This blog post was meant to be a light mid-summer snack, inspired as it was by my happy consumption of a tender ear of corn-on-the-cob for a July dinner. My post gained some weight in the cooking process, but perhaps you will ingest it anyway. I cannot say how digestible it will be.
My corn was spread with butter but it brought back memories of an age when butter was shunned and margarine was touted as the healthy alternative. In the late 1970s, a series of popular advertisements featured a beautiful Native American woman touting the virtues of Mazola Margarine. She was dressed in denim and her shining black hair flowed straight down her back. In the version I recall, the smiling Mazola Margarine maiden appeared in a luxuriant green field while Native Americans danced in the background. In clipped and pleasant tones, she told her audience that corn had always been an essential food for her people. She assured viewers that Mazola had no cholesterol – naturally! – and tasted fresh and delicious. “Mazola Margarine,” she concluded, “it gets goodness from corn!”
What could be more, well, corny? Yet the advertisement still charmed. It was not until I was in graduate school, however, that I learned from a seminar reading assignment that the Mazola maiden had been a significant step in American advertising: it was the first time a Native American had been used for a major commercial series. Tenaya Torres was, and still is, a Chiricahua Apache. I was also touched to read a narrative by a Native American woman who as a girl had genuinely loved the Mazola corn maiden. She had seen Torres as an ideal representative of her ethnic group and yearned to be like her. Healing affirmation for a disadvantaged child from a margarine commercial? Well, why not? I had only to dig up that seminar reading assignment, cook up the light but nutritious tale, and title it “Goodness from Corn.”
Doggonit! I could not find that reading in my files. Nor could I locate it on a scholarly database or on the Internet. Nor could I find precisely the same commercial I remembered. The two versions I found on the web were slightly more confrontational. The Mazola maiden is stern at first, and she emphasizes that her people call this healthy grain “maize” rather than corn. She then smiles, because Mazola is still – naturally! – cholesterol-free, fresh and delicious. She concludes that Mazola Margarine “gets goodness from maize!” How confrontational, after all, can a margarine ad be?
More Internet exploration yielded a 1987 interview with Torres in the Los Angeles Times (http://articles.latimes.com/1987-10-01/news/ga-11574_1_american-indian-traditions ). The actress affirmed that she had helped to create a more positive media portrayal of Native Americans, but she castigated Hollywood for its untruthful and negative images and called for “Indians” to get more involved in movie-making as the only solution. (To see how Native Americans answered Torres’ challenge, watch the funny and bittersweet 1998 film Smoke Signals. It is entirely a Native American production.)
I explored further. In a 2011 post a Native American man meditates on the much older corn maiden logo of Land of Lakes Margarine (she dates back to 1928) and wonders whether her real purpose is to be a “cover-up” for the oppression of Native Americans. Or whether he is perhaps reading too much into a margarine ad? Answer: Yes, sir, you are. Time to exit the corn maze.
And in all my wandering through the maze, no sign of that starry-eyed Native American child who simply adored the Mazola Margarine maiden! Perhaps there has been a cover-up? It was a sweet corn story. But then, corn/maize has a good deal of roughage in it.