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Article

Pedro Infante and the Mexican Imagination  

Sal Acosta

Pedro Infante (1917–1957) remains one of Mexico’s most beloved entertainers of all time. His films and songs, his life story and his charm, but also his death and funeral and the contestation over his patrimony have combined to sustain his popularity to this day. In part, his contemporaneous and posthumous representation as a common man, a man of el pueblo (the people), cemented a prominence that was already unparalleled during his lifetime. An overview of his life, career, and legacy provides a viable lens to understand his enduring fame, locating him within the Mexican imagination. That is, important events in his life make more sense when seen as specific images that Infante has represented: the humble carpenter, charro (cowboy), singer, boxer, and tragic figure. He has even represented Mexico itself for the Mexican community of the United States. The man and his characters seem to blend into an array of personas that consistently convey humility and charisma. Therefore, one can see why people around him have tried to appropriate his image and his story—efforts that began while he was still alive. Notably, his funeral marked the birth of the Infante who has reverberated among several generations of fans, but one that does not always match the Infante that his contemporaneous audiences admired. All versions of Infante, including the actual person and the characters that he played, have garnered attention and admiration since he began his career in the 1930s.

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History of the Torre Latinoamericana  

Sarah Beckhart

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.

Article

Drought and the Origins of the Mexican Revolution  

Mikael D. Wolfe

What role did drought play in the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution of 1910? Although historians of the Mexican Revolution acknowledge that the effects of drought helped catalyze it, they have not explored in any depth what connects drought to revolution. Instead, they usually subsume it within a more general discussion of agricultural cycles to explain the conduct and fortunes of popular revolutionary armies. In particular, they reference the onset of drought between 1907 and 1909 as exacerbating an economic downturn induced by severe recession in the United States. By then, Mexico had become economically integrated with its northern neighbor through rapidly growing foreign investment, trade, and cross-border migration facilitated by the railroad transportation revolution. These socioeconomic and ecological factors together led to steep declines in wages and earnings, devastating crop failures, spikes in food prices (principally corn and beans), and even famine in the lower and middle classes. Although suggestive, such passing references to drought in the historiography of the revolution do not furnish a clear picture of its effects and how they may have contributed to social and political conflict. In the 21st century, new technologies, methods, and sources—from historical meteorological reports and climate-related accounts gleaned from archival sources to modern historical climatological data reconstructions—facilitate doing more rigorous climate history. This article provides a sampling of these methods and sources on the role of drought in late 19th- and early 20th-century Mexico that can supplement, elucidate, and even revise our understanding of the origins of the Mexican Revolution.

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Working Women in the Mexican Revolution  

Susie S. Porter

From la Adelita to the suffragette, from la chica moderna to the factory girl dressed in red shirt and black skirt—the colors of the anarchist—women’s mobilization in the midst of Mexican Revolution was, to a large degree, rooted in their workforce participation. The evolution of gendered occupational segregation of the workforce, sex-typing of occupations, and gendered wage differentials marked women’s experiences and the way they organized to take control of their lives and to shape working conditions and politics. While women’s employment nationwide contracted during the period 1890–1930, it was nevertheless a moment of significant cultural change in the recognition of women’s work outside of the home. Women shifted public debates over their right to work and mobilized around the issues of maternity leave, equal pay for equal work, and respect for seniority. Across the workforce, women fought for the application of the rights afforded by the Mexican Constitution (1917) and then, in the 1930s, by federal labor law. By the fact of their work and because of their activism, women shifted the conversation on the rights of women—single or married, mothers or not, and regardless of personal beliefs or sexual morality—to dignity at work and the right to combine a life of work with other activities that informed their lives and fulfilled their passions.

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The Charro as a Humorous Rural Stereotype in Mexico in the 1920s  

Daniel Efraín Navarro Granados

At the beginning of the 20th century, the charro, a traditional figure from the rural world, emerged on the Mexican cultural scene as a relevant stereotype. In the following years, the charro transformed into a national personification of Mexico, especially once it became a key figure of Mexican cinema and mariachi music. Notwithstanding this fact, its trajectory was more convoluted than it seems, and different versions of the character coexisted at least until the 1920s. Whereas the charro was usually represented as an attractive and seductive man, there was also a comic version, portrayed as an overweight or unkempt man with a provincial mentality. The characters played by the comic performer Leopoldo Beristáin and the protagonists of Sunday comic strips, such as Don Catarino and Mamerto Albondiguilla, were some examples of the latter. While the positive interpretation of the charro ended up prevailing as the main iteration of the character, the comic depictions of this stereotype show the rejection and contempt that the urban population felt for a rural world that had invaded the Mexican capital as a result of the revolution—a world perceived as provincial, backward, and laughable, an idea that would dominate foreign and national imageries of Mexico.

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Music in Mexico City, 1880–1960  

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.

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Culture in Mexico during the Miracle and Beyond, 1946–1982  

Eric Zolov

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

Photography and Cinema in 20th-Century Mexico  

John Mraz

Photography, film, and other forms of technical imagery were incorporated quickly into Mexican society upon their respective arrivals, joining other visual expressions such as murals and folk art, demonstrating the primacy of the ocular in this culture. Photojournalism began around 1900, and has formed a pillar of Mexican photography, appearing in illustrated magazines and the numerous picture histories that have been produced. A central bifurcation in the photography of Mexico (by both Mexicans and foreigners) has been that of the picturesque and the anti-picturesque. Followers of the former tendency, such as Hugo Brehme, depict Mexicans as a product of nature, an expression of the vestiges left by pre-Columbian civilizations, the colony, and underdevelopment; for them, Mexico is an essence that has been made once and for all time. Those that are opposed to such essentialism, such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, choose instead to posit that Mexicans are a product of historical experiences. The Mexican Revolution has been a central figure in both photography and cinema. The revolution was much photographed and filmed when it occurred, and that material has formed the base of many picture histories, often formed with the archive of Agustín Víctor Casasola, as well as with documentary films. Moreover, the revolution has been the subject of feature films. With the institutionalization of the revolution, governments became increasingly conservative, and the celebrity stars of “Golden Age” cinema provided models for citizenship; these films circulated widely throughout the Spanish speaking world. Although the great majority of photojournalists followed the line of the party dictatorship, there were several critical photographers who questioned the government, among them Nacho López, Héctor García, and the Hermanos Mayo. The Tlaltelolco massacre of 1968 was a watershed, from which was born a different journalism that offered space for the critical imagery of daily life by the New Photojounalists. Moreover, the representation of the massacre in cinema offered sharply contrasting viewpoints. Mexican cineastes have received much recognition in recent years, although they do not appear to be making Mexican films. Television in Mexico is controlled by a duopoly, but some programs have reached an international audience comparable to that of the Golden Age cinema.

Article

La Reina de la Raza: The Making of the India Bonita  

Natasha S. Varner

The India Bonita Pageant of 1921 marked a critical moment in Mexico’s revolutionary identity formation. This serialized pageant hosted by the Mexico City newspaper, El Universal, also played a major role in the formulation of indigenous “authenticity,” as defined by race, material culture, gender, and sexuality. The aims of the pageant were at least superficially focused on celebrating indigenous peoples, but it ultimately narrowed popular understandings of what it meant to be indigenous through its focus on select visual markers of indigeneity. It thereby discursively erased portions of the indigenous population that did not conform to these parameters. The pageant also played into broader efforts to solve the so-called Indian Problem by situating ideal indigeneity in the rural past, favoring Aztec heritage over other indigenous identities, and positioning Mestizos as the race of the future. Ultimately, this attempt at indigenous inclusion was part of broader revolutionary identity projects that sought to isolate and erase one problematic part of the population under the guise of celebrating it.

Article

Baseball in Mexico City during the Porfiriato, 1882–1910  

Miguel Ángel Esparza Ontiveros

Although baseball is hugely popular in Mexico, little is known about its origins and development, as there are still large gaps in the history of Mexican baseball. Historiographical production contains references to only a few cities, states and regions, as the sources are considered insufficient to develop a history of baseball in some of the country’s regions or historical periods. Analysis of numerous heretofore unused sources (primarily press reports) will significantly change the history of Mexican baseball with regard not only to its origins, but also to its causes and consequences. It will become clear that the emergence of Mexican baseball was not a homogeneous, linear, and intentional process; on the contrary, many individuals’ efforts to develop and establish the practice of baseball at different times and in a variety of places coalesced in an interdependent, co-produced, and unplanned process.

Article

Mexico in World's Fairs and Expos  

Susan Douglas

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. From 1867 to 1929, governments promoted nationalism and industrialization through World Fairs in Europe and International Expositions in America. Mexico, which had recently achieved independence from Spain, became involved in fairs to bolster its economy and image, competing with other nations to sell local goods and offer investment opportunities to foreigners. Since the 1950s, Mexicans have encouraged commerce and industry while enthusiastically marketing their country as a touristic “wonderland.” Accounts of Mexico’s participation in World Fairs draw attention to the imperialism embedded in such events suggesting that they were deeply problematic. Defined as cultural palaces and trade shows, World Fairs have chronicled changing ideas about nationalism, modernity, and, more recently, branding. In the wake of the 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

Smallpox Eradication in Mexico  

Claudia Agostoni

The control and eradication of smallpox have been among the most studied and chronicled topics in histories of health and medicine, which is not coincidental considering the dramatic nature of the disease, the official measures developed to deal with it, and the declaration in 1980 by the World Health Organization of its global eradication. Smallpox first erupted in Mexico-Tenochtitlán in 1520 during the Spanish conquest, and in 1952 the health authorities and the federal government declared that that long-feared disease had finally been eradicated there. Numerous historical studies have perpetuated the image of a single smallpox campaign in Mexico, free from conflicts, problems, and inertia. Recent scholarship, however, has increasingly emphasized that smallpox vaccination efforts were not homogenous or consistent, that they were not pursued equally in all geographic and cultural regions, and that vaccination strategies and campaigns gradually became less coercive and more selective and persuasive.

Article

Men and Modernity in Porfirian Mexico  

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.

Article

Tiçiyotl and Titiçih: Late Postclassic and Early Colonial Nahua Healing, Diagnosis, and Prognosis  

Edward Polanco

Nahua peoples in central Mexico in the late postclassic period (1200–1521) and the early colonial period (1521–1650) had a sophisticated and complex system of healing known as tiçiyotl. Titiçih, the practitioners of tiçiyotl, were men and women that had specialized knowledge of rocks, plants, minerals, and animals. They used these materials to treat diseases and injuries. Furthermore, titiçih used tlapohualiztli (the interpretation of objects to obtain information from nonhuman forces) to ascertain the source of a person’s ailment. For this purpose, male and female titiçih interpreted cords, water, tossed corn kernels, and they measured body parts. Titiçih could also ingest entheogenic substances (materials that released the divinity within itself) to communicate with nonhuman forces and thus diagnose and prognosticate a patient’s condition. Once a tiçitl obtained the necessary information to understand his or her patient’s affliction, he or she created and provided the necessary pahtli (a concoction used to treat an injury, illness, or condition) for the infirm person. Finally, titiçih performed important ritual offerings before, during, and after healing that insured the compliance of nonhuman forces to restore and maintain their patients’ health.

Article

Canada’s Cultural Diplomacy toward Mexico during the NAFTA Era  

Graciela Martínez-Zalce

Canadian cultural diplomacy has been inconsistent in recent decades. In the specific case of Mexico, the visibility of Canada is the result of the sum of public and private initiatives within independent and commercial circuits, as well as academic collaborations. In certain periods of the last few decades of Canadian history, it is possible to recognize policies aimed at projecting a specific image of Canada, which is constantly modified by precise political and economic conditions. In the twenty-five years of the North American Free Trade Agreement, three moments of cultural diplomacy toward Mexico can be recognized: a first intense period of creation of binational ties, a time of restrictions that affected strategic collaboration programs, and a renaissance characterized by interest in rethinking and systematizing the strategies of cultural exchange.

Article

Mexican Foreign Relations, 1910–1946  

Amelia M. Kiddle

During the Mexican Revolution and the long period of reconstruction that followed, successive Mexican presidents navigated the stormy seas of international relations. Though forced to manage repeated cases of foreign intervention in its internal affairs, the government actually enjoyed considerable freedom of action during and after the Revolution because of the world historical context. From the First World War to the Second, heightened tensions and mounting international conflicts worldwide diverted the attention of foreign governments and enabled skillful Mexican diplomats to take advantage of world conditions to advance their own agendas for international relations and domestic reform on the international stage as they sought to establish Mexico’s place within the international states system, and world history, as the first social revolution of the 20th century.

Article

The Mexico-US Border and the Mexican Revolution  

Sonia Hernandez

The 1910 Mexican Revolution erupted as one of several major revolutions of the 20th century throughout the world. Although the revolution touched every corner of the Mexican Republic, it took on special meaning along Mexico’s northern border with the United States. Some of the first expressions of discontent aimed at the Porfirian regime were manifested in the Mexican north. Some of the battles that marked major turning points among the various revolutionary factions took place in the region. Further, the US–Mexican borderlands played a central role in the revolution because of easy access to arms arsenals and functioned as both safe haven and as a base from which to launch attacks. It also became an entry point for radical ideology. Capturing and controlling key cities along the border provided revolutionary factions the upper hand in the long ten-year war. Revolutionaries including Ricardo Flores Magón and Encarnación Díaz, among others, were apprehended and charged with violation of US neutrality laws by American officials who, in collaboration with the Porfirian regime, worked to intercept and arrest individuals deemed a danger to both US and Mexican peace and security. The revolution left a long legacy in border communities as it served as a watershed moment regarding immigration policy as well as in the way Mexican-origin people in the United States were perceived.

Article

Maternal Death in Mexico  

Paola Sesia

Today, the death of women during pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum is considered simultaneously a public health, social inequality, and gender discrimination problem. In Mexico, approximately one thousand women die each year during pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum or from an unsafe abortion, experiencing a premature and sudden death in the midst of their most productive years, often with lasting consequences for their families and surviving children. As elsewhere, the great majority of these deaths would not have occurred if women had had prompt and unlimited access to quality emergency obstetric care, as well as easy access to contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Most deaths are related to the substandard quality of available maternal healthcare services; services that are provided for free to most Mexican women in an overly saturated and underfunded public health system that also tends to overmedicalize and pathologize normal births. Their prematurity and abruptness, their occurrence in the process of giving life, the fact that these deaths exclusively affect women, and their avoidable nature make maternal mortality unacceptable in today’s social, political, and ethical arenas. From an historical perspective, deaths in childbirth were much more common in past centuries than today; these deaths were considered inevitable and were accepted as natural occurrences until the late 19th century. However, surrounding rituals, the meaning attached to these deaths, related notions of womanhood and motherhood, and practices to prevent or avoid them, underwent changes according to broader sociocultural, political and religious transformations from Pre-Hispanic times to the 20th century. As elsewhere, in Mexico maternal deaths declined considerably in the 1930s–1950s with the discovery of penicillin and the concomitant decline of puerperal fever; they reached a plateau in the 1960s and 1970s and began to slowly decline again in the 1980s–1990s with an even steeper decrease after the signature of the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals in the year 2000; time when the reduction of maternal mortality became one of eight high-priority global public policy objectives, closely monitored by UN bodies. Maternal deaths are a reflection of ingrained multiple social inequalities that characterize Mexican society at large; poor, rural, marginalized and Indigenous pregnant women face a 2–10 times higher risk of dying than the rest of Mexican women, because their access to contraception and to prompt and high quality obstetric emergency care is more limited. Today, research in the field of maternal mortality etiology, measurement and reduction includes the call for women-centered respectful maternal care, the elimination of discrimination in the provision of obstetric services and the application of a human rights perspective to health policies, programs, and care.

Article

Chin Chun Chan: The Zarzuela as an Ethnic and Technological Farce  

Jacqueline Avila

Chin Chun Chan premiered at the Teatro Principal in Mexico City on April 9, 1904, to an enthusiastic audience. The first Mexican zarzuela written by José F. Elizondo and Rafael Medina with music by Luis G. Jordá initiated a new current in Mexican lyric theater that moved away from the Spanish zarzuelas and the operas popular during the Porfiriato: the teatro de revistas, or revistas. With the subtitle of “A Chinese Conflict in One Act and Three Scenes,” Chin Chun Chan is a story about mistaken identity in which a fed-up man attempts to escape his jealous partner by disguising himself as a Chinese dignitary at a grand hotel in Mexico City. Chin Chun Chan was a significant move away from Spanish productions, attempting to create a local entertainment that could be defined as Mexican through popular characters, dialogues, music, and colloquialisms. This formula set the stage for later revistas particularly during the armed struggle of the Revolution (1910–1920). Through a closer examination of the music numbers and the dialogue, Chin Chun Chan offers new readings on the position of ethnicity, nationalism, and sexuality during this contemporary period of political and social instability and initiates an important period in Mexican theatrical history.

Article

Revolutionary Influences on Genre Cinema in Mexico  

Jennifer L. Jenkins

The visual and technical culture of the Mexican Revolution shaped and was shaped by cinematic innovation in newsreel and fiction filmmaking, which evolved simultaneously with those social changes, presenting the image of those changes for the first time to Mexican audiences. While Russian Sergei Eisenstein has been (wrongly) credited with inventing Mexican cinema, a strong tradition of family-based production units existed long before Eisenstein’s visit and persists to this day. From the earliest newsreels of the conflict to the melodramas and historical epics of the epoca de oro, the Revolution infused cinematic narrative in the first half of the 20th century. As such, distinctive visual tropes and film language evolved in response and counterdistinction to Revolutionary ideals. Moving toward midcentury, cinema developed genres and narratives that continually revisioned the Revolution, creating the epoca de oro films. In this period, the film industry developed in direct correlation to the agendas of the sitting presidents, Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940), Manuel Ávila Camacho (1940–1946), and Miguel Alemán Valdés (1946–1952). Influential directors Fernándo de Fuentes, Emilio Fernández, and Spanish immigrant Luis Buñuel, along with cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, shaped the charter myths of modern Mexico though their cinematic works. At midcentury, with the advent of television and a postwar economic boom, Revolution-themed films appeared in near-continuous playback on television, while Buñuel inaugurated a cinema of realism that explored the harsher realities of the failure of Revolutionary ideals for the urban underclasses. The cultural imaginary that is cinema continued this exploration up to and after the tragedies of 1968.