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Days Gone Bite: Frito Bandito

I had a Frito Bandito eraser. I can still hear that leering, gravely voice. And the song--oh, I remember the song.

At least I remember the second version. Frito-Lay introduced the animated Mexican bandit to advertise Fritos in 1967. He wore a sombrero and a couple of six-shooters, sported a gold tooth and big mustache, spoke with a heavy accent and stole corn chips.

In one commercial spot, he confronted a group of unsuspecting folks and asked "how many peoples here got a bag of Fritos with them? Raise their right hand" He than began to count--uno, dos, tres--before pointing his pistols and continuing: "now, Senors, if you just raise the other hand."

Another time he welcomed astronauts to the moon, claiming to be the parking attendant and asking them to pay with Fritos.

Clever stuff, no?

For some reason the Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee took offense to this. Frito-Lay stuck to their guns--sorry--releasing the results of a survey that found 85 percent of Mexican-Americans approved of the suspicious character.

Well, he was striking--drawn by Tex Avery, the man behind Bugs Bunny and other Loony Tunes characters, and voiced by Mel Blanc...which, of course, is why he sounded like a gruffer Speedy Gonzales.

To appease protesters (and the 8 percent of Mexican-Americans Frito-Lay admitted were upset), the company softened the character. They dropped his guns, capped his gold tooth.and changed his trademark jingle to the one I remember:

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"Aye yi yi yiii
I am the Frito Bandito
Give me Fritos Corn Chips and I'll be your friend
The Frito Bandito you must not offend."

(It had ended with "I want Fritos Corn Chips, I'll take them from you.")

Personally, I can't say that the cartoon spots affected my image of Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. When we crossed the border for the first time--and it was back when the ads were running--I did not expect to find oily, gold tooth, sombrero-wearing bandits. It was an animated farce. Yet it was also a blatant play on stereotypes in an era when Americans were recently aware of the depth of racism in this country and just beginning to understand cultural sensitivity.

The anti-defamation committee eventually picked up enough support to threaten a multi-million dollar lawsuit. At that point Frito-Lay finally caved in, dropping the Frito Bandito for good in 1971.

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