Truth About the Beloved American Cowboy
When we hear the word cowboy we recall characters like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and maybe even Woody from Toy Story. However, we rarely associate the roots of the cowboy to Mexican culture because of columbusing.
Columbusing is when white culture claims discovery of something and makes it a pop culture fanatic despite the historical existence of that something. This is the case with the columbusing of the cowboy. The Mexican cowboy was established shortly after the Spanish inhabited Mexico in 1519. Throughout the creation of ranches, these cowboys were called vaqueros, which is Spanish for cow, due to their cow roping abilities.
Don Quixote de la Mancha was a Mexican cowboy whose adventure were set in Spain. The tales depicted damsels in distress and Don Quixote have brave battles, even with a windmill. Still he and his side-kick Sancho set out to fight evil and to seek the affection of a lover.
The plot lines featuring John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and many other noble Americanized cowboys played off similar plots of the Mexican original. Although the depiction of the cowboy is honorable in this culture, the symbolism of the cowboy for Mexicans was lost along the way.
Thus, cowboys were trendy in America and good husband since they stood for justice, but at the cost of turning Mexican culture into a widespread commodity that was sought after.
Why did popular culture frame cowboys as an American idea when it was stolen? Because the intention was inconsequential, meaning white privilege unintentionally acknowledged that term without analyzing the negative implications of those acts. This comes back to previous posts where we have to understand the power we have over others in order to better understand how class status is shaped.
The process of othering is associated with columbusing because after the group claims innovation of a concept, the original founders are deemed as less than the new group due to invisible privilege. In essence, Americans created a system where columbusing the Mexican cowboy placed us as superior, since we made it popular, and the Spanish as inferior, since the rules were stacked against them.
However, the cultural consequences are rarely realized. By this I mean the cultural significance of what a cowboy is and means is lost from the history books, as if it did not matter. It does matter though because history provides society with themes that continue to reoccur as a result of injustices and one society’s privilege over another’s. In essence, American popular culture has made copious amounts of profit off of western films from a plagiarized term used to describe Spanish ranch hands who cared for their vacas (cows) and caballos (horses).
So the next time you watch a western show, acknowledge the Mexican history that made this genre of movie popular. Without the Spanish, there would be no John Wayne, no Clint Eastwood, no Woody, and no western genre of film. But, we have to understand this is not the only occurrence of columbusing; a recent issue involves big bootays. Columbusing may occur on large scale issues like the Mexican cowboy or on a small scale issue like the big behind features of African Americans. Both cultures’ heritages become white commodities where “ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.”