“How About a Little Reciprocity Neighbor?”
John Francis Knott – April 1936
In the political cartoon “Tragic Journey,” artist John Francis Knott conveys a humorous message to represent the political differences between Mexico and the United States at the time.
President of Mexico from 1934-1940, Lazaro Cardenas was characterized as a loved and heroic man. Cardenas was one of the first presidents to enact several reforms that truly followed the precedents established by the Constitution. He nationalized the oil industry in Mexico and initiated the spread of education, even cutting his own salary. These actions garnered the support of a majority of Mexican citizens.
In the cartoon, Cardenas is seen disposing of Plutarco Calles. Calles was established as president of Mexico from 1924-1928.However, during the years after his presidency he maintained his role as leader through puppet presidents. Throughout his presidency, Calles enacted reform on areas such as labor and social security strengthening the country as a whole. Despite Calles’s good deeds, his anti-Catholic sentiments triggered turmoil within the country. Due to Calles’s greed for power, Cárdenas had Calles exiled from Mexico. In a move cheered by most of the Mexican population, Calles was arrested on the night of April 9, 1936 and exiled to San Antonio, Texas. Cárdenas had proven that he had the will to do what needed to be done and the humanitarianism to spare the former president’s life. These attributes showcased Cardenas as strong political leader and genuine person
The cartoon depicts a grinning man with a large sombrero is depicted tossing several men titled “Calles et al” across a wall. “Et al” is a Spanish translation for “and others.” Thus it can be inferred from the cartoon that President Calles and his accomplices were being tossed across the wall. The sombrero is labeled with the name “Cardenas” offering us insight into the fact that the man is Cardenas Lazaro – the President of Mexico at the time. The cartoon shows a second man dressed in a polished suit and top hat, symbolic of Uncle Sam and the United States of America. Uncle Sam carries several men titled “fascist agitators” in the image. The wall in between the two men represents a wall between the two countries, Mexico and the United States. This wall is symbolic of the border that divides the two countries.
The accompanying article, “Tragic Journey” compares the constitutional practices held by the United States and Mexico. The author states that both countries have imposed a Republic, a form of government that’s role is to enforce a “Constitution, courts, and a guarantee of individual rights.” However, the author criticizes Mexico for its inability to implement its established form of government. He states that in the United States, the people would never be able to “send to death a single man” nor “order an American to leave the land of his nativity.” Despite Mexico’s role as a Republic, it does not follow the system clearly outlined by its Constitution. The author goes on to point out that despite the tedious process of courts and checks and balances in the United States, these processes are established for crucial reasons. These reasons include giving all citizens their respective individual rights they were guaranteed in the Constitution.
Knott exaggerates the exile of former President Calles by showcasing a rather large Cardenas tossing Calles aside, adding to the humor within the cartoon. The artist mocks Calles by illustrating Calles as extremely small in size compared to Uncle Sam and Cardenas. In addition, humor in this piece arises in the title of the cartoon “How about a little reciprocity neighbor”. In the cartoon, President Cardenas is disposing of former President Calles across the border into the United States. However, Uncle Sam attempts to toss “fascist agitators” across the border to Mexico as well. The cartoon implies that if Cardenas is able to send his problems to exile in another country, the United States should be able to do so as well.
Overall, this cartoon sends a strong message in addition to its humor about the reciprocity of political actions between the United States and Mexico. Knott subtlety intertwines comedy and the political severity into a simplistic yet profound cartoon.
“Lázaro Cárdenas.” Historical Dictionary of Mexico. Marvin Alisky. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007. 299. Historical Dictionaries of Latin America 29. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
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“Cárdenas, Lázaro (b. 1895–d. 1970).” Encyclopedia of Latin America. Ed. Thomas M. Leonard. Vol. 4: The Age of Globalization (1900 to the Present). New York: Facts on File, 2010. 53-54. Facts on File Library of World History. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
“Tragic Journey.” Dallas Morning News 13 Apr. 1936: Section II Page 2. Print.
“How About a Little Reciprocity Neighbor.” Dallas Morning News 13 Apr. 1936: Section II Page 2. Print.