneth MacDonald and Jay Hunt), Variety (July 16, 1924) judged that the dances endowed the Mexican film with added local color. In Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925, director Donald Crisp, starring Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Astor, Donald Crisp, and Warner Oland), the character Don Q serenades his beloved with guitar in hand. The Cowboy Cavalier (1928, director Richard Thorpe, starring Buddy Roosevelt and Olive Hasbrouck) has an Anglo disguised as an "Aztec" who sings "Bandit's Love Song." In the 1928 version of Ramona (director Edwin Carewe, starring Dolores del Rio and Warner Baxter) the character of Felipe, played by Roland Drew, sings in honor of his mother. Ramona may have been produced in both a silent version and a subsequent sound version. The most distinctive of these silent films with Hispanic musical elements is Singer Jim McKee (1924, director Clifford Smith), which stars William S. Hart as an Anglo who, in the intertitles, in stressful moments sings the refrain of a Mexican melody in Spanish.
The following films feature cantina girls or Latina dancers: You Never Know (1922, director Robert Ensminger, starring Earle Williams and Gertrude Astor), June Madness (1922, director Harry Beaumont, starring Viola Dana and Bryant Washburn), The Golden Gift (1922, director Maxwell Karger, starring Alice Lake and John Bowers), The Girl from the Golden West (1923, see below for further coverage), and A Man of Quality (1926, director Wesley Ruggles, starring George Walsh--director Raoul Walsh's brother--and Ruth Dwyer).
Fiestas were a common staple in U.S. silent film fare, and they appear prominently in the following silent films: The Power of Love (1922, director Harry K. Fairall, starring Elliot Sparling, Barbara Bedford, and Noah Beery, the first and apparently only 3D film of the period, anticipating the 3D craze of the 1950s by three decades); Yankee Madness (1924, directed by Charles R. Seeling, starring George Larkin, Billie Dove, and Walter Long); Hands Across the Border (1926, director David Kirkland, starring Fred Thomson, Bess Flowers, and Tyrone Power, Sr., who died in 1931 in the arms of his more famous son, then age seventeen); and The Yankee Senor (1926, director Emmett J. Flynn, starring Tom Mix and Olive Borden). An interesting feature of the latter film was that while it was in black and white, the fiesta was filmed in two-strip Technicolor.
The new celebrities of the star system of the 1920s all portrayed Mexicans/Latinos, as of course did Douglas Fairbanks, who had already achieved stardom in the preceding decade. Mae Murray starred in Mademoiselle Midnight (1924, director Robert Z. Leonard), set in the Mexico of Maximilian and Benito Juarez; Pola Negri starred in Flower of Night (1925, director Paul Bern) as a descendent of grandees forced to be a chorus girl in San Francisco before she returns to Mexico to vindicate her family; and Rudolph Valentino starred in Moran of the Lady Letty (1922, director George Melford) as a wealthy hispano of San Francisco abducted by smugglers on a Mexico-bound ship. None of these films portrayed Mexico in a particularly positive light, but a Gloria Swanson vehicle caused an international uproar. The film, Her Husband's Trademark (1922, director Sam Wood, starring Gloria Swanson, Richard Wayne, and Stuart Holmes) features a Mexican dance. In the film, the character played by Swanson travels to Mexico with her husband, who has obtained a concession of petroleum rights by the Mexican government. The plot includes a revolutionary general or bandit--it is hard to discern which--who attempts to abduct and ravish the woman with all possible forms of 1920s-style filmic titillation. Swanson, who wears twenty separate luxurious gowns in the film, is set in contrast to the mustachioed, cartridge-belted, and sombrero-laden "greasers."
Her Husband's Trademark caused an uproar in Mexico. Not only was it prohibited for containing scenes that were designated as "escandalosamente ofensivas," it provoked a general embargo by Mexico of all Famous Players-Lasky Corporation films, that corporation being part of Paramount at the time. The embargo extended as well to several other films considered "denigrantes" by the Mexican censors.
The Pride of Palomar (1922, director Frank Borzage, starring Forrest Stanley, Marjorie Daw, and Warner Oland) has been interpreted in Mexico as a film that sought to make amends. The plot revolves around the conventional threat of foreclosure on the family hacienda by an East Coast capitalist who owns the mortgage, but it adds an anti-Japanese twist to it. The forecloser wants to sell the ranch to the evil Japanese Okada (Warner Oland) for colonization, but don Miguel Farrell, one of numerous Irish-Mexicans that Hollywood was promoting during the 1920s (Don Jose O'Neil in The Love Brand, 1923; Juan de Dios O'Rourke in The Fighting Edge, 1925; Don Luis O'Flaherty in Senor Daredevil, 1926; Carlos Brent in Romance Ranch, 1924; and Pablo Wharton Cameron, in Yankee Senor, 1925) neutralizes both the easterner and the representative of the Yellow Peril. The film, screened in Mexico with the title El orgullo de Palomar, includes the recreation of El jarabe tapatio (the Mexican Hat Dance), customarily identified as the Mexican national dance. The important Mexico City newspaper El Universal interpreted the film as a form of redress for the negative stereotypes that led to Mexico's embargo of American films:
El orgullo de Palomar was a film produced to rehabilitate us in the eyes of the world and was made soon after the [Mexican] embargo was lifted on Paramount productions, about a year ago.... the fact that it presents a family in difficult straits, possessing a good fortune but one undermined by creditors, indicates that in the end, with a bit of effort, of dignity and of courage, the last descendent of the family is able to rehabilitate his lineage and avoid having his inheritance fall into the hands of mercenary interests. (Rafael Bermudez Zatarain, EI Universal, September 23, 1923; my translation.)
It is useful to give some additional attention to two separate strands that precede & and converge in the first sound film featuring the Cisco Kid: the endearing bandido and the films of the "Golden West" cycle.
The endearing bandido strand is well represented by The Bad Man (1923, director Edwin Carewe, starring Holbrook Blinn, who was the hero in the original play by Porter Emerson Browne). Browne was a playwright who in addition to his 1920 drama The Bad Man also did a 1909 play, A Fool There Was, which is an important work for the overall social bandit/noble bandit project. This play was turned into a film, but not the famous one starring Theda Bara. The origin of these vamp films, including both the Porter Emerson Browne drama/film and the Theda Bata vehicle, is Rudyard Kipling's 1897 poem "The Vampire," the first line of which begins, "A fool there was...."
The 1923 The Bad Man was not only successful as a model of the noble bandit (see Garcia Riera, Mexico visto por el cine extranjero, vol. I, for a review of numerous other models and variations thereof), but it also incorporated elements that had an aural quality to them. The noble bandit interpreted by Blinn is called Pancho Lopez, and be clearly harks back to Pancho Villa, who was still very much in the minds of American audiences in 1923. Pancho Lopez, like Pancho Villa, rises from peonage to the status of head of a band of bandidos. As Arthur G. Pettit (1980) puts it, he is more of a buffoon than a bandit, but he is not ineffective both as a killer in his own right and as an avenger for a gringo to whom he is indebted for the latter having saved his life. Even more significant for us here is the melodious and sonorous quality of his persona. He boasts by means of the intertitles:
I keel ze man sis morning, Heem call me dirty crook. I keel some more zis noontime And steal ess pocketbook. (Roeder 21)
The anonymous critic of The New York Times (October 9, 1923) recognized the endearing qualities of the Hollbrook Blinn interpretation of which Warner Baxter was a genuine successor, and even more important, the critic from Variety (October 11, 1923) judged that at times you could hear Blinn whistle his words between his teeth and that surely they would be genuinely Mexican words despite the intertitles, which struck Variety as incongruously part French, part Canuck. The successful The Bad Man bore a sequel in Zander the Great (1925), with Blinn once again playing an endearing Mexican, except in a supporting role as a sidekick of the main character, Harrison Ford, a contrabandist who redeems himself by the end, played by the star Marion Davis. The Bad Man itself was the subject of two remakes in the sound period: in 1930, directed by Clarence G. Badger and starring Walter Huston, and 1941, directed by Richard Thorpe and starring Wallace Beery as Pancho Lopez, Lionel Barrymore as Uncle Henry Jones, Ronald Reagan as Gilbert 'Gil' Jones, and Chris-Pin Martin as Pedro.
The second strand, the various versions of the "Golden West," returns us to the musical and festive, but in grand form. In silent film, as we have seen previously, Mexican/ Latino characters and settings had often been linked to dance, song, and fiestas, and Mexicans and Hispanics in general had assumed the role in popular culture of specialists in leisure and diversions of this sort. The orchestra, piano, violin, guitar, or other musical resources available to the movie palaces or the more modest venues were quite capable of playing Mexican/Hispanic music, and it is documented that they did. The films of the "Golden West" type are examples. This cycle of plays, operas, and what is all-important to us here, films, was initiated by David Belasco.
David Belasco (1853-1931), born in San Francisco to Sephardic parents of Portuguese heritage, was a highly important playwright, director, and theatrical producer who either wrote, directed, or produced more than 100 Broadway plays between 1884 and 1930, making him the most powerful personality on the New York city theater scene. Known for developing a new standard of naturalism, for his advanced lighting techniques, and rumored to have invented the phrase the "casting couch," he adapted more than forty motion pictures from his many plays. Bur Belasco is most recognized for having written Madame Butterfly and The Girl of the Golden West. He had an important relationship with Giacomo Puccini, who adapted both of these plays into operas. The relationship between silent (rather than sound) film and opera was significant, even though that might strike us as counterintuitive in this millennium. Geraldine Farrar, the opera diva known for her interpretation of Prosper Merimee/Bizet's Carmen, was recruited to play the part in the 1915 silent film Carmen (directed by Cecil B. DeMille). The other 1915 Carmen, unfortunately now lost, was directed by none other than Raoul Walsh of In Old Arizona. It featured Theda Bara in the title role.
Belasco first staged The Girl of the Golden West in 1905 and it was a huge success, enjoying three separate Broadway productions before Puccini staged the opera. After the success of his opera Madama Butterfly, Puccini turned again to the source of its inspiration, David Belasco. Puccini's La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), an opera in three acts, had its first performance on December 10, 1910, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. It was a landmark performance. The work, set in the high sierras of California in 1849-1850, is quite consistent with but also different from the O. Henry story "The Caballero's Way" or the film In Old Arizona. Minnie is torn between two suitors/lovers, the bandit Ramerrez and Sheriff Rance, with a marked preference for the bandido. The key scene involves Minnie beating Rance at a "poker" duel that, if she wins, means that the sheriff must free his recently captured lover. Emmy Destinn had the role of Minnie; Enrico Caruso was Dick Johnson/Ramerrez, the bandit who sometimes played a gringo; Pasquale Amato was Sheriff Jack Rance; and, much further down the line, there were roles such as Billy Jackrabbit, "a Red Indian," Wowkle, "his squaw," and Jose Castro, "a greaser from Ramerrez's band."
The first film of the "Golden West" series was The Girl of the Golden West (1923, directed by Edwin Carewe, adapted from the David Belasco play). These silent films were notable, naturally, for their musical qualities. The 1927 production Rose of the Golden West (director George Fitzmaurice, starring Mary Astor and Gilbert Roland) featured castanets in its musical support for the film, prompting Variety (September 28, 1927) to applaud the fact that for the first time a film of this Hispanic sort had not abused the guitar and there were no Spanish folkdances, implying, of course, that these features were commonplace in Hispanic-focused movies. Of course, films in the "Golden West" cycle continued into the sound period.
The phenomenal success of In Old Arizona only spurred the already robust incorporation of Hispanic musical elements into U.S. films. The Arizona Kid, a Cisco Kid remake but without the name because of copyright concerns, also starring Warner Baxter, has the hero wooing Lorita, a dancer, and in Variety (October 27, 1931) it is observed that the song "My Tonia" flora In Old Arizona runs through the film. Under a Texas Moon (1930, director Michael Curtiz), a lousy film with a huge budget and a generally spectacular cast (Frank Fay, who plays Barbara Stanwyck's husband, is a stinker; otherwise, Raquel Torres, Myrna Loy, Armida, Noah Beery, and Mona Maris), has been identified as the first film completely in Technicolor, and it abounds with songs and music complete with guitar-playing mariachis as well as a character, Don Carlos, who is clearly modeled on the filmic Cisco Kid. Rogue of the Rio Grande (1930, director Spencer Gordon Bennet) features Jose Bohr as El Malo opposite Raymond Hatton and Myrna Loy. This film was the only one in the English language in which Bohr, an Argentine chansonnier in the style of Maurice Chevalier but with a South American accent, actually starred. The film confuses Mexican and Argentine music shamelessly, and it has, as Variety points out, Bohr playing a sort of Pancho Villa and tenor of the borderlands, singing such songs as "Song of the Bandoleros" and "Argentine Moon." Also in 1930 appeared Beau Bandit (director Lambert Hillyer, starring Rod La Rocque) and Song of the Caballero (director Harry Joe Brown, starring Ken Maynard and Francis Ford), replete with Hispanic musical elements.
The lode was rich with music-infused, flamboyant Latin bandidos and their love interests: Bebe Daniels in Rio Rita and Love Comes Along (both 1929); the 1930 films Romance of the Rio Grande (featuring the likes of "My Toreador Starts to Snore"), Border Romance (with material like "Song of the Rurales," "The Girl from Topolopompo," and "Yo te adoro"), and A Devil with Women (with "Amor Mio"); and Girl of the Rio (1931), with Dolores del Rio as a cabaret singer accompanied by a guitar.
Margarita Cansino, before she changed her name and became the famous Rita Hayworth, would emerge from the milieu of the cantina girl/Latina dancer in films such as Professional Soldier (1935, as a gypsy dancer), Under the Pampas Moon (1935, featuring Warner Baxter, Cansino playing the dancing girl, Carmen), Dante's Inferno (1935, as a dancer), Piernas de seda (U.S. release, Silk Legs, 1935), and The Dancing Pirate (1936).
Additional information is available in the work of Emilio Garcia Riera, who did an extensive job documenting these films, all successors to the films of the silent period and to In Old Arizona.
Cisco Develops along the Good-Bad Axis
Of course, not only did Cisco-type figures and films follow In Old Arizona. Twenty-three Cisco Kid films followed this first sound version as well as a long-running television series with numerous episodes. These films and episodes are the subject of the forthcoming book by Nevins and Keller (2008). Before turning to Luis Valdez's 1994 Cisco, I would like to briefly generalize on the Cisco character from the axis of good-evil in the Warner Baxter, Cesar Romero, Gilbert Roland, and Duncan Renaldo interpretations.
The Cisco Kid was bad with just a touch of Latin redeeming generosity in his portrayal by Warner Baxter in In Old Arizona. He has a certain Latin sense of honor, seen in his refusal to steal the passengers' money when he holds up a stagecoach and takes its strongbox. That's about all on the good side of the ledger. He steals cattle, kills other evildoers who are out to steal his ill-gotten money, has plenty of sex with Tonia, and fulfills the denouement of O. Henry's "The Caballero's Way" by successfully conspiring to have her Anglo lover, Sergeant Dunn, kill her when the latter mistakes her for Cisco.
With Cesar Romero Cisco undergoes a transformation. While still certainly an out-law and something of a boaster, Romero's Cisco is never cruel, and he always subordinates his own schemes or thwarts the criminal objectives of others for the senorita who is the object of his affections.
During the Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo period, Cisco was good in a manner evoking a highly effective, virile protector of the oppressed who is respectful of senoritas in the manner of Don Quixote. When interviewed, Renaldo stated that he told producer Philip N. Krasne,
Why not base the character on the greatest book of Spanish literature, Don Quixote de la Mancha? Cisco is a modern knight; Pancho is his Sancho Panza, a delicate comedy character--not a buffoon--who always gets his partner in trouble when they try to help people. (Tuska 1976, 441)
Renaldo's Cisco is a lighthearted, clean-cut hero who is frequently mistaken for a bandit but is instead a carefree adventurer whose exploits generally center on his ardor for beautiful senoritas. Despite this key motivation, in seven films Renaldo's Cisco kisses a woman only once, in The Daring Adventurer, as his gentlemanly code of conduct means that he habitually restricts himself to courtly praise of female beauty. One line specifically is repeated throughout the films: "You are the most beautiful senorita in all the world. On my heart, I swear it."
Gilbert Roland's good-bad do-gooder is an altogether more earthy character. In contrast to Renaldo's perfectly turned out, pure, and gentlemanly character, Roland's Cisco is more in the mold of a traditional Western gunslinger. He is undoubtedly a bandit, albeit a Robin Hood whose motives are above reproach, and he constantly smokes and drinks tequila. He is also far less proper in his advances toward women, whom he courts far more directly than his predecessor. Renaldo's oft-repeated flirtation is mirrored in this Cisco's penchant for presenting the ladies he admires with necklaces. Moreover, this series is far removed from the buddy-style model of the Renaldo series. Although this Cisco does have a sidekick, they are seldom together on screen, and they both travel with a large group of men.
The Cisco Kid Was a Friend of Mine
War was a multiracial, multicultural funk band of the 1970s from Southern California. Formed in 1969, the band had some huge hit songs, including "Low Rider." In 1972 War came out with its hit "The Cisco Kid." The song features simple but relevant lines for this essay. Outlaws have the apparently hard-drinking Cisco and Pancho pinned down at a fort, Cisco rides into the sunset with a horse made of steel, and he
Chased a gringo last night through a field Chased a gringo last night through a field.
You can find the song on several albums, including War's Coleccion Latina (1997), which also includes songs like "Cinco de Mayo," "Salsa," "Low Rider," and "East L.A." The song "The Cisco Kid" begins Luis Valdez's Cisco film. The most telling thing is that the movie introduces from the very beginning the affiliation of the Cisco Kid with Chicanos, Mexicanos, and Latinos within the context of social awareness and political justice.
The Cisco Kid has moved the hearts of Chicanos, especially during their youth. In their adulthood, that inspiration has been cultivated in art and in literature. A few examples make this inspiration apparent. In addition to War's popular song, the Chicano/ Latino appropriation of the Cisco Kid includes other examples such as Nash Candelaria's The Day the Cisco Kid Shot John Wayne and Other Stories (1998), which contains the title story from which we have quoted amply, and a series of serigraphs by Sam Coronado and monoprints by Joe Ray. Joe Ray's series of Cisco Kids frame the character on the television screen of his youth and capture him as if he were a portrait, not only of the Kid, bur also of the artist in his youth emulating the Latino hero. Sam Coronado displays a similar psychology, as we will see subsequently.
The most widely known Chicano/Latino appropriation of the character is the made-for-television film The Cisco Kid (1994), directed by Luis Valdez, starring Jimmy Smits and Cheech Marin, and including other Latino actors such as Pedro Armendariz Jr., Phil Esparza, Joaquin Garrido, and Guillermo Rios.
That Luis Valdez would come to direct a Cisco Kid film vehicle, and one that would have a Chicano slant to it, seems a natural occurrence, overdetermined by both Valdez's consistent interest in noble bandits and the direction of American film during the decade and more that preceded his Cisco contribution.
Legitimately called the father of Chicano theater, playwright and film director Luis Valdez has given this movement a voice since 1963, when his first play was staged by the drama department at San Jose State College. The play, The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa, nominally concerned a good-bad bandit. Valdez went on in 1965 to found El Teatro Campesino, a touring farm workers' theater troupe. El Teatro Campesino produced one-act plays, often without a stage, script, or props, that dramatized the circumstances of migrant workers and ignited a national Chicano theater movement, a teatro chicano. Valdez has also written, cowritten, and directed many full-length plays depicting the Hispanic experience, including Bandido! The American Melodrama of Tiburcio Vasquez, Notorious California Bandit, which debuted in a Teatro Campesino workshop in 1981 and later appeared in revised form in the 1992 Valdez book Zoot Suit and Other Plays. Bandido! is about the California social/noble bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who in the mid-nineteenth century was captured in Cahuenga canyon (now Hollywood Hills). The playwright surely was moved by Tiburcio's explanation of his actions before his hanging in 1874: "A spirit of hatred and revenge took possession of me. I had numerous fights in defense of what I believed to be my rights and those of my countrymen. I believed we were unjustly deprived of the social rights that belonged to us."
Valdez's Corridos! Tales of Passion and Revolution (1983, adapted for television and aired on PBS in 1987) also has elements of social banditry, and in fact, Tiburcio Vasquez is one of the characters portrayed. In the work's foreword, the playwright expressed his desire to recover the figure of Vasquez from the stereotypes propagated by Western conquest fiction, and he noted that be decided to concentrate on Vasquez because his story was far less well known than that of Joaquin Murrieta, whom Valdez judged a legendary icon, even among Anglo Americans. Valdez's 1986 play I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!, which ran successfully at the Los Angeles Theater Center, features Hollywood extra Buddy Villa, who has made a career of portraying stereotypical Mexicans in Hollywood films. It plays off the famous line uttered by Alfonso Bedoya in the role of Gold Hat, "I don't have to show you no stinking badges," in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, director John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston).
Valdez's greatest success came in 1987, when be directed the hit film La Bamba. The film depicted the brief life of Chicano singer Ritchie Valens, who helped pioneer early rock and roll. An element of high significance in this film is that Ritchie finds his soul and identity in Mexico as well as his singing style and the content for his version of "La Bamba." A Latino Californio, the Valdez Cisco Kid has a similar moment of truth in the Mexican homeland.
As we have seen, Valdez has been fascinated for decades with noble bandidos and some less than noble ones as well. He is renowned as a writer/director who assumes artistic control of his works, including films such as La Bamba (1987), and introduces emphatically Chicano/Latino content into them. There is no way he would produce a Cisco Kid that was not definitively a part of the Chicano canon. While the New York Times review of the Broadway production of another Valdez play, Zoot Suit, is unfavorable, it accurately wrote about Valdez that be "has a reputation as a cultural provocateur, thanks to his activism on behalf of the United Farm Workers of America, his authorship of works that challenge stereotypes of Hispanic Americans, and his fondness for bringing together performers of widely varying cultural backgrounds."
Those proclivities of writer/director Luis Valdez combined well with a newly awakened interest in box office vehicles that would attract both mainstream audiences and the Chicano/Latino market. As Professor Nevins points out, the TNT network was prepared to accept a Cisco Kid that they could interpret from their outsider's perspective as "politically correct" (Nevins 1998, 158).
Chicanismo had become commercially viable in the larger marketplace by 1994 and it has remained so. Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi (1992) was a groundbreaker both with respect to Chicano/Latino artistic control and box office success. Moreover, it was a news sensation generally and especially so for every budding film director or wannabe with dreams but no cash. The $7,000 movie (supplemented by $1 million in post production and promotion after the film had garnered studio attention) paid for partially by Rodriguez and Peter Marquardt (who played the evil Moco) volunteering to become paid "laboratory rats" for a study of a cholesterol-reducing drug, has entered the pantheon of pop culture mythos.
El Mariachi has a few elements compatible with the Mexican American Cisco in that, through a diabolus ex machina involving mistaken identity, the mariachi becomes embroiled in a web of violence and deception and relies on his wits and skill in battle to defeat his corrupt adversaries. He evolves into a lone warrior who is the sole embodiment of honor and decency in a border community on the verge of implosion because of corruption and drug trafficking. He is further distinguished by being the only character in the film with a sense of identity and a reverence for Mexican traditions, as the opening of the film makes clear: "Desde que era pequeno siempre quise ser un mariachi, como mi padre, mi abuelo y mi bisabuelo ... Mi idea era seguir sus pasos hasta el final y morir con mi guitarra en la mano." The cycle of films initiated by El Mariachi continues unabated. Rodriguez's Desperado appeared in 1995 and Once Upon a Time in Mexico in 2003. The Mask of Zorro (1998, director Martin Campbell, starring Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins) is notable for including Joaquin Murrieta in the film as well as other historical or quasi-historical characters such as Three-Fingered Jack and Joaquin's fictional brother, Alejandro Murrieta, who becomes the new Zorro. The Legend of Zorro (2005, director Martin Campbell, starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones) continues the cycle. In the same general vein is And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2003, director Bruce Beresford, starring Antonio Banderas and Alan Arkin).
In 1994 Valdez directed a remake of the 1950s television series The Cisco Kid. Again he modernized an old story, transforming Cisco (played by actor Jimmy Smits) into a respectable Chicano adventurer. The New York Times stated, "The Cisco Kid is part of a larger effort to counter 90 years of omissions and distortions in the way Latino characters have been depicted in westerns." The article continued, "Film makers like ... Valdez ... say they are trying to provide a humanized alternative to the hot-blooded lovers, Frito banditos, drug dealers, gang leaders, and other two-dimensional characters that [have] traditionally represented Mexican Americans on television and films." (Note the presence of the Frito "bandito," an unfortunate insertion by Frito-Lay of the mock Spanish word into the commercial arena, which raised the hackles of the Latino community.)
Valdez's The Cisco Kid was not successful as entertainment or as art. Mike Nevins cites some of the negative critical response in his The Films of The Cisco Kid (1998). However, as Noriega (1991, 1992) has pointed out, some of the innovations of Chicano film have been misunderstood by mainstream reviewers and misused to downgrade the film in question. This is very much the case for Valdez's The Cisco Kid, in which numerous cultural, historical, linguistic, musical, and subtextual elements appear that have been provided for the Chicano insider and not for the traditional monolingual Anglo viewer or critic. While Chicanas and Chicanos would not find the movie to be outstanding, they do find it to be significantly more satisfying than did the mainstream critics. Moreover, the film continues to be important to the U.S. Hispanic community in general and in the educational domain.
From the vantage point of Chicano-focused cultural studies, it is a significant film. In O. Henry's ethnic cornucopia, Cisco is on the bottom rung of the good-bad ladder. In Valdez's film, conflicted, hyphenated Mexican-American that he is, the Cisco Kid resides at the top along with the indigenous Mexicans who are not vendidos to the outside interventionists.
This heroic Mexican American Cisco may swing back and forth somewhat precariously between Hispanic and Anglo culture, but as in the case of the Ritchie Valens character in Valdez's La Bamba, he finds some, but not all, of his identity in Old Mexico. In Cisco's case he finds it in the traditional and enduring values of a Mexico that is represented by Benito Juarez and stands for control by the people, respect as well as political and social support for the Indian population, and triumphal resistance against foreign invaders or trespassers.
In an earlier work, Hispanics and United States Film (Keller 1994, 207-11), I pointed to features that qualify a film as properly Chicano or other U.S. Hispanic. While this book was published in 1994, it was written more than a year prior to the release of Valdez's film. Thus the 1994 The Cisco Kid is not referred to in my earlier book, but it has all of the characteristics that define a Chicana/o film. One of these relates to the control of the film. Distributed by the TNT cable network, The Cisco Kid is nevertheless controlled by its Chicano director and other professionals, to the point that, as Nevins points out, one of the studio executives foresaw that the film would be "labeled as politically correct, [but] that's not a bad brush to be tarred with" (Nevins 1998, 158).
The second area is the content. Among the features that often appear in and help define Chicano films are the innovative use of Spanish and English (and sometimes indigenous languages); the innovative use of Chicano or other Hispanic music; the innovative use of mise-en-scene and film montage; and, very significantly, the deconstruction and subversion of Hollywood genres and formulas. Valdez's The Cisco Kid is redolent with each of these content features that, in addition to artistic control, place it squarely in the domain of Chicano cinema.
The Language Elements
The phenomenon of alternating use of Spanish and English and sometimes indigenous languages is called "code switching" by linguists and is incorporated as a fundamental aspect of numerous films prior to the release of the Valdez movie. Among these are Raices de sangre (1979, director Jesus Salvador Trevino), The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982, director Robert M. Young, starring Edward James Olmos), El Norte (1983, director Gregory Nava), La Bamba (1987, director Luis Valdez), and Born in East L.A. (1987, directed, written by, and starring Cheech Marin). In these films, the fullest appreciation of the work--the channel, as it were, at its maximum frequency--can be attained only by the bilingual, multicultural viewer. The plot of The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez revolves around a linguistic distinction between Spanish and English. The Anglo character thinks Cortez is lying because he denies he had traded a horse (caballo, which can mean either "stallion" or the more general "horse"), saying instead the more specific yegua, "mare." This linguistic misunderstanding leads to a deadly shootout. Valdez's The Cisco Kid contains within it much code switching, and in fact, quips and double meanings apparent only to bilingual insiders appear from time to rime in the film. For example, a prostitute favored by the Cisco Kid is called Libertad, a perfectly good Mexican name, but also the word for "liberty." When Cisco says together with others, "!Viva la Libertad!" they are referring to freedom, and he is referring, somewhat cynically and removed from patriotic fervor, to a woman.
The innovative use of music is a hallmark of Chicano film. The innovations often speak to an insider, as in certain musical numbers in Zoot Suit or the title song of Born in East L.A. (taken from Bruce Springsteen's hit "Born in the USA"). The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez brings the Mexican corrido into the title of the film itself and expresses the element of resistance to the Texas Rangers and gringo authority in general that is central to the film. La Bamba is another film in which music is all-important, and the music in this Luis Valdez film, as is the case of the 1994 The Cisco Kid, serves to introduce the main character to his Mexican heritage. As I have observed earlier in this essay, Valdez's Cisco film makes innovative use of Chicano music as well as traditional Mexican fare, particularly in the introduction of the action and of the film credits, which feature War's notable "The Cisco Kid." This 1970s song functions effectively to situate the nominally nineteenth-century historical action film within a Chicano cultural space, one that looks at the past from a knowledgeable vantage point some 120 years in the future and that has parsed history and come to conclusions about the trajectory of the Cisco Kid over the decades. Moreover, as we will see below, that Chicano space is conflicted since it partakes of both Anglo and Mexican culture and it seeks, and ultimately is successful, to be something different and more than either of the cultures separately, or the sum of both in combination or in permutation.
Mise-en-scene and Film Montage
The use of code switching and music distinctively served up for the appreciation of a bicultural insider, together with numerous other features such as food preparation, mores and elements of folk culture, graffiti, slang, mannerisms, and other features, can be properly seen as part of the mise-en-scene of a Chicano film, and the kinetic stream of shots containing Chicano mise-en-scenes makes for a Chicano film montage. All of the component elements (linguistic, musical) and numerous others make up the mise-en-scene of Valdez's 1994 The Cisco Kid. Moreover, the most distinctively Chicano element of the setting of Valdez's film is the filmic cultivation of the historical conflict taking place in Mexico during the French Intervention (1861-1867) interpreted in highly racial and ethnic terms, with a significant role in that ethnic exchange for the proto-Chicano persona. While the introduction of Chicanismo into a nineteenth-century Mexican setting stretches historical veracity, nevertheless it is accomplished with considerable skill, especially with respect to the framing of the conflict in terms with which a contemporary bicultural Chicano viewer might identify. The term "Chicano" is not used in the film. Nevertheless, the Cisco portrayed by Jimmy Smits is an obviously hyphenated American, and that condition of being Mexican-American is the one from which Chicanismo springs. Chicanos can be described for our purposes here as Mexican Americans with a political attitude and with a militantly and heroically earned sense of personal, political, cultural, and social self that recognizes their distinctiveness within the diverse ethnic makeups of both Mexico and the United States, neither of which, separately or in tandem, suffices to encompass the value-added quality of the Chicano identity that partakes of both cultures but that is more than their mere sum. In Valdez's The Cisco Kid, the Mexican American condition and the Mexican American dilemma that eventually, around the time of the Sleepy Lagoon riots of World War II, would evolve into Chicanismo, was well established during this period of the Franco-Mexican War, especially with respect to the Mexican American Cisco's allegiances to the component cultures on both sides of the border, and it is pursued to a climax that has aroused the interest of contemporary Chicanos.
At the outset of the film, the Cisco Kid, as played by Jimmy Smits, is introduced as a loner who acts as the circumstances dictate but feels no genuine allegiance or affinity to any of the specific ethnicities and social classes that are represented in the Valdez film: Anglo, Confederate, French, Mexican, Native American, and so on. These ethnic and socioeconomic groups alternately struggle or collaborate with each other as their circumstantial needs require. During the course of the film, the Cisco Kid's allegiances develop as well. In turn, he passes from a nominal partner of the Texas-based Confederate renegades, to an initially opportunistic and cynical supporter of the Juaristas, and ultimately to an enthusiastic and heroic supporter of the indigenous Mexican villagers fighting on Juarez's side, even as he maintains his love interest with Dominique, the French-born fiancee of one of the senior French officers leading the fight against Juarez. Born on "the other side," meaning the United States, initially collaborating with the renegade Texans but weaned away from these bad guys through the influence of Pancho, and wooing the attractive French idealist Dominique, the Cisco Kid never fully integrates into either of these groups. Properly so, inasmuch as he maintains his identity as a proto-Chicano, although he finds self-realization in his adventures with the Mexican Pancho. The film ends with the prospect of a continued partnership between Cisco and Pancho that will be based on gallantry, chivalry, and considered, socially-conscious noble banditry.
Initially, Cisco is shown to be conflicted by his own ethnic identity, which does not sit well in Anglo America or even in Mexico. At one point in the film he identifies his condition as a Mexican American as the reason that he is considered a criminal in the United States. He explains that he was running guns with the Confederate renegades out of necessity.
Cisco: You want to know why I came with Washam and Lundquist? It was either run guns to Mexico or go to prison.
Pancho: Says who?
Cisco: U.S. federal agents. That's who. Hombre, you know what they call a Mexican with a good horse and money over there? A bandit. That's why I need the letter from Juarez. So I can exonerate myself and go back.
A poignant feature of the film is that Pancho does not serve as a mere sidekick. A good family man and the father of numerous children, Pancho follows Cisco's lead with respect to heroic feats and derring-do. On the other hand, Pancho assumes the role of father figure for the younger Cisco and serves as a role model who awakens the conflicted Mexican American's pride in his ethnicity and his forebears' homeland. However, while Cisco allies himself with Mexico, most especially the indigenous Mexicans and not the privileged classes, he declines to assume a Mexican ethnic identity. Cisco comments to Pancho that he has a wonderful family and a country to fight for. Rosa, Pancho's wife, tells him that Mexico is his country too, but Cisco does not share that perspective. He sees his Mexican identity as based on heritage and irrevocably set in the past as a result of the annexation of that part of Mexico that is now the Southwest of the United States.
Cisco: It used to be.
Pancho: What do you mean, used to be?
Rosa: We need men like you.
Cisco: No, I work better alone.
Ultimately Cisco needs to work out his own project. He senses that he belongs neither in the United States, where he is looked down on because of his ethnicity, nor in Mexico, where be feels like a North American.
Pancho: I thought you were one of us.
Cisco: I wish I was, but I'm not.
Pancho: You've been living with gringos for too long, Cisco. Come back home, hombre.
Cisco: I was born on the other side of the border. Gringos or no gringos, that's my home.
Pancho is secure in his identity and devoted to his struggle to expel the French intruders. He does not realize that this goal is not entirely the focus of Cisco's life. Moreover, be cannot appreciate the difficulty faced by Cisco as a person who lives between two separate and in certain ways incompatible cultures. Ultimately, however, Cisco's bravery and inherent nobility lead to his helping the good, indigenous faction in his heritage homeland and in turn, his impulsive heroism helps him to come to terms with his own identity crisis. Moreover, by the end of the film, the Cisco Kid, in charting a course from a rather selfish, devil-may-care adventurer to a freedom fighter who is worthy of the epithet of hero, attains the attributes of the noble bandit that have been the hallmark of the previous cinematic and television Cisco Kids before him. As Nevins points out (161), the intention, not realized, was for the production of a sequel to the Valdez version of The Cisco Kid, and we would anticipate that any subsequent salidas of the Kid would have been marked by the figure's comfort with his noble bandit identity.
Deconstruction and Subversion of Hollywood Genres and Formulas
Chicano films often stand established mainstream formulas and genres on their heads. E! Norte is not merely the alternative to the mainstream border or immigration films, it is their antithetical polar opposite. The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez is an emphatically Chicano Western because it subverts both the classical Western as well as bandido, bad Mexican, or greaser films. Zoot Suit is the Chicano "answer" to gringo-controlled Latin musicals or gang films that feature the likes of blue-eyed Robby Benson with brown-tinted contact lenses (e.g., Walk Proud). Seguin is the Chicano "answer" to the Anglo glorification of the Alamo. Stand and Deliver creates a contradicting calculus to all of the Latino-hoodlums-rip-up-the-school films.
These are all films with a Chicano attitude, and so is The Cisco Kid. The subversion of the Hollywood conventions for a Western is omnipresent, but I want to take special note of this contravention in the area of face and ethnic relationships, especially as codified in racial epithets. There are an extraordinary number of racial and ethnic epithets hurled around in Valdez's The Cisco Kid, more by a country kilometer than in any other Cisco film. One has to go back to the original social Darwinian O. Henry story "The Caballero's Way" for a comparable count. But in Valdez's work they have the opposite valence from O. Henry's. It is hard to conceive of an Anglo filmmaker using racial epithets to the degree and with the virulence that Luis Valdez has, and these words are used with no attempt to mitigate their impact.
United States senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell once had occasion to make observations about the injurious epithets "prairie nigger" and "red nigger." From a purely linguistic perspective, these epithets, which were used often and unselfconsciously in certain sectors of white society in the nineteenth century and beyond, extend by analogy the "N-word," itself formed from the Spanish word "negro," to American Indians, who conventionally have been identified as having skins of a reddish hue. The following dialog from the 1994 The Cisco Kid occurs at one extraordinary moment when the French officer, Dupre, accuses the Texans, mostly Confederate renegades, of running guns to aid Benito Juarez. A Confederate by the name of Washington responds incredulously, "That red nigger president of Mexico? Don't make me laugh." Significantly, the depiction of Juarez, who appears briefly at the end of the film played by Valdez himself, emphasizes the leader's ethnicity as the first indigenous Mexican to be elected president of his country. Moreover, Juarez emerges as a noble leader who always retains his identity and who counts on and is appreciative of the support that he receives, which comes primarily from the indigenous population that is willing to fight to the death for him. In marked contrast, to achieve their objectives, the French must rely on Mexican turncoats (who assume a Frenchified sophistication) and most especially on corrupt mercenaries drawn from the Confederacy. The mercenaries' utter disregard for the Mexican people ultimately leads to their defeat. Washington's racism is not confined to Juarez, as he taunts Pancho, played by Cheech Marin, by telling him that "all you greasers" have the same name.
As we have seen, there have been numerous versions of the Cisco Kid in this character's filmic cycle, and we surmise that there will be numerous additional ones as the archetypal character transforms himself and his circunstancia social according to the popular culture dictates of the time. Moreover, until Luis Valdez's 1994 version, the Cisco Kid remained primarily in heroic service to Anglo patrons, with an occasional Mexican thrown in as a secondary character. These patrons may be maidens in distress, defenseless children, or old men victimized by swindlers, but essentially they are Anglo patrons in need. In Valdez's 1994 The Cisco Kid, the character returns home in a social and cultural sense and is reborn in a dramatic one. Valdez returns to the foundational short story and does it "right" from a Chicano point of view. We first encounter the character even before he is the Kid, just as Pancho encounters him even before the latter is Pancho the sidekick as well as father figure to this waif, this adult foundling caught in the maelstrom of Mexican and United States history. The Cisco Kid is reborn in a bautismo de fuego at the hands of Valdez in this film that is Chicano through and through. He takes the Kid from the condition in which he finds him as a confused, conflicted, somewhat selfish and rakish Mexican American during the post-1848 Treaty of Guadalupe period when the Southwest became part of the United States and when the Mexican American identity was just forming, to a noble bandit hero who, after his experiences in Mexico with Pancho and with the Amerindian villagers fighting on the side of Benito Juarez, assumes the character of noble bandit and freedom fighter that we conventionally identify in this figure. The Cisco Kid is transformed in this Chicano foundational version and is ready for sequels.
By a serendipitous and overdetermined psychological convergence and from a totally different point of departure, Sam Coronado conceived and artistically executed, in a totally different medium, a Cisco Kid that shares with Valdez's cinematic version the Chicano quality of the noble caballero.
Like Valdez, Coronado creates a foundational Cisco Kid, but he does so by returning to his childhood, when the Kid aroused his imagination and the artist himself was a kid. In his serigraph Pancho Villa & The Cisco Kid, in the golden haze and halo of childhood memories of movies and revolutionary myth customized to meet a higher level of psychological and sociocultural purpose, Coronado paints the Kid as an actual child. This is a boy who evokes the persona of the artist possibly around the time of his first encounter with noble bandits. Here the Cisco Kid rides with Pancho Villa, the most notable "Robin Hood" of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 as he has sometimes been depicted in both American and Mexican popular culture. Here the psychologic of childhood association has been substituted for the original logic of O. Henry and subsequently the filmmakers. The Kid really is one, and he looks rather like an esquintle on a make-believe horse as shot by one of those entrepreneurial photographers who memorialize a Chicano family outing and place the precious child on the perch of honor, right next to a majestic golden silhouette of the leader of the dorados, none other than Pancho Villa himself.
In Valdez's The Cisco Kid, the character is born again as a cultural hero in development. In Coronado's re-creation of the kid out of his childhood, the Cisco Kid is a waif, side by side with the ever-present Pancho, Mexican father of the noble and virile revolutionary bandit who confronts landed interests, social oppression, imperialism, and the United States Army. Born again out of the imagination of a Chicano film director and a Chicano painter, Cisco traverses the borderland of the two nations and fulfills the biculturalism of the Chicano vision.
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Gary D. Keller
Arizona State University
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2004|
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