Porfirio Díaz’s liberal dictatorship used the centenary of independence to promote material progress, political stability, and the mestizo nation, all of which have remained important characteristics of the Mexican state. The centennial program lionized José Maria Morelos as a mestizo hero of independence and Benito Juárez as an architect of La Reforma and savior of the nation. Besides his remarkable political career, Juárez symbolized the cultural transformation of an Indian into a mestizo through education and secularization, a process advocated by Porfirian social engineers as essential to Mexico’s modernization.
Porfirians also viewed Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage as a source of national pride and identity. For the Centenary, the government expanded the national ethnographic museum, reconstructed Teotihuacán, and sponsored the International Congress of Americanists where scholars presented papers on precolonial cultures. Porfirians’ appreciation for the pre-Columbians, however, did not extend to contemporary Indians, who were considered to be a drag on modernization and an embarrassment.
Mexico’s modernization was symbolized by the transformation of Mexico City, the principal venue for the Centennial programs. The capital had been remodeled along Parisian lines with grand boulevards, roundabouts (glorietas), and green space. Electric tramways also connected neighborhoods with downtown, new fashionable suburbs displayed mansions with modern conveniences, and high-end department stores sold merchandise imported from Paris and London.
During the Centenary, the Paseo de la Reforma and downtown avenues accommodated parades with patriotic and commercial themes, and central plazas provided space for industrial and cultural exhibitions similar to those found at international fairs. The Desfile Histórico depicted scenes from the conquest, colonial, and independence periods that outlined a liberal version of Mexican history. The program also featured openings of primary schools, a public university, an insane asylum, and water works, all indicative of Porfirian notions of modernization.
The Centennial’s audience included Mexico City residents, visitors from the provinces, and delegates from the United States, Europe, and Asia. International and liberal newspapers characterized events as festive and patriotic, while the conservative press protested the lack of attention given to Agustín de Iturbide, the conservative independence leader, and to the Catholic Church. During the celebration, supporters of Francisco I. Madero, the reformer imprisoned by Díaz, organized two protests that interrupted events and foreshadowed troubles ahead. Following Madero’s escape from prison, his call to revolution was answered by peasants, provincial elites, and local strongmen whose movements forced Díaz to resign the following year. Revolutionary governments subsequently used Independence Day celebrations, including another centennial in 1921, to promote their political and cultural agendas, including anti-clericalism and indigenous culture as national culture.