The ‘Cisco Kid’ as Cultural Icon

Mesa, Ariz.

In the new book “The Cisco Kid: American Hero, Hispanic Roots,” co-authors Gary D. Keller and Francis M. Nevins trail the history of the character, from his initial creation outside the Hispanic world to his Hollywood interpretation as a Latino persona, Arizona State University’ s Bilingual Press announced.

This is one of about 10 books that will be published this year by the Bilingual Press at ASU. As the largest Hispanic-focused publisher and distributor in the country, the Bilingual Press was founded in 1973 at the City College of New York and moved to ASU in 1985.

Keller and Nevins argue that mainstream American culture and the Hispanic community made the character into a cultural phenomenon, producing a new persona, what Keller, director of the Hispanic Research Center at ASU, refers to as a “noble bandit,” a robber and outlaw elevated to the status of avenger and champion of social justice. His colleague Nevins is a professor at St. Louis University School of Law.

“This notion is continually exemplified through the Cisco Kid films and more recently with the movie ‘The Cisco Kid,’ made in 1994 by Luis Valdez. It starred Jimmy Smits and Cheech Marin and made the Cisco Kid into a proto-Chicano,” says Keller.

That character – the Cisco Kid – first appeared in the 1907 short story “The Caballero’s Way” by American writer O. Henry. Originally, the character was not portrayed Mexican, but a murderous Anglo, possibly modeled after Billy the Kid, the authors said.

The first sound film featuring the Cisco Kid in 1929 titled “In Old Arizona,” was also the first time “Spanglish” was used in a movie, further cementing the character in Hispanic culture, the authors said.

“The transformation of the original Cisco Kid character into the hero of movies and television was very radical. The Cisco Kid showed up in movies and television for more than 80 years, from 1914 to 1994 and was played by either seven or eight actors,” writes Nevins, in the introduction of the book.

Bilingual Press publishes both established and emerging writers, with more than 150 titles in its backlist. It publishes books in English, Spanish and bilingual format. With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, it distributes more than 1,000 titles by other presses in the U.S., and is the exclusive distributor of books by Latin American Literary Review Press.

“We assist in the creation and appreciation of Hispanic art and the economic, cultural and educational development of Hispanic communities across the country,” says Keller, who also is the publisher of the Bilingual Press.

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