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The Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies

Stereotyping in the films of La India Mara*

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Seraina Rohrer University of Zurich Switzerland Abstract: Since the 1970s La India Mara has become Mexicos most popular indigenous female media character. Mara Elena Velasco played La India Mara as the starring role in 15 comedies, had her appearances on different TVShows, and in the theater. Until today, her films continue to be popular with Mexican audiences and immigrants living in the United States. On the other hand, her films have tended to be dismissed by film critics as reactionary and ethnically discriminating. This contribution sketches out different aspects of the indigenous woman as a filmic stereotype focusing on character traits, performance, dialogues, and embodiment. The films will be examined and four story formulas will be proposed. Other determinations besides the filmic text will be taken into consideration in order to raise the question of how different spectators might read the established stereotype. I insist on the mode of ironic or counter reading, which results in a shift of meaning. La India Mara as a stereotype no longer just affirms the predominant mode of representation of the indigenous woman, but offers self-reflexive counterimages to certain spectators. Mara Elena Velasco originally invented the character of La India Mara, an indigenous woman of the Mazahua people for the theater. She portrayed one of the many Mazahuas who came to Mexico City in the 1960s in order to make a living by selling fruit, candy, trinkets, and requesting alms on the streets of the capital. 1 Mara Elena Velasco has declared on different occasions that the primary goal of her character was to entertain. She wanted to point out social injustices in Mexican society only on a subtle level (Rohrer 2008). 2 In 1972, La India Mara had her first appearance on a TV show called Siempre en domingo. She won the hearts of the TV audience with her comic performance and her naive admiration for the host of the show, Ral Velasco. 3 During the same year, she also appeared in a TV program called Revista musical Nescafe as one of the main features of the show. Between 1972 and 1999, Mara Elena Velasco played La India Mara as the starring role in 15 feature films. After restricting her contribution to acting in the early films, she later wished to be fully in control of her character and therefore started directing, and subsequently producing, her own comedies (Rohrer 2008). All the films were highly successful at the box office. Ni de aqu, ni de all, a comedy about La India Mara crossing the border to the United States, was Mexicos most successful film in 1988, outranking box office hits such as Rambo 3 (Tsao 1990, ________________
*Special Thanks I would like to thank Mara Arbelaez, Catherine Benamou, Maricruz Castro Ricalde, Jol Fisler, Leonardo Garca Tsao, Ingrid Kummels and Margrit Trhler for their input and feedback. Furthermore, I would like to express my special thanks to Mara Elena Velasco, Ivn Lipkies and Diana Films, S.A. for giving me access to materials and for their openness in informing about their work.

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Ricalde 2004, 197). Alongside her film career, La India Mara appeared in several commercials (mainly for Maggi and Nescafe). She recorded three albums of Mexican folk songs. 4 La India Maria also taped an audio recording to inform Mexican emigrants to the United States of their legal rights. For several years, she toured with her theater sketches around Mexico and the United States, where she performed mainly in theaters for Latino audiences (Rohrer 2008). Until today, La India Mara and her films continue to be highly popular with working-class Mexican audiences and immigrants living in the United States as statistics of movie rentals and audience ratings prove (Arbelaez 2001, 642). On the other hand, the films of La India Mara have tended to be dismissed by film critics as reactionary and ethnically discriminating (Ricalde 2004, 196). This paper examines different aspects of La India Mara as a stereotype. The diversity of her appearances in mass media (TV, cinema, and commercials) as well as other cultural contributions (theater, music, education) will be considered. However, the main focus is on her films. Theoretical Framework Before sketching out aspects of stereotypical representation for the character La India Mara, a brief overview will position this essay in its theoretical framework. Stereotypes and stereotyping have given rise to discussions in various academic fields for decades. In social sciences (psychological and sociological perspectives), in literary studies, cultural studies, and film studies, different approaches and interests contribute to the discourse, and there is a diversity of concepts around stereotypes. For this article, notions of the representation of Otherness (cultural studies) and characteristics of stereotypes in film will provide the theoretical framework. This analysis is rooted in the assumption that real and mediated experiences are always structured into schemata, which are not one-dimensional or isolated constructs, but are organized by the human memory into so-called emerging networks (Varela 1993, 94). Like schemata, stereotypes are connected to characters, activities, or situations. They can be defined as standardized reductions of traits. Media stereotypes underline a certain set of traits, some of which might correspond with lived experiences. Or, as Joshua Fishman puts it: there might be a kernel of truth (cited after Berg 2002, 16). Filmic representations again are a selection of traits that best suit the medium and stress certain facets. These traits are then repeated, accentuated, and modified. In the process of stereotyping the different components (media, film and social stereotypes) influence each other and can be described as a network structure on different levels. Filmic stereotypes, defined by Neale as stable and repetitive structure of character traits (1993, 41), are not only repeated intertextually, but do to some extent influence social groups and vice versa. Taking a closer look, one finds a network substructure composed of stereotypes of characters, the mise-en-scne, audiovisual representation, genre, or conventional story structures. When describing the process of stereotyping for the media character La India Mara, I will account for the network structure and describe particularities on the different levels. When making assumptions about readings of stereotypes, I refer to Roger Odin's theoretical framework of semio-pragmatics in film (1995). The filmic text contains so-called "determinations". The spectator foregrounds certain determinations and always proposes a meaning when reading film. Accordingly, the filmic text is only one of the factors that influence the reading. The paratext (promotional materials, press, title), the viewing situation (family context, classroom vs. cinema), and other involved institutions (such as companies, the social position of the director), etc. determine in part the construction of meaning (ibid. 214ff.). La India Mara as a type? The Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies, Volume 3, Number 3. Spring 2009, pp. 64-68

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At first glance, La India Mara perfectly fits the description of a stereotype. She is a simplified, stable, clearly structured representation of the women of a certain ethnic group, an image of the Other. Umberto Eco would call her a type or typus character. In contrast to complex filmic characters with multilayered personalities and individual development, types are schematically reduced simple characters. In Ecos words: When a type appears in the scene, he is already done: fully defined and labeled (Eco 1986, 169). Furthermore, he points out that the presence of a "type" is often the pretext for staging different events or adventures. To underline the conventionality, stability, and validity beyond the text, Eco introduces the term topos. Topoi are created through intertextual repetitions and are established over a longer period (Eco 1986, 177 179). 5 La India Mara can to some extent be described as such a topos. In almost all of her films she wears the conventional dress that clearly marks her as an indigenous woman: a long skirt over an underskirt with lace borders a thick knitted belt, a satin blouse of bright colors and proto-typical jewelry. Her hair is usually neatly braided with bright color ribbons and she wears huaraches, the traditional sandals or will go barefoot. Sometimes she covers her hair with a rebozo, a rectangular shawl, sometimes with a cowboy hat. Her facial features and her small stature underline her indigenous descent. 6 Examining the history of representations of indigenous women in classic Mexican cinema, one may observe that La India Mara is dressed very similarly to Dolores del Rio as Mara Candelaria in the film of the same name, shot in 1944 by Emilio Fernndez. However, there is a significant difference: the facial features and the body of Dolores del Rio are clearly marked as being of European heritage. Actresses of Spanish descent masquerading as indigenous women in classical Mexican cinema was and is a common mediated representation of indigenous women: A masquerade which has impeded a large section of the indigenous and mestiza population from directly identifying with the character (Huaco-Nuzum 1992, 129). In her physical appearance, La India Mara breaks with this image and presents a body that appears to be less of a masquerade. Velasco appropriated this identity to create La India Maria. This might have facilitated identification with her for an indigenous and mestizo public (ibid.). Her character traits can be described as nave, clumsy, honest, and good-hearted. In all of the films, she does not know how to read or write and she speaks in broken Spanish. While she is at home in the Mexican countryside, in cities or in the U.S. she is usually overwhelmed by modern life and seems lost. Though her antagonists always take advantage of her, trick her and kick her around, lead her into humiliating situations, the character never becomes suspicious of others or recognizes their malevolence. She remains the same and thereby triggers comic moments. Limiting observations to superficial traits, one might come to the conclusion that La India Mara confirms ethnic stereotypes in terms of dress, behavior, rituals, and class belonging: new insights into indigenous cultures are rendered impossible by the oversimplified traits. It is therefore understandable that the representation of La India Mara as a foolish, nave, illiterate, indigenous woman generated critical voices among intellectuals and journalists. By analyzing other characters from the India Mara films one notes that La India Mara is not the only one who functions as a type: rather, all the characters are reduced to oversimplified topoi such as the dumb policeman, the corrupt bureaucrat, the sleazy priest, the rich upper class lady, etc. In addition, comedies per se often function through reduction of character traits and standardized plots. Vladimir Propp proposed for fairytales a set of seven basic character types called dramatis personae that tend to be repeated in different combinations (1928). Similarly, in film the absence or fundamental changes of character types risk destroying the appeal of a genre and reducing the ritualized pleasure. Mara Elena Velasco stated in an interview The Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies, Volume 3, Number 3. Spring 2009, pp. 64-68

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that to her surprise, she was very much liked by groups she made fun of, in particular policeman and priests (Rohrer 2008). When taking a closer look at the filmic text, one finds several determinations offering multifaceted readings of the stereotyped character. In the following, I would like to point out aspects of embodiment and dialogue. In all of her films La India Mara crawls, hops, bounces, jumps, or dances through the story. She knows karate (Okey, Mister Pancho), enters the ring to wrestle (El que no corre vuela), or climbs high trees and walls (Sor Tequila). She performs acrobatic feats and wins a motorcycle race (La comadrita). In many scenes, the burlesque acting and the excess of physical performance entirely reduce the character to her bodily presence. This produces a special effect: it is no longer a stereotypical representation of the indigenous women, nor is it a gendered one. The body of La India Mara through its representation becomes a vehicle to overcome the limitations of her oversimplified character. It questions established gendered activities and existing social hierarchies. The same is the case for some of the dialogues. On several occasions, while confronting other types such as the corrupt bureaucrat, La India Mara erupts into floods of words about social injustice, ethnic or class discrimination, the absurdity of the law, or bureaucracy. The surprising outbreaks of the topos might provoke a different reading of her character. In these scenes La India Mara becomes the center of attraction, and amuses not by naivety but by her bravery in pointing out inequalities in her own particular slang. Her speech is broken, grammatically incorrect, and there are several nuances created by the use of double entendre in Mexico called albur. In order to judge her performance as a whole, I refer to Dyer's definition: Performance is what the performer does in addition to the actions/functions she or he performs in the plot and the lines she or he is given to say. Performance is how the action/function is done, how the lines are said (Dyer cited in Pearson 1992, 5). As signs of performance he refers to facial expressions, voice, gestures, posture (how someone is standing or sitting), and body movement (all activities). When La India Mara performs, her gestures, postures and movement are clearly marked as a burlesque performance, which has become stereotyped through repetition and reduction of complexity. 7 However, her performance takes the definition of her type to its limits or even beyond, into the absurd. As a result, she repeatedly produces gags. La India Mara is similar to Charlie Chaplin's Tramp: a character that is per se burlesque, due to her nervousness and hyperactivity. They both are minority or marginal characters within society, suffering from social and economic discrimination. Through her burlesque performance and the constant fight against physical laws, she protests against being dominated and therefore becomes a symbol of resistance. Her burlesque performance might as a consequence provoke a reading of resistance. On the other hand, her performance might be a determination to foreground a reading as a stereotype: her overacting emphasizes the clumsiness of her character and her dialogue lacks any linguistic sophistication. Story formulas Stereotyping in film goes far beyond the definition of the character and strongly depends on the story. When telling popular stories for the masses in literature, comics, TV, or genre films, certain narrative patterns are repeated constantly. As early as 1928, Propp describes the satisfaction of repetition in relation to myths and fairy tales. Many years later, Hickethier ascribes a similar effect to television series. He points out that standardized plots create comfort in the spectator by permitting only certain predefined actions that can clearly be foreseen. Many The Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies, Volume 3, Number 3. Spring 2009, pp. 64-68

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everyday conflicts and problems are thereby excluded from the very beginning (1991, 44). John Cawelti takes the concept of story patterns even further and talks about the trend toward formula. He argues that formulas like the detective story, the western, the seduction novel and other genres are clear structures of narrative conventions which carry out a variety of functions in a unified way (1969, 390). In almost all of La India Maras films obvious intertextual repetitions of plots can be observed. Therefore, I suggest four different formulas: migration, the maid, Mara as a nun/virgen, and Mara in politics. The first formula, migration, is the one most frequently used. It summarizes films that predominantly treat topics such as leaving the countryside and moving to the capital, as well as films focusing on migration to the United States. The formula has the particularity of demonstrating and in part verbalizing the experience of Otherness or alienation. Whenever La India Mara migrates from the countryside, where she clearly feels at home, familiar with cultural customs and daily routine, to the city or the United States, she is confronted with a new alien environment. Not only does she encounter characters who try to get in her way, but the city and the U.S. even become antagonists, rather than merely settings. Comic moments are created by pointing out the cultural clash. Upon arriving in the United States in Okey, Mister Pancho (1981) or Ni de aqu ni de all (1988) La India Mara maneuvers herself into tricky situations because she does not know the language or understand everyday habits. Simple daily needs like eating, finding a bed to sleep, or going to the toilet become obstacles. In the two cases mentioned here, I would like to focus on the issue of Otherness. La India Mara arrives as a Mexican indigenous woman to the United States. Her Otherness manifests itself on two levels: She is a Mexican woman and from an indigenous minority, which creates a double effect of alienation. Films that stage the adventures of La India Mara going to the capital work in a similar way: Mexico Citys daily routines, its characters, the traffic, etc. stand out as a contrast to the cultural underdevelopment of the rural India Mara. Films such as Tonta, tonta pero no tanto (1972), La comadrita (1972), El coyote emplumado (1983), Ni Chana ni Juana (1984), and El que no corre vuela (1992) implement this formula. As a concluding remark to the formula of migration, I want to point out the narrative agency. In all of the aforementioned comedies, La India Mara is mostly able to exercise a certain degree of control over her actions. She decides to leave the countryside in order to make money in the big city or the United States. Through her agency, she transcends the clearly-assigned social position of a poor indigenous woman. The second formula, the maid, functions primarily through the manifestation of class and ethnic differences. In some cases the films meld with the above formula, such as La comadrita (1972), or films of the formula politics such as in Las delicias del poder (1996). In this formula, La India Mara works as a maid in the house of an upper class Mexican family and carries out a defined job. One family member recognizes her as a big-hearted and faithful person. For that reason, others try to make her life difficult. They falsely accuse her of stealing valuable items or even try to get rid of her. Comic moments are mainly created through La India Maras refusal to acknowledge the other characters' malevolence and the unmasking and verbalizing of class differences. El miedo no anda en burro (1976) places the maid La India Mara in a horror setting; in Se equivoc la ciguea (1993) she is accused of having kidnapped a boy. The TV programs could to some extent also be associated with this formula. In Siempre en domingo (1972) she presents a variety of sketches all rooting in the experience of an indigenous woman in Mexican society. In several of them she works as a maid. In Revista musical Nescafe (1972) the character is the maid of the TV-Studio who always walks into the The Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies, Volume 3, Number 3. Spring 2009, pp. 64-68

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show unexpectedly and in the wrong moment. Instead of cleaning, bringing coffee, answering the phone, etc. she tells anecdotes, dances with guests or does things her own way. 8 The third formula Mara as a nun/virgen includes films such as La madrecita (1974), Sor Tequila (1977), Pobre pero honrada! (1973), or Duro pero seguro (1977). In La madrecita (1974) and Sor Tequila (1977) La India Mara fights against old-fashioned repressive structures in the Church and the convent. Through her unconventionality (pushing limits through physical action) and Otherness (class and ethnicity) she exposes taboos and overtly critiques these institutions. In Pobre pero honrada! and Duro pero seguro the formula is taken one step further by staging her as a holy virgin, who is believed to work wonders or have miraculous powers. Her status as a virgin is taken advantage of and directly linked with physical suffering. For example, in Duro pero seguro she is said to bring luck to those who hit her. In Pobre pero honrada! an illegitimate baby is placed in her bed to complete the image of a virgin by faking immaculate conception. This formula clearly exploits the deep-seated Mexican whore/virgin dichotomy. The last formula, politics, plays with the fascination of social climbing. At the beginning of the films La presidenta municipal (1975) and Las delicias del poder (1996) La Inda Maria works as a maid or a street vendor. By chance, she gets promoted into a political position. With her unconventional governing methods she stands in contrast to dominant hegemonic structure: she champions the rights of the poor, gives more power to women, and fights corruption. To sum up: The story plots of the films of La Inda Mara can be described in four different formulas. They recycle story patterns with the result that the character type India Mara develops only minimally or, in Schweinitz's words, experiences minimal updates (2006, 52). The four formulas share many characteristics. First of all, they are from the same genre, the burlesque comedy. Secondly, they all recall popular Mexican practices such as the Lucha Libre (wrestling with masks). They refer to the Aztec or Mayan past, and they recall Mexican history by making obvious aesthetic references to the stereotype of the revolutionary, the bandit, the virgin, etc. These popular Mexican stereotypes form part of a wider set of formulas in other media such as cartoons, TV series, popular tales, etc. and are reaffirmed in the India Mara films. But of what use can the described formulas be? They are an important structural element when describing the network structures of stereotypes. The character topos, the genre, and the formulas reinforce the filmic stereotype and stabilize it as a whole. In addition, formulas evoke what I would call ritualized readings. Spectators know exactly what they can expect from a film by La India Mara. As comedies they assure entertainment and a happy end. Formulas provide clear frameworks and the spectator can entirely enjoy the viewing experience, knowing that the films do not get too serious while treating real situations. Paratext and Institutions Before making assumptions about possible readings of the films of La India Mara, I will take a closer look at the paratext, other institutions influencing the reading, and the viewing context. In Odins semio-pragmatic concept of film, he suggests that meaning is mainly produced by a spectator who proposes a meaning, and puts it to the test in the structures of the image (1995, 214). The spectator, defined as a point of passage of a bundle of determinations, is influenced by different institutions, which trigger a bundle of determinations. These institutions then influence the spectator's hierarchical ordering of relevant features in the filmic text. Film titles give spectators an idea of what they can expect from a film and strongly influence their attitudes towards the filmic text before the act of watching a film. Several films The Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies, Volume 3, Number 3. Spring 2009, pp. 64-68

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featuring La India Mara take their titles from popular sayings or songs. Ni de aqu, ni de all (Neither from here, nor from there) is a common saying underlining the loss of culture and identity of Mexican immigrants in the United States. At the same time, it is the title of a traditional song (corrido) popular in Mexico and with U.S. migrants. El miedo no anda en burro (fear doesnt ride on a donkey) is a common phrase, pointing out that fear cannot be foreseen. El que no correvuela! (Who doesnt run, flies) refers to everyday corruption, cleverness to achieve a goal, or to stump contenders. The use of film titles taken from popular songs or sayings clearly marks the films as popular culture and hints at the popular target audience for these works. However, I must point out that the boundary between popular culture and quality culture has become blurred in recent years. While in the 1980s Ni de aqu, ni de all (as a saying, a film, and a corrido) emphasized displacement, several singers have given a different meanings to it, by using Ni de aqu, ni de all for songs and albums of different musical genres. The MexicanAmerican Rapper Jae-P for example sings about integration and alienation (language, homeland, etc.). The Chilean folk singer and performer Nutria NN living in New York reflects on exile and displacement in his songs and performances. Both artists use popular forms, associate them with Latino pride and multiculturalism, and thereby transform the connotation. To sum up, some titles of La India Mara's films explicitly refer to popular Mexican culture (including a shift in meaning over time) and thus clearly stress intertextual significance and recall certain schemata. Furthermore, promotional materials such as movie posters (in different formats) or newspaper advertisements provide the spectator with a certain set of information. To illustrate what indications promotional materials offer, I have chosen two posters. The first promotes the film Sor Tequila, the second La presidenta municipal. Both of them form part of a series of eight posters for each film. While the frame with the cartoon scenes remains the same for the whole series, there are eight different stills placed in the middle. The two selected posters can be described as having exemplary status. On the poster Sor Tequila, La India Mara as a cartoon character is pulling a priest from a helicopter and together they are about to fall. Their gestures and expressions are, contrary to what might be expected, filled with joy und excitement. The priest throws his arms happily in the air, while Mara elegantly swings her legs imitating an acrobatic attitude. The still shows La India Mara arm-wrestling with a topless muscle-man with a shiny oiled upper body. While he is evidently suffering, La India Mara seems almost relaxed. The composition of the poster La presidenta municipal is more overloaded. There are different cartoon scenes: La India Mara holding a gun, the extra bullets wrapped around her body; Mara bullfighting, dancing, falling in love; and a white tourist taking her picture. The still shows a moment from the bullfight. But what meanings do these posters evoke? What determinations are given to the reader? Her bodily presence first catches the eye. Her actions are staged as spectacular moments or attractions, attesting to her abilities, which do not fit the initial description of her character as nave or clumsy. On the contrary, besides her physical skills in arm-wrestling and bullfighting, she deliberately transcends the limits of gender by performing activities typically reserved for men. The same is the case in terms of ethnicity: she presents a counter-image of an indigenous woman by breaking with common representations. Coming back to the question of stereotypes, the posters contain indications that counter the stereotyped image of La India Mara as a helpless character, by attributing to her superhero-like powers.

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Figure 1

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Poster 1: Promotional Poster for Sor Tequila (1980), copyright by Diana Films, S.A.
Figure 2

Poster 2: Promotional Poster for Presidenta municipal (1975), copyright by Diana Films, SA.

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Her appearances in the theater, on TV, in commercials and on record albums can be looked at as separate cultural products. But when trying to analyze the films, these works in other genres and media can be considered as institutions or even as paratexts shaping spectators' expectations. La India Mara's films have been criticized on several occasions, because of the theatrical genre from which the character emerged. The Mexican film critic and scholar Carlos Monsivis stated at a conference that the character of the foolish indigenous person is rooted in the teatro frvolo which is known for its racist humor. He condemns the genre for aiming at easy laughs by imitating illiterate indigenous characters trying to express themselves (Fregoso/Iglesias 1998, 190). The characters origin in a theatrical genre, clearly negatively marked, has certainly influenced the positioning of spectators aware of this fact, resulting in a negative attitude toward the character. In a research project on ethnic minorities, JoEllen Shively comes to the conclusion that more highly-educated spectators often pay more attention to aspects of ethnically correct representations of minorities (2000). As a consequence, they tend to foreground determinations affirming the negativity of an ethnic stereotype. The popularity of La India Mara has been launched and increased through television. However, the character in a TV context can be perceived as a caricature that debases the lower classes, particularly the indigenous. Moreover, the notoriety that La India Maria acquired with the support of Raul Velasco and the company Televisa can be read as a willful saturation. This is mainly enforced by the televisions role of exploiting popular characters and genres. Her recordings and commercials were placed in the same context by certain spectators: They were accused of being merely promotional in purpose, and lacking any cultural values. These aspects surely contributed to the many negative reactions to the films in the press. On the other hand, her recording informing immigrants about their legal rights creates a context in which La India Mara signals to audiences who are confronted with aspects of illegal migration that she does take them seriously and is aware of their real problems in a non-fictional context. By giving voice to the illegal migrant (she plays the part and an expert answers), she signals the desire to bring about changes in the everyday life of the listener and goes beyond her primary declared goal of entertaining. In addition, reviews of the films influence spectators' expectations. Many of the articles of the India Mara films were negative, emphasizing the lack of invention, the low artistic value, and the negatively stereotyped characters. In El Financiero, Jorge Ayala Blanco comments on Ni de aqu, ni de all: The character La India Mara never managed to get over a stage of being plain comic farce (1989). Despite the harsh critique, I assume that the reviews had almost no impact on the box office results. Possible reasons might be found in the specificity of the target audience. It is most likely that the negative reviews were ignored because people who went to see her films were illiterate or reading the newspaper might not be a part of their media consumption habits. The films of La India Mara were seen, and continue to be watched, in different viewing contexts, in cinemas and at home on DVD, VHS or on TV. The films were exhibited at theaters when they first came out, and were often rereleased after a certain time: this is the case for cinemas in Mexico and in the United States. Currently, the films are shown on TV and sold on DVD format. It is impossible to reconstruct the viewing situation in the 1970s, but several people with whom I had conversations, mentioned that they saw the films with their families, making jokes, eating, having small talk, or making comments about characters and actions. Similar practices have been described about watching the films at home or with friends. As a result, plot becomes secondary and formulas help to situate viewers within the story. The characters' intertextual repetitions and the formulas might have favored what Odin calls a "family viewing" (Odin 1995b).

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Questions of Readings Previously, I made several attempts to describe possible readings of the films of La India Maria. In the following narrative, I will specify the readings in relation to the outlined stereotypes and sketch out three different readings, which I consider appropriate. One is based on La India Mara as a pure stereotype; the second takes into account the blurring of boundaries; and the third is a negotiated reading. At the same time, it is worth reminding that for many Mexicans and migrants the films bring up subjects which they can relate to in their daily lives. Themes of alienation, displacement, the gap between the urban and the rural, modernity and underdevelopment, corruption, class differences, or forms of repressions are as important today as they were in the 1970s. The spectator is placed in a historical context (1970s until today). However, I do not propose to categorize the reading into different historical periods. The first reading is clearly rooted in the assumption of schemata. La India Mara is characterized as nave, foolish, and ignorant. Her traits are enforced by her burlesque performance and by her inability to speak proper Spanish. The four formulas underline the narrowness of the films that could also be described as simple intertextual repetitions lacking any invention. The aesthetics of the films and the characters' origin in theater and TV mark them as popular culture lacking any artistic value. Spectators' sensitivity to ethnic or gender discrimination reinforces the foregrounding of negative attributes. As a result, this reading cumulates negative aspects of the films, and the spectator might dismiss the films as being empty exploitative stereotypes serving only one purpose, which is to entertain at the expense of the populace. Promotional materials such as the poster could support this reading. The cartoon characters emphasize the comic and entertaining effects the movies are supposed to evoke. At the same time, the popular songs and sayings recall the repertoire of Mexican popular culture. As I already pointed out, not only a single stereotype of the indigenous woman, but several stereotypes are produced in the films. For these reading spectators usually criticize the represented stereotypes and tend to have a negative attitude towards stereotyping in general, though in particular towards minorities. The reading foregrounding the negative aspects of the stereotype results in a discourse of discrimination marking La India Mara as the Other. Many intellectuals and film critiques therefore despise the movies of La India Maria and perceive them as asinine, low culture, lackluster, and alienation fodder for the working classes. As shown, the determinations in the filmic text and in the paratext are ambiguous. Therefore, an almost oppositional or counter-reading to the one described might occur. Instead of stressing character traits such as naivet, La India Mara is read as seemingly stupid. In fact, she is smart, tricking others with her clumsy performance. Furthermore, she actively expresses her desire and thereby influences the plot. The four formulas place the character in different situations, in which La India Mara always finds a way out. They provide a structure to bring up subjects such as alienation or displacement in a clearly defined framework. Knowing things will never get too dramatic, and assured of a happy ending, the spectator feels as Hickethier puts it "relaxed". The formulas are a point of reference allowing a reading without the spectator paying attention to the plot. While watching, conversations with family members or other activities are possible. In the process of reading, the spectator might foreground the formula and identify with the themes in general. La India Maras performance marked as burlesque, and the dialogue pointing out injustice in very simple words, both contribute to this counter-reading or ironic reading of the stereotype. La India Mara, a topos, plays with double meaning and contrasts appearance to interior values. At the same time her exaggerated performance and use of the body create a distance to real experience and clearly reveal her as a mediated construction. In their daily lives, spectators might have experienced what it means not to be taken seriously when displaced. In this sense, La India Mara represents a common, if exaggerated, experience of the feeling of Otherness. The Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies, Volume 3, Number 3. Spring 2009, pp. 64-68

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The promotional material underlines the character traits: placed in a comic setting, she oscillates between the nave and the superhero. She is clearly staged as a woman who crosses boundaries and invades spaces that are reserved for the other sex, higher classes, or other ethnic groups. In the films and the paratext her representation of the indigenous woman breaks with representations from classical Mexican cinema. I assume that the counter-reading of the stereotype is chosen by spectators less aware of the discourse on ethnicity. The attributes of the character coming from a lower class and marginalized in society are stressed. The image of La India Mara can be described as a self-reflexive counter image, not just affirming predominant representations. Exaggerating the stereotypes marks and thereby reveals them as stereotypes. Spectators are provided with the dichtonomies of tonta pero no tanto (stupid, but not that much) or ignorante pero de buen corazn (ignorant but good-hearted). La India Mara in the end will overcome, achieve, and triumph and thereby she reconciles what rarely happens in society. This reading could to some extent explain the immense success La India Mara's films had with a wide public. Finally, there is a third reading which Stuart Hall would call negotiated (Hall 1973). For this reading, spectators acknowledge the ambiguity of the filmic text, the paratext, and the character. They are aware of the discourse of ethnicity, gender, and class. At the same time, they acknowledge La India Maras potential as a superhero and appreciate the comic effects her gags produce. This reading, is however a recent one. Researchers such as Marcruz Ricalde or Carmen Huaco-Nuzum have made a first step to revaluate certain films of La India Mara. My attempt goes in a similar direction. A negotiated reading provides a basis to understand the complexity of popular film culture, which has until this date often been ignored by those who deride popular culture or underestimated by the haute culture critiques.

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Bibliography Arbelaez, Maria S. "Low-Budget Films for Fronterizos and Mexican Migrants in the United States." Journal of the Southwest 43 (2001): 637657. Ayala Blanco, Jorge. "La India Mara y las atrofias de la farsa." El Financiero, May, 3, 1989, 71. Berg, Charles Ramrez. Latino Images in Film. Stereotypes, Subversion, Resistance. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2002. Cavell, Stanley. The World Viewed. Reflections on the Ontology of Film. Cambridge, Mass. /London: Harvard University Press, 1979. Cawelti, John. "The Concept of Formula in the Study of Popular Literature." Journal of Popular Culture 3, no. 3 (1969): 381390. Dyer, Richard. The Matter of Images. Essays on Representations. London, New York: Routledge, 1993. Eco, Umberto. Apokalyptiker und Integrierte. Zur kritischen Kritik der Massenkultur. (Apocalypse Postponed). Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1986. Fregoso, Rosa Linda and Norma Iglesias. Mirada de mujeres. Encuentro de cineastas y videoastas mexicanas y chicanas. Tijuana: Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 1998. Tsao, Leonardo Garca. "Un fenmeno llamado India Mara." El Nacional, May, 24, 1990. Hall, Stuart. "Encoding/Decoding." In Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 19721979, edited by Stuart Hall et al., 128138. London: Hutchinson, 1980 (1973). Hickethier, Knut. Die Fernsehserie und das serielle des Fernsehens. Lneburg: Universitt Lneburg, 1991. Huaco-Nuzum, Carmen. "Ni de aqu, ni de all: Indigenous Female Representation in the Films of Mara Elena Velasco." In Chicanos and Film: Essays on Chicano Representation and Resistance, edited by Chon A. Noriega, 127138. New York: Garland, 1992. Neale, Steve. "The Same Old Story. Stereotype and Difference " In The Screen Education Reader: Cinema, Television, Culture, edited by Edward Buscombe and Richard Collins, 4147. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. Odin, Roger. "For a Semio-Pragmatics of Film." In The Film Spectator: From Sign to Mind, edited by Warren Buckland, 213226. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1995. . Le film de famille: usage priv, usage public. Paris, 1995. Pearson, Roberta E. Eloquent Gestures: The Transformation of Performance Style in the Griffith Biographs Films. Berkley: University of California Press, 1992. Propp, Vladimir. Morphologie des Mrchens, edited by Karl Eimermacher. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1975 (1928). Ricalde, Maricruz Castro and Jos Pablo Vilalobos. "Popular Mexican Cinema and Undocumented Immigrants." Discourse 24, no. 1&2 Winter & Spring (2004): 194213. Rohrer, Seraina. "Conversacin con Mara Elena Velasco." Mxico D.F., December, 14, 2008. Schweinitz, Jrg. Film und Stereotype eine Herausforderung fr das Kino und die Filmtheorie zur Geschichte eines Mediendiskurses. Berlin: Akad.-Verl., 2006. An English version is planned and will be published by Columbia University Press. Shively, JoEllen. "Cowboys and Indians: Perceptions of Western Films Among American Indians and Anglos." In Film Theory. An Anthology, edited by Robert Stam and Toby Miller, 345360. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2000. Varela, Francisco J. Kognitionswissenschaft Kognitionstechnik. Eine Skizze aktueller Perspektiven. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1990.

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Filmography (titles in alphabetical order) Duro pero seguro (Hard but Sure) by Fernando Corts. Mexico 1978. 97 min. Nicolasa (Velasco) sells tacos at a TV-Studio. One day she spots her idol and causes a disturbance. She gets thrown out by a guard who shortly after wins the lottery. The rumor spreads that hitting La India Mara brings good luck. Her believed miraculous powers bring about unforeseen sufferings. El coyote emplumado (The Feathered Coyote) by Mara Elena Velasco. Mexico 1983. 98 min. La India Mara (Velasco) and her father go to an archeological conference in Acapulco. They are asked to make a copy of the valuable piece "the feathered coyote". They produce a few copies and soon there is a confusion about which one is the original. A long search and adventurous battle begins. El miedo no anda en burro (Fear Does not Ride on a Donkey) by Fernando Corts. Mexico 1976. 88 min. Doa Paz leaves her fortune to her cat Miau, to be taken care of by her servant La India Mara (Velasco). Trying to escape from the Doa's invidious relatives, she goes to stay at an old house in Guanajuato. Soon it turns out that it is haunted by monsters, all trying to scare or kill La India Mara. El que no corre vuela (What doesn't run, flies) by Gilberto Martnez Solares. Mexico 1982. 90 min. La India Mara (Velasco) goes to Mexico City to resolve a conflict over property rights of land. She gets arrested and has to go to jail where she meets a friendly woman. Upon getting out, she looks for her new friend's children and goes through a variety of adventures. La comadrita (The Godmother) by Fernando Corts. Mexico 1978. 90 min. Mara Nicolasa (Velasco) is hired by a couple to take care of their house in the city. While they are gone, Mara's relatives become the victims of a racist attack. Their house is burnt down and Mara lets them live in her boss' maison. They desperately try to pretend they are upper class. La madrecita (The Little Mother) by Fernando Corts. Mexico 1974. 83 min. La India Mara (Velasco) decides to enter a catholic convent. Upon her arrival, she learns that the convent is about to close down due to economic struggles. But the unconventional nun doesn't let herself be intimidated. She prevents youngster from joining street gangs, gets drunk in a bar, ends up in jail, and in the end her adventures bring about a happy ending for the future of the convent. La presidenta municipal (The Woman Municipal President) by Fernando Corts. Mexico 1975. 95 min. By a printing error La India Mara's name appears on the voting slips and she is elected Municipal President. Taking her job seriously, La India Mara (Velasco) surprises by her unconventional governing methods: She imposes taxes on bars and gambling, demands that half of the salary should go to the wives and thereby wins the adoration of the female population. Her enemies try to get her out of her position, but they are not aware who they are taking it up with. Las delicias del poder (The Delights of Power) by Ivn Lipkies. Mexico 1999. 118 min. A politician adopts one of two newborn twin sisters. When Lorena (Velasco) is an adult, she runs for president for the PUF (Woman's party). During the campaign she is badly injured. Her twin sister Mara (Velasco) who still lives in the countryside is forced into her sister's role of a cosmopolitan woman. Ni Chana ni Juana (Neighter Chana nor Juana) by Mara Elena Velasco. Mexico 1985. 87 min. Juana (Velasco) a street vendor who was separated from her twin sister in her early

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childhood sets out to find her sister Chana. After growing up in Spain, Chana (Velasco) returns to Mexico as a famous performer. A clash of social classes! Ni de aqu, ni de all (Neither From Here nor From There) by Mara Elena Velasco. Mexico 1988. 93 min. La India Mara (Velasco) decides to go to the United States of America in order to earn money to buy a tractor. Upon arriving in Los Angeles she witnesses a crime and is chased by the Russian Mafia. Not enough: La India Mara struggles to find a job, she is exploited, doesn't understand the language, etc. In the end, she is tired of it all and decides to go back to Mexico. Okey, Mister Pancho (Ok, Mister Pancho) by Gilberto Martnez Solares and Mara Elena Velasco. Mexico 1981. 90 min. La India Mara (Velasco) lives happily in the countryside until a plane crashes next to her house. She takes care of the wounded American pilot and even agrees to illegally cross over to the United States to deliver a package which he claims contains medicine for his mother. On her way she meets and American Indian, racist Mexicans and finally discovers that she is about to fall into a trap, but she decides to fight against the Mafia. Pobre pero honrada! (Poor but Honest) by Fernando Corts. Mexico 1973. 88 min. La India Mara (Velasco) cures the old men Abundio of his illness with herbs and water from a local spring. In gratitude, he gives her the place of honor at the local fair. Her miraculous water is so popular that no one purchases the traveling salesmen's one. Abundio is convinced by them to exploit the spring and La India Mara who is believed to be a holy Virgin. Se equivoc la cigea by Mara Elena Velasco. Mexico 1993. 98 min. La India Mara (Velasco) discovers an infant who is left behind and decides to raise the baby herself. After numerous adventures and several years later she finally finds the parents and brings them back their child. Sor Tequila (Sister Tequila) by Rogelio R. Gonzlez Jr. Mexico 1980. 90 min. La India Mara (Velasco) as sister Tequila gets transferred to a small town where the local priest has established his own regime. Her unorthodox methods clash with those of the priest and La India Mara turns out to be a very peculiar super hero. Tonta, tonta, pero no tanto (Foolish, Foolish but not so Much) by Fernando Corts. Mexico 1972. 90 min. La India Mara (Velasco) is robbed when she arrives in Mexico City and loses her cousin's address. After various adventures she appears on Paco Malgesto's TV show and is reunited with her cousin Ufemia, who gets her a job as a maid. In the house of the widowed Julia La India Mara prevents the stealing of her boss' jewels and an insurance scam. With the reward money she returns to her hometown and founds a school.

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Historically, the Mazahua have migrated to the cities. In the 1960s, their migration increased given the impoverishment of the living conditions of their communities of origin. Massive migration of indigenous populations soared as a result of industrialization and urban focused governmental policies. 2 On December, 14th, 2008, I interviewed Mara Elena Velasco for several hours and recorded the conversation, which served as an important source for this paper. 3 It is a coincidence that they have the same last name. There is no family relation between them, even though they were said to be married in some articles in the Mexican press. 4 Some songs were sung by famous Mexican singers and bands, others were interpreted by her. 5 Referring directly to film Richard Dyer made a similar distinction between novelistic character and type (Dyer 1993, 13). Stanley Cavell underlines the intertextuality of types, that trough repetition become stereotypes (1979, 33). In this paper I will focus on the proposed type by Eco. 6 Mara Elena Velasco is not fully of indigenous heritage, but of mestizo origin. In all of her films she stresses her indigenous features. In her private life however, she clearly defines herself as a modern mestiza woman. 7 Schweinitz points out that all stereotyped performances and acting clichs such as the burlesque have their origin in the theater and early cinema (2006, 63). Most of the gestures, body language, etc. have a reference in the lived world. They have, however, developed autonomously over time, creating a set of performance standards for filmic representation (ibid. 65). 8 An in-depth examination of her TV-appearances will be presented in my dissertation.

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CONTRIBUTORS

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Ruth Gomberg-Muoz is an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She works with undocumented Mexican immigrants in Chicago. Her forthcoming book, Labor and Legality: Life in a Mexican Immigrant Network, is an in-depth ethnography of undocumented workers. Her books is scheduled for release by Oxford University Press in the Fall of 2010. Marcela Mendoza is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University. She has more than twenty years of experience in teaching and research at the University of Buenos Aires, and other universities in the U.S. Dr. Mendoza is a Latin American who specializes in immigration and indigenous issues. She has numerous publications on these topics. Moira Murphy is a Professor in the Department of Administration and Social Sciences at the Instituto Tecnolgico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey and the Master's in Business Administration, Campus Ciudad Juarez, and a Visiting Professor at the Center for InterAmerican and Border Studies and University College at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her publications include Ciudad Juarez Entre La Frontera y el Mundo and Educacin e Investigacin: Retos y Oportunidades (co-authired with Maria Soledad Ramrez), and several articles. Her areas of research include transnational processes, US policies toward Latin America, and the equality of opportunity in the internationalization of education. Gloria Ortiz is a doctoral student at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on immigration populations and the intersection of gender and race among Latina populations. Seraina Rohrer graduated with a M.A. in Film and Media Studies from the University of Zurich (Switzerland) in 2005. Currently, she is a Ph.D. Fellow working on a dissertation on transnational cinema practices. Until July 2010 she is a Visiting Scholar at the Chicano Studies Research Center of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA): Since 2005, she has taught seminars at the Film Studies Department of the University of Zurich and regularly curates film programs (e.g. Mxico: cortos sin lmites or Provocation). Previously, she studied and worked in the U.S. and Mexico (20012003), before working for and heading the Press Office of the Locarno International Film Festival (20032008), Switzerlands largest film festival. Edward M. Olivos is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education Studies at the University of Oregon. He received his Ph.D. in education in 2003 jointly from San Diego State University and Claremont Graduate University. His research interests include: Latinos and education, bicultural parent involvement, policy studies, immigration and education, bilingual education, and critical pedagogy. He has published professional articles and book chapters in those areas. He is the author of the The Power of Parents: A Critical Perspective of Bicultural Parent Involvement in Public Schools (New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2006). Prior to the
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