Amanda M. López
Mexico City’s subway, commonly known as “el Metro,” opened its first line of service on September 4, 1969. Since then, the mass transit system, operated by the Sistema de Transporte Colectivo (STC), has expanded to include 195 stations across twelve lines that serve an estimated five and a half million riders per day. The metro was constructed not only to alleviate severe traffic congestion in the city’s center due to population growth and private car use, but also it was envisioned as part of a plan to modernize the city and raise Mexico to the status of world cities such as Paris and Montreal. The low fare has made it one of the primary modes of transportation for the city’s working class, who use it in combination with other forms of public transportation to reach jobs in distant parts of the metropolis. Some studies have shown that the Metro has exacerbated geographic segregation between rich and poor as well as perpetuated low wages. Beyond its function as a mass transit system, the Metro was envisioned as and still serves as an important cultural space. The graphic designers and architects who led the project integrated modern architectural elements with graphic embellishments and signage that incorporated national culture and history to present a modernity uniquely Mexican. In its almost fifty years of service, the Metro has become an important symbol of the capital’s cultural life that everyday Mexicans have used for their own political, economic, and cultural purposes.
On August 13, 1521, the Spanish conquistadors and their native allies seized Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire. The Spaniards succeeded because they had forged alliances with the Tlaxcalans and other indigenous self-governing communities (altepetl) to fight the Aztecs. After the conquest these communities continued their traditions, and the Spaniards largely replaced Aztec leadership with their own. In addition, the friars and the secular church converted the natives to an extent, and together with the crown they foiled the conquistadors’ attempts to become liege lords with jurisdiction. The process culminated in the New Laws of 1542, which curbed the encomienda, a grant to Spaniards that comprised several Indian towns paying tribute. A society of social bodies evolved, composed of municipal councils, lay brotherhoods of churches, and others, complete with their own laws and jurisdictions. Then a series of silver strikes beginning at Zacatecas in 1546 drew settlers into the Bajío north of the former Aztec and Tarascan empires. The local natives resisted initially, and when peace came, they and the settlers created a dynamic early capitalist economy that invigorated other regions. The frontier expanded when animal herds moved further north beyond the mines, and the zone of Spanish influence grew to the south as well.
In 1540 Spanish conquistadors and their indigenous allies began occupying the northwestern Yucatan Peninsula, and they took Tiho/Mérida in 1542. The Yucatan, the Bajío, and the other regions that composed colonial Mexico successively integrated into a global commercial network spanning Europe, Africa, and Asia. The crown and the merchant guild (consulado) in Seville sought to capture the burgeoning Atlantic commerce within the fleet shuttling between Seville/Cadiz and Veracruz and restrict the silver flowing from Acapulco to Asia via the Philippines. Yet market forces defied most of the rules they put in place. Merchants from Asia settled in Manila; Peruvians docked in Acapulco; and the Dutch, French, and English competed with fleet merchants or operated contraband trade from the Caribbean islands to New Spain. In the 18th century, the crown loosened trade regulations within the empire and continue curbing the autonomies of social bodies. A series of investigations (visitas) shook New Spain, and more compliant viceroys and officials appeared, while the friars lost over one hundred parishes (doctrinas) during the mid-century. The king expelled the Jesuits in 1767; registered ships sailing individually replaced the fleet in 1778; and in 1786 José de Gálvez introduced the intendants in New Spain. As the empire transitioned toward a territorial state, Napoleon imprisoned the Spanish king (1808). In 1810 Miguel Hidalgo and a popular following unleashed the War of Independence. As the conflict unfolded, the legitimacy of the old order crumbled, and the empire dissolved in 1821.
Mexico’s involvement in world’s fairs and other international expositions is examined. From 1867 to 1929, governments promoted nationalism and industrialization through world’s fairs in Europe and international expositions in America. Mexico, which had recently achieved independence from Spain, became involved in these fairs to bolster its economy and image, competing with other nations to sell local goods and offer investment opportunities to foreigners. Since 1850, Mexicans have encouraged commerce and industry while enthusiastically marketing their country as a tourist “wonderland.” Accounts of Mexico’s participation in world’s fairs draw attention to the imperialism embedded in such events, suggesting that they were deeply problematic. Defined as cultural palaces and trade shows, fairs have chronicled changing ideas about nationalism, modernity, and, more recently, branding. In the wake of the Mexican Revolution, Mexicans have recognized their strategic importance, although a persistent theme in the literature is that these are inherently tiresome and expensive undertakings and a significant drain on economic and political life.
Christon I. Archer and Stephen B. Neufeld
By 1821, a decade of bloody warfare had fragmented the viceroyalty of New Spain, divided the population into hostile factions of patriots and royalists, and intensified old hatreds among peninsular, or European-born, Spaniards (gachupines), American-born criollos, the complex racially mixed groups, and the indigenous population. In many regions, the native villagers were angry, resentful, and politically mobilized. The war had taught different segments of the population that mobilization and the effective use of political action—even violence—could address their political demands, their interminable grievances concerning landholding, and their chronic disputes over taxation.
These campesino insurgent and guerrilla fighters, many of whom knew little Spanish, fought tenaciously and often successfully for different factions and regions. Although some sought to escape combat and brutal suppression by fleeing into rugged mountains or posing as neutral noncombatants, guerrilla warfare, endemic banditry, and pervasive violence changed the lives of ordinary people.
In the cities, large floating populations of vagabonds, gamblers, and petty criminals frequented cockfights, bullfights, and other popular entertainments; loitering in parks and public markets, they made the night extremely dangerous for respectable urban residents. Nevertheless, even as indigenous and mestizo people suffered from the dislocations of war, arbitrary conscription, heavy taxation, and narrow paternalism, some also developed feelings of pride and empowerment that would find new expression in the post-independence decades.
By the outbreak of the war with the United States twenty-five years later, Mexico was ill-equipped and unprepared to defend its territory. Its economy was in ruins, its army lacked modern weapons and training, and many of its citizens were unwilling to engage in the defense of a nation that they did not fully comprehend. Others rose to lead the republic in its heroic, but impossible, defense.
The history of the 20th century in the Southeast of Mexico is bookended by two revolutions: the Mexican Revolution as it played out in the region, along with its antecedents and aftermath, and a very different but related revolutionary movement that emerged in the state of Chiapas in the mid-1990s. The former has been little studied at the multistate regional level by historians but is critical for understanding the history of the states of the Southeast in the decades that followed. The latter has been intensively studied by scholars in numerous disciplines, but its long-term historical implications remain to be seen. Equally important but scarcely studied and relatively little known is the political history of the Southeast in between these periods of conflict and revolution.
The Southeast is a region that is commonly regarded as distinct, and even marginal, within national histories of Mexico. In the 1980s, President Miguel de la Madrid suggested that the Mexican Revolution had never reached Chiapas. Yet decades earlier, President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940) famously praised neighboring Tabasco as Mexico’s “laboratory of revolution.” Meanwhile, historian Ben Fallaw contends that Yucatán was one of the most important of Mexico’s political laboratories during the 1930s. Taken together, these seemingly conflicting assertions underscore that many of the things that made the Southeast unique within Mexico also made the region important and influential to the course of modern Mexican history. They also raise the question of the Southeast’s experience of the Revolution and the long-term legacies of the revolutionary political projects that unfolded there.
The Spaniards had little idea of what to expect when they set foot in North America. Mexico, as the region is known today, was in the 16th century a vast territory with a grand history. Inhabited by diverse peoples for millennia, great civilizations had risen and then fallen, only to be supplanted by others.
The term “Mesoamerican” aptly describes the majority of peoples who lived in or near Mexico, for they shared many culture traits that depended not only on local resources but also on their ingenuity in exploiting all that was available. Food, technology, ball courts, monumental architecture, calendars, and record keeping are practices that characterize Mesoamerica. And in most instances, trade, whether local or long distance or by foot or canoe, served to join different groups across the land through an exchange of commodities, ideas, and the people themselves. Best known, and it might be said the first among many, are the Maya and the Aztecs.
The Ministry of Communications and Public Works, the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas, or SCOP, was a powerful institution that accompanied Mexico along important historic eras: the Porfiriato, or rule by Porfirio Díaz; the Mexican Revolution; the reconstruction decades of the 1920s and 1930s; World War II; and the subsequent decades of economic, demographic, and political growth. SCOP responded to global and political crises by helping defend and protect the nation in a unique way: by ensuring that Mexico had strong and stable buildings, rivers, causeways, etc. SCOP also unified Mexico from the inside, quite literary. Since 1861, when the Ministry was established, to 1958, when it dissolved and became the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes, progress was measured in the number of kilometers of paved roads and telegraph and telephone lines, in the number of bridges, damns, tunnels, canals, and radio stations in operation, as well as in the state of new or restored government offices, hospitals, post offices, telegraph buildings, schools, and other public structures it was commanded to construct.
The Ministry was responsible for constructing and maintaining a wide range of public services, from the telegraph to the drainage system, to canal and tunnel construction, to the management of ports and building government schools. Understanding its impact, then, requires bringing together the role that art, architecture, local and regional political forces, international events, and new advances in technology and mass communication had on Mexican society. In a more deliberate way than other government bodies, SCOP was in a perpetual state of revision and renewal; the word most frequently used to describe new and existing projects was transformation. Every action the Ministry took was intended to integrate and unify the nation, both symbolically and factually. SCOP leaders always looked to the future and worked to ensure that as a nation Mexico was well connected and prepared for what was to come.
The Motherland and the Welfare State in Mexico: Government Symbols, Programs, and Visions, 1943–1970
Alicia Azuela de la Cueva
The image of the Mexican Motherland protected by the national eagle was one of the most circulated civic symbols during the period of the welfare state (1940–1973). Between 1962 and 1977, it illustrated the covers of the free texts created and given by the Ministry of Public Education to all students. The image gained circulation again in 2008, on the textbook History and Citizenship. It was also employed as the logo for the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social [Mexican Institute of Social Security], an organization to which the government devoted an important part of its budget.
Welfare state programs developed in several countries. In Mexico, the ideals were promoted by the official party that ruled the nation for nearly seventy years. During the presidency of Adolfo López Mateos (1958–1964), when the country experienced its best moment of economic welfare, political stability, and consolidated this patriotic—and propagandistic—symbol, it became a significant component of the civic collective imaginary.
By this time, a solid symbolic apparatus already existed and marked “memory spaces”—with its expressions of public art, like the ones in the visual vocabularies of free textbooks. It formed one of the tools for the exercise of symbolic power needed for governability. The image of Motherland protected by the national eagle (with its gender connotations) can be described as: Motherland is a woman and government is a man; this allows the citizens to relate the civic realm to the private one and to the functions and divisions of the social order and in the family environment.
The example of the Motherland as a source of life and provider of social services for citizenship and that of the government as the provider, onlooker, and president of homeland functions, sublimated and reinforced these values in familiar and social arenas—a role previously assigned to the woman. Reverence to the nation obscured the predetermination of her reproductive duties to the care of its offspring and of its home to the man as head of family in his functions as a provider. Therefore, the visual arts and textbook writing in particular, as well as the visual-spatial language, led to the establishment, internalization, and preservation of the status quo in the social structures and civic norms reinforced by the uses and habits, operating to promote controlling groups, either the paternalist government or the conservative family man.
The welfare state opened a connection to art not only because of the economic boom and the investments in public works and projects, which included public works of art, but also because of the interest of political leaders in education, patronage, and artistic diffusion. Public art played a fundamental role both in the symbolic government apparatus and in the artistic world itself. Possibilities of participation in constructive projects subisidized by the government increased, consisting of both facilities for health-care and housing services, as well as museum spaces. Among these projects was the first museum of modern art, opened in 1964. In addition, the art market strengthened with the opening of galleries accesible to both the middle class and the elite. Consequently, struggles for power between different artistic trends and groups and the Mexican School of Painting that, since 1921, with its budgetary ups and downs and the downfall of its sponsor, relied on an official subsidy to make public art. Although two of the three masters of muralism, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, had died, David Alfaro Siqueiros remained active, and mural production continued with artists of younger generations, new trends, and uneven artistic quality. In the realm of public art, the Plastic Integration started by the painter Carlos Mérida and the architect Mario Pani, promoted contributions in its pursuit of a total oeuvre derived from the harmonic encounter of painting, sculpture, and architecture in addition to the geometric pictorial language of pre-Hispanic inspiration and to the simplicity of prismatic forms from international architecture. Within the modern spirit and its “tradition of permanent rupture with tradition,” the second and third group of muralists, largely led by Siqueiros, confronted the “ruputura” generation, then a group of young artists who lacked a particular stylistic approach, and likened the foreign nonrealism to the didactic and propaganda-oriented character of their rivals. This trend emerged in the 1950s and consolidated in the 1960s. It comprised José Luis Cuevas, Alberto Guironella, and Cordelia Urueta, who were linked to neo-figurative art and to abstract art in several modalities with Vlady, Manuel Felgueres, Lilia Carrillo, Juán García Ponce, Pedro Coronel, Kasuya Sakai, and Vicente Rojo, among others. Overall, these trends and conflicts between political realism and nonrealism shared characteristics on the international level during the Cold War.
Alejandro Tortolero Villaseñor
For several years, some of Mexico’s most influential literary figures associated mountains with the presence of certain characteristics: wildlife, botanic variety, and most importantly, backwards and/or mysterious indigenous communities. Order and civilization, it seemed, for writers like Ignacio Altamirano and Manuel Payno, ceased to exist in mountainscapes. For these writes, mountains constituted social afterthoughts—places lacking history and dynamism, places that did not matter. They were, in Braudelian terms, the margins of civilization and factories that supplied human resources to cities.
Such portrayals were not derived from reality, however. Far from solely being dull or dangerous sites where banditry and romantic indigeneity prevailed, Mexico’s mountains were, between the colonial era and the Porfiriato, the places where dramatic transformations took place. Impresarios’ mastery of Mexico’s natural resources fueled the country’s economic growth during the 19th and 20th centuries. Concomitant with this growth came dramatic alterations of the country’s landscape that left much of Mexico’s environment in disrepair.
Mountains, thus, have histories. They are not landscapes where civilization parts ways with society. Such an argument has relevance in parts of the world like Latin America, where nearly half of the people who reside there live at elevations above sea level, and where only 7 percent reside under an elevation of 1,000 meters above sea level.
The Departamento de Bellas Artes (DBA; Department of Fine Arts) was founded as one of the departments of the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP). It had a Music Section, which centered its activities on teaching music, at all levels in the entire country, with socialist ideology and under the firm belief that the fine arts should be part of the education of the people. To do so, it defined a repertoire of songs and their arrangements that was coherent and had a nationalistic discourse. The selection of songs was taken from diverse sources, some of which were the result of bibliographic research, mostly done in the DBA, but the important groups of melodies and songs that were sung in schools and adult choruses came from the National Music Archive, which was created to be the foundation and massive sample compilation of Mexican music. The composers and researchers at the time had little or no idea what the characteristics of indigenous music was; and to create nationalistic music and national dances, they needed references of what was Mexican, what was traditional. The archive was a massive and ambitious project, and the DBA was a national institute with the authority to write to all the governors in the country asking for references of folk music, local fiestas, and traditional dances, of which composers and researchers knew very little. Composers and musicians participated in sending in samples of scores or lyrics, then institutional programs were designed for rural teachers to compile music in distant regions and towns. Much of the material that was sent in was well known songs, popular ranchera music, and the indigenous music that was expected to create teaching and nationalist programs required so further research. Much of the music used in the educational programs derived from contributions made by rural teachers, and the indigenous music was compiled by few specialists who travelled only with their ears, pencils, and paper and returned with a rough selection of melodies that outlined the indigenous music of Mexico. Other sources of reference, music scores and dance descriptions, came from official events and dance contests held by the DBA in Michoacan, Hidalgo, Estado de México, and Mexico City.
Ricardo Pérez Montfort
From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, Mexican popular music underwent a significant transformation, thanks to the growth of Mexico City as an urban center and to the influence of both regional and international music genres. At the same time, the Mexican public experienced a profound shift in the way music was consumed. Over the course of five generations, traditional modes of encountering music gave way to a more cosmopolitan enjoyment of new and old musical styles.
Conservation, in broad terms, has been a dynamic and nuanced practice throughout Mexican history. Nature conservation and protection include individual practices such as planting trees to protect watersheds, seasonal hunting bans, land set-asides such as national parks, and the ideas and values that shape these actions. Three broad eras are analyzed to provide a kaleidoscopic view of how some people living in Mexican territory have understood and acted for nature conservation. The first era, stretching from the pre-Columbian through the colonial eras, was characterized by an abundance of nature relative to people using it. The reasons for conservation were infrequent but did emerge, particularly in urban settings. The second era, the administrative era from the 1820s to the 1980s, included early national claims, revolutionary policies, and the reach of global institutions into domestic conservation policy. Nature’s limitations became apparent due to overuse and development which inspired formal responses to limit exploitation. The third era, from 1982 to the present, involves an age of abstraction where conservation has been reimagined for various purposes by a culture increasingly removed from an appreciation of the practical and aesthetic qualities of nature.
Before there was Mexico, there was oil. Millennia of organic matter that collapsed and liquefied into fossil fuel rested deep underground and underwater along the half-moon territorial formation that 19th-century geographers named the Mexican Gulf. Hidden by the lush tropical rainforests, marshes, and mangroves that occupied the landscape from the Pánuco River on the border between modern day Tamaulipas and Veracruz and the Bay of Campeche on the South, the oil seeped to the surface in small ponds, sometimes blackening the waters of streams and lagoons from Tabasco to the Huasteca. The human communities who inhabited that part of the globe thousands of years later knew about and utilized nature’s oozing sticky black tar.
The Olmec, who flourished in southern Veracruz from 1200 to 400
Roderic Ai Camp
The evolution of the importance of public opinion in Mexico is intertwined with the emphasis of scholars, both foreign and Mexican, introducing survey research techniques. These efforts became more common in the 1960s and 1970s, but became increasingly significant in the 1980s, when major newspapers and other publications begin to sponsor wide-ranging public opinion polls. Public opinion polls played a critical role in Mexico’s democratic political transition during the 1980s and 1990s, informing ordinary Mexicans about how their peers viewed candidates and important policy issues, while simultaneously allowing citizens, for the first time, to assess a potential candidate’s likelihood of winning an election before the vote, while also confirming actual election outcomes through exit polls. Polling data reveal changing social, religious, economic, and political attitudes among Mexicans over time, revealing the importance of both traditional and contemporary values in explaining citizen behavior.
Joshua K. Salyers
Revolutionary leaders favored depictions of Mexico City in the mid-20th century that highlighted the progress and orderly growth of a modern industrial city. The ruling party made Mexico City the focus of post–World War II development policies and the showcase for the success of those policies in achieving the new goals of the Mexican Revolution during a period of sustained economic growth known as the “Mexican miracle.” When, in the early 1960s, the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis published The Children of Sánchez, his popular study of urban poverty, and turned the public’s attention away from the sites that underscored the official narrative of orderly industrial growth, it incited a heated public debate in Mexico City. The book contained the oral histories of a family living in the low-income neighborhood of Tepito, in the center of the capital, and was a shocking account, told in their own words, of a family’s attempt to survive urban life. Supporters of the modernizing policies of federal officials and the capital’s mayor, Ernesto Uruchurtu, attacked the book in the press and even filed formal complaints with Mexico’s attorney general demanding that the book and its author be banned from the country and the publisher reprimanded. They claimed that the book was too vulgar for public consumption and called it a foreigner’s attack on the reputation of the country and the city. Critics of the Institutional Revolutionary Party used the publicity generated by the attacks to open up a dialog about the marginalized people left behind by urban development and engaged in the debates as a safe way to express its own concerns about Uruchurtu’s inhumane development policies and the government’s insistence on hiding reality to present the city to the international community as a modern showcase.
In February 1943, a small but powerful volcano emerged from a cornfield in the vicinity of Uruapan, Michoacán, México. A stunned farmer, Dionisio Pulido, alerted the nearby town of San Juan Parangaricutiro, and a group of villagers went to investigate the growing mound in Pulido’s field. The new volcano, named Parícutin by Mexican scientist Dr. Ezequiel Ordóñez, emitted smoke, ash, and lava until 1952. The ash fall and lava flows severely changed life in five of the surrounding villages. Most villagers in the affected areas were reluctant to move, but the ash fall made it nearly impossible to cultivate their crops, polluted the air and water sources, and made their animals sick. In the end, two villages completely evacuated with the help of the national government.
A few days after the volcano emerged, scientists from México and the United States flocked to the area for the unique opportunity to study a volcano from its birth. They recorded lava flows, eruption patterns, ash fall, and damage to the surrounding agricultural land. A significant relationship blossomed between a U.S. Geological Survey scientist, Carl Fries Jr., and a local Purépecha man, Celedonio Gutiérrez. Although Gutiérrez had only a minimal education, his knowledge of the environment and the local people proved essential to foreign academics studying the volcano. Working together, the two men published at least eight scientific articles in the U.S. weekly magazine Eos, based on daily observations of the volcano.
Parícutin fascinated people from México and the United States since the moment it grew into a cinder cone. Artists such as Dr. Atl used the volcano for inspiration, producing countless sketches and paintings, some of which were published. Reporters, tourists, and artists from around the world visited Parícutin, excited at the possibility of seeing an active volcano up close. Authors and illustrators also expressed the fascinating story of the volcano and the affected Purépecha community in children’s stories. In the 21st century, Parícutin remains a popular tourist destination.
A half-buried church in what was San Juan Parangaricutiro is all that remains of a once lively village and stands as a testament to the strength and reach of Parícutin. Despite the destruction, the eruption serves as a reminder of the importance of volcanoes in Mexican culture and provides a lens to examine the long-established relationship between people and volcanoes. The study of Parícutin fits into the wider scholarship of Latin American environmental history because it highlights the connections between culture and environment. This story demonstrates the interplay between the perspectives different groups of people had of the volcano and how landscape affects the social and cultural history of a place and its people.
Pedro Infante (1917–1957) remains one of Mexico’s most beloved entertainers of all time. His films and songs, his life story and his charm, but also his death and funeral and the contestation over his patrimony have combined to sustain his popularity to this day. In part, his contemporaneous and posthumous representation as a common man, a man of el pueblo (the people), cemented a prominence that was already unparalleled during his lifetime. An overview of his life, career, and legacy provides a viable lens to understand his enduring fame, locating him within the Mexican imagination. That is, important events in his life make more sense when seen as specific images that Infante has represented: the humble carpenter, charro (cowboy), singer, boxer, and tragic figure. He has even represented Mexico itself for the Mexican community of the United States. The man and his characters seem to blend into an array of personas that consistently convey humility and charisma. Therefore, one can see why people around him have tried to appropriate his image and his story—efforts that began while he was still alive. Notably, his funeral marked the birth of the Infante who has reverberated among several generations of fans, but one that does not always match the Infante that his contemporaneous audiences admired. All versions of Infante, including the actual person and the characters that he played, have garnered attention and admiration since he began his career in the 1930s.
Photography, film, and other forms of technical imagery were incorporated quickly into Mexican society upon their respective arrivals, joining other visual expressions such as murals and folk art, demonstrating the primacy of the ocular in this culture. Photojournalism began around 1900, and has formed a pillar of Mexican photography, appearing in illustrated magazines and the numerous picture histories that have been produced. A central bifurcation in the photography of Mexico (by both Mexicans and foreigners) has been that of the picturesque and the anti-picturesque. Followers of the former tendency, such as Hugo Brehme, depict Mexicans as a product of nature, an expression of the vestiges left by pre-Columbian civilizations, the colony, and underdevelopment; for them, Mexico is an essence that has been made once and for all time. Those that are opposed to such essentialism, such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, choose instead to posit that Mexicans are a product of historical experiences.
The Mexican Revolution has been a central figure in both photography and cinema. The revolution was much photographed and filmed when it occurred, and that material has formed the base of many picture histories, often formed with the archive of Agustín Víctor Casasola, as well as with documentary films. Moreover, the revolution has been the subject of feature films. With the institutionalization of the revolution, governments became increasingly conservative, and the celebrity stars of “Golden Age” cinema provided models for citizenship; these films circulated widely throughout the Spanish speaking world. Although the great majority of photojournalists followed the line of the party dictatorship, there were several critical photographers who questioned the government, among them Nacho López, Héctor García, and the Hermanos Mayo.
The Tlaltelolco massacre of 1968 was a watershed, from which was born a different journalism that offered space for the critical imagery of daily life by the New Photojounalists. Moreover, the representation of the massacre in cinema offered sharply contrasting viewpoints. Mexican cineastes have received much recognition in recent years, although they do not appear to be making Mexican films. Television in Mexico is controlled by a duopoly, but some programs have reached an international audience comparable to that of the Golden Age cinema.
Romana Gloria Falcón Vega
During the formation of the Mexican nation, jefaturas políticas, or prefectures, as they will be called generically in this article, were basic institutions (1812–1917) for centralizing and organizing power and assuring governance. This was a vital task given the civil and international wars the country would endure. These powerful institutions were the mediators between the upper and lower political echelons and social classes. In the prefectures were vested an impressive range of diverse responsibilities—agrarian, fiscal, preserving order, military conscriptions, educational, medical and sanitary services, promoting the economy, elaborating statistics, mapmaking—which made modernization and administrative functionality very difficult. At the turn of the 20th century, this was an obstacle to the modernization and efficacy of the regime.
Even though prefectures had responsibilities for all of Mexico, they also had an important degree of flexibility to attend to local needs. Therefore, laws and practices were adapted to the peculiarities of the different states, for example, regulating labor or conciliating rivalries that sprang from the application of liberal agrarian policies.
Prefects governed specific political districts in which the states were divided and were generally appointed and removed freely by the governors as their personal representatives to enforce laws and policies and to control any opposition. They were remembered in popular imaginary, literary, and revolutionary historiography as brutal and corrupt functionaries loyal only to the upper classes and their clientelist networks. Contemporary studies have proved that these modalities—brutality and corruption—have a place in the prefect’s box of tools, but new research has widened the historiographic perspective and showed how differently these functionaries could act. In fact, they used most of their energy trying to negotiate with the whole range of social classes and political factions. But their repressive character led to its elimination: they fought the revolution of 1910, and when they lost they were suppressed in 1917.
Although their history can be traced further back to the study of heredity, variability, and evolution at the beginnings of the 20th century, studies on the genetic structure and ancestry of human populations became important at the end of World War II. From 1950 onward, the tools and practices of human genetics were systematically used to attack global health problems with the support of international health organizations and the founding of local institutions that extended these practices, thus contributing to global knowledge. These developments were not an exception for Mexican physicians and human geneticists in the Cold War years. The first studies, which appeared in the 1940s, reflect the emerging model of human genetics in clinical practice and in scientific research in postwar Mexico. Studies on the distribution of blood groups as well as on variant forms of hemoglobin in indigenous populations paved the way for long-term research programs on the characterization of Mexican indigenous populations. Research groups were formed at the Ministry of Health, the National Commission of Nuclear Energy, and the Mexican Social Security Institute in the 1960s. The key actors in this narrative were Rubén Lisker, Alfonso León de Garay, and Salvador Armendares. They consolidated solid communities in the fields of population and human genetics. For Lisker, the long-term effort to carry out research on indigenous populations in order to provide insights into the biological history of the human species, disease patterns, and biological relationships among populations was of particular interest. Alfonso León de Garay was interested in studying human and Drosophila populations, but in a completely different context, namely at the intersection of studies on nuclear energy and its effects on human populations as a result of World War II, with the life sciences, particularly genetics and radiobiology. In parallel, the study of chromosomes on a large scale using newly experimental techniques introduced by Salvador Armendares in Mexico in 1960 allowed researchers to tackle child malnutrition and health problems caused by Down and Turner syndromes. The history of population studies and genetics during the Cold War in Mexico (1945–1970s) shows how the Mexican human geneticists of the mid-20th century mobilized scientific resources and laboratory practices in the context of international trends marked by WWII, and national priorities owing to the construction movement of postrevolutionary Mexican governments. These research programs were not limited to collaborations between research laboratories but were developed within the institutional and political framework marked at the international level by the postwar period and at the national level by the construction of the modern Mexican state.