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.
Joshua K. Salyers
Revolutionary leaders favored depictions of Mexico City in the mid-20th century that highlighted the progress and orderly growth of a modern industrial city. The ruling party made Mexico City the focus of post–World War II development policies and the showcase for the success of those policies in achieving the new goals of the Mexican Revolution during a period of sustained economic growth known as the “Mexican miracle.” When, in the early 1960s, the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis published The Children of Sánchez, his popular study of urban poverty, and turned the public’s attention away from the sites that underscored the official narrative of orderly industrial growth, it incited a heated public debate in Mexico City. The book contained the oral histories of a family living in the low-income neighborhood of Tepito, in the center of the capital, and was a shocking account, told in their own words, of a family’s attempt to survive urban life. Supporters of the modernizing policies of federal officials and the capital’s mayor, Ernesto Uruchurtu, attacked the book in the press and even filed formal complaints with Mexico’s attorney general demanding that the book and its author be banned from the country and the publisher reprimanded. They claimed that the book was too vulgar for public consumption and called it a foreigner’s attack on the reputation of the country and the city. Critics of the Institutional Revolutionary Party used the publicity generated by the attacks to open up a dialog about the marginalized people left behind by urban development and engaged in the debates as a safe way to express its own concerns about Uruchurtu’s inhumane development policies and the government’s insistence on hiding reality to present the city to the international community as a modern showcase.
Alicia Azuela de la Cueva
The image of the Mexican Motherland protected by the national eagle was one of the most circulated civic symbols during the period of the welfare state (1940–1973). Between 1962 and 1977, it illustrated the covers of the free texts created and given by the Ministry of Public Education to all students. The image gained circulation again in 2008, on the textbook History and Citizenship. It was also employed as the logo for the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social [Mexican Institute of Social Security], an organization to which the government devoted an important part of its budget. Welfare state programs developed in several countries. In Mexico, the ideals were promoted by the official party that ruled the nation for nearly seventy years. During the presidency of Adolfo López Mateos (1958–1964), when the country experienced its best moment of economic welfare, political stability, and consolidated this patriotic—and propagandistic—symbol, it became a significant component of the civic collective imaginary. By this time, a solid symbolic apparatus already existed and marked “memory spaces”—with its expressions of public art, like the ones in the visual vocabularies of free textbooks. It formed one of the tools for the exercise of symbolic power needed for governability. The image of Motherland protected by the national eagle (with its gender connotations) can be described as: Motherland is a woman and government is a man; this allows the citizens to relate the civic realm to the private one and to the functions and divisions of the social order and in the family environment. The example of the Motherland as a source of life and provider of social services for citizenship and that of the government as the provider, onlooker, and president of homeland functions, sublimated and reinforced these values in familiar and social arenas—a role previously assigned to the woman. Reverence to the nation obscured the predetermination of her reproductive duties to the care of its offspring and of its home to the man as head of family in his functions as a provider. Therefore, the visual arts and textbook writing in particular, as well as the visual-spatial language, led to the establishment, internalization, and preservation of the status quo in the social structures and civic norms reinforced by the uses and habits, operating to promote controlling groups, either the paternalist government or the conservative family man. The welfare state opened a connection to art not only because of the economic boom and the investments in public works and projects, which included public works of art, but also because of the interest of political leaders in education, patronage, and artistic diffusion. Public art played a fundamental role both in the symbolic government apparatus and in the artistic world itself. Possibilities of participation in constructive projects subisidized by the government increased, consisting of both facilities for health-care and housing services, as well as museum spaces. Among these projects was the first museum of modern art, opened in 1964. In addition, the art market strengthened with the opening of galleries accesible to both the middle class and the elite. Consequently, struggles for power between different artistic trends and groups and the Mexican School of Painting that, since 1921, with its budgetary ups and downs and the downfall of its sponsor, relied on an official subsidy to make public art. Although two of the three masters of muralism, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, had died, David Alfaro Siqueiros remained active, and mural production continued with artists of younger generations, new trends, and uneven artistic quality. In the realm of public art, the Plastic Integration started by the painter Carlos Mérida and the architect Mario Pani, promoted contributions in its pursuit of a total oeuvre derived from the harmonic encounter of painting, sculpture, and architecture in addition to the geometric pictorial language of pre-Hispanic inspiration and to the simplicity of prismatic forms from international architecture. Within the modern spirit and its “tradition of permanent rupture with tradition,” the second and third group of muralists, largely led by Siqueiros, confronted the “ruputura” generation, then a group of young artists who lacked a particular stylistic approach, and likened the foreign nonrealism to the didactic and propaganda-oriented character of their rivals. This trend emerged in the 1950s and consolidated in the 1960s. It comprised José Luis Cuevas, Alberto Guironella, and Cordelia Urueta, who were linked to neo-figurative art and to abstract art in several modalities with Vlady, Manuel Felgueres, Lilia Carrillo, Juán García Ponce, Pedro Coronel, Kasuya Sakai, and Vicente Rojo, among others. Overall, these trends and conflicts between political realism and nonrealism shared characteristics on the international level during the Cold War.
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.