Confronted with Latin America in Caricature, some authorities priding themselves on scientific methodology and quantification expertise might wonder why a scholar of John J. Johnson’s stature has spent his recent years playing with cartoons. Make no mistake about it, though: Johnson’s playing habits, into which, to judge from his acknowledgments, he led some of his graduate students, have resulted in one of the most important books in recent years on hemisphere relations. Information foolishly allowed to recede into forgetfulness will emerge with new and unforgettable vividness as experts in the field examine this book, while undergraduate neophytes, sometimes more adept at looking at pictures than at reading, will acquire from it a haunting awareness of some of the basic determinants of United States dealings with Latin America. A bold work that could scarcely have been conceived until recently, Latin America in Caricature is a product of the climate of raised consciousness that has made many privileged white males aware of the hollowness of the stereotypes they have concocted to rationalize domination over Blacks, women, and other purportedly less-than-rational beings—stereotypes that they then projected southward so as to justify their assumed rights of hegemony in the hemisphere.
After first exploring traditional scholarly sources in the attempt to track down the racial, ethnic, and institutional images that shaped the attitudes of informed North Americans toward Latin Americans, Johnson came to see that the work of editorial cartoonists appearing in leading publications was saying it all. Their drawings capsulized nearly all the images of Latin America that kept reappearing in the traditional sources. Johnson’s book boasts reproductions of 131 cartoons, among which each reader is bound to find many that delight and disturb, while always illuminating.
Reflecting prejudices and ignorance only now beginning to be challenged, Johnson’s cartoonists, spanning the period from mid-nineteenth century to the present, lumped Latin America together as one great monolith. Beyond this, they caricatured Latin American republics as females, children, stereotypical Blacks, and unkempt, unsavory non- Blacks. In these guises, Latin Americans appeared as helpless and dependent, lazy, improvident, and incapable of contributing responsibly to their own welfare and development, and, therefore, in need of direction, uplifting, and protection by stable and responsible types. Only when shown in female guise have the Latin Americans been symbolized empathetically. As females, they are depicted as happily accepting the fact that their frail natures cast them inevitably in roles of dependence. When shown as children, a certain ambivalence creeps in. As good children, Latin Americans are drawn as well-scrubbed little creatures, anxiously trying to act responsibly so as to please their adult mentors. As bad children, they are dark-skinned urchins, intent on disregarding the restraints and discipline necessary for rational private conduct and for social progress.
Anyone so benighted as to dabble in the occult realms of psychohistory, as I have recently been doing, might note that Anglo Americans in the cartoons (generally Uncle Sam, but often living military and political leaders) are shown as the embodiment of autonomous ego consciousness, as the triumph of ego and superego over id (in Freudian terms), of persona over unconscious (in Jungian terms). Furthermore, he or she might conclude that when, after 1928, editorial cartoons ceased for about a generation to depict Latin Americans as heedless id people, the change occurred not only, as Johnson implies, because of desire to avoid violating the norms of the Good Neighbor policy as shaped by national and international expediency. Rather, the change reflected the fact that many North Americans were temporarily adopting a new attitude toward their own psyches as they resolved to cast off undue restraints and controls, to liberate the unconscious, to absorb primitive energies, to become childlike, and to seek what Robert May (Sex and Fantasy) calls “the new Androgyny” by reconciling inward masculine-feminine opposites in harmony.
In his final section, Johnson deals with the simplistic manner in which cartoonists since 1960 have treated social issues, especially vast disparities of wealth, and the purported evils of military rule. Here, as elsewhere, his descriptive entries deliver more than one might expect. In addition to telling a bit about each cartoon, they provide a succinct analysis of the historical background out of which the drawing emerged. Taken as a whole, this background-descriptive material adds up to a remarkably broad analysis of many of the major events in United States–Latin American relations during the past century and a half.
From this time on, any course on hemisphere relations that fails to require Johnson’s book will be vastly the poorer for the omission. The University of Texas Press must make this work available in paperback— the sooner the better.