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Article

Mexican national culture in the period from 1946 to 1982 can be understood by recognizing three overlapping transformations. The first was the consolidation of various national archetypes rooted in Mexican revolutionary and prerevolutionary mythologies of national identity and that were disseminated via state-sponsored cultural institutions as well as through global marketing campaigns related primarily to bolstering tourism. A second was the commodification of national popular culture through local cultural industries, namely radio, cinema, the recording industry, and television, and the competitive engagement of these industries with external cultural flows deriving, primarily though not exclusively, from the United States. The third was the invention of new forms of urban response to inflation and the cascading crises of political legitimacy that characterized the decade leading up to economic collapse in 1982. Across the body politic, one discerns a resilience of shared points of cultural reference—sonic, visual, culinary, and otherwise—derived, often in great measure, from governmental policies and discourse. At the same time, and increasingly over the course of this historical period, one finds movements characterized by an irreverent reappropriation of many of those same reference points, carried out by a diverse range of social actors in pursuit of individual and collective strategies of resistance to both state and patriarchal forms of authority. By the early 1980s Mexican national culture had become a rich and playful bricolage made up of iconic markers over which the state experienced a diminishing, though not yet exhausted, capacity to define.

Article

Bruce Campbell

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.

Article

Historians have extensively explored the topic of water control in Mexico City. From the relationship between political power and hydraulics to detailed studies of drainage and other large-scale infrastructure projects, the epic story of water in this megalopolis, constructed over a series of ancient lakes, continues to captivate people’s imaginations. Securing potable water for the fast-growing city is also a constant struggle, yet it has received comparatively less attention than drainage in historical research. Moreover, until quite recently scholars have not been especially concerned with water control as a process of representation—that is, a process shaped by, and shaping, visual culture. Yet, potable water brings together many stories about people and places both within and outside of the Basin of Mexico. As such, the history of potable water is communicated through a diverse array of objects and modern infrastructures not limited to the idea of waterworks in the traditional sense of the term. A more expansive view of “infrastructure” incorporates more than the commonplace objects of hydraulic management such as aqueducts, pumps, wells, and pipes: it also involves architecture, photography, and narrative history, official and unofficial. Built in the first decade of the 20th century as a response to acute water shortages, the impressively modern Xochimilco Potable Water Works exemplifies a system that delivered far more than fresh drinking water through its series of modern electric pumps and aqueduct. The system was a result of a larger modernization initiative launched by the administration of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911). It wove together an official history of water, which included the annexation of Xochimilco’s springs, through its diverse infrastructures, including the engineering of the potable water system as well as the significance of the structures themselves in terms of locations and architectural elaboration in neo-styles (also known as historical styles) typical of the period. Demonstrably clear from the sheer investment in making the Xochimilco waterworks appealing to the public is that infrastructure can possess a rich visual culture of its own.

Article

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.

Article

Juan Alberto Salazar Rebolledo

The Festival de Rock y Ruedas took place in Avándaro, in the suburbs of Valle de Bravo, a small town in Estado de México, on September 11 and 12, 1971. Among the organizers were transnational corporations such as Coca-Cola and the national mass media monopoly Telesistema Mexicano. Avándaro was the culmination of the process of creating a youth culture of consumption that started in the early 1960s and went through several transformations during the next decade. As part of the project to commercialize youth culture, the mass media tried to impose stereotypes that were reappropriated and resignified by groups of young people, such as “onderos.” Their actions became an obstacle for corporate business plans and turned Avándaro into one of the milestones of the Mexican countercultural movement in the second half of the 20th century.

Article

Social life during the Porfiriato (1877–1911) was marked by constant tension between a strict moral code and practices that varied widely according to class. In recent years, research about this period has centered on the study of myriad social practices. Renewed with diverse methodologies and perspectives, this research has contributed to understanding what has been known as “the objective social conditions,” to further explore identities through class, race, and gender. Urban contexts have been the primary focus of this new approach to social history, particularly in regard to Mexico City. From 1870 to 1911, the population of Mexico City doubled from 200,000 to 471,000 inhabitants, while the urban area expanded from 5.28 to 25.16 square miles (8.5 to 40.5 square kilometers). Social practices during Porfirian modernization reveal different experiences according to each social sector: elites, the middle class, the working class, and marginalized groups in the cities. The subject is rather broad, so urban social spaces need to be examined, since they constitute an important point of departure to analyze the changes experienced during this period by the different social classes; these included the transformation of gender norms, and even ethnic distinctions, emanating from racist attitudes from the elites’ perspective. The elites imposed customs based on etiquette codes adopted from European models. The desire to abandon traditional, backward, and savage society to become a modern, progressive, and civilized one had led the ruling class to promote disciplinary institutions. In the urban environment, a complex mixture of moralist, hygienist, and scientific discourses pointed to a gap between ideal behavior models and actual social practices. The elites expected society to comply with strict norms that were bent or simply broken by social practices. In that sense, each social sector unfolded its own strategies and attitudes when faced with these codes, and study of them allows for a concise overview of the elite, middle class, working class, and marginalized people.

Article

The 1994 Zapatista uprising in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas was the culmination of centuries of repression and exploitation of the country’s indigenous minority at the hands of its Spanish and mestizo leaders and the landed elite. The Liberal Reform initiated in 1854, followed by the “modernizing” policies of President Porfirio Díaz (1877–1880; 1884–1911), and then the revolution that ousted him, would strengthen and institutionalize a new set of institutional frameworks, discourses, and practices that lasted through the 20th century. The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN) emerged from a history of complex and volatile relationships between indigenous peoples of the impoverished state and its economic and political elite, relationships that began a process of redefinition in the 1950s. Zapatismo is one of the expressions of indigenous and working-class struggles in this social and historical context. It can be distinguished from other rural and indigenous movements by its repudiation of the strategies of protest and negotiation within an institutional framework, its adoption of armed struggle, and its rejection of the conventional objectives of land and commercial agricultural production in favor of territorial autonomy and de facto self-government.

Article

At midcentury, the expansion of a middle class, rapid urbanization, and rising literacy rates transformed Mexico’s public sphere. Available reading material and access to television expanded significantly, fostering the creation of new publics across the country. Civic associations and cultural centers also offered spaces of sociability where civil society contested the prevailing political culture. The 1960s and 1970s further witnessed mounting public protests, popular movements, and guerrilla warfare. During these decades, print media gradually voiced greater criticism of the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), and regional journalists were often the most confrontational. In the decades since, the issues and voices represented by media have diversified, while journalists have also faced increased insecurity and violence.

Article

Stephen Allen

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.

Article

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.

Article

Friedrich E. Schuler

Mexican elites emerging out of the political civil wars of the 19th century threw their support behind French positivism and its theory that a nation could thrive through economic, industrial, and foreign-financed development. The strategy’s very success created the profound economic dislocations that triggered regional revolutions in Mexico’s center and north. Foreign observers misread these events as small rebellions and acted accordingly. In this environment Francisco Madero became Mexico’s first democratic president. Even though he leaned toward the United States, he pleased no foreign and domestic faction and was deposed and murdered by a domestic-foreign element. Emerging dictator Victoriano Huerta perplexed all foreign observers. As US president Woodrow Wilson made fighting against Huerta’s tenure a symbol of an idealistic new policy, Canadian, European, and Latin American governments picked Venustiano Carranza at the Conference of Niagara Falls to be his successor. The new context of World War I interrupted all of Mexico’s bilateral economic relations. The country’s national revolutions became side theaters of the global war. By 1918 the collapse of empires had changed all politicians’ outlooks. The 1920s were dominated by strife with the Vatican and US laissez-faire policy but also pragmatic US-Mexican border relations steered by President Abelardo Rodriguez. During the Great Depression, Mexico attempted to avoid importing food. US artists, tourists, and Europeans were inspired by Mexico’s murals and social justice movements for peasants. After 1934 Lazaro Cardenas steered these policies to the left; in 1938 he expropriated US, British, and Dutch-owned oil companies as well as US agrarian property. After 1940 government technocrats under Ávila Camacho turned the country toward exploiting the Allies’ economic war needs. World War II found Mexico on the side of the Allies, as expressed in unprecedented security, economic, and military cooperation. The Mexican air force flew missions in the Philippines. This US-Mexican rapprochement and its architects were replaced after 1943, and the rise of the Cold War changed international linkages once again.

Article

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.

Article

Every year, in the days just prior to Catholic Ash Wednesday, the indigenous Zoque peoples of northwestern Chiapas, Mexico, celebrate “carnival.” In doing so, they affirm their ethnic identity, take pride in a native vision of the cosmos, and retrace their real and fictive modern and ancient family lineages. Zoque carnival is an “encounter,” or meké in Zoque language, which entails more than the word at first glance would imply. Scholars, however, have analyzed carnivals, be they state-promoted or not, as inversions, nationalistic celebrations, or representations of local, regional, and national history. They often argue that carnivals exist primarily to represent, celebrate, or be a logical result of cultural diversity. Why are the native Zoque carnivals of northwestern Chiapas different? What are these Zoque carnivals? What do they represent to the Zoque people themselves and to non-Zoque people? Why are carnival studies from an “encountering” ethnographic standpoint interesting avenues to develop and pursue?

Article

The Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut Preußischer Kulturbesitz (IAI; Ibero-American Institute at the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) owns a collection of some 750 works of Mexican popular culture, the majority of which were illustrated by the printmaker and engraver José Guadalupe Posada (1851–1913) and printed by Antonio Vanegas Arroyo (1850–1917), whose company operated from the 1880s to the 1940s. The collection is comprised of a broad range of media, from chapbooks and magazines to Hojas sueltas (broadsheets). The texts of the published works cover a broad range of topics, on the one hand drawing on themes from Ibero-American—and especially Mexican—oral traditions and popular piety; and on the other hand, covering current affairs in Mexico and, to a lesser extent, abroad. The majority of the texts are in prose. Various forms of poetry, above all corridos (ballads), are also featured. The Posada Collection continues to be systematically enlarged and forms part of the Ibero-American Institute’s exceptionally rich collections of popular culture around 1900 from Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. Completely in open access, it is one of the IAI’s most consulted digital collections.