Beyond an energetic and comical playwright, Luis Valdez’ “Los Vendidos” is an accurate reflection of the contemporary American society, focusing on how Mexicans are perceived in this society. The play abounds in stereotypes about Mexicans, which is why the main theme of “Los Vendidos” is stereotyping. Stereotypes appear in societies because the dominant majority has difficulties in understanding the specificities of particular minorities, as it is the case of the Mexicans, portrayed in “Los Vendidos”. Nevertheless, stereotypes are nurtured as a modality of keeping minorities socio – economically repressed and inferior to the dominant race in the society (Escobar p. 562). By portraying the main stereotypes that are used to refer to Mexicans in United States, such as farm workers, gang members or revolucionarios, Valdez describes the identity crisis experienced by Mexicans, who are trying to resist to the cultural assimilation of becoming Americans.
The plot of this play revolves around an intended sale, wherein Miss Jimenez, a secretary of the Presidential administration is on a mission to purchase a Mexican model, in order to appeal to the Mexican electorate. Honest Sancho, the owner of the store that sells Mexican models, introduces to Miss Jimenez three types of Mexicans that she can purchase: the farm worker, the gang member and the revolutionary, exemplifying like this the main stereotypes with which Mexicans are associated in United States. The sole idea that the members of a race can relate with a single model, a robot that is believed to encompass the distinctiveness of an entire race is based on a prejudice (Kassin, Fein & Markus p. 155).
Another problem that the play raises in relation with the stereotypes created for Mexicans in United States, is that Mexicans themselves came to identify with the stereotypes that the American society created to define them. As such, Honest Sancho admits the main models of stereotyping existent in the American society and promotes them for sale. Although Honest Sancho seems to be interested in his business, exploiting the American culture of stereotyping in order to be profitable, there is, nevertheless, a truth in the fact that Mexicans adhere to the stereotypes created for them and transmit them from a generation to another.
“The fact that the typical Mexican people living in United States are represented through robots suggests the idea that Mexicans are not seen as humans, but as machines, hence the objectification of this people” (Belkin p. 17). Honest Sancho’s robots are seemingly created to serve the American society through their hard work, as exemplified by the farm worker, who is “built close to the ground”, durable, friendly and “loves his patroness” (Valdez pp. 41-42). On the other hand, the other machines that describe the stereotypical roles of Chicanos in U.S., respectively the gang member and the revolutionary. Yet, the roles of these Mexican models are also well – justified, because they serve as criminals that get arrested (Valdez 44). In this sense, they are fulfilling the social role of criminality, serving as the scape goats for the malfunctions of the American society. Through the Mexican robots kept in – store to be sold, Valdez demonstrates that the stereotypes have a functional role in society, serving as the servers or the people to be blamed by the dominant race. This reinforces the idea that stereotyping is a form of racism that generates feelings of superiority from the dominant race towards minorities (Escobar 562).
Although she is also a representative of the Mexican people in United States, Miss Jimenez identifies more with the dominant Americans than with Chicanos. Just as the white Americans, Miss Jimenez fails to admit the individuality of Mexicans, although she too, is a Mexican – American, or “una chicana” (Valdez 41).
On the other hand, she seems to be ignorant of the stereotypes and prejudices that Mexicans experience in United States. As such, when Honest Sancho describes to her that the farm worker is cutting grapes, she responds “Oh, I wouldn’t know” (Valdez 42). This scene raises the question of whether one needs to dissociate of his national identity in order to escape the stereotypes associated with one’s race. As such, Miss Jimenez insists that her name should be pronounced using English and not Spanish pronunciation, correcting Honest Sancho and admonishing him for his lack of good English skills, when he addresses her in a Mexican style: “My name is Miss JIM-enez. Don’t you speak English? What’s wrong with you?” (Valdez p. 41).
Although the play critiques the American society for its lack of cultural sensitivity to Mexican people, arguing that Americans consider all Mexicans as either farm workers, gang members or revolutionary, Miss Jimenez is the exception that deconstructs this myth. She is a Secretary in the U.S. government, therefore, she is educated, urban, modern, possessing all the features of the casual American. As Belkin (p. 18) observes, she is assimilated. In contrast with her, all the other Mexicans, who fail to become Americans and stick to their Mexican identities are considered stupid, uneducated or violent (Valdez p. 48; Belkin p. 18).
Nevertheless, the play transmits mixed impressions about what the American society expects from the Mexicans, which further perpetuates the racial stereotypes directed at this nationality. As such, Miss Jimenez, as the representative of the American government, seeks a Mexican model that is educated, knows good English and a romantic figure to attract the women electorate. “These values do not describe Mexican stereotypes, but the product of cultural assimilation” (Belkin 18). On the other hand, through the character of Miss Jimenez, the play writer transmits the idea that the American society expects the Mexicans to be cheap. The constant question of Miss Jimenez “is he economical” (Valdez pp. 42 – 49) acts like a leitmotif in the play, putting an equal sign between Mexicans and cheap labor force.
Cheap labor force is a stereotypical representation of Mexicans, one which is desired and expected by the white Americans, even from the educated and acculturated Mexicans. As such, speaking for the U.S. government, Miss Jimenez seems shocked to hear that the price for the educated Mexican is $ 15,000, asking “Fifteen thousand dollars? For a Mexican!!!” (Valdez 50). In other words, while the American society expects the Mexicans to become acculturated and integrated, acting and behaving like normal Americans, they still expect them to be cheaper, hence perpetuating the socio – economical oppression of this people through prescriptive stereotypes (features widely accepted as defining roles or behaviors) (Corell and Benard 5).
What started as a comical play developed complex sociological concepts of assimilation, acculturation or stereotyping. Stereotyping is the central theme of the play and it is vividly represented through all the characters presented in the play (Honest Sancho, Miss Jimenez and the robots). In addition, the social expectations from the Mexicans also perpetuate the stereotypes that keep this people in socio – economical oppression to the dominant race in U.S. “Las Vendidos” teaches audiences about the danger that lies in stereotyping, which can take the form of economic oppression or riots. Stereotyping is more than a form of social discrimination; it is a lifestyle by which the dominant majority and the vulnerable minority live, abiding to the socially shaped misconceptions about how minorities should be or how they should act.
Belkin, Elena. Changing Fronts in La Lucha Chicana: Cultural Construction of Class, Race, and Gender in Chicano/a Literature. Ohio: Ohio State University. 2008. Print.
Correll, Shelley, J. and Benard, Stephen. Gender and Racial Bias in Hiring. [Online] 21 March, 2006. Available at http://provost.upenn.edu/uploads/media_items/gender-racial-bias.original.pdf. 7 March, 2017.
Escobar, Angela Sanchez. Chicanos: Stereotypes and Search for Self – Identity as Seen through Literature. CUACE 14-15: 561-571. 1992. Print.
Kassin, Saul, Fein, Steven & Markus, Hazel Rose. Social Psychology. Belmont: Wadsworth. 2014. Print.
Valdez, Luis. Luis Valdez – Early Works: Across, Bernabe and Pensamiento Serpentino. Texas: Arte Publico Press. 1994. Print.