Well, this whole “Argo” thing just got interesting. Ever since we wrote about Ben Affleck going “Latino” in October, and after getting a surprising endorsement by CNN’s Ruben Navarrette this week, the real Tony Mendez, whom Affleck plays in the Oscar-nominated film “Argo,” gave an exclusive interview with NBC Latino, and basically said that he doesn’t identify himself as a Latino, even though his father’s family is from Mexico.
Jack Rico interviewed Mendez, and here is an excerpt of what Mendez told Rico in the NBC Latino piece:
JR: A lot of Hispanic moviegoers, when they found out that the name of Ben’s character was Tony Mendez they immediately thought — “why is Ben playing a Hispanic character?” Ben is obviously not Hispanic. No one has been able to get a legitimate answer on the matter, until now. Were there ever discussions at any point, maybe even from Ben, to have a Hispanic actor play you and maybe just have himself concentrate in directing?
TM: Never heard of it.
JR: Did you feel okay with Ben Affleck playing you oppose to maybe somebody else?
TM: Yeah, but I don’t think of myself as a Hispanic. I think of myself as a person who grew up in the desert. If I had been in a different family circumstance, I might have felt that way. But, mostly, my family was at odds with each other in a playful way, they weren’t talking about heritage in that regard.
JR: In the Hispanic film community, there is much debate surrounding this topic. Many Hispanic actors feel they’re progress halts when Hollywood decides to place an anglo star name in a Hispanic role. When you see Ben portray you on screen, do you feel he represented you with integrity? The right way? Did you see yourself in him?
TM: What I already knew about Ben was that he was a real diligent creator down to the fine nobs in the clumps of dirt and so forth, that he was real. What I found about him when he’s acting is that he does the same kind of due diligence on the part he’s playing. A lot of things I kind of discovered about myself he had already up picked on and was portraying them on the screen.
This just got really really good. So many issues of identity and culture. Yet it still doesn’t explain Affleck’s bizarre response, which he gave last month.
Hey, at least we are all talking about it.
Identities don’t have to be matters of forced inclusion or exclusion. I believe fully in individuals right to identify as they please without. People should choose to identify in the way they want to be perceived or in the way that they feel others perceive them. I’ve known many like Mendez who technically are of Hispanic heritage, but culturally and linguistically are not. Ethnicity is a choice and, in the case of Mendez, it seems the choice was made for him by his grandparents and parents to not ethnically identify as Hispanic.