Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Love (or lack thereof) in El Barrio - Young Romance's "The Wall Between Us"

"The Wall Between Us"
Young Romance #175 (October 1971)
Pencils: Art Saaf, Inks: Vince Colletta

This evening's story, "The Wall Between Us" from Young Romance #175 (October 1971) is a romance tale filled with rejection and confusion for leading lady, Ruth Hagan who works as a social worker in "El Barrio." In an effort to help the (in her eyes) downtrodden Ramirez family, Ruth takes a special interest in the family's handsome son, Carlos. Carlos, however, wants nothing to do with Ruth and her charitable ways.

In an effort to forget about Carlos and his disdain for her profession, Ruth calls up her boyfriend, Win, to hang out. While Win kisses her, all Ruth can think about is Carlos. Win senses her distance and inquires as to its source. She tries to brush it off as a problem with a "client," but Win knows that she is referring to Carlos -- he has obviously come up before in their conversations. Win makes his feelings about Carlos heard loud and clear when he says, "He's just like the rest -- they're lazy trouble-makers..." Ruth sticks up for Carlos and contends that he only needs to be given a chance.

In an effort to patch things up with Carlos, Ruth heads back to his neighborhood. She offers him some money as a "loan" -- worsening the situation.

It becomes apparent in a dream sequence that not only does Ruth want to help Carlos; she wants him to view her as worthy of his affection.

Not one to give up, Ruth attempts to make her dream a reality. The next day, she ambushes Carlos in his apartment lobby and declares her undying love for him. He basically tells her to scram, but she continues to go on and on that her love is there for the taking. Carlos has a different take on her declaration of adoration...

Carlos tells Ruth to get on with her life -- he has found work and he plans to move on with his. Ruth unenthusiastically goes back to Win who tries to make her forget about Carlos. But Ruth can't forget and when Carlos calls a few months later to invite her to a celebratory party, she jumps at the chance to see him again. Literally, she jumps on Carlos, and wraps her arms around him as she exalts, "Oh, Carlos! It's been so long! I knew you wouldn't forget me! Say you love me!" But Carlos doesn't love her -- still. He invited her to the party in hopes that she would help celebrate in his success. With a friendly peck on the cheek, Carlos leaves Ruth with the following advice:

"Hold out your hand to my people, Ruth.
That's all they ask, really. Goodbye -- and good luck!"

Confused and alone, Ruth stands on the stoop of the Ramirez family's building. Suddenly, Win drives up and offers not only a ride, but an explanation. It was he who gave Carlos a job in an effort to pull him away from Ruth. Only, Win wasn't expecting Carlos to excel and he also wasn't expecting to find himself realizing what a "bigoted fool" he had been.

And as a random officer of the law looks on, Win and Ruth reconnect and revel in the gift that Carlos Ramirez gave them -- the gift of love.

Though I appreciate "The Wall Between Us" and its attempt to include diversity and an admirable (and rare) Hispanic character, I am not sure about the story's effectiveness in conveying racial tensions of mid-century America. Carlos seems to be more of a catalyst for a convenient happy ending between Ruth and Win than a primary focus. Stories such as "Black + White = Heartbreak!" and "Full Hands - Empty Heart!" in my opinion, were more effective in eliciting the heart-wrenching emotions associated with love and loss. I would really like to hear your thoughts, though -- were you moved by "The Wall Between Us," or not so much? Please share!


  1. So many lessons! Written a full 10 years after West Side Story, one might imagine a more realistic take on an Hispanic/Anglo relationship, but I'd have to say the characters were just a bit on the corny side. I suppose we need to remember this WAS 1971 still, and inter-racial romances were still quite a bit taboo. If given more pages to develope, the story might have worked a bit better, but as it was, it bore much of the stereotypes of the time. As a 1971 comic, the moral appears to be that such romances were destined not to be fulfilled. Such as it was, it turned out for the best, since Ruth later discovered she had an eating disorder that caused her to digest refried beans at a rapid pace, so that even if Carlos hadn't been too proud to love her, Ruth's irritable bowel syndrome would have driven them apart eventually.
    That would all be explored in the never published sequel, "Hell's Kitchen or Dutch Oven - My Forbidden Love".

    pS - Win was a bit of an jerk, too. But, even so, they all learned something about themselves, and each other. Mostly that Win was a jerk, but he was a white jerk.

  2. Interesting - I had no idea that DC's romance comics ventured into such "relevant" storylines - their super-heroes were getting heavy into that around this time.

    Ruth's profession of love for Carlos, and Win's change of heart, both seem less than convincing to me. So yeah, I'd have to say I wasn't too moved by the ending.

    But I still appreciate the look into "romance relevance" and I'd like to see more stories like this from that era.

  3. What amuses me about Carlos is that they don't even come close to capturing a real Hispanic look. He looks Anglo, except for the skin color, which is way too dark. And don't even get me started about the red eyes!

  4. I think we can all agree, as far as the social relevance stories go, this one was a miss. I am wondering who wrote it? Kanigher's social change stories seem to be quite good on the whole, so I am thinking someone else authored it...

  5. I have to say that as a Cuban-American that was born about two years after this was published, I cringed the whole way through this one. Not only was this one a stark reminder of how easy I've had it growing up, for I never experienced the prejudices that are both overt and implied in this story, or the ignorance, but I can no longer complain about some of the portrayals of Hispanics I saw as a kid.

    I can't really criticize the author of this story because we are all a product of our generation, but it still made me uncomfortably cringy - and yes, I just made that word up.

  6. Thanks for weighing in, Anonymous. I can definitely understand the cringiness (another made up word!) in regards to this story. I felt it too, but it is important to share the limited portrayals of Hispanics in the romance comics -- good or bad. As always, I am keeping an eye out for more stories with diverse characters!

  7. I totally agree that this is important to share. I was cringing, but at the same time, I was certainly made more aware of the issues my parents might have faced when they moved to the US in the 1960's as children.

  8. As someone who wasn't around yet when these comics were coming out, I have learned so much about the time period, and like you, what my parents may have been going through (Women's Movement, student protests, Vietnam, etc.) when they were young. Whoever said comics aren't educational?! :)

  9. I couldn't agree more. :) Not just what our parents experienced, but even our grandparents!

    Just wanted to add, I love your site. I've been reading it since last summer when I was fresh out of the hospital after minor surgery.

  10. I am so happy that you found SC and that you are liking it! :) I have lots of good stuff planned for November!