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Since the founding of the Mexican republic, women have been politically engaged in their respective communities. The creation of a modern nation-state during the last decades of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century marked an increase in women’s formal and informal political participation in the country. During the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and particularly in the post-revolutionary period, Mexican women took a much more active role in engaging the state, formed political alliances and organizations, pressed for labor and political rights, and worked collectively and individually to secure suffrage. Women have been part of an array of political parties and have played a key role in the slow and uneven process of democratization in Mexico. In and outside the bounds of formal political parties, and in the greater sphere of electoral politics, women participated in multiple ways in the post-1953 period. Even during the years when women lacked the right to vote, they were engaged politically in the local, regional, national, and international spheres. They did so by participating in all political parties, and participated in voting drives, actively promoted issues that concerned them, and pushed for gender equity in the greater electoral process. Despite lacking suffrage, women in Mexico were engaged citizens in the broadest sense of the word.
By the eve of the 21st century, women had served in almost all municipal, state, and government positions and had also competed for the highest office in the land. Yet the limits in electoral reform legislation, unequal and uneven economic development, gender and sexual violence, and continued distrust of the nation’s political system, as well as widespread insecurity caused by a violent drug war that was being strengthened by the influx of US weapons, remained major challenges to women’s continued participation on the country’s long road to democratization.
When the anthropologist Paul Kirchhoff proposed a new definition of Mesoamerica in a landmark study from 1943, the first common characteristics he identified were technological and agricultural: the use of the digging-stick (coa) and “the construction of gardens by reclaiming land from lakes (chinampas).” For thousands of years, Native peoples across Mesoamerica drew on their technological innovations to devise bountiful kinds of farming that have been as diverse as the environments in which they were created. All of their farming systems required some degree of intervention in nature, be it through domesticating plants, tilling the soil, or altering the physical environment by making terraces and harnessing water supplies. On an essential level, then, technology and agriculture went hand in hand. Of the many kinds of Mesoamerican farming, the one that arguably modified the environment the most was a distinctive kind of wetland agriculture in which Nahuas—or Aztecs, the speakers of the Nahuatl language—constructed raised garden beds, known as chinampas, in the shallow, freshwater lakes of the Basin of Mexico.
At the heart of this zone of wetland agriculture was the ancient city of Xochimilco. There the raised gardens filled the surrounding lake of the same name, and eventually came to cover a vast area of some 120 square kilometers. The construction and the intensive cultivation of the chinampas required a considerable investment of time and effort, a good deal of technical expertise, and the mastery of specialist skills and knowledge, including hydrology and engineering so as to manage water levels in the lakes through complex irrigation works. The intensive farming of the fertile, well-irrigated gardens, which could be cultivated year round, yielded sizable harvests of maize and other crops. So productive was chinampa agriculture that scholars have considered it one of the most abundant kinds of farming ever devised. As a technological innovation and environmental adaptation, the chinampas were crucial to changes in Mexican history: they generated surpluses sufficient for urbanization and the rise of Tenochtitlan, one of the early modern world’s great cities, as well as the expansion of the Aztec Empire. The chinampas remained important for the provisioning of the capital long after the Spanish conquest, and in spite of the desiccation of the Basin of Mexico, they are still cultivated in a few places today.
Romana Gloria Falcón Vega
During the formation of the Mexican nation, jefaturas políticas, or prefectures, as they will be called generically in this article, were basic institutions (1812–1917) for centralizing and organizing power and assuring governance. This was a vital task given the civil and international wars the country would endure. These powerful institutions were the mediators between the upper and lower political echelons and social classes. In the prefectures were vested an impressive range of diverse responsibilities—agrarian, fiscal, preserving order, military conscriptions, educational, medical and sanitary services, promoting the economy, elaborating statistics, mapmaking—which made modernization and administrative functionality very difficult. At the turn of the 20th century, this was an obstacle to the modernization and efficacy of the regime.
Even though prefectures had responsibilities for all of Mexico, they also had an important degree of flexibility to attend to local needs. Therefore, laws and practices were adapted to the peculiarities of the different states, for example, regulating labor or conciliating rivalries that sprang from the application of liberal agrarian policies.
Prefects governed specific political districts in which the states were divided and were generally appointed and removed freely by the governors as their personal representatives to enforce laws and policies and to control any opposition. They were remembered in popular imaginary, literary, and revolutionary historiography as brutal and corrupt functionaries loyal only to the upper classes and their clientelist networks. Contemporary studies have proved that these modalities—brutality and corruption—have a place in the prefect’s box of tools, but new research has widened the historiographic perspective and showed how differently these functionaries could act. In fact, they used most of their energy trying to negotiate with the whole range of social classes and political factions. But their repressive character led to its elimination: they fought the revolution of 1910, and when they lost they were suppressed in 1917.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, numerous academics and non-governmental organizations based in the United States generated alarm about political and ecological threats posed by human population growth. During the first half of the 20th century, improvements in nutrition, sanitation, and medical therapies had dramatically reduced infant mortality and contributed to increased life expectancy in many parts of the world. In the context of the Cold War, many leaders of Western industrialized nations viewed the rapid growth of poor Asian, African, and Latin American populations as a potential source of political instability. They feared that these poor masses would become fodder for revolutionary political movements, particularly communism. Combined with eugenicist views rooted in colonial racism, new understanding of ecological systems, and growing concern about overtaxing earth’s resources, these fears led many American and European scholars and activists to promote population reduction in the newly designated “Third World.” In Latin America, such efforts to curb human increase were met with skepticism or outright opposition by both Catholic Church leaders and many left-wing nationalists who saw the promotion of birth control as a form of racist imperialism. Although some physicians and even liberal priests viewed decreasing family size as important for public health and family welfare, the involvement of North American capitalists (such as the Rockefellers), U.S. government agencies, and former eugenicists in efforts to distribute contraceptive technologies made them deeply suspect in the eyes of many Latin Americans.
Agrarian transformations in Andean Peru, subject to larger sociopolitical and economic processes, entailed major material, environmental, and biological changes. The long history of sheep introduction in Andean environments, its specific impact on the central highlands, and the making of an Andean breed of sheep—the oveja Junín—illustrate how such transformations shaped rural Peru as a societal space. Following larger environmental patters in Latin America, sheep became the dominant animal of the upper Andean regions, populating depleted landscapes and refashioning otherwise hostile environments as areas of agrarian productivity. Many of the transformations that occurred during colonial times, particularly the consolidation of the hacienda system and the rise of sheepherding as a form of peonage, served manifold purposes in the transition to the national period. While the 19th-century liberal obliteration of corporate identities and property obscured the legacy of indigenous communities, sheep continued to thrive and set the conditions for the incorporation of the Peruvian countryside into the global world economy. In the 20th century, with the parallel arrival of state and capital governance, transforming sheep and sheepherding from vernacular expressions of livelihood into advanced forms of modern agrarian industrialism merged together scientific and veterinarian knowledge with local understandings, producing the oveja Junín as the ultimate result. As sheepherding modernized based on efficient husbandry, sheep modernity efficiently nurtured rural developmentalism, bringing together communal and capitalist interests in unprecedented ways. The state-sponsored project of granjas comunales devoted to capital-intensive grazing economies reveals how husbandry and modern grazing activities both reinforced and transformed societal organization within indigenous communities, sanctioning existing differences while providing a vocabulary of capital for recasting their internal social relations of production. When the state envisioned the centralization of otherwise profitable communal grazing economies, through the allegedly empowering language of agrarian reform, the cooperativization of land, labor, and animals led to communal, family, and individual disenfranchisement. Indigenous community members, turned into campesinos, sought new battlegrounds for resisting state intromission. Eventually, the very biology of the oveja Junín as an exclusive domain of state and capital became the target of campesino sabotage. As the agrarian reform collapsed and revolution engulfed the countryside, rural livelihoods—sheep included—faced their ultimate demise, often with severe degrees of violence. In this entire trajectory, sheep—and the oveja Junín—ruled the upper regions of the Andes like no political power ever did.
Andrés Estefane and Luis Thielemann
Marxist thought in Latin America was impacted by various transatlantic intellectual, and social influences. The changes in Latin American Marxism can be placed in a five-stage chronological framework. The first stage, from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, encompasses the arrival of European immigrants, who introduced the first references to Marxist socialism, and the local development of that repertoire among workers, journalists, and intellectuals in the urban centers of Latin America. The initial influence of the Second International and Karl Marx’s texts started to change during the second decade of the 20th century, following the debates sparked by the Russian Revolution and the emergence of communism. This context framed the beginning of the second stage, characterized by the emergence of a group of thinkers who questioned the Eurocentric tone and the mechanical assimilation of European Marxism. Taking as a point of departure the particularity of Latin American social formations, and inspired by a strong anti-imperialist discourse, these intellectuals and revolutionary leaders aimed at developing an original reading of Marxist thinking, more pertinent to the rural and indigenous character of the continental societies and the structural legacies of the colonial past. A third stage began in the 1930s, after the fall of the Spanish Republic, the ascent of fascism and Nazism in Europe, and the ideological purges that followed the Stalinization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The increasing influence of the Comintern (the Communist International) deactivated the creative impetus of the early 20th century, though it did not prevent the emergence of intellectuals and local organizations—led by Trotskyism and Left Opposition groups—who strongly criticized Stalinism and the bureaucratization of Soviet Communism. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 marked the beginning of a fourth stage in the history of Latin American Marxism. That event inverted the traditional direction of the transatlantic influence, since Latin America became a landmark case for Western Marxism. In the midst of a complex and productive intercontinental dialogue with Europe, Latin American Marxism developed crucial debates on such topics as the colonial legacy of the continental capitalist development, the relationship between racial hierarchies and class struggle, and over the political “routes” to building socialist orders. These dialogues and debates came to an abrupt end after the wave of coup d’états that shook the continent between the 1960s and the 1980s. The political defeats of the attempts to construct socialist systems provoked a Marxist diaspora that brought many European intellectuals back to their own continent and sent many militants and thinkers into exile in Latin America and elsewhere. Interestingly, the evaluation of the defeat was the basis for an ample renovation of the Marxist thought, which marked the beginning of the fifth and current stage, characterized by the emergence of the Latin America’s progressive governments of the 21st century and the gradual withdrawal from the old bases of historical materialism. Although this periodization recognizes the diverse transatlantic contexts that influenced Latin American Marxism, it also seeks to highlight that the production of Marxist thinking on the continent has mainly been connected with the experience of active militants and intellectuals proscribed or marginalized in academia. By extension, the development of Latin American Marxism appears to be intimately linked to the political struggle of the continental Left, which does not negate that Latin American thinkers have also produced theoretical works on Marx.
That the Mexican mural renaissance is understudied is clear from the fact than not one of its artists has been the subject of a scholarly biography. Moreover, the movement as a whole has usually been viewed through nationalist prejudices and partisan interpretations. A current reevaluation uses the wedge of several hitherto marginalized artists who figure more prominently in documents and chronology than in popular history. Among them, Jean Charlot can be placed securely at the beginning of several major developments, which were continuations of his work in France. At the open air art school of Coyoacán, he helped the young teachers move from impressionism to a geometry-based postimpressionism more appropriate for mural composition. He introduced woodcut, which he had practiced in France and which became the print medium of choice for generations of Mexican artists. His first mural, The Massacre in the Main Temple, was important for its successful use of fresco—immediately adopted as the preferred medium by other muralists—and its dynamic geometric composition, an alternative to Diego Rivera’s static classicism in Creation. Charlot further broadened the thematic and stylistic options of the movement in a series of small oils and in the first studies of the indigenous nude. He continued to nourish his colleagues with the results of his work as an archeological draughtsman at the Chichen Itza expedition of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC.
Charlot also participated in the notable collaboration between artists and writers in 1920s Mexico. Along with Manuel Maples Arce, he was on the two-man Direction Committee of the estridentista movement, illustrating books of poetry and joining group exhibitions. His writings are among the earliest discussions of contemporary Mexican art—publicizing the movement in Europe and the United States—and continue to influence interpretation today. His collections of documents and interviews, as well as his personal experience, became the invaluable basis of books like his The Mexican Mural Renaissance, 1920–1925 and numerous articles in several languages. His latest bibliography is 173 pages long. Charlot fulfilled the unique role of insider-outsider, participant-observer, in the Mexican mural renaissance.
Around 1560, indigo-yielding plants were identified in the New World. Settlers turned with enthusiasm to the industry, cultivating the native Indigofera species on large-scale plantations from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the Gulf of Fonseca. Production surged, and by 1600 indigo had become the third most valuable export from the Spanish Indies (behind silver and cochineal). After an initial, explosive start, the industry declined toward 1630, crippled by the onslaught of crop plagues, an insufficient supply of labor, and a collapsing transport system.
A second boom came only in the second half of the 18th century, following the Bourbon reforms, and with the recovery of trade through the Central American ports. By this time, a steady increase in European demand for indigo had encouraged the spread of colonial production to Dutch Java, French Saint-Domingue, British Jamaica, and South Carolina. Yet the Central American product had a longstanding, elevated reputation on its sid, and fared well against its rivals with the rare flor tizate, the region’s finest, ranked highest in European markets.
In the three centuries between the emergence of colonial production and the commercialization of a synthetic alternative at the close of the 19th century, indigo transformed lives and landscapes on both sides of the Atlantic. The industry formed an integral part of the Central American economy, with important social and environmental consequences for the region.
Historians have extensively explored the topic of architecture in Mexico City in the 20th century. From the relationships between politics, public patrons, new construction technologies, and new idioms of modernism, the impressive story of architecture in this megalopolis continues to astound and captivate people’s imaginations. Architecture was a channel that politicians used to address housing, education, and health care needs in a rapidly growing city. Yet scholars have not been especially concerned with private construction projects and their influence on the process of shaping and being shaped by the visual representation of Mexico City. Private building projects reveal an alternative reality of the city—one not envisioned by politicians and public institutions. Private construction projects in the historic city center are particularly interesting due to their location. These buildings are built on ancient clay lakebeds and volcanic soil on which the Aztecs first built the city. Not only are these buildings located in the heart of the city, the buildings in the rest of the historic district are also sinking. Any building in a historic district that has withstood the test of time should be an object of interest to scholars. The Torre Latinoamericana is perhaps the only building in the historic district and the entire city that ceases to sink, and instead floats! Located on the corner of Madero and San Juan de Letrán, the building sits at the heart of history, culture, and ancient Aztec clay lakebeds. The Torre Latinoamericana was built between 1948 and 1956 and is one of the most important visual symbols of resilience and modernity in Mexico City today.
Xiomara Avendaño Rojas
Unlike the French and North American revolutions, which fought against a monarchical power, the Hispanic political revolution began by evoking the memory of the beloved Ferdinand VII of Spain. The French invasion of Spain in 1808 had unimaginable repercussions; the government was reestablished in the name of the King, and the territories of the Americas that were convened in the Cortes participated in the development of a charter in 1812 that created a constitutional monarchy. In the Kingdom of Guatemala, the application of constitutionalism gave rise to tensions between elected officials and former royal appointees. By way of indirect elections, the isthmus took its first steps in the construction of a representative system, and worked its way up to local, provincial, and legislative power.
The Declaration of Independence, which took place on September 15, 1821, along with the Plan of Iguala inadvertently brought about a type of “examination” in which the provinces, empowered by their sovereignty and autonomy, broke away from the metropolis but produced a dilemma: Mexico or Guatemala. Independent from the choice, they assumed full ownership of the government that originated from the 1812 Constitution of Cádiz. Few people called for a congress, and the traditional referent in the political community, the cabildos, chose the Imperio del Septentrión (the Northern Empire). After the fall of the monarch Agustín de Iturbide, in March 1823, a constituency was organized to decide on their future government as the Provincinas Unidas del Centro de América (United Provinces of Central America). The new republican project was issued in a second Declaration of Independence or absolute independence, signed on July 1, 1823.