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.
William E. French
A persuasive literature has argued that the course of Latin American history from the arrival of Europeans to the present has been shaped to a large extent by a small but expanding group of literate bureaucrats, church officials, lawyers, and intellectuals, known as letrados, who made their lives in urban centers. Those marked by this combination of power, urban living, and the written word, an assemblage that Angel Rama has dubbed “the lettered city,” utilized literature, history, the law, politics, and higher education to imagine the country into existence textually and to justify the hierarchies and inequalities that characterized their rule. Yet in Mexico, as elsewhere in Latin America, writing has a long history in nonelite settings, a venue that, in recognition of this fact, has now been referred to as “the lettered countryside.” Moreover, as understandings of a single literacy are giving way to a concern with “literacies,” defined in the plural and operating in relationship rather than opposed to such things as orality and visuality, traces of literacy practices are being discovered in many locations. Foregrounding the conjunction of the lettered city and the lettered countryside is an attempt to bring these venues into conversation while doing away with the binary that associates literary with the city and orality with the rural.
Over the course of the 19th century in Mexico, although the written word was still pressed into the service of national imagining, a number of other characteristics shaped the conjunction of the lettered city and the lettered countryside. A struggle over secularization was one new development, as authority came increasingly to be invested in the written word itself rather than justified in religious terms. New forms of literacies emerged, especially those associated with the novel and other forms of publications, including newspapers, periodicals for and by women, and the penny press, creating new publics with distinct senses of themselves as communities of readers and listeners; oratory, public discussion of politics and other issues in various venues, and the phenomenon of indirect readers also brought together these two locations. As early as the 1840s, rural residents in some parts of the country had made writing their own, drafting political proclamations in which they defined such things as federalism in their own terms and asserted themselves in national politics. While elite diarists, both men and women, left traces of their emotional lives in various forms of life writing over the course of the entire period, ordinary people, including mine workers, agricultural laborers, and women who carried out household duties, wrote love letters to each other by the last third of the century, if not before. Composed and exchanged by means of cooperation, the use of intermediaries known as evangelistas, or by individuals with various degrees of facility in reading and writing, love letters served as privileged means of communicating the emotions they brought into being while often ending up as evidence in legal proceedings that continued to assert the prerogatives of the lettered city even as it came ever more intimately conjoined with the lettered countryside.
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.
The very nature of Spanish colonization meant that New Spain brought together people from different cultures, ethnicities, religions, and attitudes. Mexico City was the meeting place of all these various populaces. Before the conquest, Tenochtitlan had neighborhoods composed of residents from various parts of the empire. Apart from the many indigenous cultures, colonization also meant the addition of Spaniards, Africans, and Asians, some of whom were enslaved and others simply migrants. The result was a culture that expressed itself both in high and popular culture with a melding of elements—a joyous cacophony that reflected its mestizo nature. This culture was played out not only in institutional settings such as the viceregal court, ceremonies, the theater, and in church but also in the streets, parks, and taverns that dotted towns and cities. Although culture, to a certain extent, reflected New Spain’s hierarchical nature, separation between high and low was never absolute. In the cathedral, as in many other institutions, popular pursuits and music infiltrated the formal singing. This pattern of cultural slippage prevailed within many areas of daily life as the colonial world of New Spain layered pastimes and pursuits from its many constituents.
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.
Digital Resources: The Mexican Digital Library, BDMx (Mexican National Council for Culture and the Arts)
Andrea Martínez Baracs
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.
The Biblioteca Digital Mexicana (BDMx) provides access—for the average user as well as for students and scholars—to significant historical materials, "unpublished or very rare," as was said in the second half of the nineteenth century, the golden age of Mexican historiography. The BDMx is not concerned with documents that have a principally symbolic value (such as autographs or decrees about the founding of cities); rather, it deals with those with high cultural density, whose value is not diminished upon their first reading. Finally, the BDMx contains only materials that are not already easily found online, which, unfortunately, excludes a great number of very valuable works.
This initiative was founded and directed with the support of a directorial council comprised of the directors of four important Mexican institutions connected to Mexican history and culture: the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), the Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia (BNAH), the Centro de Estudios de Historia de México (CEHM-Carso), and the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (Conaculta). With this institutional backing, the BDMx has been able to add eight additional archives and libraries, and it continues to grow.
The AGN houses most national historical archives; the BNAH holds the main Mesoamerican Codices collection of the country, and its Colección Antigua has long been appreciated by scholars, with holdings such as the Franciscan Archives collection; CEHM-Carso is a private library that has acquired unique archival collections; Conaculta is our Ministry of Culture and, as such, has under its wing many regional museums, important photography collections, and more. The BDMx also works closely with the Universidad Iberoamericana's Biblioteca Francisco Xavier Clavijero, a private library that holds the Porfirio Díaz Archives and much more. And the Mapoteca Manuel Orozco y Berra, founded in the nineteenth century, holds a trove of historical maps.
The BDMx chooses the documents by common agreement with the curators of these collections. It looks for variety in the types of documents and supportive materials (books, other publications, manuscripts, pictography, photography, lithography, and so on). The themes are self-selected, due to their own worth and because they might mark an important anniversary or a centennial. Up to the present, some of the principal selections have been Mesoamerican codices, the unpublished oeuvre of Guillén de Lampart, ancient maps and plans, and the work of Rodrigo de Vivero.
Each item is accompanied by a historiographical introduction that aims to be up to date and relevant. The user is distracted with nothing other than the presentation of the documents, in a clean and friendly format. And the worth of the project lies in the quality of the documents. This is an example where less is more.
Celeste González de Bustamante and Verónica Reyes-Escudero
The Documented Border: An Open Access Digital Archive combines creative and research strategies to contribute to the digital humanities. Officially launched in October 2014, the project advances understanding about the borderlands between the United States and Mexico and their peoples during a period of unprecedented change. As a repository and interactive tool, the open-access archive is useful for faculty and student research, journalists, and the community at large.
Currently, the archive divides into two parts. The first part focuses on journalists and human rights activists, and it includes the oral histories of journalists who cover northern Mexico from both sides of the border and human rights activists who are working to improve freedom of expression in Mexico. More than a hundred journalists in Mexico have been murdered since 2000. The oral histories help to illuminate the complex environment in which journalists must work as they negotiate between political and economic forces and the need to inform the public. The second part of the archive features the inner workings of US immigration policies through the documentation (artists’ illustrations) of Operation Streamline, a “streamlined” federal-court proceeding in which a judge determines the status of migrants who are detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
A unique aspect of the Documented Border is its living-archive status. As archives in general struggle to close the gap in the representation of underrepresented communities in the historical record, the Documented Border Digital Archive has gotten in front of current research and primary-source documentation. The archive not only presents the documentation being created by interdisciplinary researchers in digital form but also donates it to the institution to ensure long-term preservation and access. The project forms part of the Borderlands Collection of the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections.
In the 1850s, Juana Catarina Romero, known popularly as Juana Cata, peddled her cigarettes on the streets of Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, an activity that enabled her to serve as a spy for the liberals under the command of Captain Porfirio Díaz during the War of the Reform (1858–1860). By 1890, Romero (1837–1915) had emerged as an international merchant, sugar cane producer and refiner, philanthropist, and “modernizing” cacica of the city of Tehuantepec. As powerful women rarely receive credit for their achievements, popular myth attributes her success to the men in her life, a supposed youthful love affair with Díaz or a later lover, Colonel Remigio Toledo. In contrast, a study of her career helps to shed light on how women could attain and exercise power in the 19th century and the ways in which they participated in the construction of the nation-state and a capitalist economy. Her trajectory shows that when allied with these forces of modernization, women could take on a more public role in society. It also reveals that it is through the lens of local and regional history that women’s contributions and accomplishments, so often erased in national histories, can be made visible.
James A. Garza
The history of foreign travel to Mexico has been dependent on the country’s political, economic, and social conditions. Travel restrictions, banditry, the condition of transportation routes and ports, political stability, revolution, and the development of a tourist industry have all played a role in how travelers have written about Mexico. Despite periodic challenges, Mexico has proven to be an alluring destination for foreign travelers since the colonial era. Men and women have journeyed to Mexico for different reasons, some on official business and others for pleasure or to escape their lives back home, and in turn have produced numerous accounts that have served to attract more visitors and have functioned as a valuable source of information on the everyday life of Mexico’s peoples. Still others have traveled to Mexico for conquest, and while their motivations were violent, their journals have served as a guide for those interested in retracing the same routes. Travelers have depicted landscapes, communities, peoples, and practices; offered insight into important historic periods; and depicted Mexico as exotic, bountiful, primitive, or dangerous.
This historical topic is divided into three distinct eras: the colonial period, the 19th century, and the 20th century. The Spanish Crown restricted foreign travel to Mexico during the colonial era (1521–1821), resulting in the relative scarcity of accounts from the period. Foreign travelers during this period were conquistadors, clerics, officials, or explorers, all with varying degrees of literacy. During the 19th century, foreign travelers came in three overlapping waves: the early republic era (1821–1840), when most were either investors or diplomats; the middle period (1830–1870), an era dominated by soldiers, travelers, and archeologists; and the Porfiriato (1876–1911), when investors and wealthy tourists flooded Mexico. The 1910 Mexican Revolution marks the beginning of Mexico’s 20th century and two distinct periods of foreign travel, both influenced by state power and violence. The revolutionary and state-building era (1910–1946) saw foreign travelers as primarily war journalists and writers exploring the effects of the revolution’s social and cultural measures. After World War II, foreign travelers encountered the tourism era (1946–1968), a period under the influence of a burgeoning state tourism industry. Despite this challenge, travelers, many of them writers, carved out their own niches.
The History and Visual Culture of Mexico City’s Xochimilco Potable Water System during the Porfiriato
Jeffrey M. Banister and Stacie G. Widdifield
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.