Memín was first featured in the 1940s in a comic book called "Pepín" and was later given his own magazine. The character originally was created by Alberto Cabrera in 1943, and later was drawn by Sixto Valencia Burgos. Valencia exaggerated the character by the instruction of Yolanda Vargas Dulché. Valencia also cites Ebony White as an influence. The original series had 372 chapters printed in sepia, and it has been republished in 1952 and 1961. In 1988 it was re-edited colorized, and in 2004 was re-edited again.
Valencia worked on the reissues over the years, updating the drawings (clothes, settings and backgrounds) for the re-edits. It contains comedy and soap opera elements. However, since 2008 Valencia no longer works on the comic, having departed publishing house Editorial Vid.
In addition to Mexico, Memín remains a popular magazine in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Panama, Colombia, and other countries. At its peak, it had a weekly circulation of one and a half million issues in Mexico; as of mid-2005 it sells over 100,000 issues a week.
As a result of the character's fame, Memín has appeared in other magazines. In 1965, he gave a lengthy interview for the magazine Contenido, where he appeared in a tuxedo. In addition, he was considered one of the most famous members of the Mexican Scout Association, and included in the cover of their magazine in June 1995 to coincide with the publication of the "History of Mexican Comics" stamps by the Mexican Postal Service.
Memín was criticized on its first runs (1960-1970), but the critics were more concerned with his popularity, since intellectuals of that time had a very low opinion of comics in general. The average age of the comic reader in Mexico was higher than in the United States, about 18 instead of 13, so some argue the content of comics had a very strong influence on Mexican society. Memín was read mostly by poor and middle-class Mexicans. Some of the critics touch upon the racial aspects, but this topic was mostly ignored. Critics were more concerned with the stereotypical treatment of certain social themes and the values the stories typically reflect, which more or less echo the ideals of a Catholic middle class. Yolanda was very sensitive to critics, since they reflect heavily on sales. As Harold Hinds comments in his book Not just for children, the study of these comics is important to understand Mexican society.
In June 2005, as part of a "History of Mexican Comics" series, the Mexican Postal Service (SEPOMEX) issued a series of postage stamps featuring the character of Memín. The stamps were deemed offensive by a number of African American community groups and politicians in the United States, including Jesse Jackson, prompting the Mexican government to assert that Memín had done a lot to oppose racism and that the stereotypical Warner Brothers' character Speedy Gonzales was never interpreted as offensive in Mexico.LULAC and NCLR, Hispanic Americans civil rights organizations, also issued statements calling the stamps racist.
The charges of racism stem from the manner in which Pinguín and his mother are rendered, in the style of "darky iconography" (a form which, in the United States, has its roots in blackface and the American minstrel show tradition.) Early Mexican comic artists adopted this mode of depicting people of African descent which had become commonplace around the world. Memín and his mother are depicted stereotypically as the "pickaninny" and the "mammy," respectively. The dress and attitudes of Memín's mother are a caricature of Afro-Cuban women of the time and mirror Afrodiasporic clothing in various Latin American countries.
Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs Luis Ernesto Derbez declared to the press that "it is a total lack of knowledge of our culture; it looks to me that it is a total lack of respect to our culture that some people are making an issue out of this which does not resemble the reality."
According to Enrique Krauze, these different opinions may owe to the very different racial attitudes held by the British colonizers in the United States and the Spanish in Mexico, the much earlier abolition of slavery in Mexico (1810 in Mexico versus 1865 in the United States) and the nonexistence in Mexico of what in the United States were known as the "Jim Crow laws."
The criticism from United States officials was not only ridiculed by public opinion leaders in Mexico and by most of the Mexican population, but it also spurred interest in the stamps: from the day they were criticized, they were offered in Internet auction sites for several times their face value, and Mexican collectors bought the full edition of 750,000 copies in a few days. Sales of the magazine increased, and the publisher decided to relaunch the series from the first issue alongside the current printing. Mexican intellectuals both from right and left have denounced this criticism as an attack on Mexico, and political magazines like Proceso have questioned the chain of events that led to the criticism, making this criticism, a political issue against México.
In 2008, after complaints from an African-American shopper regarding what one news organization reported to be Memin's simian-like appearance and his "Aunt Jemima-like mother," all Memín periodicals were pulled from Wal-Mart stores in Texas. This came after the latest issue titled "Memin para presidente" ("Memin for President") was being sold at locations with a large Hispanic population.