As Mexico’s minister of public education from 1921 to 1924, José Vasconcelos played a prominent role in efforts to create a new national identity expressing the 1910 Revolution’s goals of an inclusive society and equitable nation, opportunities created through education, and shared cultural expressions. Vasconcelos has been widely praised for his educational campaigns, especially in the countryside, among indigenous communities, and for his literacy programs in the city. According to these recent interpretations, his efforts as minister of public education have been both over- and underestimated. Nevertheless, the revolutionary national identity that he helped to foster with his discussion of mestizaje in La Raza Cósmica (The Cosmic Race; 1925) has since been ingrained into everyday life and culture.
Elissa Rashkin and Isabel Arredondo
The 1932 film Flame of Mexico (released in Mexico as Alma mexicana), written and produced by the US feminist activist Juliet Barrett Rublee (b. 1875–d. 1966), provides a window on to political and cultural aspects of US-Mexican relations during the 1920s. A melodrama whose themes include land, education, oil, and the Mexican Revolution, Flame of Mexico takes an activist stance toward international politics, critiques economic exploitation, and argues for US support of Mexican sovereignty in a time of conflict. Addressed to diplomatic circles and mass audiences alike, the message is rendered subtler by its central romantic love story and numerous action sequences drawn from the nascent Hollywood industry, as well as its finely filmed picturesque scenery and its tapestry of regional Mexican music, woven into an appealing soundtrack by leading composers and musicians of the era.
Long overlooked by film historians, Flame of Mexico is a unique artifact in film history: made in the first years of sound cinema, the film contains both intertitles and a synchronized musical score and is a transnational project. Latin American musicians living or working in Los Angeles recorded the score, while a Hollywood crew shot the film in Mexico. The film is credited with being the first feature film about Mexico shot on location in that country, and it preceded Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished Mexico project, a version of which was released in the United States almost simultaneously with Flame as Thunder over Mexico (1933). Also unique is Flame’s mix of melodrama and travelogue genres; it features a cast of Mexican actors, some of whom would go on to enjoy stable binational acting careers, with US actors playing the gringo villains as well as numerous non-actors playing themselves in ethnographic scenes designed to show, in the words of its producer, “the real Mexico.”
Although masked in the film’s publicity and press reviews, Rublee’s personal, multifaceted history as an activist is key to understanding her film as an important political and cultural undertaking, rather than the extravagant failure that some critics have portrayed, often relying on secondhand opinions without having had access to the film itself. In spite of its limited distribution and meager box-office returns—in the midst of an economic depression—the film is an act of political intervention whose colorful and romantic love story is deployed in the service of a message of peace and transnational cooperation.
Grit Kirstin Koeltzsch
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
The cultural movement known as Hallyu (or Korean Wave) and the transnational popularity of K-pop music and dance have long been established as a relevant phenomenon in the global world, including Latin America. This form of South Korean contemporary popular culture also has a major impact in Argentina, especially among the young population. Despite the cultural and geographical distance, the young Argentine incorporate aspects of K-pop culture in their daily lives, which includes music, dance, K-drama, and food, and some of them even try to learn the Korean language. Thanks to technology, almost in real time they perceive what happens on the Asian continent and connect with fans and fandoms, not only in Korea but also in other parts of the world. This shows that globalization is not a process of homogenization, as these young Latin American people also take the Korean Wave as motivation to learn about transpacific history and cultures.
Furthermore, K-pop is quite a visual phenomenon, and dance plays an important role. The choreographies are complex, emphasize the music, and dance definitely transcends language barriers. Thus, the young Argentine explore new aspects of corporality through dance performances. In their spare time, they organize numerous dance contests and activities, and so generate spaces of their own articulation. Particularly interesting is to draw attention to the gender role performance and how the local youth react to the influence of a transgressive gender identity performed by Koreans, in the context of a strongly patriarchal and heteronormative Argentine society. It shows that body/dance articulation is not just a tool for creativity but also for disputing gender norms and stereotypical gender images in our society.
One of the leading figures who pioneered and promoted changes toward modernity in Mexico City was Laura Méndez de Cuenca. Laura dared to transgress the traditional Catholic norms of her time. She was a teacher, a leader of a feminist movement, and an avant-garde writer. Above all, she dared to live a modern life. But, what was a modern life? Méndez chose an audacious path in order to live a modern life, a life of hard work, determination, and freedom––a freedom for which she paid a high price.
Lucha libre, or professional wrestling, has become a staple of urban Mexican culture over the course of the 20th century. In the past twenty years, it has gained international acclaim for its distinctive style and culture. Best known for the masks that luchadores often wear, lucha libre has become a distinctly national rendition of an imported product. Along with Japan and the United States, Mexico is one of the most influential nations in the world of professional wrestling. The sport allows fans to root for técnicos, rudos, and exóticos and it provides theater that upends societal norms in Mexico. Banned from performing on television by Federal District authorities from the 1950s to the early 1990s, wrestlers like El Santo and Blue Demon took to the silver screen to film “Mexploitation” horror and science fiction films. Although the sport has become an urban tradition, it reflects the cosmopolitan nature of working-class urban culture as well as the influence of Mexican culture on other nations.
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.
Mexican comic books are a cultural product whose development is tied to the history of the modern Mexican state. The consolidation of the state in the aftermath of the armed conflict period of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) shaped the conditions for the emergence of a domestic industry and market for comics, and in particular for comic books, alongside other important cultural industries such as radio, film, and television, through state supports for and controls over the nation’s culture industries. In the late 20th century, the neoliberal character of the Mexican state—for which official policy has centered on privatization of state economic enterprises, the reduction of public subsidies for goods and services, and the elimination of import tariffs—subsequently reshaped the conditions for production and consumption of the nation’s sequential art.
The term “comics” is applied to graphic narrative generally, which in turn is defined by the sequential use of images, usually in combination with language, in order to tell some kind of story. Comics are therefore a broad category of cultural production that includes newspaper strips, comic books, graphic novels, fotonovelas (comprising photographs in series with inserted dialogue text), and, more recently, webcomics. Comics are a cultural commodity the production and distribution of which are affected by changes in public supports, as well as by governmental controls over comics content. In the period of institutional consolidation that followed the armed phased of the Mexican Revolution, government supports were provided principally through the subsidizing of newsprint and the implementation of national literacy campaigns.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—a tri-national trade liberalization regime signed by Mexico, Canada, and the United States and implemented on January 1, 1994—significantly altered the circumstances of comics in Mexico, in terms of both the economic conditions for comics production and readership, and the political environment and public discourses addressed and communicated through Mexican comics art. The most direct impact on comics production came through the Mexican state’s retreat from control of the paper supply under the terms of NAFTA. Because paper is a key productive input, changes in paper cost and availability had the largest impact on the cost of long-form or sustained graphic narratives, such as comic books. As a result, the NAFTA period (1994 to present) is marked by the emergence of the Mexican graphic novel and of webcomics. Both of these cultural forms are based on a reorganization of the economics of comic-book production.
Comics production and consumption are therefore implicated in neoliberal policy constructs such as the North American Free Trade agreement, despite not being an explicit category of economic activity addressed by the treaty.
Helen Delpar and Stephanie J. Smith
Cultural nationalism characterized much of Mexico’s artistic and literary production during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Much as Mexico City’s centenary festivities in 1921 and the accompanying Exhibition of Popular Art celebrated Mexico’s resurgence from a decade of violent revolutionary struggles, the month-long event also foreshadowed an extraordinary flowering of art, music, and literature that would gain unprecedented international admiration, especially for the murals created by the three masters: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. During this vibrant era, contemporary intellectuals, composers, writers, and artists produced art that would serve as a nation-building tool to unite a country fractured by years of regional fighting. To many contemporaries, not only was this cultural renewal an expression of the forces and aspirations unleashed by the revolutionary process, but the various art forms also provided a bright beacon that lit the way for the creation an “authentic” Mexican national identity. In his role as the director of the Ministry of Public Education from 1921 to 1924, José Vasconcelos understood the influence of culture well. Indeed, as the initial sponsor of the mural movement, he first employed the three great muralists, as well as other artists, at the National Preparatory School. The creation of a national culture, though, went well beyond the work of Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros, as artists from other countries also participated in Mexico’s blossoming cultural environment. Women, too, played crucial roles in the production of Mexico’s revolutionary culture, and their striking influences continue in the early 21st century.
The major art form produced in Mexico during the years following the Mexican Revolution of 1910, especially during 1920–1940, was mural painting, mostly in the technique of fresco. Three artists dominated this period: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, known collectively as the Big Three. Rufino Tamayo, younger and less ideologically aligned to those three, followed his own path of a more modernist style. An important easel painter of this period was Frida Kahlo, who traveled in the cultural and political circles of the muralists but who produced strongly personal images, especially of herself.
In addition, examples of mural paintings by the Big Three in the United States receive their due attention, as does the more independent mural production in Mexico of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The paintings are analyzed in terms of context, meaning brief references to biographical details, more expansive on the general sociohistorical setting, with accounts of the patronage where highly relevant, and relations between the artists themselves. Discussions of the style of the images, in the most comprehensive and general sense, are dedicated to revealing the ideological content of the style as it serves the more straightforward subjects of the paintings.
The years immediately following World War II constituted a watershed in Mexico’s political development: the national government, controlled by the recently renamed Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and led by a new generation of civilian professional politicians, made rapid industrialization its top priority. In a matter of decades, the nation transformed from a predominantly rural to an ever more urbanized society. Significant social and cultural changes followed. The middle classes became the dominant voice in national politics and the beneficiaries of the government’s economic policies, while earlier efforts designed to ameliorate the suffering of the majority were suspended or even reversed, leaving urban workers and the rural poor to wonder what had happened to their revolution. Gradually, a consumerist culture eclipsed the cultural revolution of the 1920s and 1930s. Despite official claims to the contrary, Mexico in this era shed its revolutionary identity and replaced it with a modernizing zeal.
Through the 1960s, scholarly assessments regarded the nation as a model of Third World development. In the estimation of foreign and domestic observers alike, the combination of aggressive capitalist development, state protectionism, and foreign investment had created an economic miracle, while the 1910 Revolution had produced a relatively benign, paternalistic form of “soft” authoritarianism. But in the years following the devastating massacre of students in 1968 at the Plaza de Tlatelolco just days before the Mexico City Summer Olympics, scholarly assessments soured. In the coming decades, more and more evidence of political violence, media manipulation, and official corruption would surface, leading to a crisis of political legitimacy that would be severely aggravated by economic crisis in 1982. For these reasons, the period from 1946 to 1982 is a distinct and important chapter in the nation’s 20th-century development.
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.
O. Hugo Benavides
Telenovelas have a very recent history, yet from their impact and pervasiveness it would seem that they have always been part of the Mexican culture. Telenovelas did not make their appearance until the late 1950s, when televisions entered the Latin American market. This market explosion, however, was prefigured in radio-novelas (radio soap operas) and folletines (pamphletlike novels) from several decades before. Thus, telenovelas inherited the structure of the melodrama from both visual and aural media and fused them into one incredibly powerful medium of popular cultural representation. Since their development, telenovelas have had an important impact on people’s daily life, as they dramatically portray such controversial issues as illegitimate children, misplaced identity, the burden of social conventions, amorous rejection, and the ever-productive notion of forbidden desires, sexual and otherwise. Telenovelas and, more recently, narco-novelas, have been, and are, excellent vehicles for differing cultural and political embodiments, both in terms of hegemonizing constructs and resistance-filled agency within the country’s historical development. Moreover, telenovelas express the ongoing reconfiguration of social identities, hegemonic constraints, and popular culture in Latin America today.
Since the early 1960s, Mexican women writers have relentlessly fought to become recognized within a traditionally male-dominated literary canon.
In the 20th century, women’s writing began to flourish, in many cases emerging as a counternarrative to the patriarchal discourse that had dominated the literary scene for decades after the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920). The work of women writers can be examined according to three different phases: from 1960 to the 1970s, 1980 to the 1990s, and 2000 to the present, and by highlighting in particular a group of women writers from the northern border region, who have faced additional obstacles in their path to becoming published writers. All in all, each of the writers discussed here contributes to a snapshot of the literature written by women from the 1960s to today. The chronological trajectory of their literary voices underscores Mexico’s rich cultural and historical past through the eyes and voices of those traditionally silenced and marginalized in the patriarchal and hierarchical spaces of power.
During the Spanish conquest of Mexico (1519–1521), gastronomic literature was already prevalent in Europe, yet not so in Mexico. The use of the printing press in Mexico was limited to print and disseminate ecclesiastical and legal documents; it was not used for subjects as seemingly superfluous as recipes and food. This is not to say that food was not a source of fascination, or a means of social control.
Kitchen manuscripts written before Mexico became independent of Spain (between 1810 and 1821) show that there was an abundance of food writing before Independence, especially by nuns in colonial convent kitchens. However, the earliest printed cookbooks did not make their debut in Mexico until 1831, a decade after Independence.
Mexican cuisine can be examined beginning from the diaries of conquistadors and missionaries to colonial kitchen manuscripts to the cookbooks published after Independence through the Porfiriato (1876–1910) and Revolution (1910–1920). Reading between the lines of the recipes in these sources, one sees the shifting attitudes toward food, as it ceases to be a status marker and a divider of classes and becomes a tool for unifying the country.
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.
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.
On the one hand, Cubans from Havana tend to paint themselves as the quintessential representation of Cubanidad (Cubanness) and often enjoy all the visibility, especially from a global perspective. This trend has become even more pronounced since the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in December 2014. On the other hand, eastern Cubans often view their culture and history as absolutely crucial to the development and identity of the nation. The central role of Oriente (eastern Cuba) in both the late 19th-century Wars of Independence and the 1959 Cuban Revolution buttresses this alternative discourse. In terms of Cuba’s musical history, Oriente has contributed in major ways to the development of national genres, particularly with son, but also in terms of the 19th-century social dance contradanza and the Haitian influence in popular and folkloric Cuban music. The most recent contribution has been the introduction of reggaeton into the Cuban context by a Santiago-based rapper.
In this study of the discourse of eastern Cuban musicians, as well as the work of Cuban and foreign scholars, the centrality of regional traditions to the development of national genres is considered. Unlike hegemonic representations of Cuban musical history, these narratives often foreground the links to and influences from other Caribbean islands, particularly Haiti. This discursive emplacement of eastern Cuba at the center of Cuban musical creativity is clearly a reaction to the common marginalization of the region within the national production of knowledge, represented by scholars from the capital and some foreign researchers. Havana-centric perspectives are counterbalanced by foregrounding those of eastern Cuba.
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.
Paraguay is a pluriethnic, plurilingual, and multicultural society, influenced by migration from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, which contains many conflicting identities. Despite its heterogeneity, there are certain characteristics which have been seen by Paraguayan and foreign writers as having significant influence on national identity. These are primarily related to three factors: Paraguay’s geographical position as a landlocked country, between two regional superpowers, and the resulting historical isolation; the prevalence of Guarani as the favored language of the vast majority of Paraguayans, and its relationship with Spanish; and the impact of international war and defense of its frontiers, primarily the Triple Alliance War (1864–1870), on Paraguay’s economic, cultural, and political development, as well as on its self-perception.
However, Paraguay is also unusual in that following the catastrophe of the Triple Alliance War, there was a concerted effort by a group of intellectuals to challenge the liberal consensus and reinterpret the past to create a national history. This revisionist approach became increasingly influential until, after the Chaco War (1932–1936) and the end of the liberal period, it became the dominant “official” version. Here it subsequently remained through civil war, dictatorship, and finally transition to democracy. While many observers believed this hegemonic revisionist version would disappear with the end of the Stroessner regime in 1989, it has proved more resilient, flexible, and durable than expected, reflecting a high level of internalization of national identity. This in turn suggests that the official discourse was not purely an invention of tradition but was constructed on deeply held ideas of geographical, cultural, historical, and linguistic difference.