Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Anti-Mexican Mexican Mexican-Restaurant Owner

The character of Mercedes is an interesting study in race relations in John Sayle’s Lone Star. The Mexican Mexican Restaurant owner (redundancy intended) has so thoroughly embraced white culture as “ideal” that she has utterly rejected her Mexican heritage. This in itself is ironic, for her very livelihood is based upon serving up her heritage hot and spicy to her customers. Her disapproval of the Spanish language is emphasized in her sharp reprimands to her cooks and dishwashers, and yet, she still serves the food. This can be seen in several ways.
The situation is truly strange—Mercedes seems to loathe all things Mexican and her words, “In English, please! We are in the U.S.” seem to imply that to her understanding, Mexican culture is not acceptable in the United States. Why then, if her feelings are so strong, would she run a restaurant that serves Mexican food? One simple explanation is that it is an inherited job—a restaurant passed on the through the family. This is possible, but her feelings appear to be so strong that one might question why she continues to work there. Two other explanations may be more likely.
One is that perhaps she sees it as a necessary evil, so to speak—that there is no other place for Mexicans in the United States other than working in such establishments. In this explanation, the Mexican restaurant serves as a haven for Mexican culture, and as much as she may dislike it, it is the only place for her.
The other explanation is, perhaps, far more intriguing. It is possible that for her the Mexican restaurant is the expression of Mexican integration into United States society, a metaphor for the Mexican-American. The Mexican exterior is inescapable, always recognizable as Mexican. Likewise, the content is unavoidably Mexican. The style, however, Mercedes seeks to change—the language used is forcibly English.
Then again, perhaps it is simply Sayle’s analysis of and actual racial situation. The anti-Mexican Mexican Mexican Restaurant owner is simultaneously a caricature and a study in contradiction. Perhaps there is no message in particular, but rather, Sayle wishes to bring up the situation and have the viewer judge for him or herself what should be made of it.

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