Mythologized Cowboy as Anti-Immigrant Narrative

The Cowboy, along with the Llanero, Caballero, Vaquero/ Vaqueiros, Gaucho, Paniolos, Huasos and Drover, in the animals that they tended produced a large quantity of calories and vital nutrients per unit of labor/worker, even though it was very low per unit of land. In film and literature, one is so bound up in the mystique of the Cowboy that one rarely notices that they were producing a critical nutrient and calorie input that facilitated a significant transformation in the urban industrial complex from the 1870s on into the 20th century. As with the American Cowboy, the Vaquero, Gaucho and Drover were mythologized while their more mundane but more vital role as producers of food, was somewhat ignored.

Edward Abbey’s Brave Cowboy might be seen as a more modern version of the Argentinian epic El gaucho Martin Fierro.

From their own ballads and legends a literature of the gaucho – la literatura gauchesca – grew and became an important part of the Argentine cultural tradition. Beginning in the mid-19th century, after the heyday of the gauchos, Argentine writers celebrated them. [Martin Fierro (1872) by José Hernández of Argentina]

The rural rebel, be it the hard-working Cowboy, the ruthless bandit, or the messianic cult leader, has been mythologized in many cultures, from those living in industrializing cities as they acquired amenities unavailable, to mythologized heroes. See, for example, the Brazilian epic by Euclides da Cunha, Os Sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands).

Richard Slatta points out that

this legacy of the cowboys has not been unimportant, however. In Argentina and Uruguay, for example, the once maligned gaucho was rehabilitated by the elite as a symbolic weapon against the perceived threat from urban immigrant masses. And in the United States, rodeos, Wild West shows, novels, toys, advertising, films, and television have transformed public perception of the cowboy from an uncouth rowdy to a national hero, so that identification with the cowboy helped Ronald Reagan become one of America’s most popular chief executives. [Cowboys of the Americas by Richard W. Slatta]

Anthropologists, particularly those who followed in the tradition of Emile Durkheim, recognized that myths and legends serve a social purpose and who propagates them largely determines who benefits from the belief system. The iconic Cowboy arose in the late 19th century in the U.S. with the huge influx of migrants from Southern (including both sets of my grandparents) and Eastern Europe including Russia. In order to eulogize the Cowboy as the icon of the real America, one had the herculean task of putting the entire history of the Cowboy (Vaquero) in a gigantic Orwellian memory hole along with all the other immigrant contributions to the U.S.

The legends of the Cowboys have not been dormant, being kept alive by films and other media. However, they have taken on new life with the rise of the virulent anti-immigrant ideas that have entered into mainstream American political culture. These immigrants from South of the border, it is claimed, are bringing hard drugs, crime and other forms of violence to our land. To the racists, they threaten not only our cultural purity but our racial purity.

The iconic Cowboy, not the real one, is being used to demonize immigrants in order to support policies that harm them and in the process, harm the country.

In addition to not recognizing what has come to us from abroad, we too often ready to blame others for the not so good things that may in fact be our responsibility.


REPEAT – THE U.S. IS BRINGING DRUGS AND CRIME TO MEXICO and not the Reverse – yes, you read it correctly!

Nearly two years ago, President Donald Trump opened his presidential campaign with his assertions about Mexicans – They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re bad hombres.

The crime claim has been refuted by numerous research studies and articles showing immigrants (including Mexicans) have lower crime rates.

To Trump’s assertion that they’re bringing drugs, nobody has seemed to ask the question: to whom are they bringing them? Too often ignored is the fact that a line of white powder and a straw has become the paraphernalia for the recreational drug of elite groups who can afford it, including many who live in expensive dwellings such as Trump Tower.

I was involved in the Caribbean in the 1990s when water transportation involving speedboats and even specially built submarines was the route of choice for drugs from Colombia via small Caribbean islands to be smuggled to the Florida coast.  Some of these islands were devastated by the relatively large amounts of cash to be used for bribery and the deaths that often resulted. It was fair to say at the time that the drug problems in the U.S. – the demand for drugs – created the drug problem in the Caribbean and not the reverse.

It was the Cali cartels that drove the illegal drug trade through the Caribbean. With the demise of the Cali Cartels but the survival of hard drug production areas in Columbia and further South along with the continued demand in the U.S. for them, a new land route had to be found for these drugs. Even so, the drug trade, including transit to Europe, remains a problem in the Caribbean.

It is a fundamental axiom to most economists that if something can be produced and/or is already being produced then a way will be found to get it those who are willing and able to pay all the costs – legal or otherwise, peaceful or otherwise. Mexico’s great sin was to have the long border with the U.S. as the only land route for smuggling became dominant. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase:

Pobre de México, tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos: Poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States.

In the abstract, virtually all economists would agree that the blame for illegal substances is shared by those who produce it, those who traffic in it and those who buy it. All the while those who happen to occupy the areas where it is transited are the real victims. But without buyers at the end of the stream, the flow doesn’t happen. In our politicized political climate, the politics of a particular situation might alter or at least modify the belief of some economists that demand drives activities such as the drug trade.

Following the logic of the argument that I have presented, Mexico is the victim of our drug habits, and they have paid an enormous price for it. Estimates for the death toll over the last decade vary, with some so large I hesitate to repeat them, since I cannot verify them. Even without numbers, we can all agree that the death toll from the drug trade has been horrendous. The sizeable amounts of money involved make it possible for the gangs to acquire an array of lethal weapons.

Though most of the deaths are gang members – or so it is claimed – the loss of life by law enforcement officers and innocent civilians is significant and has become a national tragedy. The sums of money involved make it inevitable that there will sources of corruption. The concentration of resources fighting the drug trade has strained the law enforcement resources, making crime and violence in other sectors more difficult to control. And how does one even begin to measure the impact that this senseless violence has on the everyday life of Mexico’s citizens?

Mexico has not only paid a heavy price, they have cooperated completely with the U.S. to try to stamp it out. The continuing and escalating attacks against them and insults to their dignity are totally unwarranted. If relations between our two countries break down and the co-operation on the drug trade ends, our border problems in the U.S will be multiplied many times over and no wall would keep them out.

As far as I can learn, Mexico historically did not have a major hard drug problem. I stand ready to be corrected on this point. Whenever drugs pass through an area, it is inevitable that some of the drugs are peddled in the transit areas. I have no data on this, but I would be surprised if Mexico does not now have a hard drug problem in its own country.

If our language and songs have any validity, Mexico does have a history of growing and using marijuana as we do, especially where there are now increasing states where it has become legal.

While cocaine may be the drug of choice for Trump’s more affluent supporters, another hard drug addiction is devastating rural America (and parts of Urban America) in the very areas where Trump scored some of his largest majorities. “Today, the United States, which contains 5 percent of the world’s population, uses 80 percent of the world’s painkillers,” says Paul Offitt. This addiction does not come from Mexico but from your family Doctor (and an occasional illegal dealer including Doctors) in the form of a prescription for Opioid pain killers manufactured by leading pharmaceutical companies. Much of the cause of this wave of addiction is attributed to the despair over deteriorating economic conditions while others prosper. Trump got the votes of the despairing rural poor by promising to respond to their grievances and restore their lost jobs and economic status. His policies and current Budget proposal will almost certainly worsen their condition in spite of his promises to the contrary. He may be attempting to build a Wall to keep Mexicans and Central Americans out but he is definitely building a Wall to keep the less fortunate of his fellow citizens in their poverty. In the process, he will be polluting their water and air, lessening their educational opportunities, taking away their health insurance while giving tax cuts to those who do not need it. By some perversion of the language, this is being called Populism.

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