Wild Wild West Cowboy

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.

Painting depicts Don Quixote and his side-kick Sancho on horseback. Don Quixote de la Mancha was a Mexican cowboy created by Miguel de Cervantes. The plot was set in Spain.

Don Quixote de la Mancha was a Mexican cowboy created by Miguel de Cervantes. The plot was set in Spain.

John Wayne sitting atop a horse was the ultimate cowboy in American culture.

John Wayne was the ultimate cowboy in American culture.

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.”

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7 thoughts on “Wild Wild West Cowboy

  1. Aussie boots, better known as Ugg boots could be an example of columbusing. These boots can be dated back to the ’30’s and World War I when pilots wore them. Then they re”surf”ed again in the ’60’s from the Aussie surfers who needed something warm on their feet after surfing. They were meant to be worn on the beach; however, when they arrived in America, society began wearing them on the street and the soft soles began wearing out. So the designers had to create a better sole. Also, after the original creator brought his boots to America, others began to take advantage of his small company and stole his design. So, if you plan on purchasing a high priced designer boot, you better make sure it’s not a copy cat.

  2. Robrienco thank you for your comment. I had no idea that Ugg boots were worn by World War I pilots. This is an interesting example of columbusing since I thought Uggs originated in America. I know that a fellow classmate performed a speech about Uggs and she told us how the inner lining would bunch around the ankles and caused her feet to become soaked seconds after contact with water and snow. I wonder if the pilots in World War I had better protection from the water, since soldiers walk through several different terrains and environments?

  3. I agree with your post completely. I think we would not have any western movies or the genre of western if it weren’t for the Mexicans. Furthermore, a good example of columbusing, I believe, is when the white people took the idea of the Mexican sombrero to create the cowboy hat. But, I think without columbusing the world would be a different place and we may not have somethings that really help us throughout everyday life.

  4. Anonymous thank you for your comment. It is an interesting point you raise with regards to the cowboy hat. Although they are very similar, I find that columbusing may alter the original just enough to hide the path to the original inspiration. In this sense, hegemonic white privilege frame columbusing in a good light. That way they can practice othering, which requires society to assimilate to the “newly founded” popular culture craze instead of an integration of the old, original culture with the Americanized version.

  5. This is a comment related to the comment by anonymous about the cowboy hat and it’s relationship to the sombrero. Most experts argue that the name “10-gallon hat” is actually an import from south of the border. Cattle drivers and ranchers in Texas and the Southwest often crossed paths with Mexican vaqueros who sported braided hatbands—called “galóns” in Spanish—on their sombreros. A “10 galón” sombrero was a hat with a large enough crown that it could hold 10 hatbands, but American cowboys may have anglicized the word to “gallon” and started referring to their own sombrero-inspired headgear as “10-gallon hats.” Yet another linguistic theory argues that the name is a corruption of the Spanish phrase “tan galán” —roughly translated as “very gallant” or “really handsome”—which may have been used to describe the majestic image of a hat-wearing cowboy in the saddle. Yet, another fine example of othering and columbusing.

  6. Robrienco thank you for your insight. It is interesting to analyze the correlation between Spanish and English language. My Spanish professor said there were several cognates between these two languages, which is clear in the 10 gallon hat example. This is making me wonder how many other cognate words symbolize columbusing by the white privileged American culture. Since there are more than I’m sure we are aware of, it ties into the idea of othering also well. Since white privilege columbused these ideas, we are deeming Spanish as less than us and thus establishes a distance between the groups. But, the early micro-aggression by whites led to the corruption of mexican tradition and significance being erased from popular culture.

  7. Robrienco,

    Thank you for replying to my comment. It clarified my confusion of the actual origination of the cowboy hat. I knew it came from somewhere, but was not quite certain of where. Furthermore, you provide some great examples of columbusing, especially the point you made in your first comment about Ugg boots.

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