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When the 16th century—the Conquest Century—drew to a close, the territory of what is today called Central America was already organized as a colonial domain. The system of “Two Republics”—segregating autochthonous populations from the Spanish in order to protect the former from the abuses and potential perversions of the latter, but also to better control the former and demand labor, goods, and money from them—was well established, and colonial institutions (Audiencia, royal treasury offices, town councils (cabildos), dioceses, parishes, etc.) had been put in place. The Spanish governing and enriched elite were clearly on top but were surrounded, nonetheless, by a plethora of dominated ethnic groups, such as the indigenous and the African—either slave or free—populations, the non-elite Spanish immigrants, and those of mixed race. The process of miscegenation between all ethnic groups of colonial society, slow and faltering at first, was already a fact in the region, and a caste society was firmly established. At the same time, Spanish settlement in the territory was entrenched, with consolidated cities and established rural properties. Trade and mining were also active, creating economic cycles linked to the global economy, as well as to internal markets. However, resistance and rebellions by the dominated populations and an extended frontier—made of unconquered and uncontrolled zones—as well as the irruption of enemies in the uncontrolled regions, were not absent from the region. What was the destiny of this complex newly born society over the century to come? In Central America, the new century would be characterized by processes of stabilization and consolidation of colonial life in all aspects, but also by strong geostrategical interests, brutal social asymmetries, and an overwhelming peripheral status.

Article

Carlos Gregorio López Bernal

In 1871, a wave of “liberal revolutions” began in Central America. Important changes were made to strengthen national states, promote the growth of the economy, and secularize society. The speed and intensity of the reforms varied across the region, as did the results. However, in every case, there were significant advances shown through exports, public works, and architecture in major cities. The benefits of the reforms were also unevenly distributed. Coffee growers, businessmen, and bureaucrats saw their incomes and living standards improve while peasants, indigenous people, and workers received little, and in some cases saw their living conditions deteriorate significantly. The global crisis of capitalism in 1929 demonstrated the vulnerability of the liberal model, producing an authoritarian turn in the region.

Article

Chicle is a thick and odorless natural latex that comes from the Chicozapote tree (Manilkara sapota), which is indigenous in Mexico and Central America. When the sapodilla tree is cut into with a blade or infested with insects, it produces latex as a protective response. The ancient Maya and Aztec used this latex as chewing gum, a habit that Mexican president General Antonio López de Santa Anna continued in the 19th century. While in the United States, he introduced chicle to US inventor Thomas Adams, Sr., who in the 1870s produced the first mass-produced chicle chewing gum. However, it was William Wrigley, Jr. who in the 1890s entered a highly competitive gum market and innovated new marketing campaigns that appealed to a broad audience. These advertisements often proclaimed the benefits of gum chewing for digestion, dental hygiene, and the ability to improve mental focus. Wrigley used these qualities to encourage the US military to adopt chewing gum into rations starting in World War I. As military personnel shared chewing gum with children in war zones, this “American habit” spread around the world. Public officials complained about the expense of cleaning up gum-littered sidewalks, the Women’s Temperance Union even argued that chewing gum was a slippery slope that could lead to smoking, gambling, or drinking, and many cultures have strong social norms regarding gum chewing in public. Despite these challenges, William Wrigley spent millions of dollars promoting a favorable image for gum and the habit of gum chewing, and other marketers launched collectables such as baseball cards to encourage sales. Chicle-based chewing gum ultimately became a victim of its own popularity, and while researchers sought out other sources of latex, such as jelutong, balata, and gutta-percha, US manufacturers ultimately resorted to synthetic substitutes. Although the chewing gum industry of today is dominated by the use of a synthetic gum chewing base, it is worth more than $25 billion annually.

Article

Throughout the 20th century, Central America experienced two key waves of communist-party formation. The first wave lasted from 1923 to 1931 and the second from 1949 to 1954. The first-wave parties actively participated in four fundamental historical processes: in El Salvador, in the rebellion of 1932; and in Costa Rica, in the banana strike of 1934, in the reforms of 1940 to 1943, and in the civil war of 1948. The second-wave parties participated decisively in the radicalization of the Guatemalan social reforms (1951–1954) and in the 1954 Honduran banana strike. These parties had a differentiated impact on Central American societies. In Costa Rica and Panama, the communists promoted social changes whose success worked against the communists themselves. In Belize, an active Labor party prevented a communist party from developing there. In Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, repression neutralized the role that communist parties could play as institutional modernizers. In the mid-1940s, the military assumed this modernizing role: in Guatemala, with the collaboration of the communists; and in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, against the communists. The most radical of these reformist experiences was the Guatemalan, which ended in 1954 due to a US-backed coup. In the other countries, the military endorsed socially limited reforms without political democratization. In this context, the communist parties began to be displaced by guerrilla movements from 1959 to 1963. In Honduras, the military managed to stop this displacement in the early 1960s through broader reformist policies, but the guerrillas in the other countries led a successful revolution in Nicaragua (1979), fought lengthy civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, and turned Central America into one of the main battlefields of the Cold War in the 1980s. Beginning in the 1990s, these guerrilla movements became political parties, electorally strong in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and marginal in Guatemala, but different from the communist parties that preceded them. At the beginning of the 21st century, the communist parties that still exist in Central America barely maintain a presence on Facebook.

Article

The Online Finding Aid for the Archivo General de Centro América will provide increased ways for researchers to identify documents of interest in a widely distributed microfilm copy of this primary resource for the history of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Chiapas (Mexico). The original archive, located in Guatemala, houses approximately 147,000 registered document collections from the colonial period, ranging in date from the 16th century to independence from Spain in 1821. The microfilm copy, composed of almost 4,000 reels of microfilm, is organized according to basic keywords designating the original province in colonial Guatemala, a year, and a subject-matter keyword. Also associated in the basic records of the finding aid (which are already available online) are the reference number assigned each document in the original archive, and the specific reel(s) on which it is found. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, enhanced records are being created for documents dating between 1700 and 1821 identified as associated with Guatemala, the administrative heart of the colony, for which there are no published indices. Enhanced records add names of people and places not recorded in the original record, opening up the microfilm collection, and through it, the original archive, to broader social history including studies of the roles of women, indigenous people, and African-descendant people.

Article

Humanizing Deportation is a community archive of digital stories (testimonial video shorts) that recounts personal experiences related to deportation and deportability. The largest qualitative archive in the world on this topic, its bilingual (English/Spanish) open access website, as of March 2020, holds close to 300 digital stories by nearly 250 different community storytellers and continues to expand. All digital stories are created and directed by the community storytellers themselves. While the vast majority of the stories were created by Mexican migrants currently living in Mexico’s largest border cities (Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez), and other major urban metropolitan regions (Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey), it also includes some stories of migrants living in the United States, as well as other migrants, many in transit, passing through Mexico from such countries as Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, and as far from North America as Cameroon. Launched in 2017, Humanizing Deportation’s teams of academic facilitators remain active, and the archive continues to grow.

Article

Heather Vrana

In Guatemala, experiences, meanings, and impacts of disability differed depending on one’s race, ethnicity, gender, social class, education, and location, among other factors. They also changed over time. Pre-Hispanic Mayan art indicates physical disability did not exclude people from the elite. In the colonial period (1521–1821), an important charity hospital system emerged. Some Guatemalans who might be identified as disabled today lived with widows and orphans in charity hospices and asylums. Disabled Guatemalans underwent cutting-edge treatments, for better or worse, owing to avid medical research by the protomedicato and faculty at the University of San Carlos. After independence in the early 19th century, Catholic charity endured and worked in tandem with state-building projects, even as disputes between the Conservative and Liberal parties churned. Guatemala’s growing hospital system relied upon this cooperation. The new century brought explosive growth in infrastructure and an expanded role of the state in everyday life. Reforms in policing, public health, and education transformed the lives of some disabled Guatemalans, often expanding confinement and surveillance alongside medical resources. The period of democratic florescence, known as the “Ten Years Spring” (1944–1954), brought reforms, including the creation of the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS) in 1946 and work-injury, illness, and maternity-benefits laws. Between 1946 and 1948, the Guatemalan and US governments conducted syphilis experiments on disabled residents of the Insane Asylum (Asilo de Alienados), as well as on soldiers, incarcerated people, orphans, and commercial sex workers. By the mid-20th century, decades—or even centuries—of inequality debilitated poor Guatemalans. Chronic illness, workplace injury, malnutrition, and other endemic conditions created temporary and permanent disabilities. Civil war (1960–1996) erupted and revolutionary groups argued that they fought to end the inequality that caused debilitating conditions. The war itself created new disabled people. Combat, torture, and trauma transformed Guatemalans. Yet the Historical Clarification Commission report neglected this topic and the experiences of disabled people in the war. Unlike their peers in El Salvador, Guatemalan veterans did not form influential advocacy organizations after the war. Since the 1990s, disability has been a serious cause and effect of widespread migration to the United States. Migrants have fled Guatemala because of inadequate access to disability-related healthcare and education. Some people have been disabled by dangerous conditions en route to the United States.

Article

Pulque, the alcoholic beverage of pre-Columbian highland Mesoamerica is the fermented derivative of aguamiel, the juice or sap of the agave known as agave pulquero—principally Agave salmiana. Aguamiel is a sweet, somewhat heavy juice that collects in a scraped out basin in the heart of the agave pulquero and, unless refrigerated, rapidly ferments into the alcoholic pulque. The agents of fermentation are ambient and plant-colonizing bacteria and yeasts. Fresh pulque is a frothy, cloudy brew with a slightly sour taste, usually containing around 2 percent alcohol or somewhat higher, meaning it can be drunk in large quantities without intoxicating the imbiber. Although it is a nutritious drink, consumption was condemned by Spaniards in varying degrees during the Colonial Period. Its popularity in contemporary southern Mexico is increasing after more than a century of persecution and public disparagement. Pulque figures prominently in pre- and post-Columbian Mesoamerican history. Production of tequila and mezcal is completely different from production of pulque. The former are distilled from the pressed juice (tepache) of macerated and roasted hearts of certain agaves. The juice is fermented in vats for several days, then heated in a still, evaporated, and condensed. Tequila, by law is made from A. tequilana, and mezcal by custom is made primarily from A. angustifolia. Both these distillates contain about 40 percent alcohol. Pulque is a naturally occurring product consumed by native peoples for at least two millennia. Tequila and mezcal are industrial products derived from processes introduced into the Americas by Europeans.