Lost in Translation

Why Cantinflas never made it big in Hollywood.

Dear Mexican: Why did the comedian Cantinflas never catch on in Hollywood? I thought he was supposed to usher in the Mexican wave of actors and movies that would help transform Hollywood.
El Curioso

Dear Curious: Do people even know who Cantinflas is anymore? For those of you not familiar with the actor, he was Mexico's Charlie Chaplin — wait, do people even know who Charlie Chaplin is anymore? For those of you not familiar with the actor, Charlie Chaplin was the greatest star of the silent film era — wait, do people even know what silent films are anymore? Sorry for the digressions, but your pregunta is so wonderfully anachronistic that most people might think it's as relevant to the present as the Nez Perce. But Cantinflas (born Mario Moreno) offers a valuable lesson to today's Mexican thespians. Instead of accepting every stereotypical Mexican role Hollywood offered, Cantinflas signed on for only two: as the butler Passepartout in the 1956 film Around the World in 80 Days, and as the titular character in 1960's Pepe. He drew praise for his acting in the first but bombed in the second, mostly because of a linguistic comedic barrier: his verbal humor, a mishmash of double entendres, non sequiturs and puns so genius it notched its own verb (cantinflear) in the Royal Academy of Spanish dictionary. Understanding that the nuances of his craft were virtually impossible to translate, Cantinflas decided to focus on Mexican films.

The lesson for today's wabby Oliviers? Maintain your dignity, don't sell off your talent for a buck, and never offer your services for something called Beverly Hills Chihuahua — wait, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Edward James Olmos, Paul Rodriguez and George Lopez are starring in this fall flick? Virtually every modern-day Mexican actor respected by the studios is willing to voice a dog?! Unless it's a social satire on the level of The Importance of Being Earnest, this Disney movie seems like the worst Mexican disaster since NAFTA.

Dear Mexican: Why do Mexicans hate the word "wetback," or mojado? I grew up fighting because my jefita told me to never let any gabacho call me a wetback. But as I got into high school, I learned that you can really piss off a gaba by not affirming his racist comments. Whenever they called me a wetback, I'd just touch my back and tell the pendejos, "Hey, my back isn't wet." They would walk away so red that they looked like a walking pimple ready to bust.
From a Fan, Ese

Dear Wab: Gracias for your inspiring tale, Ese. If all Mexicans had the same wit and gumption, we'd be able to retake the American Southwest with ease. As is stands, our zygotes will have to keep doing the trabajo.

 
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