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.
Lucero Morelos Rodríguez
In 2019, the Institute of Geology celebrated its ninetieth anniversary as part of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). The main establishment in Mexico for the teaching, research, and dissemination of the geological sciences, it is an institution with a long history and a great scientific legacy. It dates back to the 19th century, since it is the heir to the Geological Institute of Mexico (1888), the first institute in the Mexican republic to carry out research in the geological sciences and to study the country’s territory from three points of view: scientific, technical, and industrial. It was conceived by the mining engineer Antonio del Castillo (1820–1895) to meet the need to scientifically explore the country’s latent mineral wealth, for which reason its functions included: mapping regions whose lithology and resources were unknown, providing specialized services to the public—the analysis and classification of water, rocks, land, fossils, minerals, and oil—and creating a geological and paleontological museum for the nation. From 1888 to 1917, the institution was part of the Ministry of Development, Colonization, Industry, and Commerce (Ministerio de Fomento, Colonización, Industria y Comercio). In 1917, the Venustiano Carranza administration promulgated a new constitution, reformed governmental administration, and created the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Labor (Secretaría de Industria, Comercio y Trabajo), which was responsible for all questions related to industries such as mining and oil. Although it lapsed somewhat between 1917 and 1929, during the armed conflict of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), the Institute of Geology of Mexico was assigned to the Department of Geological Studies and Explorations, with the task of carrying out applied science through the study of new and old mining areas and the location of aquifers. A new scenario emerged in 1929 when the administration of President Emilio Portes Gil enacted the Organic Law of the National University, granting the latter university autonomy, which also allowed institutions of a scientific nature such as the National Astronomical Observatory, the National Library, the Department of Biological Studies, and the National Geological Institute to carry out research as one of their substantive activities. On November 16, 1929, the former Department of Geological Studies and Explorations was incorporated in the most important scholarly institution of Mexico under the name of the Institute of Geology.
Michele McArdle Stephens
The Caste Wars of the Yucatán tore apart the peninsula between 1847 and 1901. While the violence was not constant throughout the more than five decades between the start and conclusion of the war itself, the threat of rebel hostilities was ever present. Scholars have debated the origins of the war for many decades, with most recent academic treatments focusing on heavy tax burdens, poor working conditions for Yucatán’s peasantry, and the loss of land that occurred during the second half of the century. Tensions between political leaders exacerbated relations with the Mayas in particular and the peasantry more generally. The emergence of the breakaway state of Chan Santa Cruz, in the southeastern part of Yucatán, allowed rebel forces to coalesce between 1850 and the early 1870s. Here, a “Speaking Cross” oracle gave direction to the rebellious Mayas, who crushed their enemies and exacted revenge against those who would not support their cause. The emergence of Porfirio Díaz as President of Mexico in 1876 led to a gradual “reconquest” of the areas held by the cruzob, or “people of the Cross.” By 1901, the Mexican military ended the Caste Wars, though violent episodes still marred Yucatán until the early 1930s.
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.
Liliana Toledo Guzmán
Agustín Lorenzo was a prototypical social bandit, according to Eric Hobsbawm’s definition in his studies of that phenomenon. As a bandit from south central Mexico believed to have lived between the 18th and 19th centuries, the exploits of Agustín Lorenzo have been recounted in myriad ways: myths, legends, loas, corridos, films, carnival representations, among others. Lorenzo is said to have stolen from the rich to give to the poor, swearing to avenge his grandfather’s mistreatment at the hands of his employer, the local landowner. To achieve his mission, the story goes, Lorenzo made a pact with the devil, to obtain supernatural powers. The attributes of this bandit undoubtedly place him in the same category as the great body of stories about banditry that have survived for centuries around the world, particularly considering their shared essence: a desire for justice. In the case of Agustín Lorenzo, it is possible to disentangle the universal principles Hobsbawm established regarding the phenomenon of social banditry from the local context in which this particular myth lives on. Hence, to analyze the myth of Agustín Lorenzo, it is essential to explore the narratives and meanings of the cosmogony of the Nahua peoples of south-central Mexico.
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.
Federico Navarrete Linares, Margarita Cossich Vielman, and Antonio Jaramillo Arango
The conquest of Mexico can be better understood if one leaves aside the myths of European superiority and acknowledge the key role played by the Indigenous conquistadors in the defeat of the Mexica and later the formation of the realm of New Spain. Dozens of Mesoamerican polities, large and small, joined the victorious Indo-Spanish armies, and hundreds of thousands of Mesoamerican women, warriors, and assistants, participated in the twenty years of “Mesoamerican wars” that started with the war against México-Tenochtitlan, 1519–1521, and continued all across what is now Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua until the 1540s. The victorious Indigenous conquistadors produced legal testimonies and historical accounts of their feats of war to obtain rewards and privileges, often granted by the Spanish crown. The most spectacular were the lienzos, visual histories of the conquest painted on large cloths. There are many of these Indigenous accounts, but the best known and perhaps the most influential one is the Lienzo de Tlaxcala. It is the most complete account of the Mesoamerican wars, produced by the most important ally of the Spaniards, and it is also the foremost example of the historical and ritual discourses produced by the Indigenous conquistadors, as the ultimate proof of their leading role in this process. This spectacular artwork easily assimilated European pictorial conventions to the much more complex Amerindian pictographic and ritual narrative genres. As such, it was the anchor for complex ritual performances that re-enacted the feats of those wars and also allowed for the constitution of the Amerindian “complex beings” of Malinche and Santiago, the keystones of Tlaxcalan cultural memory of the conquest. Its communicative success can be proved by the fact that the Tlaxcalan embassies that presented the Lienzo de Tlaxcala and other historical books and precious gifts obtained the privileges they sought and asserted the autonomy of Tlaxcala.
The Getty Research Institute (GRI) has an extensive collection of online digital resources, with two portals that focus on Mexico. The first portal discussed in this article is A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico, and the second portal discussed is Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology. These portals are the online versions of GRI exhibitions. Viewers of A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico will find numerous primary sources, mostly photographs, related to major historical events from 1857 to 1923. This will serve as a useful resource for scholars and students interested in photohistory. The online exhibition Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology offers a wealth of online digitized images related to Aztec art, culture, and archaeology. Although A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico contains superb resources, the site is difficult to navigate and can result in viewers missing much of what it offers. Therefore, this article provides a road map of sorts with the goal of helping scholars and students save valuable time during the research process. This guide will greatly streamline the user experience for those navigating A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico. In fact, readers may want to consider having access to this article while they are navigating the particular portal. On the other hand, viewers will find Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology much easier to navigate. As such, a general overview, rather than a detailed guide is provided for this portal to allow users to direct their research with efficiency and accuracy when navigating the site. The article concludes with a brief discussion in the “Digitized Resources” section, of the literature, methodology, and historiography of photohistory.
Stephen W. Campbell
The Transatlantic Financial Crisis of 1837 produced a global depression that lasted until the mid-1840s. Falling cotton prices, a collapsing land bubble, and fiscal and monetary policies pursued by individual actors and financial institutions in the United States and Great Britain were all responsible. A comprehensive understanding of the panic must take into account the global movements of gold and silver that linked Mexico, China, the United States, and Great Britain in complex networks of credit and debt. In the United States, businesses, banks, and individuals declared bankruptcy; states defaulted on their debts; commodity prices dropped; credit instruments lost their value; and unemployment rose amid a general atmosphere of pessimism and an erosion of confidence. The severity of the panic prompted politicians and financial theorists to reevaluate their ideological assumptions regarding the proper role of governmental regulation in an economy. In a larger sense, the panic demonstrated how the expansion of slavery in the United States, British imperialism, financial speculation, and recurring cycles of boom and bust were emerging as defining features of modern capitalism.