Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Thoughts on a set of bookends
At the Halls of Holly Fair at church, we had long tables to put the books on, and no bookends. Well, we had one pair. One of the people working on the Attic Treasures area brought these down because they were broken and therefore unsalable. One of the sombreros was held on with tape, and there were a couple of chips as well. After the sale I got to take them home, and a little epoxy glue has reaffixed the sombrero. They will help a little on my basement bookshelves -- I only need about 29 more pairs now.
I wondered if it was just the brokenness that caused these to be deaccessioned by their previous owner. The image of the lazy Mexican man sleeping under his sombrero was quite a common one in the 1950s, perhaps even more than the little black jockey some people had in their front yards. I'm sure you can find these images even now in vintage shops, arrayed on tablecloths and dishtowels as well as sculpted into bookends. And, of course, there was this song, made famous by a blonde girl from North Dakota:
I can't imagine someone recording a song like this today and having it become a nationwide hit (then again, with the fragmentation of musical tastes and genres, has there been a nationwide hit since The Macarena?)
Even a lot of the comments on YouTube referenced the racist attitudes in the song, liking it in spite of themselves and also because Peggy Lee sang it. I'm not sure if non-Hispanic people in the 50s really bought this stereotype. Many were exposed to Mexican migrant workers, certainly some of the hardest-working people you could find. Not only in the borderlands, but even in St. Paul, Minnesota, there were Mexican-American communities as industrious as the Scandinavians and Irish who were their neighbors. And yet -- are old images and attitudes like those evoked by the bookends and the song, part of the reason there is so much resentment against illegal aliens (who are thought of as primarily Hispanic) in some communities? I read about two complaints: one is that illegals take jobs away from Americans, but the other is that they will use services that Americans pay taxes for (i.e., they are lazy). It's a puzzlement (to quote another 50s song). A lot of thoughts for one pair of bookends.