|MEXICO CITY, Mexico
(AP) -- The Mexican government has issued a postage
stamp depicting an exaggerated black cartoon character
known as Memin Pinguin, just weeks after remarks by
President Vicente Fox angered U.S. blacks.
The series of five stamps released for general
use Wednesday depicts a child character from a comic
book started in the 1940s that is still published
Mexico's tiny black community demanded Monday
that President Vicente Fox apologize for a set of
stamps featuring a black comic book figure that
U.S. civil rights groups have slammed as racist.
The Asociacion Mexico Negro, which represents
some 50,000 blacks living on the Pacific coast,
said in a letter to Fox that Memin Pinguin, a 1940s
comic book character drawn with thick lips and a
flat nose, was stereotypical and racist.
"Memin Pinguin rewards, celebrates, typifies
and cements the distorted, mocking, stereotypical
and limited vision of black people in general,"
said the letter signed by leaders of the association.
The letter marks the first official complaint
from a Mexican group over the stamps, which went
on sale last week and provoked a storm of controversy
in the United States. U.S. civil rights groups said
they should be withdrawn.
Fox has said the stamps are not racist and ignored
calls to pull them from circulation. His Foreign
Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said the affair was
exaggerated by "specific groups in the United
States who make a living from this kind of scandal."
"They look more ridiculous than we do,"
he said in a radio interview.
"One would hope the Mexican government
would be a little more careful and avoid continually
opening wounds," said Sergio Penalosa, an activist
in Mexico's small black community on the southern
"But we've learned to expect anything from
this government, just anything," Penalosa said.
In May, Fox riled many by saying that Mexican migrants
take jobs in the United States that "not even
Carlos Caballero, assistant marketing director
for the Mexican Postal Service, said the stamps
are not offensive, nor were they intended to be.
"This is a traditional character that reflects
part of Mexico's culture," Caballero said.
"His mischievous nature is part of that character."
However, Penalosa said many Mexicans still assume
all blacks are foreigners, despite the fact that
at one point early in the Spanish colonial era,
Africans outnumbered Spanish in Mexico.
"At this point in time, it was probably
pretty insensitive" to issue the stamp, said
Elisa Velazquez, an anthropologist who studies Mexico's
black communities for the National Institute of
Anthropology and History.
"This character is a classic, but it's
from another era," Velazquez said. "It's
a stereotype and you don't want to encourage ignorance
The 6.50-peso (60 cent) stamps -- depicting
the character in five poses -- was issued with the
domestic market in mind, but Caballero noted it
could be used in international postage as well.
Rejecting the U.S. criticism and insisting they
are not racist, Mexicans have been lining up to
buy the stamps. One state has rationed sales because
of high demand, and the stamps have been bid as
high as $200 per sheet in Internet auctions.
Mexicans are often accused of discrimination
against Indians, who often live hand to mouth in
Their lack of sensitivity to racism against
blacks may be worse because Mexicans so rarely see
A total of 750,000 of the stamps will be issued.
Ben Vinson, a black professor of Latin American
history at Penn State University, said he has been
called "Memin Pinguin" by some people
in Mexico. He also noted that the character's mother
is drawn to look like an old version of the U.S.
advertising character Aunt Jemima.
The stamps are part of a series that pays tribute
to Mexican comic books. Memin Pinguin, the second
in the series, was apparently chosen for this year's
release because it is the 50th anniversary of the
company that publishes the comic.
Publisher Manelick De la Parra told the government
news agency Notimex that the character would be
sort of a goodwill ambassador on Mexican letters
and postcards. "It seems nice if Memin can
travel all over the world, spreading good news,"
de la Parra said, calling him "so charming,
so affectionate, so wonderful, generous and friendly."