The El Paso Chihuahuas.
It’s the recently announced name of this West Texas town’s new Triple-A baseball team, and there weren’t many El Pasoans yapping with excitement about the reveal.
On the day it was unveiled, social media exploded with heated ranting about the decision. El Pasoans went to their computers and mobile devices in packs to post their opinions – and there was no sugar coating it, either. They went off about the mascot’s supposed lackluster appeal, its similarity to Taco Bell’s pint-sized spokesdog from the late-90s, how outsiders would think of El Paso as a joke and that it was just plain embarrassing.
While complaints varied, one point which kept emerging was that the mascot is racist and a stereotype. Whoa, doggy! Ok, let’s look into this a bit.
A little research revealed that the Chihuahua does, in fact, share a rich history with Mexico and Mexican culture. One article even claims ruins from the Pyramids of Cholula contain artifacts predating 1530 that include depictions of the Chihuahua.
Recent history, however, is a different story all together. When it comes to popular culture, the Chihuahua has had it a bit rough. (I did my very best to avoid the wordplay on that one.)
One of the most familiar instances, as mentioned earlier, dates back to the Taco Bell advertising campaign that ran from approximately 1997 to 2000. The campaign consisted of a Spanish-speaking Chihuahua constantly on the prowl for Taco Bell’s “Mexican-aspiring” menu items.
The promotion was successful in building awareness of the brand, resulted in the production and sale of various merchandise items and even garnered a spot in pop culture history. Where it failed miserably, though, was with Latino groups who argued it was “ethnically degrading” and demanded Taco Bell halt all advertising efforts that included the Chihuahua.
In 2000, Taco Bell stopped the campaign but as a result of slacking sales rather than the backlash it received from the Latino community.
Fast forward more than a decade later to April 2013 when Mattel received a bit of criticism for its Mexico Barbie from their Dolls of the World series. The Mexican version of the iconic figurine was dressed in a pink, Jalisco-style dress with ribbons and lace, carried a passport and came with a… Chihuahua.
This time, however, the passport played more of a controversy considering the ongoing immigration debate. What’s interesting, though, is that people called out the pup as a stereotype even though China Barbie came with a panda and India Barbie tugged along a pet monkey.
When it comes to the big screen, one online source points to several tiny offenders. The animated Oliver and Company includes a Chihuahua as well as the Marmaduke movie and both Beverly Hills Chihuahua films. The problem? They all “speak” with stereotypical Spanish accents and some even have culturally offensive personalities as well. The list also includes the Taco Bell pup and Ren from Ren and Stimpy as other stereotypical Chihuahuas. Personally, I never knew Ren had Mexican roots.
So how does the new mascot for El Paso’s Triple-A baseball team rank among these ethnic offenders? In my opinion, rather low. One common characteristic among the other pups is a stereotypical voice. As far as we’ve seen, the baseball team’s new mascot doesn’t speak a word so it’s safe… for now.
Even without a voice, the El Paso reppin’ pup still doesn’t show any signs of cultural clichés. For example, had the dog been dressed in a poncho with a sombrero and bandolier belts crisscrossed on his torso, this would be an entirely different article.
Also, it’s a fact that the Chihuahua is native to the region. It’s also true that El Paso is part of the vast Chihuahuan Desert. While the Sun Dogs and Desert Gators (two other contenders vying for the same position) may have sounded better, what the heck is a Sun Dog and how long would it be before we got tired of explaining El Paso’s gator ties? A Buckaroo was another option and one of my favorites as a zany option, but so much for that choice.
Obviously, the Chihuahua isn’t the “toughest” mascot but as a Facebook friend pointed out, what’s so tough about teams with bird and sock related names? On the same Facebook post, another friend went into explicit detail about the stereotype issue and it made a lot of sense… coming from us as El Pasoans. As a people who eat, breathe and live El Paso on a daily basis, we’re more than hypersensitive to the nuances that make up our culture. Maybe to a fault, even.
Yes, we eat tacos… and burritos… and enchiladas… and menudo… then wash ‘em down with an agua fresca from a big Styrofoam cup. When we’re out at night, feeling a little lively and someone happens to throw Los Tigres del Norte’s La Puerta Negra on the jukebox, it’s amazing to see how many other people know the lyrics and tipsily sing along at the top of their lungs. But you know what? We also like to check out the new fusion restaurant downtown or grab an organic and free-range meal before heading out to a Twin Shadows concert. When we get to the venue, we’ll enjoy their latest liquid concoction and not necessarily tequila shots with a Tecate chaser.
While finishing this piece, I stumbled across a Huffington Post article regarding the touchy subject of religion. In it, the writer made one excellent point:
“…we all have the right to decide how to identify ourselves in terms of religion or lack thereof. It is not for others to affix their identity upon us, or strip ours from us.”
Switch out “religion” with “culture” and the sentiment totally applies to our situation.
Many have stubbornly vowed to never attend a game because of the name. While I wasn’t too fond of the moniker at first, it’s grown on me as of late. Whether it’s the artwork that was developed for the team or my own tendency to try to remain positive during highly negative situations, I’ll be buying my Chihuahua gear in the near future and supporting the team… thankful they didn’t end up being the El Paso Aardvarks. Yeah, don’t ask.
So what’s the lesson here? Branding can be tricky. Branding for a multicultural market can be downright mindboggling. Luckily, we have the experience required. If your company is looking to brand or rebrand its image or in need of a marketing campaign targeting Hispanics of Mexican descent, CultureSpan Marketing can help. Send us an email to email@example.com or give us a call at (915) 581-7900 today!