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Did Heinlein intentionally hide Rico's ethnicity in Starship Troopers until the very end? If so, why? Even his name is something of a slow reveal:

1. In the first chapter, we come to know that the protagonist is named Johnnie.

2. In Chapter 6, we find out that his mother calls him Juanito (diminutive of Juan).

3. In Chapter 12, we are told that his full name is Juan Rico, son of Emilio Rico.

4. In the penultimate chapter, Chapter 13, Rico reveals that his native tongue is Tagalog.

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Slightly tangentially, Juan seems like an unusual name for a Filipino? Though I think he had relatives in Buenos Aires (which was how his mother died). – DVK Feb 25 '13 at 15:35
@DVK The Philippines used to be a Spanish colony. The names of a number of their presidents should confirm that the Spaniards made an impression. Rico also praises Ramon Magsaysay calling him a great man and a great soldier. – coleopterist Feb 25 '13 at 15:45
The Buenos Aires reference is evidence that he wasn't just hiding Juan Rico's ethnicities...he was deliberately misleading the reader about what it was. – Steven Burnap Feb 27 '13 at 0:42

1 Answer 1

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Yes, he did.

This was a fairly common thing for him to do; many of his stories demonstrate this behavior. It's more true with his Juvenile works, but it was common for him to specifically write his characters so that the reader would identify with them, not indicating anything about race, only later to drop some kind of information that hinted pretty strongly as to what that race was. By this point, having identified with the character, the reader is more prone to identify with his/her race somewhat. (Even where he didn't do this, it's surprising how often his main character is of indeterminate / not-pointed-out race; people reading will tend to assume that s/he is of their own race, regardless of what that race is.)

Some other examples:

  • Juan Rico was Filipino, as you mentioned.
  • Rod Walker (Tunnel in the Sky) was Black. (Never directly mentioned, but hinted at very strongly and later confirmed in a letter.)
  • Colin Campbell's race is never clearly identified, but late in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, talking to a man described as 'as beautiful as a black panther' (and, incidentally, given the nickname 'Sambo') he says "Look, boy, I'm mighty glad that your skin color matches mine." "Why so?" "Because, if it didn't, I would be called a racist for the way I despise you."
  • Eunice (I Will Fear No Evil) never has her race identified, and, reportedly, RAH wrote that novel with two pictures of women used as inspiration, one Black, one White, just to keep himself from accidentally falling into describing her as a specific race.

It was less because he was just trying to mentally jerk people around, and more because he felt the race issue to be an irrelevant short-term issue of biology, that people made a huge deal out of; Genetically speaking 'racial purity' was nonsense; people paid too much attention to external indicators.

In Friday, the title character (always portrayed as a pretty white woman on covers) is told about her genetic makeup and that 'You can never afford to be racist; you would bite your own tail!'

But far more telling (re: long term significance) is the passage from Time Enough for Love:

"Not that slant of eye or color of skin matters today, or even matters at the moment of truth. One of the early Howards was Robert C. M. Lee, of Richmond, Virginia-anybody know what his name was originally?"
"I do," I answered.
"Of course you do, Justin, so keep quiet-and that includes you, Athene. Anyone else?"
No one answered; Lazarus went on: "His birth name was Lee Choy Moo; he was born in Singapore, and his parents came from Canton in China-and of the people in the 'New Frontiers' he was a mathematician second only to Andy Libby."
"Goodness!" said Hamadryad. "I'm descended from him- but I didn't know he was a great mathematician."
"Did you know he was Chinese?'
"Lazarus, I'm not sure what 'Chinese' means; I haven't studied much terrestrial history. Isn't it a religion? Like 'Jewish'?"
"Not exactly, dear. The point is that it no longer matters. Just as few know and no one cares that the famous Zaccur Barstow, my partner in crime, was a quarter Negro. Does that word mean anything to you, Hamadarling? Not a religion."
"The word means 'black,' so I assume that one of his grandparents was from Africa."
"Which shows what comes of assuming anything on one datum. Two of Zack's grandparents, both mulatto, came from Los Angeles in my homeland. Since my line mixed with his a long time back, probably any of you can claim African ancestry. Which is statistically equivalent to claiming descent from Charlemagne.

† Before someone brings up Sixth Column, you should be aware that his story was predicated on a new (1941) theory involving how blood types fell into radical groups, that, among other things, were grouped along racial lines. This later proved to be false, but he was working with what was believed to be current science, not just a racist concept that he invented.

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Good answer. And Heinlein's whole thing about "race doesn't matter" is part of why the Starship Troopers movie is such an abomination (the other part being stupid science mistakes that Heinlein would have never made or condoned). – Donald.McLean Feb 25 '13 at 14:31
@DanielRoseman - Farnham's freehold is often quoted to point a racist finger at him.. The problem is people are reading the point backwards.. It was originally titled 'On the Other Foot', and was not saying that Blacks were inherently one way or another (and, in fact, the 'Blacks' of the future weren't.. They were a racial amalgam), but that HUMANS were like that, regardless of which 'group' was in charge. It was a cynical statement about people done by reversing a situation that many found 'normal' and showing how shocked they were when 'the shoe was on the other foot.' – K-H-W Feb 25 '13 at 15:00
At the risk of being seen as nit-picking I think a distinction needs to be drawn between hinting that was 'obvious' to people 60 years ago and hinting that still is to younger people today. From panel discussions at SF cons ex In Tunnel in the Sky, the generally cited 'obvious' hint that Rod was black is a line about people expecting him to pair up with 'the Zulu girl'. In audiences I've noticed that most people ~50 or older agreed with the statement ("2x4 to the head"); while people ~35 or under mostly failed to pick up on its (or other hints) significance at all ("He was black?!"). – Dan Neely Feb 25 '13 at 16:26
@DanNeely - Interestingly, that pretty much confirms that what he was trying to accomplish, and what he expected to happen, have both come to pass, at least within certain subsets of society. – K-H-W Feb 25 '13 at 16:37
@DanielRoseman "And yet, there's Farnham's Freehold, the existence of which I can't explain at all." I would guess that Heinlein just liked the turn-about story as a pedagogical tool for analyzing moral and ethical situations; his writing often came back to the idea that a deal is "fair" when one you wouldn't mind being on ether side of it. Farnham's Freehold was presumably intended to make complacent people feel both the horror of slavery and the painful choices forced on one in such situation (no internet tuff gai stuff when you've a family to worry about, you see). – dmckee Feb 25 '13 at 16:54

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