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.
Lucha libre, or professional wrestling, has become a staple of urban Mexican culture over the course of the 20th century. In the past twenty years, it has gained international acclaim for its distinctive style and culture. Best known for the masks that luchadores often wear, lucha libre has become a distinctly national rendition of an imported product. Along with Japan and the United States, Mexico is one of the most influential nations in the world of professional wrestling. The sport allows fans to root for técnicos, rudos, and exóticos and it provides theater that upends societal norms in Mexico. Banned from performing on television by Federal District authorities from the 1950s to the early 1990s, wrestlers like El Santo and Blue Demon took to the silver screen to film “Mexploitation” horror and science fiction films. Although the sport has become an urban tradition, it reflects the cosmopolitan nature of working-class urban culture as well as the influence of Mexican culture on other nations.
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.
Nicole von Germeten
Female occupational and economic choices help clarify understandings of colonial historic agency, especially in the lives of Mexican women who made their income as alcahuetas or “bawds.” These women hosted and managed other women in the marketing and selling of sex acts in the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Viceregal bawds manipulated both the sex lives of their clients and the paternalism of crown justice in hopes of exoneration in court. They walked a precarious legal tightrope, negotiating the fluctuating margins of legal procuring and the transition to more stringent laws against sex for sale. The examples presented here, drawn from contemporary archival documents, show that these women’s lives span most of New Spain’s history, ranging from 1570 to the independence era in the early 19th century. In the 16th century, bawdry resembled the clandestine personal mediation that was common and familiar in medieval and early modern Spain. Bawds working in the 1st century of Spanish rule in Mexico carefully defended their social respectability to contradict evidence that they solicited for clients in the street. Reputable hospitality featured prominently in the early 17th-century procuring, while indigenous-influenced sorcery and love magic dominated the understanding of 17th- and early 18th-century alcahuetas. Lastly, in the 19th century, profitable market exchange characterized professional brothel operations, granting bawds honorable status within their economic and occupational community. Bawds recorded in the archives demonstrate communication skills, entrepreneurialism, and a concern for reputation through all of these eras. These intelligent female survivors offer compelling representations of viceregal women who exercised their personal agency to forge their own economic prosperity.
The major art form produced in Mexico during the years following the Mexican Revolution of 1910, especially during 1920–1940, was mural painting, mostly in the technique of fresco. Three artists dominated this period: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, known collectively as the Big Three. Rufino Tamayo, younger and less ideologically aligned to those three, followed his own path of a more modernist style. An important easel painter of this period was Frida Kahlo, who traveled in the cultural and political circles of the muralists but who produced strongly personal images, especially of herself.
In addition, examples of mural paintings by the Big Three in the United States receive their due attention, as does the more independent mural production in Mexico of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The paintings are analyzed in terms of context, meaning brief references to biographical details, more expansive on the general sociohistorical setting, with accounts of the patronage where highly relevant, and relations between the artists themselves. Discussions of the style of the images, in the most comprehensive and general sense, are dedicated to revealing the ideological content of the style as it serves the more straightforward subjects of the paintings.
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.
The history of the 20th century in the Southeast of Mexico is bookended by two revolutions: the Mexican Revolution as it played out in the region, along with its antecedents and aftermath, and a very different but related revolutionary movement that emerged in the state of Chiapas in the mid-1990s. The former has been little studied at the multistate regional level by historians but is critical for understanding the history of the states of the Southeast in the decades that followed. The latter has been intensively studied by scholars in numerous disciplines, but its long-term historical implications remain to be seen. Equally important but scarcely studied and relatively little known is the political history of the Southeast in between these periods of conflict and revolution.
The Southeast is a region that is commonly regarded as distinct, and even marginal, within national histories of Mexico. In the 1980s, President Miguel de la Madrid suggested that the Mexican Revolution had never reached Chiapas. Yet decades earlier, President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940) famously praised neighboring Tabasco as Mexico’s “laboratory of revolution.” Meanwhile, historian Ben Fallaw contends that Yucatán was one of the most important of Mexico’s political laboratories during the 1930s. Taken together, these seemingly conflicting assertions underscore that many of the things that made the Southeast unique within Mexico also made the region important and influential to the course of modern Mexican history. They also raise the question of the Southeast’s experience of the Revolution and the long-term legacies of the revolutionary political projects that unfolded there.
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.
Paraguay is a pluriethnic, plurilingual, and multicultural society, influenced by migration from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, which contains many conflicting identities. Despite its heterogeneity, there are certain characteristics which have been seen by Paraguayan and foreign writers as having significant influence on national identity. These are primarily related to three factors: Paraguay’s geographical position as a landlocked country, between two regional superpowers, and the resulting historical isolation; the prevalence of Guarani as the favored language of the vast majority of Paraguayans, and its relationship with Spanish; and the impact of international war and defense of its frontiers, primarily the Triple Alliance War (1864–1870), on Paraguay’s economic, cultural, and political development, as well as on its self-perception.
However, Paraguay is also unusual in that following the catastrophe of the Triple Alliance War, there was a concerted effort by a group of intellectuals to challenge the liberal consensus and reinterpret the past to create a national history. This revisionist approach became increasingly influential until, after the Chaco War (1932–1936) and the end of the liberal period, it became the dominant “official” version. Here it subsequently remained through civil war, dictatorship, and finally transition to democracy. While many observers believed this hegemonic revisionist version would disappear with the end of the Stroessner regime in 1989, it has proved more resilient, flexible, and durable than expected, reflecting a high level of internalization of national identity. This in turn suggests that the official discourse was not purely an invention of tradition but was constructed on deeply held ideas of geographical, cultural, historical, and linguistic difference.
Bridget María Chesterton
In the period 1870–1936, Paraguay began to redevelop economically after its devastating loss in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870). Turning to a liberal economic model popular in the region at the time, government officials began selling off large tracts of land to foreign investors, in particular Argentine investors. The liberal era in Paraguay was notoriously turbulent as political rivals often relied on Civil War to gain power. Nonetheless, this period was pivotal in helping to shape ideas about the nation. The era ends at the Febrerista Revolution (1936) when returning Chaco War (1932–1935) veterans made their mark on Paraguayan politics and identity.