Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Absolut Vodka's Ad Map Points to Past

This has all been an interesting debate, the representation by Absolut Vodka with an 1830s map of North America. Read on.... -Dra. Valenzuela

The Houston Chronicle
April 20, 2008


URL: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/5713895.html


Absolut Vodka's Ad Map Points to Past

By RAUL RAMOS

Earlier this month, the makers of Absolut Vodka issued a public apology for running an ad with an early 1830s map of North America with the words "In an Absolut world" emblazoned across the front. The retraction came as a result of a threatened boycott initiated by conservative talk radio and Web sites. Who was Absolut apologizing to and why?

The ad itself ran in Mexican magazines and was aimed at an international audience. I would never have even come across it had it not been brought to my attention by this controversy. The complaints seem to range from concern the ad legitimizes undocumented immigration to fear Absolut is advocating an invasion of the American Southwest by Mexico.

These objections tell us more about the viewer than the map. Conspiracy theorists circulate the idea that Mexico is slowly reconquering the land through immigration. I was once asked what I knew about la
Reconquista, as it is termed. I told them I never got the memo from central command.

As a history professor, I find these public discussions revealing of popular thinking about Mexico and Mexican origin people. For me, it was good timing, too. The map appeared on the same week I lectured on the American invasion of Mexico in 1846.

Over the years I have observed ignorance or reluctance to discuss the war and the resulting appropriation of almost half of Mexico's territory. Most of my students didn't know that American troops occupied Mexico City. All one needs to do is hum the first line of the Marines' Hymn to remember.

More importantly, Mexicans have not forgotten. Mexico's foreign policy is still defined against American intervention.

Recent politics also remind Mexican-origin people of a time when traversing this territory didn't mean harassment or having to prove you belong. Instead, the border has become normalized in American culture.

It's as though it has always been there since time immemorial. Or, at least that is the way it was always intended to be.

The apology by Absolut has turned history around. Bringing up the old map and recalling this history is now an affront to some Americans.

Much of the rhetoric around immigration positions residents as "victims" and American culture as under attack. It is no wonder that an eighth-grade student in Athens, Texas, recently invented the story of
having been attacked by three Latino kids when she brought an anti-immigration sign to school. Even if it didn't happen, that's how kids are taught to feel about Latinos.

Yet the Absolut ad does have some kernel of truth to it. One student in my class said that the ad was probably meant to reveal the thoughts of a vodka drinker after a few rounds.

There is a public memory within the Mexican-origin community about the period before 1848. That memory is of a fundamental connection to this land despite being made to feel like outsiders or visitors.

The flash of controversy around the map made me think about the perspective raised by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in his recent speech on race. While disavowing his preacher's message, he asked Americans to acknowledge that alternative racial perspectives do exist within our various communities.

Mexican resentment about 1848 comes from the discrimination experienced in the years afterward. The conflict escalated from its start as a border dispute over Texas annexation.

The fact of the matter is the invasion of Mexico had its American detractors in 1846 and many then were deeply ambivalent about the way this territory was acquired. Rep. Abraham Lincoln voted against the war
and Henry David Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience because of it.

But we as a nation still can't go there, yet.

As a historian, I always note that the border was not always as it is now. The map (used in the Absolut ad) reminds us of that past. It also means that the border will continue to change. Presently, the border is
hardening as the Department of Homeland Security bulldozes private property, nature preserves and federal regulations to quickly build a fence.

The pendulum may eventually swing in the other direction. With the euro at an all time high against the dollar, the European Union serves as an alternative model of borders that might one day apply to NAFTA members.

In that case, the "Absolut world" map might not have any borders at all.
--
Ramos is assistant professor of history at the University of Houston and author of Beyond the Alamo: Forging Mexican Ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821-1861.

--
Brought to you by the HoustonChronicle.com

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