[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you watched television in the late 1960s, chances are you were introduced to the animated mascot for Fritos Corn Chips. Wearing a sombrero, sporting a thin mustache, and carrying two six-shooter pistols on his hips, the Frito Bandito was created by Foote, Cone & Belding, animated by Tex Avery (the same animator who created Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck), and voiced by Mel Blanc, who also voiced Speedy Gonzales and Porky Pig. While Frito corn chips thought the cartoon mascot was a win, many advocacy groups, including the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee found the Frito Bandito campaign to be racist.
The Frito Bandito Controversy
Modeled after a stereotypical Mexican revolutionary, Frito Bandito had a thick Mexican accent, spoke broken English and robbed people of their bag of Fritos at gunpoint. Two Mexican-American advocacy groups groups, the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee (NMAADC) in Washington, D.C. and the Involvement of Mexican-Americans in Gainful Endeavors (IMAGE) in San Antonio, Texas, opposed the Frito Bandito commercials and pressured the company to remove the mascot.
To help alleviate tensions, Frito-Lay decided to remove the Mexican bandit's gold tooth and stubble. Then in 1968, following the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Frito-Lay removed the guns. However, despite the pushback on the mascot, Frito stood by the Frito Bandito and continued to run advertisements featuring the mascot. The company said they even surveyed four cities in Texas and California and asked about the mascot. According to their findings, 85% of Mexican Americans liked the Frito Bandito. In response, groups pushed television stations to ban the character, and stations listened, pulling the commercials.
By 1969 Frito decided to create a new mascot, W.C. Fritos, who was based on comedian W.C. Fields. By 1971 Frito pulled the entire Frito Bandito campaign.
The Commercial Today
I couldn't imagine the jingle or commercial being played on television today, but back in the 60s, racism was still present (and is still currently present today). It was only six years earlier Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the National Mall. Was the cartoon bandit funny and cute? Sure, but it delivered a message that offended a community of people and because of that, it was taken down and added to the list of racist mascots.
This article was originally published on April 14, 2020
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