June 20, 2012

Diversity before Diversity: Cheech Marin

Everybody knows these days that the 35 million or so people in the country of Mexican descent are making "extraordinary contributions", as President Obama explained last week in his amnesty speech. Granted, he did not name any making extraordinary contributions. And, indeed, the number of American-raised high achievers of Mexican descent appears to be remarkably low at present relative to their numbers.

For example, economist Bryan Caplan is highly excited by the Time cover story by Jose Antonio Vargas entitled "We Are Americans: Just Not Legally," calling Vargas "the Rosa Parks of U.S. immigration law." Being 100% irony-free, Caplan doesn't notice that the media, in their endless search for a glib Spanish-surnamed mouthpiece for Mexican illegal immigrants has, after all these years of looking, only managed to come up with a Filipino! (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the media's choice for the voice of Mexican undocumented workers is not just Asian, but gay, too.)

But, as all East Coast academics and pundits would reply if this line of unsettling thought ever occurred to them, the shortage of high-achieving Mexican-Americans is because Mexicans just arrived here in the United States.

What's that you say, that there were millions of Mexican-Americans in the Southwest a generation or more ago?

Well, yes, but they were so virulently discriminated against until recently that none of them could ever accomplish anything in life.

What's that you say, that high achieving, popular Mexican-American celebrities were hardly unknown a generation ago?

Well, then ... shut up.

So, let me continue with another intermittent installment of my series on popular Mexican-American stars of my youth, such as Pancho Gonzales, Lee Trevino, Nancy Lopez, Anthony Quinn, and Anthony Munoz.

When I was at Notre Dame H.S. in Sherman Oaks, CA from 1972-1976, the comedy records of Cheech and Chong were hugely popular, as they were across the country. But there was a particular appeal at Notre Dame because Cheech Marin (1946-) was, just like us, a Catholic middle-class Valley Dude.

Cheech's dad was an LAPD cop, his mom a secretary, and he graduated in the early 1960s from our rival Bishop Alemany H.S. in Mission Hills, about 15 minutes up the San Diego Freeway from Notre Dame. Cheech went to Cal State Northridge (I think it was then called San Fernando Valley State), where he was a Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity boy, and graduated with a degree in English. He got into drugs and comedy, made some movies with Chong like "Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke" (by including their names in the title of their movies, that relieved their fans of having to remember the name of their latest flick, which kept them from wandering into the wrong film at the multiplex) and on his own like "Born in East L.A." and has since been a steady presence on-screen as an affable and amusing character actor.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Except back in Cheech's era, all the money was in entertainment for English-hearing audiences. Nowadays that's just another marketing alternative at best.

James Kabala said...

And he is also a Celebrity Jeopardy champion.

Anonymous said...

The Generation X spin on Cheech was George Lopez (also of the northern Valley) who needless to say never attained the same cultural apogee.

However his act seemed to be aimed at either Disneyfied young'uns or the older boomers, e.g. his first sitcom which was far more whitey-bourgeois than anything Cosby tried: the eponymous character 1) liked heavy metal music; 2) followed sports other than soccer; 3) managed an aerospace plant; 4) had an Albanian daughter, etc.

Anonymous said...

Man, TV's just a TV but art is forever.

astorian said...

Obviously, Richard Marin wasn't REALLY the guy he portrayed on screen and on records.

He blew a lot of people's minds when he went on "Celebrity Jeopardy!" and won going away.

Anonymous said...

http://gawker.com/5919889/see-bristol-palin-cry?utm_campaign=socialflow_gawker_facebook&utm_source=gawker_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Fishtown child upbringing. Sarah Palin is worthless as a mother.

Mr. Anon said...

"Everybody knows these days that the 35 million or so people in the country of Mexican descent are making "extraordinary contributions", as President Obama explained last week in his amnesty speech. Granted, he did not name any making extraordinary contributions."

This reminds me of Dave Barry's book on American History "Dave Barry Slept Here" - every few pages he would insert a sentence along the lines of "And of course, during this whole time, women and minorities were making enormous contributions".

deconstructingleftism said...

"hey, open up, it's me Dave"

"Dave? Dave's not here"

"Class... class... class... SHAAAAADUUUUP!!!"

I'm sorry, that stuff never gets old.

Anonymous said...

I have a better question: How many geniuses have the Scots-Irish who Vdare and Sailer love so much have given American after 8 generations in the country? Let's see...

Anonymous said...

http://www.villagevoice.com/2012-06-20/news/gay-inc-free-speech-rights/

Does 'Gay Inc.' Believe in Free Speech?

Anonymous said...

Understand this Steve,

Gringos like novelty like everyone else, when MexAms were a smaller proportion of the pop. they were cool, just as I am sure there were more asian celebs before they've increase in pop. I mean look at, LA and CA in general with its large Korean and asian pop., yet no big celebs. The exception to this rule are Jews and Blacks. They are disproportionately represented as celebs due to their equally dispropotionate talents of course. Not due to ingroup advancement and strategic plan to market blacks and black culture to gentiles. As always, real incisive commentary my half mexican blogger.

Anonymous said...

"Obviously, Richard Marin wasn't REALLY the guy he portrayed on screen and on records. "

Met Cheech and Chong at a private event about 4 years ago. Let's just say I could smell a distinct non tabacco aroma before I could see them. People need to realize not all "potheads" are pot heads, just as all who imbibe are not stupid drunks.

Robert said...

Happy to report that a bit of searching on YouTube revealed that my all-time fave (and non-drug-related) Cheech & Chong track, namely "The ... Evelyn ... Woodhead ... Speed ... Readin' ... Course" (1973), is still remembered (though it seems to be available there only as part of the whole Los Cochinos LP).

Reg Cæsar said...

If Cheech is diversity before diversity, Chong is diversity within diversity-- and daughter Rae Dawn even more so!

Tommy can join Grant Fuhr, Floyd Sneed and S. I. Hayakawa in the Western Canadian Nonwhite Hall of Fame.

Reg Cæsar said...

For an earlier example of Mex-Am success, there's Nacio Herb Brown, composer of-- can you get any more middle-American?-- "Singin' in the Rain".

His father was not only an LA cop, but Chief of Police. And a German-Mexican by birth. Thus Nacio was kind of an early Linda Ronstadt, but with talent and taste.

Nacio's mom was a Kansan, so I doubt he had more than a quarter Spanish blood. But he always had that pained white-Hispanic expression about him, much like Desi Arnaz did later on.

slumber_j said...

Well, this post just gives me a second opportunity to name-drop with regard to the premiere of Ghostbusters II...the first having had to do with my encounter with the enormous and frightening Sigourney Weaver. Cheech was there too and was introduced to me by the then-head of Columbia Pictures if I'm not mistaken.

Anyway: Cheech was as great as the movie wasn't. A very pleasant man.

Steve Sailer said...

I reread Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel "The Long Goodbye" recently. Of the 10 or 12 most important characters in it, four in L.A. are Mexicans, including what's probably the model for all the taciturn Chicano police detectives that Edward James Olmos played in "Blade Runner" and "Miami Vice."

Anonymous said...

Cheech Marin was in Nash Bridges as Don Johnson's sidekick.

Anonymous said...

Boy, there's another weird HBD angle to this story: Tommy Chong's Dad was a chinaman who got lucky with a white chick - back in the 1930s, no less!!!

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I do believe that millions of Mexican immigrants are making a contribution. But they are Ibizan Mexicans like my grandparents and all the middle-class, light-brown Joses and Juans I grew up with in suburban L.A.

Thing is, these aren't the Mexicans we're talking about, are they?

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous Anonymous said...

The exception to this rule are Jews and Blacks. They are disproportionately represented as celebs due to their equally dispropotionate talents of course."

Other than running, jumping, and throwing a ball, I haven't noticed that blacks are disproportionately talented at much of anything.

Bill said...

"This reminds me of Dave Barry's book on American History 'Dave Barry Slept Here'-every few pages he would insert a sentence along the lines of 'And of course, during this whole time, women and minorities were making enormous contributions.'

And that reminds me of my ca. 1980 7th-grade American history text, which, at the end of every paragraph describing a battle, had the boilerplate sentence "Black [or Af Am, can't remember which] troops also fought [if a loss for the U.S.]/contributed [if a win]."

jeanne said...

"Black [or Af Am, can't remember which] troops also fought [if a loss for the U.S.]/contributed [if a win]."

Oh, my, what a chore it must have been to update that textbook.

Anonymous said...

Nobody has mentioned Ted Williams, whose mother was Mexican. Of course, we never saw his talents in professional baseball because of discrimination.

Anonymous said...

>I mean look at, LA and CA in general with its large Korean and asian pop., yet no big celebs

Because American-born would-be Asian-Am stars emigrate back to their 'home country'.

Korean pop is actually quite full of American-born singers. There was the case of John Park, the Northwestern graduate who participated both in the American Idol and the Korean equivalent of it.

The singer Amy Lee, born in New Jersey, was featured in Maury Show and was under a NY based agency called Muzo Entertainment.

However her American career was going nowhere despite of verge of a breakout, and a Korean company gave her a better deal.

So she ended up in Korea, adopted the moniker Ailee (easier for Koreans to pronounce), and became a Korean singer despite of an extremely limited (which is an understatement) command of Korean.

I don't know whether similar things happen to Mex-American stars, but I do know that American-born Chinese stars often work in the Sinosphere.

That's why they are not seen in America, since there is an 'escape pipe' for them.

Anonymous said...

"Earache My Eye" by Cheech and Chong is a rock and roll classic.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wy51CTN6AfE

Anonymous said...

The declinists on the left blame the lack of spending for America's problems. Edward Luce in his recent book on the decline of America on the government's misplaced priorities. "In 1990, [California] spent twice as much on its universities as its prisons. Now it spends almost twice as much on prisons.” Nary a word on the demographic transformation of California.

Skeptical Economist said...

"I have a better question: How many geniuses have the Scots-Irish who Vdare and Sailer love so much have given American after 8 generations in the country? Let's see..."

Well there were the Founding Fathers... You know, the folks who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg address, etc.

Check out http://www.jinfo.org/US_Nobel_Prizes.html

Plenty of Scotch-Irish names. America's first three Nobel caliber physicists appear to be Scotch-Irish. Michelson, Morley, and Millikan.

Just guessing based on the names. Even if not Scotch-Irish, probably from the UK.

Of course, the real contribution of the Scotch-Irish to American life has not been intellectual (in my opinion), but to America's character and values as a nation.

See "Who Are We" by Samuel Huntington. He discusses this point in great detail.

For the record, I am about as far from Scotch-Irish as you can imagine.

Norville Rogers said...

S.I. Hayakawa, wow... First I've heard that name again in ages. Talk about pioneering, time-space-bending uber-diversity; "None More Diverse" even. And that led into the two-term Armenian governor, which somehow failed to provoke an international crisis at the time--actually political diversity technology was in many ways less sophisticated back then

Lugash said...

I am Lugash.

Boy, there's another weird HBD angle to this story: Tommy Chong's Dad was a chinaman who got lucky with a white chick - back in the 1930s, no less!!!

I've heard Asian male/white female was not unheard of in California during this time frame. Immigration laws allowed Asian men but not women.

I am Lugash.

I am Lugash.

Anonymous said...

The Skeptical Economist said:
Plenty of Scotch-Irish names. America's first three Nobel caliber physicists appear to be Scotch-Irish. Michelson, Morley, and Millikan.

Just guessing based on the names. Even if not Scotch-Irish, probably from the UK.


Albert Abraham Michelson was born in Strzelno, Provinz Posen in the Kingdom of Prussia (now Poland) into a Jewish family.

Incidentally, the anti-Semitism the young Michelson experienced in Virginia City, NV was the subject of a Bonanza episode.

Gringo said...

Joan Baez's father,Albert Baez, was a Physics Professor at UC Berkeley. He came to the US from Puebla, Mexico at age 2.

Ron Woo said...

"I've heard Asian male/white female was not unheard of in California during this time frame. Immigration laws allowed Asian men but not women. "

Unions between Filipino guys and white women in particular were not unusual back then - in one of Charles Bukowski's biographical works he makes mention of tall blonde women (one of whom was his landlady) shacking up with diminutive and dusky Pinoys. There's also the Generation 1 Bebot video clip by the Black Eyed Peas which makes mention of the fact.

That being said Filipinos generally have a lot more funky elegance and insouciant charm than Eastern Asians, which means it's easier for them to pull when they are relatively indigent recent immigrants. I see a lot of AM/WF relationships in New York, but the guys are very rarely FOB's - almost always middle class American-born professionals.

Anonymous said...

Was the guy who created DOOM of legal origins?
If not Rey Mysterio junior.

Anonymous said...


I don't know whether similar things happen to Mex-American stars, but I do know that American-born Chinese stars often work in the Sinosphere.


Bruce Lee being the obvious example.