Zorro’s Ghost

Zorro celebrates 100 years in 2019.

My new book investigates the Mexican-American origins to Zorro. In the process, it uncovers how Latinx culture and history gave rise to the American superhero genre.

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Roadside sign announcing Zorro’s alleged birthplace in El Fuerte, Sinaloa, Mexico (Photo by Jason Glaspey

Zorro is the original caped crusader. Before Batman, before Superman, before Wonder Woman, there was Zorro. He was the first to have a band called the Avengers. He’s America’s first masked superhero with an alter-ego. 2019 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Zorro’s creation. Pulp writer Johnston McCulley (1883-1958) penned the original Zorro tales. Since then, Zorro appeared in 64 stories, has starred in 10 feature films, five movie serials, and two major live-action television series, one of them created by Walt Disney. He’s been in cartoons, comics, and in various stage productions (Zorro: The Musical features a score by The Gypsy Kings). Recently, Quentin Tarantino produced a graphic novel crossover with Django and Zorro together fighting injustice. Jonas Cuaron is even now in efforts to make a new Zorro feature film set in the future. Zorro is iconic and he inspired the creation of the modern superhero. The original McCulley stories contained the foundational elements for the emerging genre: the mask, the alter-ego, extraordinary physical skills, and a struggle against archvillains. Famed comic writer Bob Kane wrote that “Zorro was a major influence on my creation of Batman.” For one hundred years Zorro has been America’s original caped, masked avenger.

But upon what, or upon whom, was Zorro based?

A distinctly Mexican legend lies at Zorro’s origins that was appropriated into American popular culture. In the process of assimilation, I argue, Zorro went from a real-life Mexican bandido to a distinctly white, aristocratic hero. The cultural process at work in Zorro’s development is a metaphor for the Mexican experience in the United States. Erasure and assimilation accompanied Zorro’s development as well as that of Mexican-Americans. Zorro became a hero that confirmed Anglo-American identity and superiority—a wealthy, white class, so the story went, had always been the defender of American democracy and the keeper of American values. Resurrecting Zorro’s ghost is the reclamation of the legend of Zorro for a multiethnic and multicultural reading of American history.

Stephen Andes, Ph.D. is a history professor. His current project is the myth and history of Zorro.