NEW YORK – It's still harder to find Speedy Gonzales on the Cartoon Network than Elmer Fudd on the winning side of a Bugs Bunny movie, but the Fastest Mouse in all of Mexico now has a high-profile lobby on its side.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, the United States' oldest Hispanic-American rights group, has publicly come out on the side of cartoon fans who want Speedy back on the airwaves.
"Viva Speedy!" LULAC director of policy and legislation Gabriela Lemus said. "Give the mouse a chance."
The rapid rodent's films have been deemed to contain offensive ethnic stereotypes of Mexicans, and Speedy has been off the air since the cable network became the sole U.S. broadcaster of old Warner Brothers cartoons in late 1999.
"I've never heard any Mexican-American complain about him," Lemus said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. "I grew up in Mexico, I watched it with my grandmother and we weren't offended. How far do you push political correctness before you can't say anything about anything anymore?"
LULAC now joins thousands of fans who say the high-speed character is a cultural icon who deserves to be saved. Fans have gathered on animation-fan Web sites to debate and organize movements to bring him back.
Cartoon Network spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg said LULAC and other Speedy fans won't necessarily change the Atlanta-based network's Speedy course.
"If there's space for Speedy on our air or on (sister network) Boomerang, the programming department will consider it and make that decision. Just like when we get petitions from any group."
The network, however, remains very aware that a loyal fan following for a particular cartoon doesn't necessarily translate into ratings success, Goldberg said.
"A few years ago, there was an outcry to put on Speed Racer," she said. "We put on Speed Racer and it did terribly."
She said an e-mail petition of 1,000 names the network received Thursday morning was the very first fan comment on Speedy's absence. Before that, she said, there wasn't "a peep" about the missing mouse.
In his adventures, the sombrero-wearing mouse sports an over-the-top Mexican accent and uses his super speed to foil foes like the "Greengo Pussygato" Sylvester. Speedy is sometimes aided by a coterie of drunken, tobacco-smoking Mexican mice who lounge around the village, or by his lazy cousin Slowpoke Rodriguez, as slow-witted as he is slow-footed.
"The cartoons are still funny and it's a disservice and disgrace to the original animators to never show them again," said Geoff Mukhtar, an Indianapolis publicist and Speedy fan. "These cartoons reflect the time they were created and we're trying to impose modern standards on them."
There evidently wasn't a problem with the Mexican caricatures at the beginning of Speedy's career. The 1955 animated short "Speedy Gonzales" won an Academy Award, and two other cartoons, "Tabasco Road" and "The Pied Piper of Guadalupe," were nominated for Oscars in 1957 and 1961.
But the outdated messages in cartoons like Speedy aren't appropriate in the 21st century, Goldberg said last week in a previous interview.
"We're not about pushing the boundary. We're not HBO," she said. "We have a diverse audience and we have an impressionable audience."
Networks like the Cartoon Network have edited out scenes from or simply refused to show animated movies with now-questionable gags or behavior like smoking or drinking since the 1980s. Among the most taboo of Warner Brothers cartoons are the "Censored 11," which depict blacks as fat-lipped minstrels or cannibalistic savages.
And though adult fans may bemoan the fact their favorite rodent has been sent to broadcast limbo, they ought to consider most of the viewers are children, Los Angeles psychologist Robert Butterworth said.
"These stereotypes are ingrained when we're young. And what do kids watch? Cartoons," he said. "I know the adults are saying, 'Oh God, it's just Speedy Gonzales,' but these are impressions that are put in very early and very hard to pull out. I'm the last person to hold a sign for political correctness, but kids absorb this thing on a preconscious level."
Fans aren't buying that argument and ask where you draw the line with a medium that, by its nature, relies on caricature for humor.
"What about Pepe LePew? His chasing of unwilling females surely sends the message to children that's it's OK to stalk and attack them if they resist," Mukhtar wrote in an e-mail. "Plus, because he's French, does this mean that all Frenchmen are sexual predators?"
Speedy boosters shouldn't expect to see their furry hero to be back regularly anytime soon, at least in the United States, although he will appear in reruns of the full-length Warner Brothers movie "Fantastic Island" later this month, Goldberg said.
But there is a place where Speedy can still be found regularly zipping across TV screens — and, presumably, where the crude stereotypes he embodies don't touch a cultural nerve.
That place: The Cartoon Network Latin America, where, ironically enough, Speedy Gonzales is "hugely popular," Goldberg said.