Anne Pérotin-Dumon and Manuel Gárate
Historizar el pasado vivo en América Latina (Historicizing the living past in Latin America) is an edited digital publication composed of thirty-four studies. Available online since 2006, it was the first extensive effort to examine the region’s new contemporary history after the return to democratic rule following dictatorships or internal armed conflicts. Historizar el pasado vivo en América Latina remains to this day the most systematic undertaking in Spanish and digital format to explore this historia reciente (or historia del tiempo presente)—“addressing recent events that remain in the memories of many, by historians that lived through them, in a time in which their dramatic character has made them an enduring moral problem for the national conscience.” More broadly, the publication aims to convey to professional historians and Latin Americanists in other disciplines the breadth and quality of this exciting intellectual development.
The editor’s substantial introduction, “Verdad y memoria: escribir la historia de nuestro tiempo,” analyzes the central issue of Latin America’s historia reciente (viz., to develop a historical critique close to events that have often affected historians themselves); its distinctively Latin American character (viz., as history written in an age framed by a culture of human rights); and how this work compares to European precedents (viz., as an interdisciplinary field drawing from the testimony of witnesses—oral history—but with more problematic access to archival collections).
This digital publication has a geographic focus on Argentina, Chile, and Peru but also presents various genres of history writing and retains a balance between case studies, more conceptual pieces, review essays, etc. A digital format is particularly apt for the publication’s most likely users—Latin American and Spanish faculty, teachers, and students drawn to the field of recent history or already working in it. A final section of the article assesses the contribution of Historizar el pasado vivo en América Latina to the field and surveys related online materials that have appeared since 2006.
Luiz Bernardo Pericás
The cangaço was a social phenomenon related to rural banditry in the backlands of the Brazilian Northeast (an area referred to as the sertão). Beginning in the nineteenth century, the cangaço reached its peak with the actions of Virgulino Ferreira, popularly known as Lampião, the most important and emblematic leader of these outlaws, during the 1920s and 1930s. Its demise came with the start of the dictatorial Estado Novo regime in 1937. The cangaço received widespread coverage in the local press and was amply depicted in the visual arts, literature, and cinema, enduring as one of the most distinctive and controversial subjects in Brazilian cultural history.
Diego Pulido Esteva
Social life during the Porfiriato (1877–1911) was marked by constant tension between a strict moral code and practices that varied widely according to class. In recent years, research about this period has centered on the study of myriad social practices. Renewed with diverse methodologies and perspectives, this research has contributed to understanding what has been known as “the objective social conditions,” to further explore identities through class, race, and gender. Urban contexts have been the primary focus of this new approach to social history, particularly in regard to Mexico City.
From 1870 to 1911, the population of Mexico City doubled from 200,000 to 471,000 inhabitants, while the urban area expanded from 5.28 to 25.16 square miles (8.5 to 40.5 square kilometers). Social practices during Porfirian modernization reveal different experiences according to each social sector: elites, the middle class, the working class, and marginalized groups in the cities. The subject is rather broad, so urban social spaces need to be examined, since they constitute an important point of departure to analyze the changes experienced during this period by the different social classes; these included the transformation of gender norms, and even ethnic distinctions, emanating from racist attitudes from the elites’ perspective.
The elites imposed customs based on etiquette codes adopted from European models. The desire to abandon traditional, backward, and savage society to become a modern, progressive, and civilized one had led the ruling class to promote disciplinary institutions. In the urban environment, a complex mixture of moralist, hygienist, and scientific discourses pointed to a gap between ideal behavior models and actual social practices. The elites expected society to comply with strict norms that were bent or simply broken by social practices. In that sense, each social sector unfolded its own strategies and attitudes when faced with these codes, and study of them allows for a concise overview of the elite, middle class, working class, and marginalized people.
Maira Mayola Benítez Carrillo
Gabriel Vargas Bernal created one of the greatest examples of Mexican comic strips, The Burrón Family. He had a remarkable career as a prolific cartoonist, screenwriter, historian, and journalist, with many titles published throughout decades of work. His predominant topic is social criticism and his narrative style is that of journalistic humor. Self-taught, he worked for the country’s most important–newspapers. Over the years, he wrote pieces on sports and the most popular festivals in Mexico, completed comic strips to support literacy campaigns, and designed many types of comics: historical, religious, war, detective, ecological, didactic, humor, and adventure. In 1948, he created the comic La familia Burrón, a series that tells of a poor family’s daily life in a working-class neighborhood. The author’s sense of criticism was the key to allowing readers to identify with the almost one hundred characters who appeared on its pages. Many of them came from real life and were recreated on the pages of this comic, which was published for six decades.
Vargas had a clear critical view of Mexican society. He incorporated costumbrist scenes and knew how to use idioms and popular expressions through his characters, adapting them to each decade in which the comic strip was published. His stories are full of humor and absurd situations, a mix of reality and fiction. The strip had a half-million printings per week and has been published in compilation books that are among the most sold at Mexico’s main book fairs. Vargas’s work is a necessary reference to learn and understand the idiosyncrasies of Mexicans—their customs, traditions, conflicts, and short-comings—in the urban environment.
The 1968 Mexican student movement remains essential to the formation of the modern Mexican human rights movement. Mexico has had a long tradition of revolutionary activity, rural social movements, and an active labor movement that sought to gain basic human rights such as education, adequate housing, decent wages, and access to land. In 1968, students drew inspiration from leaders of the revolution, labor movements, and rural social activists. They echoed their demands, they used their images, and they insisted that the government respect the 1917 constitution. Despite their efforts to build a nonviolent social movement, they met violence at the hands of the government, which brutally suppressed the movement on October 2, 1968.
Following the massacre and into 1970, the government imprisoned students while others fled into exile to avoid prison. By the 1970s, the government initiated a “democratic opening” in which former activists were released from prison and others returned from exiles. While some former leaders entered government service, others questioned the impunity of the government and demanded answers. In their writings, films, and public presentations, they made connections to the struggles of the past. Like their counterparts in Europe and the United States, their struggles matured and evolved, and they became the leaders of the feminist, LGBTQ, and the modern human rights movements.
Mexico had an exceptionally diverse population during the 16th and 17th centuries, including Indigenous peoples of different ethnicities (in the majority), Iberians, and forced migrants from Africa and Asia, who related to one another in complex ways. Society—a group of people living in a community—was configured differently in each place, based on geographical location, local customs, property distribution, and a myriad of other factors. Faced with such different contexts, historians have tended to generalize about social organization (the way people interacted) from the perspective of the men who produced the most sources. Colonial statutes and official correspondence convey the attempts of Hapsburg officials to maintain a hierarchical social order, but property records reveal a more fluid reality. The acquisition of wealth and achievement of social status by non-Spaniards frustrated colonial ideals for a stratified society that correlated to ethnicity. The success of imperial governance, to the degree it was achieved, depended on its flexibility and how it allowed people to benefit from the colonial economy and to achieve social mobility.
Selfa A. Chew
The lives of Latin American Japanese were disrupted during World War II, when their civil and human rights were suspended. National security and continental defense were the main reasons given by the American countries consenting to their uprooting. More than 2,000 ethnic Japanese from Peru, Panama, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, and Nicaragua were transferred as “illegal aliens” to internment camps in the United States. Initially, US and Latin American agencies arrested and deported male ethnic Japanese, regardless of their citizenship status. During the second stage, women and children joined their relatives in the United States. Most forced migration originated in Peru. Brazil and Mexico established similar displacement programs, ordering the population of Japanese descent to leave the coastal zones, and in the case of Mexico the border areas. In both countries, ethnic Japanese were under strict monitoring and lost property, employment, and family and friend relationships, losses that affected their health and the opportunity to support themselves in many cases.
Latin American Japanese in the United States remained in camps operated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the army for the duration of the war and were among the last internees leaving the detention facilities, in 1946. At the conclusion of World War II, the Latin American countries that had agreed to the expulsion of ethnic Japanese limited greatly their return. Some 800 internees were deported to Japan from the United States by the closure of the camps. Those who remained in North America were allowed to leave the camps to work in a fresh produce farm in Seabrook, New Jersey, without residency or citizenship rights. In 1952, immigration restrictions for former Latin American internees were lifted. Latin American governments have not apologized for the uprooting of the ethnic Japanese, while the US government has recognized it as a mistake. In 1988, the United States offered a symbolic compensation to all surviving victims of the internment camps in the amount of $20,000. In contrast, in 1991, Latin American Japanese survivors were granted only $5,000.
The 1994 Zapatista uprising in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas was the culmination of centuries of repression and exploitation of the country’s indigenous minority at the hands of its Spanish and mestizo leaders and the landed elite. The Liberal Reform initiated in 1854, followed by the “modernizing” policies of President Porfirio Díaz (1877–1880; 1884–1911), and then the revolution that ousted him, would strengthen and institutionalize a new set of institutional frameworks, discourses, and practices that lasted through the 20th century. The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN) emerged from a history of complex and volatile relationships between indigenous peoples of the impoverished state and its economic and political elite, relationships that began a process of redefinition in the 1950s. Zapatismo is one of the expressions of indigenous and working-class struggles in this social and historical context. It can be distinguished from other rural and indigenous movements by its repudiation of the strategies of protest and negotiation within an institutional framework, its adoption of armed struggle, and its rejection of the conventional objectives of land and commercial agricultural production in favor of territorial autonomy and de facto self-government.
Digital Resources: Power of Attorney, A Digital Spatial History of Indigenous Legal Culture in Colonial Oaxaca, Mexico
“Power of Attorney in Oaxaca, Mexico: Native People, Legal Culture, and Social Networks” is an ongoing digital research project that constructs a geography of indigenous legal culture through digital maps and visualizations. The
“Power of Attorney in Oaxaca, Mexico: Native People, Legal Culture, and Social Networks” is an ongoing digital research project that constructs a geography of indigenous legal culture through digital maps and visualizations. The Power of Attorney (
The multiscalar narrative of the Power of Attorney project speaks to multiple audiences, and the digital multimedia format allows visitors to further tailor their interactions with information. The site operates on many levels. It provides maps and visualizations based on original research, data culled from primary sources that can be used as a research tool, historical and geographical background information, information about how to read letters of attorney, and microhistorical narratives of power of attorney relationships. For undergraduates learning about the relationship between Spanish administration and pueblos de indios, the maps and visualizations provide an at-a-glance overview of the spatial and social connections among Indian towns, ecclesiastical and viceregal courts, and the court of the king in Madrid from the perspective of an indigenous region rather than a top-down perspective. Graduate students and scholars interested in the production of notarial records in native jurisdictions, social history and ethnohistorical methodology and the relationship between local and transatlantic processes can explore the maps, visualizations, and data in greater detail. An educated general audience interested in the history of Oaxaca’s native peoples can find a general introduction to the region, its history and geography, and the long-standing relationship between Mexico’s native people and the law.