Greasers and Gringos: Latinos, Law, and the American Imagination (Critical America (New York University Paperback))

By in Emigration & Immigration on August 18, 2013

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Although the origin of the term “greaser” is debated, its derogatory meaning never has been. From silent movies like The Greaser’s Revenge (1914) and The Girl and the Greaser (1913) with villainous title characters, to John Steinbeck’s portrayals of Latinos as lazy, drunken, and shiftless in his 1935 novel Tortilla Flat, to the image of violent, criminal, drug-using gang members of East LA, negative stereotypes of Latinos/as have been plentiful in American popular culture far before Latinos/as became the most populous minority group in the U.S.

In Greasers and Gringos, Steven W. Bender examines and surveys these stereotypes and their evolution, paying close attention to the role of mass media in their perpetuation. Focusing on the intersection between stereotypes and the law, Bender reveals how these negative images have contributed significantly to the often unfair treatment of Latino/as under American law by the American legal system. He looks at the way demeaning constructions of Latinos/as influence their legal treatment by police, prosecutors, juries, teachers, voters, and vigilantes. He also shows how, by internalizing negative social images, Latinos/as and other subordinated groups view themselves and each other as inferior.

Although fighting against cultural stereotypes can be a daunting task, Bender reminds us that, while hard to break, they do not have to be permanent. Greasers and Gringos begins the charge of debunking existing stereotypes and implores all Americans to re-imagine Latinos/as as legal and social equals.

2 thoughts on “Greasers and Gringos: Latinos, Law, and the American Imagination (Critical America (New York University Paperback))

  1. Joseph Novick
    4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Thought provoking and well researched, October 26, 2003
    Joseph Novick (Flemington, New Jersey United States) –

    A breath-taking study of the effect of stereotypeson the Anglo mindset of Latino/as.Thank you very much. I am
    focusing a law review article on the effect of humor, parody and satire as told by Latino comedians on the proliferation of negative Latino stereotypes.

    Your work was extremely helpful in putting the entire project and process into perspective. An outstanding academic study of a very serious subject. Both thought provoking and well researched

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  2. Pedro A. Malavet
    3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A timely, enlightening, important book, October 26, 2003
    Pedro A. Malavet (Gainesville, Florida) –

    I have already read this book and I highly recommend it. This is an incredibly important book in this era when Latinas/os in general and Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants in particular are portrayed as an invading underclass that threatens the mythological “homogeneous” American society.

    Bender debunks this mythology by pointing out that Latinas/os have been in what is today the United States from the earliest moments of the republic, and by presenting a well-researched and through portrayal of the misrepresentation of Latinas/os in American mass-media popular culture. He also identifies the long multicultural history of the United States, and how Latinas/os belong in and positively contribute to this varied cultural mosaic. His careful, thorough and occasionally painful analysis of the stereotypes about Latinas/os that are prevalent in American popular culture are important reminders that the struggle for equality is an ongoing process.

    As Berta Esperanza Hernandez-Truyol, a colleague of mine at the University of Florida, wrote in a review of this book: “(Bender) proposes a multi-dimensional attack on the propagation of stereotypes by using law and litigation, voluntary industry standards and hiring practices, counter speech, and community-based protest as its tools…He beautifully and lovingly juxtaposes the ever-important familia as a countervailing force to the negative stereotyping propounded by the media …” Bender uses the counter-narrative of his strong Mexican-American family upbringing to illustrate the importance of engaging negative stereotypes with positive personal and community examples.

    Although he is a fellow law professor, Bender has avoided unnecessary jargon to write an eminently accessible book that will make powerful and enlightening reading for any well-educated person.

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