Daily Swatch: South of the Border

I don’t know how I feel about vintage fabrics that portray Mexican people and other assorted stereotypical Mexican motifs. What do you think — do these images send the wrong message, or are they harmless? Are they important documents of less enlightened times, or should they all be thrown out and forgotten? I’ll call them South of the Border prints (as most sellers of vintage fabrics do) because, as that name implies, they portray a decidedly North American-centered view of Mexico.

Me, I’ve got a few such prints in my stash and enjoy them from a color and design perspective, but don’t think I would be able to use or flaunt fabric portraying a sombrero-wearing siesta-taking man, or jolly fruit-selling native women. This example above, from freerangebaby (blog/shop) on Flickr, is interesting because most “South of the Border” prints were produced in the 40s-50s, and this one looks more 60s-70s with its bright colors and more graphic style.


  1. Kim says:

    To be honest, I have long felt the same way. These prints make me uncomfortabe, as they strike me as demeaning. I feel similarly conflicted about how they should be handled.

  2. Jan says:

    I think that some of them are romantic and beautiful, and others are cheesy and wrong.

  3. Kerryn says:

    I guess fabrics like this need to be viewed historically – mainstream thinking at the time was that it was ok to portray indigenous or minority people like this, whereas us post-colonials find it problematic. I live in New Zealand and there is certainly was tradition of portraying Maori (the indigenous people of NZ) in art and crafts in the recent past that is the subject of criticism nowadays. Fabric like this should not be viewed uncritically, but neither should it be thrown out – it tells us important things about our past, whether we like the message or not.

  4. Nathalie says:

    I have a couple – one is sombreros and pots on a 50s feedsack; the other I think might include people and despite its vintage aspect is a recent print. As I’m based in the UK however, there is no perception of it being demeaning to anyone. Here, it’s no more offensive than a cute print of bagpipes and kilts; French berets, bicycles and Breton shirts; or geishas in kimonos and fans. Politicial correctness can be very geographically specific I guess. However colonial/ racist stereotypes like golliwogs, picaninnies, etc. might have some historic interest but are plain indefensible in our day and age, wherever one might live!

  5. Kim says:

    Thanks for your comments — they express my thoughts better than I could!

  6. Courtney says:

    For a very long time I was uncomfortable with “novelty” print fabrics that portray stereotypical views of any kind. I sometimes even avoided purchasing them for resale and often felt the need to apologize when people entered my shop and pondered over them. Then, I bought a collection of vintage linens that portrayed “American” figures in the same type of situations. The 50′s wife chasing her disheveled husband out to the dog house, fat bottom towels, hillbillies with corn cob pipes and a still, etc. No one ever seems to take offense to these images.

    So, I decided to just enjoy all of them, in a historical sense, as well as a design sense and sometimes even a humorous sense, if that is what was intended. I don’t see the stereotype when I look at items like this because I don’t believe in stereotypes, at all! I may be wrong, but sometimes I think we take things a bit to seriously. These fabrics are visually stimulating, as well as important pieces of our history, the good and bad.

  7. CraftyRachel says:

    I have nothing much to add to these insightful comments, but that I had a similar question when the “cowboys and Indians” theme came back with a vengeance a few years ago (and now especially in children’s decor). I realized that many such prints can be enjoyed because they exude happiness and nostalgia. Some are downright racist, however – but it’s not too hard to tell the difference. I’d rather we embrace diversity in a positive way than avoid anything that deals with cultures that are not our own.