Kathryn E. O’Rourke
Architecture in Mexico City in the mid-20th century was shaped by rapid economic and urban growth, demographic change, new construction technologies, and politics. Architects adapted modernist idioms and those that evoked historical precedents for new purposes. Key figures who had begun practice earlier in the century, including Mario Pani, Juan O’Gorman, José Villagrán García, and Luis Barragán, designed major new works and strongly influenced the profession, even as a new generation led by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Ricardo Legorreta, and Teodoro González de Léon came of age. As they had been since the 1920s, public patrons were the most important clients of modern buildings, which often addressed needs for better housing, education, and health care. The period also saw the rise of modern suburbs and the evolution of the single-family house, as well as the creation of major buildings for increasingly important cultural institutions, especially museums.
As they had in preceding decades, architects used the non-architectural arts, particularly painting, to distinguish their works. The legacy of the Mexican muralist movement was most evident on the facades of major buildings in the new University City, where the influence of international modernist planning principles was also striking. In 1968 Mexico City hosted the Olympics, for which architects, planners, and designers created a network of buildings and images that functioned interdependently to present Mexico as cosmopolitan and historically rooted in its indigenous history. Sprawl and pollution worsened in the 1970s, as the capital came to be dominated by buildings that were not designed by architects. While some observers questioned the relevance of architecture in the face of seemingly unstoppable and uncontrollable growth, talented young architects responded with buildings notable for their monumentality, mass, and sophisticated engagement with historical types.
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.
Maira Mayola Benítez Carrillo
Gabriel Vargas Bernal created one of the greatest examples of Mexican comic strips, The Burrón Family. He had a remarkable career as a prolific cartoonist, screenwriter, historian, and journalist, with many titles published throughout decades of work. His predominant topic is social criticism and his narrative style is that of journalistic humor. Self-taught, he worked for the country’s most important–newspapers. Over the years, he wrote pieces on sports and the most popular festivals in Mexico, completed comic strips to support literacy campaigns, and designed many types of comics: historical, religious, war, detective, ecological, didactic, humor, and adventure. In 1948, he created the comic La familia Burrón, a series that tells of a poor family’s daily life in a working-class neighborhood. The author’s sense of criticism was the key to allowing readers to identify with the almost one hundred characters who appeared on its pages. Many of them came from real life and were recreated on the pages of this comic, which was published for six decades.
Vargas had a clear critical view of Mexican society. He incorporated costumbrist scenes and knew how to use idioms and popular expressions through his characters, adapting them to each decade in which the comic strip was published. His stories are full of humor and absurd situations, a mix of reality and fiction. The strip had a half-million printings per week and has been published in compilation books that are among the most sold at Mexico’s main book fairs. Vargas’s work is a necessary reference to learn and understand the idiosyncrasies of Mexicans—their customs, traditions, conflicts, and short-comings—in the urban environment.
The 1968 Mexican student movement remains essential to the formation of the modern Mexican human rights movement. Mexico has had a long tradition of revolutionary activity, rural social movements, and an active labor movement that sought to gain basic human rights such as education, adequate housing, decent wages, and access to land. In 1968, students drew inspiration from leaders of the revolution, labor movements, and rural social activists. They echoed their demands, they used their images, and they insisted that the government respect the 1917 constitution. Despite their efforts to build a nonviolent social movement, they met violence at the hands of the government, which brutally suppressed the movement on October 2, 1968.
Following the massacre and into 1970, the government imprisoned students while others fled into exile to avoid prison. By the 1970s, the government initiated a “democratic opening” in which former activists were released from prison and others returned from exiles. While some former leaders entered government service, others questioned the impunity of the government and demanded answers. In their writings, films, and public presentations, they made connections to the struggles of the past. Like their counterparts in Europe and the United States, their struggles matured and evolved, and they became the leaders of the feminist, LGBTQ, and the modern human rights movements.
The years immediately following World War II constituted a watershed in Mexico’s political development: the national government, controlled by the recently renamed Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and led by a new generation of civilian professional politicians, made rapid industrialization its top priority. In a matter of decades, the nation transformed from a predominantly rural to an ever more urbanized society. Significant social and cultural changes followed. The middle classes became the dominant voice in national politics and the beneficiaries of the government’s economic policies, while earlier efforts designed to ameliorate the suffering of the majority were suspended or even reversed, leaving urban workers and the rural poor to wonder what had happened to their revolution. Gradually, a consumerist culture eclipsed the cultural revolution of the 1920s and 1930s. Despite official claims to the contrary, Mexico in this era shed its revolutionary identity and replaced it with a modernizing zeal.
Through the 1960s, scholarly assessments regarded the nation as a model of Third World development. In the estimation of foreign and domestic observers alike, the combination of aggressive capitalist development, state protectionism, and foreign investment had created an economic miracle, while the 1910 Revolution had produced a relatively benign, paternalistic form of “soft” authoritarianism. But in the years following the devastating massacre of students in 1968 at the Plaza de Tlatelolco just days before the Mexico City Summer Olympics, scholarly assessments soured. In the coming decades, more and more evidence of political violence, media manipulation, and official corruption would surface, leading to a crisis of political legitimacy that would be severely aggravated by economic crisis in 1982. For these reasons, the period from 1946 to 1982 is a distinct and important chapter in the nation’s 20th-century development.