Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Conections between Chinese and Mexicans in Hollywood Cinema

Curtis Marez has written a very interesting article entitled "Pancho Villa Meets Sun Yat-Sen: Third World Revolution and the History of Hollywood." The article is published in American Literary History 17.3 (2005): 486-505. For many libraries, it may be available through Project Muse. The article presents a discussion of the connections between the Chinese and Mexican communities in the United States in various cultural forms with a focus on film. The article looks at the careers of Californio actor Leo Carillo and Chinese American filmmaker James Wong Howe. The article is divided into four parts.

In the first part, the author begins by stating that "both Mexican and Chinese cinemas have revolutionary origins, and this fact has enduring consequences for Hollywood's world dominance" (487). He then goes on to establish various common elements between the two groups, paying attention to their anarchist elements. He demonstrates how these groups had similar views even though they were very different. In both cases, the groups revolutionary history can be seen in their film history. The author also discusses the role of speculative fictions in anarchism as a tool to educate the revolutionaries. Though both film industries from these groups were small, the author goes to show that they posed a threat to the Hollywood establishment.

In the second part, the author discusses the career of Leo Carillo. Leo Carillo is best remembered as the sidekick Pancho in the Cisco Kid television program during the 1950s. "A descendant of one of the most prominent families of Spanish and Mexican California, Carillo was largely raised by several Chinese servants, including Leung Chung, a Chinese immigrant whom he would eventually rehire when he became a star" (495). Carillo went on to become fluent in Cantonese, and he spent a lot of time among Chinese immigrants. He even impersonanted Chinese characters. However, in his film career, he was typecast as the Mexican bandit. He had to struggle, much like Chinese immigrants, with issues of racism rampant in his time. In this section, Marez also makes a small note on vaudeville and how often Asian and Latin American performers would alternate in shows in the U.S. This is an area that the author says needs further research.

In the third part, the author looks at the career of James Wong Howe. , who emigrated from China to the U.S. shortly after the Boxer Rebellion. He also faced the racism rampant at the time in the U.S. While working for Hollywood, he would often get the worst equipment, and white workers resented taking orders from him. The author goes on to discuss his film career and his involvement in Chinese nationalism.

In the fourth part, the author concludes with a call to globalize U.S. cultural studies. The author is interested in further exploring the transpacific triangle between the U.S., Mexico, and Asia. Marez also provides various suggestions for further research in this area. For example, marez writes, "as I suggested earlier, Chinese and Mexicans partly share histories of immigration, and our understanding of Asian exclusion laws in the U.S. might be enriched by comparing them to similar laws in Mexico. Hu-DeHart has done pioneering work on this project, but much remains to be done on the history of Chinese trade with, and immigration to, Mexico" (503).

This article is recommended for students and others interested in film history as it presents a little known time of film history in the United States. It also provides various suggestions for further investigation that others could follow.

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