Michele McArdle Stephens
The Caste Wars of the Yucatán tore apart the peninsula between 1847 and 1901. While the violence was not constant throughout the more than five decades between the start and conclusion of the war itself, the threat of rebel hostilities was ever present. Scholars have debated the origins of the war for many decades, with most recent academic treatments focusing on heavy tax burdens, poor working conditions for Yucatán’s peasantry, and the loss of land that occurred during the second half of the century. Tensions between political leaders exacerbated relations with the Mayas in particular and the peasantry more generally. The emergence of the breakaway state of Chan Santa Cruz, in the southeastern part of Yucatán, allowed rebel forces to coalesce between 1850 and the early 1870s. Here, a “Speaking Cross” oracle gave direction to the rebellious Mayas, who crushed their enemies and exacted revenge against those who would not support their cause. The emergence of Porfirio Díaz as President of Mexico in 1876 led to a gradual “reconquest” of the areas held by the cruzob, or “people of the Cross.” By 1901, the Mexican military ended the Caste Wars, though violent episodes still marred Yucatán until the early 1930s.
Chin Chun Chan premiered at the Teatro Principal in Mexico City on April 9, 1904, to an enthusiastic audience. The first Mexican zarzuela written by José F. Elizondo and Rafael Medina with music by Luis G. Jordá initiated a new current in Mexican lyric theater that moved away from the Spanish zarzuelas and the operas popular during the Porfiriato: the teatro de revistas, or revistas. With the subtitle of “A Chinese Conflict in One Act and Three Scenes,” Chin Chun Chan is a story about mistaken identity in which a fed-up man attempts to escape his jealous partner by disguising himself as a Chinese dignitary at a grand hotel in Mexico City. Chin Chun Chan was a significant move away from Spanish productions, attempting to create a local entertainment that could be defined as Mexican through popular characters, dialogues, music, and colloquialisms. This formula set the stage for later revistas particularly during the armed struggle of the Revolution (1910–1920). Through a closer examination of the music numbers and the dialogue, Chin Chun Chan offers new readings on the position of ethnicity, nationalism, and sexuality during this contemporary period of political and social instability and initiates an important period in Mexican theatrical history.
William E. French
A persuasive literature has argued that the course of Latin American history from the arrival of Europeans to the present has been shaped to a large extent by a small but expanding group of literate bureaucrats, church officials, lawyers, and intellectuals, known as letrados, who made their lives in urban centers. Those marked by this combination of power, urban living, and the written word, an assemblage that Angel Rama has dubbed “the lettered city,” utilized literature, history, the law, politics, and higher education to imagine the country into existence textually and to justify the hierarchies and inequalities that characterized their rule. Yet in Mexico, as elsewhere in Latin America, writing has a long history in nonelite settings, a venue that, in recognition of this fact, has now been referred to as “the lettered countryside.” Moreover, as understandings of a single literacy are giving way to a concern with “literacies,” defined in the plural and operating in relationship rather than opposed to such things as orality and visuality, traces of literacy practices are being discovered in many locations. Foregrounding the conjunction of the lettered city and the lettered countryside is an attempt to bring these venues into conversation while doing away with the binary that associates literary with the city and orality with the rural.
Over the course of the 19th century in Mexico, although the written word was still pressed into the service of national imagining, a number of other characteristics shaped the conjunction of the lettered city and the lettered countryside. A struggle over secularization was one new development, as authority came increasingly to be invested in the written word itself rather than justified in religious terms. New forms of literacies emerged, especially those associated with the novel and other forms of publications, including newspapers, periodicals for and by women, and the penny press, creating new publics with distinct senses of themselves as communities of readers and listeners; oratory, public discussion of politics and other issues in various venues, and the phenomenon of indirect readers also brought together these two locations. As early as the 1840s, rural residents in some parts of the country had made writing their own, drafting political proclamations in which they defined such things as federalism in their own terms and asserted themselves in national politics. While elite diarists, both men and women, left traces of their emotional lives in various forms of life writing over the course of the entire period, ordinary people, including mine workers, agricultural laborers, and women who carried out household duties, wrote love letters to each other by the last third of the century, if not before. Composed and exchanged by means of cooperation, the use of intermediaries known as evangelistas, or by individuals with various degrees of facility in reading and writing, love letters served as privileged means of communicating the emotions they brought into being while often ending up as evidence in legal proceedings that continued to assert the prerogatives of the lettered city even as it came ever more intimately conjoined with the lettered countryside.
Matthew Butler and David A. Bliss
The Hijuelas project is a multi-domain international collaboration that makes available in digital form a large and valuable source on nineteenth-century indigenous history––the so-called libros de hijuelas or deed books recording the statewide privatization of indigenous lands in Michoacán, Mexico. These deed books, 194 in total, have been digitized and described over a two-year period by a team of History students from Michoacán’s state university, the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás Hidalgo (UMSNH), trained by and working under the supervision of archivists of the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies-Benson Latin American Collection of (LLILAS Benson) of the University of Texas at Austin. Additional logistical support has been provided by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) as a partner institution in Mexico of the University of Texas at Austin and by the state government of Michoacán via the Archivo General e Histórico del Poder Ejecutivo de Michoacán (AGHPEM), which is custodian of the hijuelas books. The project was generously funded by the British Library through its Endangered Archives Programme (EAP 931, “Conserving Indigenous Memories of Land Privatization in Mexico: Michoacán’s Libros de Hijuelas, 1719–1929”).
The project seeks to be innovative in two ways. As a post-custodial archiving project, first and foremost, it uses digital methods to make easily accessible to historians, anthropologists, and indigenous communities the only consolidated state-level record of the land privatizations (reparto de tierras) affecting Mexican indigenous communities in the 19th century. It therefore projects digitally a key source for historians and one that possesses clear identitarian and agrarian importance for indigenous communities. It also makes widely available a source that is becoming physically unstable and inaccessible because of the difficult public security conditions affecting Michoacán. As a collaboration involving diverse institutional actors, furthermore, the project brings together institutions from three different countries and is an example of what may be achieved through equitable international collaborations.
In the late 19th century, Mexico’s ancient ruins captivated much of the world. European and American explorers trekked through what was often touted as an “American Egypt” in search of pre-Columbian artifacts to display in private collections and museums. Mexicans similarly hunted after the remains of the Indian past, as their country witnessed a heightened interest in the excavation and exhibition of ancient artifacts during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, the period commonly known as the Porfiriato (1876–1910). The Díaz regime embraced the indigenous past in order to present Mexico as a nation with ancient and prestigious roots. It took control of pre-Hispanic relics and ruins through archaeology, a discipline that was thought to give Mexico the coveted aura of a scientific, cosmopolitan, and modern nation. The Díaz regime gave unprecedented support to the National Museum in Mexico City, the nation’s most important institution for the study and display of Indian antiquity. Museum scholars such as Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, Alfredo Chavero, and Antonio Peñafiel, worked on building and organizing the archaeology collection as the government intensified the process of accumulating artifacts in the capital. One of the central figures in this process was Leopoldo Batres, the head of the General Inspectorate of Archaeological Monuments of the Republic. Batres brought antiquities to the museum, helped organize the archaeology collection, and built the Gallery of Monoliths, the nation’s premier showcase of pre-Columbian relics. He also carried out excavations at ruins throughout the country and reconstructed several archaeological sites, including Xochicalco and Mitla. His most famous (and most controversial) work took place at Teotihuacán, where he rebuilt the Pyramid of the Sun, turning Teotihuacán into the nation’s first official archaeological site, a project made to coincide with the centennial celebration of Mexican independence in 1910.
In the 1850s, Juana Catarina Romero, known popularly as Juana Cata, peddled her cigarettes on the streets of Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, an activity that enabled her to serve as a spy for the liberals under the command of Captain Porfirio Díaz during the War of the Reform (1858–1860). By 1890, Romero (1837–1915) had emerged as an international merchant, sugar cane producer and refiner, philanthropist, and “modernizing” cacica of the city of Tehuantepec. As powerful women rarely receive credit for their achievements, popular myth attributes her success to the men in her life, a supposed youthful love affair with Díaz or a later lover, Colonel Remigio Toledo. In contrast, a study of her career helps to shed light on how women could attain and exercise power in the 19th century and the ways in which they participated in the construction of the nation-state and a capitalist economy. Her trajectory shows that when allied with these forces of modernization, women could take on a more public role in society. It also reveals that it is through the lens of local and regional history that women’s contributions and accomplishments, so often erased in national histories, can be made visible.
Friedrich E. Schuler
General Victoriano Huerta (1850–1916) stands out as the bête noire of twentieth-century Mexico. He was a career army officer who had attained the rank of general. Other generals and the old economic and social hierarchy supported him as a transitional national leader who could restore order following Francisco Madero’s revolution and presidency. Huerta has become the national bête noire because of his assumed responsibility for the assassination of Madero and his vice president, along with several governors and congressmen of the revolutionary regime. His seizure of power resulted in a new phase of the Mexican Revolution, the U.S. occupation of Veracruz, and his involvement with German Mexico and the area along the border with the United States. After going into exile, he attempted to return to power by invading Mexico. He was arrested by U.S. officials and interned at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas, where he died during emergency surgery.
The History and Visual Culture of Mexico City’s Xochimilco Potable Water System during the Porfiriato
Jeffrey M. Banister and Stacie G. Widdifield
Historians have extensively explored the topic of water control in Mexico City. From the relationship between political power and hydraulics to detailed studies of drainage and other large-scale infrastructure projects, the epic story of water in this megalopolis, constructed over a series of ancient lakes, continues to captivate people’s imaginations. Securing potable water for the fast-growing city is also a constant struggle, yet it has received comparatively less attention than drainage in historical research. Moreover, until quite recently scholars have not been especially concerned with water control as a process of representation—that is, a process shaped by, and shaping, visual culture. Yet, potable water brings together many stories about people and places both within and outside of the Basin of Mexico. As such, the history of potable water is communicated through a diverse array of objects and modern infrastructures not limited to the idea of waterworks in the traditional sense of the term. A more expansive view of “infrastructure” incorporates more than the commonplace objects of hydraulic management such as aqueducts, pumps, wells, and pipes: it also involves architecture, photography, and narrative history, official and unofficial. Built in the first decade of the 20th century as a response to acute water shortages, the impressively modern Xochimilco Potable Water Works exemplifies a system that delivered far more than fresh drinking water through its series of modern electric pumps and aqueduct. The system was a result of a larger modernization initiative launched by the administration of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911). It wove together an official history of water, which included the annexation of Xochimilco’s springs, through its diverse infrastructures, including the engineering of the potable water system as well as the significance of the structures themselves in terms of locations and architectural elaboration in neo-styles (also known as historical styles) typical of the period. Demonstrably clear from the sheer investment in making the Xochimilco waterworks appealing to the public is that infrastructure can possess a rich visual culture of its own.
Robert M. Buffington and Jesus Osciel Salazar
José Guadalupe Posada (b. Aguascalientes, February 2, 1852; d. Mexico City, January 20, 1913) was a prolific printmaker of exceptional technique, range, and originality. By the time of his death, his images had become a staple of Mexico City popular culture, appearing regularly in theatrical posters, advertisements, book illustrations, broadsides, and the penny press. Despite his popularity with impresarios, advertisers, publishers, editors, and readers, Posada received scant formal recognition during his lifetime. That changed in the 1920s with his “discovery” by prominent artists and art critics including internationally renowned muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. By the 1940s, exhibitions of his work had begun to appear in major galleries and museums in the United States and Europe, promoted as evidence of a unique visual aesthetic rooted in traditional Mexican culture and committed to exposing the long-standing oppression of the Mexican people at the hands of corrupt politicians, greedy bourgeoisie, cruel caciques (local party bosses), and foreign interlopers. Although scholars have disputed the genealogy and political nature of Posada’s vision, the revolutionary nationalist interpretation of Rivera, Orozco, and others has provided inspiration and a sense of cultural legitimacy for succeeding generations of artists in Mexico and throughout the Mexican diaspora. Posada is best known for his striking calaveras, notably Calavera Catrina, a fashionable female skull with bows and a fancy hat; and La Calavera Oaxaqueña, a machete-wielding male skeleton dressed in a charro outfit. Published in conjunction with the annual celebrations for Day of the Dead (October 31–November 2) and accompanied by satiric verses, Posada’s calaveras poke fun at the pretentions of the living in the face of their inevitable mortality.
Robert M. Buffington
The Porfirian era (1876–1911) marked a watershed in social understandings of manhood. New ideas about what it meant to be a man had appeared in Mexico by the middle of the 19th century in the form of self-help manuals intended primarily for middle-class and bourgeois men who sought to distinguish themselves in a post-independence society that had done away with legal distinctions, including aristocratic titles. Marks of distinction included cleanliness, good grooming, moderation, affability, respectability, love of country, and careful attentiveness to the needs and opinions of others, including women, children, and social “inferiors”—an approach that artfully combined longstanding notions of masculine responsibility and authority with modern ideas about self-mastery and citizenship, especially the sublimation of volatile “passions” in all domains of social life. Modern qualities also mapped onto traditional concerns about male honor predicated on the fulfillment of patriarchal duties, especially the control of female dependents. The socially validated, “hegemonic” masculinity produced by this amalgamation of modern and traditional ideas proved burdensome for many middle-class men, who struggled to maintain an always precarious sense of honor or who rejected the constraints it sought to impose on their behavior. For men from less privileged classes, it represented an impossible ideal that they sometimes rejected through the adoption of antisocial “protest” masculinities and often satirized as delusional or unmanly, even as they too came to define their masculinity in relation to a modern/traditional binary. The modern/traditional binary that characterized ideas about masculinity for all sectors of Porfirian society has persisted until the present day, despite the epochal 1910 social revolution that inaugurated a new era in Mexican social relations.
Raquel G. Paraíso
Among the many musical traditions of Mexico, the son is one of the most representative of the richness and diversity of Mexican culture. Son (or sones) is a generic term that describes both a complex of genres and the various regional subgenres that make up that complex. Son is a type of traditional music performed by small ensembles, with or without singing, and danced. It serves to entertain, but is also performed at celebratory occasions and festivals as well as in rituals. Although sones appear throughout Mexico marked by regional differences in both instrumentation and performance styles, they share common characteristics that define the genre as a whole, musically (i.e., their rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic structures), lyrically, and choreographically. Because of the particular cultural traits and sociocultural contexts that each son subgenre encompasses, it can be argued that regional sones are a powerful expression of Mexican regional musics, cultures, and social identities.
Born as a hybrid genre out of the intermixing of European, American Indian, African, and Afro-Caribbean musical elements and contexts, Mexican sones have moved through time defined by many as a symbol of Mexican identity, even if the very concept of that “Mexican identity” has changed over time. What might be called the son’s “Golden Age” lasted from the 1890s until the middle of the 20th century. By the 1960s, sones were in serious decline all around Mexico: they had lost the favor of their audiences, old performers had passed away, and new generations did not engage with these musical traditions. Cultural politics contributed to selective processes through which some son subgenres faded away. Sociopolitical processes from the 1930s to the 1980s contributed to the re-contextualization of the Mexican son through modified versions of sones staged and broadcast in theatres, radio stations, and film productions. Post-revolutionary nationalism, the music industry, and folkloric ballets created these new versions and exercised an ideological control that both affected popular musical expressions and shaped musical tastes. Changes in urbanization and life conditions transformed social relationships and furthered this intense transformation.
With fewer performance occasions and little support from either the government or private patrons, several regional son subgenres became thin and isolated, with minimal projection outside their regions. In the 1980s, some of the son subgenres underwent a renaissance owing to various private and official initiatives that infused new life to the music. This article provides an overview of the son, past and present, connecting the relevance of this musical style with the social history of the country.
Michael J. Gonzales
Porfirio Díaz’s liberal dictatorship used the centenary of independence to promote material progress, political stability, and the mestizo nation, all of which have remained important characteristics of the Mexican state. The centennial program lionized José Maria Morelos as a mestizo hero of independence and Benito Juárez as an architect of La Reforma and savior of the nation. Besides his remarkable political career, Juárez symbolized the cultural transformation of an Indian into a mestizo through education and secularization, a process advocated by Porfirian social engineers as essential to Mexico’s modernization.
Porfirians also viewed Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage as a source of national pride and identity. For the Centenary, the government expanded the national ethnographic museum, reconstructed Teotihuacán, and sponsored the International Congress of Americanists where scholars presented papers on precolonial cultures. Porfirians’ appreciation for the pre-Columbians, however, did not extend to contemporary Indians, who were considered to be a drag on modernization and an embarrassment.
Mexico’s modernization was symbolized by the transformation of Mexico City, the principal venue for the Centennial programs. The capital had been remodeled along Parisian lines with grand boulevards, roundabouts (glorietas), and green space. Electric tramways also connected neighborhoods with downtown, new fashionable suburbs displayed mansions with modern conveniences, and high-end department stores sold merchandise imported from Paris and London.
During the Centenary, the Paseo de la Reforma and downtown avenues accommodated parades with patriotic and commercial themes, and central plazas provided space for industrial and cultural exhibitions similar to those found at international fairs. The Desfile Histórico depicted scenes from the conquest, colonial, and independence periods that outlined a liberal version of Mexican history. The program also featured openings of primary schools, a public university, an insane asylum, and water works, all indicative of Porfirian notions of modernization.
The Centennial’s audience included Mexico City residents, visitors from the provinces, and delegates from the United States, Europe, and Asia. International and liberal newspapers characterized events as festive and patriotic, while the conservative press protested the lack of attention given to Agustín de Iturbide, the conservative independence leader, and to the Catholic Church. During the celebration, supporters of Francisco I. Madero, the reformer imprisoned by Díaz, organized two protests that interrupted events and foreshadowed troubles ahead. Following Madero’s escape from prison, his call to revolution was answered by peasants, provincial elites, and local strongmen whose movements forced Díaz to resign the following year. Revolutionary governments subsequently used Independence Day celebrations, including another centennial in 1921, to promote their political and cultural agendas, including anti-clericalism and indigenous culture as national culture.
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.
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.
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.
The success and longevity of the presidency of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1880, 1884–1911) was based on a modus vivendi between the two most prominent political cultures that emerged in Mexico following the struggle for independence at the beginning of the 19th century. On the one hand were the complex networks of patriarchal authority and patronage, and the exercise of power through personal rather than institutional authority, which have always been (and still are) a structural feature of political life in the Hispanic world. These informal and hierarchical networks were described by Octavio Paz as the “Culture of the Pyramid,” alluding to their precolonial and pre-Columbian origins; they an essential feature of caudillismo (authoritarian politics or “boss rule”). On the other hand was what Octavio Paz described as the “Culture of Citizenship,” composed of liberalism, constitutionalism, and the rule of law, which were products themselves of the long and painful struggle to build the state and the nation over the course of the 19th century. The hypothesis presented here is that Porfirio Díaz not only understood but was able to combine these contradictory political cultures and to create a hybrid authoritarian/liberal regime which dominated Mexican political life for over three decades and provided an unprecedented period of political stability in stark contrast to the first 50 years of independence.
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.
The prevention of communicable diseases, the containment of epidemic disorders, and the design of programs and the implementation of public health policies went through important transformations in Mexico, as in other Latin American nations, between the final decades of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. During that period not only did the advances in medical science make possible the identification and containment of numerous contagious diseases; it was also a time when the consolidation of formal medical institutions and their interaction with both national and international actors contributed to shape the definitions and solutions of public health problems. Disease prevention strategies were influenced by medical, scientific, and technical innovations and by the political values and commitments of the period, and Mexico experienced profound and far-reaching political, economic, and social transformations: the apogee, crisis, and downfall of the long Porfirio Díaz regime (1876–1910), the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), and the period of national reconstruction (1920–1940). Thus, during the period under consideration, and alongside the consolidation of an official medical apparatus as an integral part of public power, the promotion of public health became a crucial element to reinforce the political unification and the social and economic strength of the country.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the Mexican populace demonstrated a fascination with the nation’s railroads. Newspapers, literature, poetry, music, and art focused their attention on the symbolic power of the locomotive, revealing its capacity to reshape people’s social and cultural worlds. As the most potent symbol of progress and civilization, the arrival of the iron horse offered both powerholders and ordinary individuals the opportunity to imagine new possibilities for their nation and themselves, musings that could be highly optimistic or dreadfully distrustful. The locomotive emerged as a ubiquitous symbol throughout the restored republic (1867–1876), the Porfiriato (1876–1911), and the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) that inspired individuals to reflect on the meaning of an array of issues: modernization, cosmopolitanism, citizenship, sovereignty, and national identity. During the restored republic and Porfiriato, government officials and the press celebrated the railway as the dawning of new age of peace and prosperity, discourses that often sought to legitimize and justify sitting presidents and their policymaking. At the same time, popular and opposition groups used the symbolic power of the railway to question the decision-making of the elite that had resulted in extreme social inequality and foreign economic domination. These divisions were a portent of the conflicts that would spark the 1910 Revolution, a popular struggle where railroads and railway workers played principal protagonists. As such, the railroad emerged in a new context as a symbol to represent the heroism, violence, and disorder of those years.