Historians have extensively explored the topic of architecture in Mexico City in the 20th century. From the relationships between politics, public patrons, new construction technologies, and new idioms of modernism, the impressive story of architecture in this megalopolis continues to astound and captivate people’s imaginations. Architecture was a channel that politicians used to address housing, education, and health care needs in a rapidly growing city. Yet scholars have not been especially concerned with private construction projects and their influence on the process of shaping and being shaped by the visual representation of Mexico City. Private building projects reveal an alternative reality of the city—one not envisioned by politicians and public institutions. Private construction projects in the historic city center are particularly interesting due to their location. These buildings are built on ancient clay lakebeds and volcanic soil on which the Aztecs first built the city. Not only are these buildings located in the heart of the city, the buildings in the rest of the historic district are also sinking. Any building in a historic district that has withstood the test of time should be an object of interest to scholars. The Torre Latinoamericana is perhaps the only building in the historic district and the entire city that ceases to sink, and instead floats! Located on the corner of Madero and San Juan de Letrán, the building sits at the heart of history, culture, and ancient Aztec clay lakebeds. The Torre Latinoamericana was built between 1948 and 1956 and is one of the most important visual symbols of resilience and modernity in Mexico City today.
Fernando Purcell and Camila Gatica
Hollywood, and Disney in particular, played a key role in inter-American relations during the mid-20th century. Hollywood cinema became an important weapon of cultural diplomacy in the context of the Good Neighbor Policy and later during World War II, and it aligned itself with the main diplomatic guidelines issued by Washington. Cinema was widely disseminated throughout Latin America, which helped to consolidate the US message in the region. Thus the close ties between the Hollywood film industry and the State Department is made clear, which became particularly close with regard to Latin America thanks to the creation of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs during the conflict. In this context, the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs played a key role in creating a two-way street between Latin American culture and US audiences, as well as presenting the United States as an ally to trust.
David S. Parker
In Montevideo in 1923, streetcar company executive Juan Cat shot at journalist and Communist parliamentarian Celestino Mibelli in the atrium of the Uruguayan Congress. Despite this premeditated assassination attempt in front of numerous witnesses, Cat was released, the judge accepting the possibility that his actions were in legitimate self-defense. The logic that led police, prosecutor, and judge to arrive at conclusions that seemed to contradict both the evidence and the law hinged upon, and in the process reveals, deeply conflicting ideas of honor, family, the public versus the private sphere, and the unwritten laws that governed journalism in 1920s Uruguay. Mibelli had published a series of scandalous newspaper stories, one involving Cat’s young daughter, and many Uruguayans identified with the aggrieved father, arguing that an attack on family honor was no different from a physical assault. The only legally and socially acceptable remedy for Cat was to challenge his slanderer to a duel, but Mibelli refused to accept challenges because he considered dueling elitist. In the end, the police report, the prosecutor’s brief, and the judge’s ruling each subtly distorted the details of the encounter to construct Cat’s attack as a quasi-duel, a frustrated attempt to “demand explanations” from Mibelli, following a ritualized script set down in the dueling codes of the era. Factually, Cat’s actions were no such thing, but by crafting the narrative of an “affair of honor” gone wrong, official lies reflected deeper cultural truths.
Although on a lesser scale than the United States, southern South America became a major receiving region during the period of mass transatlantic migration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even as the white elites of most Latin American countries favored European immigration in the late 19th century, since in their eyes it would “civilize” their countries, it was the temperate areas closely tied into the Atlantic economy as exporters of primary products that received the bulk of European laborers. Previously scarcely populated lands like Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil thus witnessed massive population growth and in some ways turned into societies resembling those of other immigration countries, such as the United States and Canada. This article concentrates on lands where the overwhelming majority of migrants headed, although it also briefly deals with Latin American nations that received significantly fewer newcomers, such as Mexico.
This mass migration lastingly modified identity narratives within Latin America. First, as the majority of Europeans headed to sparsely populated former colonial peripheries that promised economic betterment, migration shifted prevalent notions about the region’s racial composition. The former colonial heartlands of Mexico, Peru, and northeastern Brazil were increasingly regarded as nonwhite, poor, and “backward,” whereas coastal Argentina, São Paulo, and Costa Rica were associated with whiteness, wealth, and “progress.” Second, mass migration was capable of both solidifying and challenging notions of national identity. Rather than crossing over well-established and undisputed boundaries of national identities and territories, migration thus contributed decisively to making them.
The epistemic assumptions, methods, and rhetoric employed by colonial indigenous intellectuals in Latin America were based on preconquest intellectual labor and literacy systems. These practices were deeply impacted by collaborative projects and historical scholarship undertaken in the 16th century, as indigenous elites embraced European literacy and scholarly models. This merging of diverse traditions led to a “golden age” of indigenous intellectual achievements in the 17th century, and to a diversity of genres cultivated by native scholars in late colonial times. Indigenous historical actors were intellectuals not only because they recorded and disseminated historical, religious, or political knowledge, but also because they were inserted in culturally hybrid social networks through which collective knowledge circulated. While the works of Chimalpahin, Guaman Poma, Garcilaso de la Vega, and don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl are relatively well known, this small sample of native and mestizo intellectuals must be expanded considerably to examine works produced through co-authorship arrangements with friars and priests, and to address clandestine works composed exclusively for native audiences by less known, or even anonymous, indigenous scholars.
Dana Leibsohn and Meha Priyadarshini
For historians of the Spanish Americas indigenous portraits and casta paintings offer two distinctive lenses for understanding the relationships between indigeneity and colonialism. Both genres of painting anchor indigenous bodies and subjectivities in the racialized practices that were constitutive of, and crucial to, colonialism in the Americas. Indigenous portraits record individual biographies and family histories, offering scholars of the present insights into the lives of people whose desires rarely surface in prose sources. Indigenous portraits also document the economic and material investments people were willing to make in preserving images of lives well lived. In the colonial past, as in the present, indigenous portraits therefore speak to the ways social ambitions fueled identity formation. Cuadros de castas, or casta paintings, are a genre of painting invented and painted in the Spanish Americas in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Casta paintings, like indigenous portraits, describe status and economic wealth; their main aim, however, was to portray the ethnic mixing and concomitant racialized thinking in colonial society. According to the iconography and composition of casta paintings, the mixing of people from Europe, Africa, and the Americas could be ordered and organized such that everyone seemed to have a place and appropriate ethnic designation. Today, casta paintings are understood as persuasive works of art that presented an idealized, hierarchical view of urban life. The painters and patrons of indigenous portraits and casta paintings participated in networks formed by habits of material exchange, patterns of urban mobility, and practices linked to Catholic religious beliefs. Some of these networks stretched across the Americas; others were bound to trade and travel across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The histories referenced in indigenous portraits and casta paintings should be understood, then, as tethered to local concerns, global economies, and cosmopolitan ambitions.
Liliana Toledo Guzmán
The Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA; National Institute of Fine Arts) was created to replace and broaden the functions of the Departamento de Bellas Artes (DBA; Department of Fine Arts), which was created in 1921 as a branch of the Ministry of Public Education in the context of a Mexico already in upheaval due to the revolutionary armed conflict. The decades leading up to the creation of the INBA were characterized by a constant discussion of how nationalism should be expressed in art. The answer was often associated with rural life and its artistic manifestations; thus research on these expressions became the center not only of the discourse, but of many artistic projects launched by the Mexican government. These expressions were brought to many arenas in public education, from creation to distribution, so that over the course of three decades they were articulated in an organized fashion as much in the rural education project of Jose Vasconcelos as in that of Moisés Sáez, and later, in the socialist education framework of Lázaro Cárdenas.
In the 1940s, the INBA inherited not only the art collections of the DBA but also its role. The promotion of nationalist art would take on new proportions, intending to reach the entire territory. The cultural bureaucracy began to gain strength with figures such as Carlos Chávez, the first director of the INBA. Nevertheless, Mexico was a different country than it had been in the 1920s. During the government of Miguel Alemán, art was strongly associated with tourism and economic dependence on the United States worsened, to some degree affecting artistic expression. Integrationist education, the creation of the Mexican collective imagination in the 1920s, and contradictions clearly seen through social inequality compared to the mythical indigenous world—all these were factors that led to an aesthetic rupture that would seem imminent, just as development, education, and research hoped to become institutionalized through the INBA.
In Brazil between 1920 and 1945, the potential for professional advancement increased significantly among literate individuals in three main areas: the intellectual and academic field in São Paulo and the emergence of a university-based intelligentsia; the boom in the publishing industry and the rise of professional novelists; and the Vargas regime’s widespread and deliberate co-optation of intellectuals. The interpretation presented in this article links class dynamics to changes within the activities of intellectuals, some of whom are analyzed here in the context of political and institutional tensions produced by the collapse of the oligarchic Old Republic (1889–1930).
That the Mexican mural renaissance is understudied is clear from the fact than not one of its artists has been the subject of a scholarly biography. Moreover, the movement as a whole has usually been viewed through nationalist prejudices and partisan interpretations. A current reevaluation uses the wedge of several hitherto marginalized artists who figure more prominently in documents and chronology than in popular history. Among them, Jean Charlot can be placed securely at the beginning of several major developments, which were continuations of his work in France. At the open air art school of Coyoacán, he helped the young teachers move from impressionism to a geometry-based postimpressionism more appropriate for mural composition. He introduced woodcut, which he had practiced in France and which became the print medium of choice for generations of Mexican artists. His first mural, The Massacre in the Main Temple, was important for its successful use of fresco—immediately adopted as the preferred medium by other muralists—and its dynamic geometric composition, an alternative to Diego Rivera’s static classicism in Creation. Charlot further broadened the thematic and stylistic options of the movement in a series of small oils and in the first studies of the indigenous nude. He continued to nourish his colleagues with the results of his work as an archeological draughtsman at the Chichen Itza expedition of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC.
Charlot also participated in the notable collaboration between artists and writers in 1920s Mexico. Along with Manuel Maples Arce, he was on the two-man Direction Committee of the estridentista movement, illustrating books of poetry and joining group exhibitions. His writings are among the earliest discussions of contemporary Mexican art—publicizing the movement in Europe and the United States—and continue to influence interpretation today. His collections of documents and interviews, as well as his personal experience, became the invaluable basis of books like his The Mexican Mural Renaissance, 1920–1925 and numerous articles in several languages. His latest bibliography is 173 pages long. Charlot fulfilled the unique role of insider-outsider, participant-observer, in the Mexican mural renaissance.
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.
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
The cultural movement known as Hallyu (or Korean Wave) and the transnational popularity of K-pop music and dance have long been established as an important phenomenon in the global world, including in Latin America. This form of South Korean contemporary popular culture has had a major impact in Argentina, especially among the young population. Despite the cultural and geographical distance, young Argentines incorporate aspects of K-pop culture in their daily lives, including music, dance, K-drama, and food, and some of them even try to learn the Korean language. Thanks to technology, they perceive, almost in real time, 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; these young Latin American people also take the Korean Wave as motivation to learn about transpacific history and cultures. Furthermore, K-pop is a visual phenomenon, and dance plays an important role. The dance routines or choreographies are complex, and emphasize the music. Dance definitely transcends language barriers. Thus, young Argentines explore new aspects of corporality through dance performances. In their spare time, they organize dance contests and activities, and so generate spaces for their own articulation. It is particularly interesting to draw attention to gender role performance and the way in which 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.
The Atis Rezistans (Resistance Artists) are a collective of sculptors based in downtown Port-au-Prince who have founded their own museum. The artists are best known for using found objects and wood to make politically charged works that draw on the imagery of Vodou. Since launching this artistic movement over a decade ago, co-founder André Eugène has referred to his home and atelier as Le Musée d’Art E Pluribus Unum. While art collectives are common in Haitian art, by designating themselves a “museum” the Atis Rezistans have incorporated aspects of conceptual art and installation art into their art movement. They describe the founding of this museum as a strategic appropriation of an institution that has historically belonged to the bourgeoisie. Conversations with Eugène, and other artists in the collective, reveal that they have carefully considered the power of museums: museums imbue certain objects with cultural capital and monetary value; present certain world views through the display of objects; and may offer visitors encounters with human remains. Becoming a museum has allowed Eugène and the other artists to access networks of art world mobility in ways that their artworks alone would not have. This essay offers context for understanding the Atis Rezistans as part of a tradition of art making among Haiti’s majority. It argues that due to their location, their class, and their overt use of Vodou imagery, scholars have overlooked conceptual elements of their movement, specifically how they play with the idea of the museum.
Tania Regina de Luca
Printed periodicals constitute sources increasingly used by researchers in the human sciences, as the catalogues of publishers, dossiers of academic journals, and research carried out in graduate programs show. The enormous variety of titles, many of which are easily available thanks to the digitalization programs of the institutions that hold them, seems capable of meeting a wide variety of interests. While heterogeneity is one of the attractions of this type of documentation, it also raises significant challenges for those who use this material as a source, since methodological procedures are subordinated to the specific nature of the selected printed material. Not by chance, wide-ranging works, which propose to cover the history of the press as a whole, have ceded space to monographic works dedicated to in-depth analysis of a single periodical or a restricted number of titles. Cultural and literary periodicals have attracted particular attention from specialists, since they included in their editorial teams combative intellectuals committed to disseminating aesthetic, social, and political postures, which makes these publications privileged vehicles to investigate sensibilities, tastes, themes, and ideas, in short shared readings that help us to understand the dynamics of cultural life at a given moment.
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.