So much about the tangled relationship between the United States and Latin America can be told through a surprising cultural character: Donald Duck.
The many lives of the hotheaded fowl serve as a curious case study on the enduring cultural links between the U.S. and Latin America. These links will surface repeatedly over the course of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, the series of art exhibitions across Southern California that officially debuts next week.
Donald Duck, star of the new PST: LA/LA exhibition “How to Read El Pato Pascual: Disney’s Latin America and Latin America’s Disney,” was created by Walt Disney and his animators in the company’s Silver Lake studio in the early 1930s. By 1937, he was headlining his own animated short:“Don Donald,” in which he plays a hapless caballero in a stereotypical Mexican town, complete with cactus and recalcitrant burro.
Donald’s dip into Latin American culture didn’t end there. In 1941, Disney took a tour of Latin America as part of a U.S. government effort to build solidarity in the Western Hemisphere during World War II. That journey inspired a pair of films that now serve as notable artifacts of the era of Good Neighbor policy: “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros,” the latter of which features the hallucinatory convergence of Donald Duck cavorting with folksy Latin American locals and Busby Berkeley-style dance numbers.
“It’s like a hall of mirrors,” says Jesse Lerner, who with L.A.-based artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres curated “How to Read El Pato Pascual,” which is set to open Sept. 9 at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in West Hollywood and the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State L.A.
“Disney borrows from Latin America, they turn it into something Hollywood, they send it back to Latin America, and the Latin Americans do something else with it and send it back.”