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WASHINGTON (Reuters Life!) - When Mexican-American professor William Anthony Nericcio started teaching Latin American literature in the United States he wanted to remove the Latino stereotypes from the minds of his students.
But as time went by the chair of English at San Diego State University fell in love with the images created in films, cartoons and advertising.
From Hollywood's Hispanic American sex goddess Rita Hayworth to the little mouse and cartoon hero Speedy Gonzalez, the icons are listed, examined and deconstructed in Nericcio's book "Tex-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the 'Mexican' in America."
"I started studying the history and origin of these monsters...they are utterly seductive monsters," Nericcio, 45, said in a recent interview.
"They make people laugh, they entertain. Who doesn't want to look like a hot Latina, who doesn't want to be scared by a Mexican bandit?."
But there is a darker side to the icons and the "alienating effect" they can produce in minorities as Latinos, Nericcio added.
"If you open a magazine and ten times a week people named Garcia or Rodriguez are maids, you are going to grow up thinking that you should be a maid," he said.
But he explained that the stereotypes are older than the entertainment industry and their roots can be found in nations in war -- something he calls "bloodstains" of cultures in conflict.
"A lot of the stereotypes of Mexicans that you find in the United States come from British stereotypes of the Spanish, they're reruns," he said.
"Spain and England were in war for many years. The United States and Mexico were very recently, in historical terms, at war with each other."
In recent years, Americans have seen Latinos, most of them Mexicans, quickly become the fastest growing minority in the country, either through rising birth rates or immigration.
"The future of America and Latin America is fused and that's very scary for a lot of people who want to speak just one language and who are basically scared of people who don't look like them," Nericcio said.
The author, who has recently started studying the "construction of whiteness" as a subject, thinks the popularity of stereotypes can also reflect latent racism in U.S. culture.
"We still have our Latino maids on TV, the whole immigration backlash, the whole fear of the alien since September 11th. It's just getting worse because Latinos are the largest growing population," he said.
He added that no one in the country has been left untouched by racism.
"It doesn't matter whether you are racist or not, our country is built on the backs of black and brown people, and that's not going to go away," he said.
"Racism and stereotypes are a sort of oxygen we swim through."