David Carey Jr.
Dating from the earliest times in Latin America, alcohol has played a crucial social, economic, political, and cultural role. Often reserved for politico-religious leaders, alcohol was a conduit through which power flowed in many pre-contact indigenous societies; indigenous drinkways (production, commerce, and consumption habits) were associated with communal ritual events and social prestige. Introduced to the Americas by Europeans, distillation profoundly altered the potency of alcoholic drinks for people who were accustomed to fermentation. Even as the social and cultural practices of alcohol consumption changed over time, alcohol continued to have political and economic implications in the colonial and national periods in Latin America. Fearing that inebriation bred disorder and recognizing that moonshining undercut their own revenues, colonial and national governments alike sought to regulate, if not control, the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol. In nations as diverse as Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, and Guatemala, indigenous women came to play integral roles in the (oftentimes illicit) sale and production of alcohol. A cash nexus for moving labor and land and a crucial component of the economic system by which (often unscrupulous) labor brokers recruited workers, alcohol was a currency of local economies. As a commodity of local, national, and international significance, alcohol shaped the fate of nation-states.
People’s class, ethnic, race, and gender identities all played into their access to alcohol. Although a person’s choice of libation could define their position, some of the more fascinating histories of alcohol are punctuated with women and men who used alcohol to disrupt social conventions. Through the consumption of alcohol, rituals and ceremonies created and reconstituted community both within and across ethnic groups. Imbibing could also divide people. Even while they sipped their cognacs and brandies, elites portrayed indigenous people, the poor, and other marginalized people getting drunk on moonshine to discount and denigrate them. Often associated with (particularly violent) crime, alcohol was seen as a vice by many and excoriated during temperance movements. Yet defendants across Latin America took advantage of judicial systems that considered alcohol a mitigating circumstance in many crimes. As 20th-century evangelical sects that preached abstinence as the route to wealth and marital bliss grew to unprecedented numbers, traditional healers and biomedical practitioners continued to tout alcohol’s medicinal value. In short, alcohol was a marker of social position and cultural identity, a crucial component in community and state building, and a commodity around which different cultural traditions, healing practices, and policing policies developed and evolved.
The historical presence of Basque immigrants and their descendants in several Latin American countries from the age of colonialism to the present has led to the creation of a web of Basque diasporic communities whose members combine their political identity as citizens of their countries of residence and, in most cases, also of birth, with a cultural, ethnic identity as Basque Argentinians, Basque Uruguayans, Basque Mexicans and Basque Cubans, among others. For centuries the organization of these communities crystalized in the formation of a network of voluntary associations in which the preservation of Basque identity was usually linked to more practical aims such as mutual aid, leisure, and education.
Recent advances in the treatment of information, especially the benefits of digitization and the increasing use of the Internet as a tool for communication in all the spheres of human activity, have led to the appearance of initiatives to make this information available both to know and to research the past and present of these Basque diasporic communities, in the Americas and worldwide. These initiatives have been favored by the political evolution in the Basque homeland, with the retrieval of home rule and the creation of its own institutions of regional government, especially in the Spanish side of the Basque Country. Because of this, different websites are now available that provide researchers and general public with a gateway into deeper knowledge of how the Basque diaspora has evolved and what it is today.
First of all are the primary sources for reconstructing the history of the Basque diaspora in Latin America. The efforts have been focused on trying both to preserve the documentary heritage of collective endeavors of previous generations of Basques in the region, and to make this heritage as open as possible. This has led to the creation of several digital archives that hold and make available the papers of Basque clubs and associations (in the colonial age, as well as in the period after Latin American independence), the periodicals created by and for the communities of Basque immigrants, the views of others about these communities, and some personal archives to any interested person. Among these initiatives is the attempt to recover the memory of one of the latest forced migratory movements to hit the Basque Country: political exile after the Spanish Civil War.
The second type of resource is derived from the later attempts of some Basque diasporic communities to construct their own historical memory, using oral history as their principal tool. Most of the archives of oral sources created through these initiatives are available either on the Internet or in other publicly accessible ways.
Third, there are also websites whose aim is to provide the reader with first-hand, easily comprehensible articles on topics related to the Basque diaspora. Some of them deserve special comment because of the variety and richness of their contents.
Finally, the lack of specific online, digitalized libraries on the Basque diaspora is somehow compensated for by the emergence of new types of cultural constructs relating to the diaspora in audiovisual form that are also a good source for approaching the topic.
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.
Salvador Rueda Smithers
As a monument and museum, Chapultepec Castle is today an emblem for Mexicans. It signified a double synthesis of memory: the building tells the history of the old Military College and the residence of Mexican rulers before the building became a museum. Its interior spaces, the objects of its collection, and the 20th-century murals recount and construct the shared history of Mexicans over the last 500 years.
Mary Ann Mahony
For most of the 20th century, a narrow coastal strip of the Brazilian state of Bahia was the largest producer of Theobroma cacao in the Americas and the second largest in the world. Cacao arrived in the region from the Amazon in the first half of the 18th century, and its cultivation expanded rapidly in the 19th century due to several factors, including a favorable climate, available land, labor too limited for growing sugar, and a developing international market. Initially grown by members of the rural poor, including mission Indians, slaves and ex-slaves, by the 20th century cacao had turned southern Bahia into a plantation region dominated by large estates and exploited workers. This economic expansion came at the expense of the region’s flora and fauna, as well as of the small holders who had initiated the sector. The problems associated with this form of development became clear when the cacao disease known as Witch’s Broom arrived in the region in 1989 and cacao production collapsed. Southern Bahian planters attempting to avoid bankruptcy laid off hundreds of thousands of illiterate rural workers and sold off surviving tropical hardwoods. Historians know the region primarily through the writings of cacao-area native and Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado, but the region’s history goes much beyond the topics he covered and offers numerous opportunities for research.