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Gillian E. Newell
Every year, in the days just prior to Catholic Ash Wednesday, the indigenous Zoque peoples of northwestern Chiapas, Mexico, celebrate “carnival.” In doing so, they affirm their ethnic identity, take pride in a native vision of the cosmos, and retrace their real and fictive modern and ancient family lineages. Zoque carnival is an “encounter,” or meké in Zoque language, which entails more than the word at first glance would imply. Scholars, however, have analyzed carnivals, be they state-promoted or not, as inversions, nationalistic celebrations, or representations of local, regional, and national history. They often argue that carnivals exist primarily to represent, celebrate, or be a logical result of cultural diversity. Why are the native Zoque carnivals of northwestern Chiapas different? What are these Zoque carnivals? What do they represent to the Zoque people themselves and to non-Zoque people? Why are carnival studies from an “encountering” ethnographic standpoint interesting avenues to develop and pursue?
J. Brian Freeman and Guillermo Guajardo Soto
In his 1950 study, Mexico: The Struggle for Peace and Bread, historian Frank Tannenbaum remarked that “physical geography could not have been better designed to isolate Mexico from the world and Mexicans from one another.” He recognized, like others before him, that the difficulty of travel by foot, water, or wheel across the country’s troublesome landscape was an unavoidable element of its history. Its distinctive topography of endless mountains but few navigable rivers had functioned, in some sense, as a historical actor in the larger story of Mexico. In the mid-19th century, Lucas Alamán had recognized as much when he lamented that nature had denied the country “all means of interior communication,” while three centuries before that, conquistador Hernán Cortés reportedly apprised Emperor Charles V of the geography of his new dominion by presenting him with a crumpled piece of paper. Over the last half-millennium, however, technological innovation, use, and adaptation radically altered how humans moved in and through the Mexican landscape. New modes of movement—from railway travel to human flight—were incorporated into a mosaic of older practices of mobility. Along the way, these material transformations were entangled with changing economic, political, and cultural ideas that left their own imprint on the history of travel and transportation.
The arrival of Christopher Columbus in the northern Caribbean with three Spanish ships in October 1492 marked the beginning of continuing European contact with the Americas. With his second voyage of 1493 permanent European occupation of the Caribbean began, with enormous consequences for the peoples and ecology of the region. Failing to encounter the wealthy trading societies that Columbus had hoped to find by reaching Asia, Europeans in the Caribbean soon realized that they would have to involve themselves directly in organizing profitable enterprises. Gold mining in the northern islands and pearl fishing in the islands off the coast of Tierra Firme (present-day Venezuela) for some years proved enormously profitable but depended on Spaniards’ ability to exploit indigenous labor on a large scale. The imposition of the Spanish encomienda system, which required indigenous communities to provide labor for mining and commercial agriculture, and the large-scale capture and transportation of Native Americans from one locale to another wrought havoc among the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and circum-Caribbean, resulting in high mortality and flight. Spaniards in the islands soon sought to supplement indigenous labor by importing African slaves who, in the early 16th century, became a significant if not always easily controlled presence in the region.
From the earliest years the Spanish Caribbean was a complex, dynamic, and volatile region characterized by extensive interaction and conflict among diverse groups of people and by rapid economic and institutional development. Although the islands became the launching grounds for subsequent Spanish moves to the nearby mainland, throughout the 16th century and beyond they played a crucial role in sustaining Spain’s overseas empire and integrating it into the larger Atlantic system.
The Scandinavian countries established overseas settlements in Africa and the Americas, starting in the 17th century. In Africa, trading stations were initially established with the consent of local rulers. The Danish trading stations on the Gold Coast developed in time into a more formal colony. In the Americas, Scandinavian settlements were of various natures, including the short-lived settlement colony of New Sweden and slavery-based plantation societies in the Caribbean. The Caribbean colonies would bear resemblance to many other Caribbean plantation economies of the time. The Scandinavian countries also participated in the transatlantic slave trade: while these countries might have been responsible for a quite small share of the total transatlantic slave trade, the trade was large compared to the size of the domestic population in these countries. The formal abolition of the slave trade, and later of slavery, in the Scandinavian colonies made the colonial possessions unimportant or even burdens for the Scandinavian states, so that the colonies eventually were sold to other European nations.
Dario A. Euraque
The relationship between historically specific ideas of race and national identity in Central America between the onset of Spanish colonialism in the region, in about 1500, and the end of the 20th century is very complicated. The relationship is rooted not only in the political economy of the region and subregions that were under Spanish colonialism, but also in Spain’s resistance to incursions of British colonialism in the area, particularly on the North Coast, well into the late 18th century, and in some areas of Central America into the 1850s. The nexus between the political economy of nation-state formation in the postcolonial setting, especially after the rise of coffee and bananas as major regional exports. Independent governments in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica tried to impose “imagined political communities” over these exports that would be different from the colonial identities designed by the Spanish imperialism of the past. In this 20th century context, mestizaje, or ladinizaje, became state sanctioned; it promoted racialized national identities in each of these countries, mostly the idea of ethnicity, albeit with critical regional and subregional differences, particularly between Guatemala and Costa Rica. Historiographies that have been influenced by postmodern sensibilities, particularly critical race theory, the new cultural history, and subaltern studies, have influenced recent understanding of the political economy of race and nationality in Central America.
Conservation, in broad terms, has been a dynamic and nuanced practice throughout Mexican history. Nature conservation and protection include individual practices such as planting trees to protect watersheds, seasonal hunting bans, land set-asides such as national parks, and the ideas and values that shape these actions. Three broad eras are analyzed to provide a kaleidoscopic view of how some people living in Mexican territory have understood and acted for nature conservation. The first era, stretching from the pre-Columbian through the colonial eras, was characterized by an abundance of nature relative to people using it. The reasons for conservation were infrequent but did emerge, particularly in urban settings. The second era, the administrative era from the 1820s to the 1980s, included early national claims, revolutionary policies, and the reach of global institutions into domestic conservation policy. Nature’s limitations became apparent due to overuse and development which inspired formal responses to limit exploitation. The third era, from 1982 to the present, involves an age of abstraction where conservation has been reimagined for various purposes by a culture increasingly removed from an appreciation of the practical and aesthetic qualities of nature.
Mexico’s involvement in world’s fairs and other international expositions is examined. From 1867 to 1929, governments promoted nationalism and industrialization through world’s fairs in Europe and international expositions in America. Mexico, which had recently achieved independence from Spain, became involved in these fairs to bolster its economy and image, competing with other nations to sell local goods and offer investment opportunities to foreigners. Since 1850, Mexicans have encouraged commerce and industry while enthusiastically marketing their country as a tourist “wonderland.” Accounts of Mexico’s participation in world’s fairs draw attention to the imperialism embedded in such events, suggesting that they were deeply problematic. Defined as cultural palaces and trade shows, fairs have chronicled changing ideas about nationalism, modernity, and, more recently, branding. In the wake of the Mexican Revolution, Mexicans have recognized their strategic importance, although a persistent theme in the literature is that these are inherently tiresome and expensive undertakings and a significant drain on economic and political life.
Friedrich E. Schuler
Mexican elites emerging out of the political civil wars of the 19th century threw their support behind French positivism and its theory that a nation could thrive through economic, industrial, and foreign-financed development. The strategy’s very success created the profound economic dislocations that triggered regional revolutions in Mexico’s center and north. Foreign observers misread these events as small rebellions and acted accordingly.
In this environment Francisco Madero became Mexico’s first democratic president. Even though he leaned toward the United States, he pleased no foreign and domestic faction and was deposed and murdered by a domestic-foreign element. Emerging dictator Victoriano Huerta perplexed all foreign observers. As US president Woodrow Wilson made fighting against Huerta’s tenure a symbol of an idealistic new policy, Canadian, European, and Latin American governments picked Venustiano Carranza at the Conference of Niagara Falls to be his successor.
The new context of World War I interrupted all of Mexico’s bilateral economic relations. The country’s national revolutions became side theaters of the global war. By 1918 the collapse of empires had changed all politicians’ outlooks.
The 1920s were dominated by strife with the Vatican and US laissez-faire policy but also pragmatic US-Mexican border relations steered by President Abelardo Rodriguez.
During the Great Depression, Mexico attempted to avoid importing food. US artists, tourists, and Europeans were inspired by Mexico’s murals and social justice movements for peasants. After 1934 Lazaro Cardenas steered these policies to the left; in 1938 he expropriated US, British, and Dutch-owned oil companies as well as US agrarian property.
After 1940 government technocrats under Ávila Camacho turned the country toward exploiting the Allies’ economic war needs. World War II found Mexico on the side of the Allies, as expressed in unprecedented security, economic, and military cooperation. The Mexican air force flew missions in the Philippines. This US-Mexican rapprochement and its architects were replaced after 1943, and the rise of the Cold War changed international linkages once again.
Manuel Gómez Morin was a multifaceted Mexican whose life spanned the first three quarters of the 20th century, from 1897 to 1972. He was affected personally, domestically, and generationally by the Revolution, which drastically impacted the geographic backdrops of his childhood and youth and severely affected his family’s social standing. In ideological terms, he was aware of the last (and undoubtedly most authoritarian) stages of Porfirio Díaz’s government, as well as Victoriano Huerta’s dictatorship, which had pushed the Mexican population to take up arms. Although he rejected the destructive violence inherent in the process of revolution, he also opposed the dictatorial regimes that were applauded by some for the results they produced. He spent the second half of his life as a critic of the post-revolutionary Mexican state.
Alejandro García Magos
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (b. 1953) is one of Mexico’s most influential politicians. He has been at the forefront of Mexican politics since 2000, having served as mayor of Mexico City between 2000 and 2005 and making three runs for the presidency in 2006, 2012, and 2018. While his detractors consider him a radical leftist in the mold of Venezuela’s late Hugo Chávez, his supporters praise him as a man of the people who fights to bridge the gap between rich and poor. Political preferences aside, the ascent of López Obrador in Mexico needs to be understood first and foremost in the context of the country’s democratic transition. This was a protracted process that started in 1977 and concluded at some point between 1997 and 2000, right about when López arrived on the national political stage. The transition leveled the electoral arena and opened up opportunities for electoral competition that López has been able to capitalize on. Ironically, to this day he refuses to acknowledge Mexico as a full-fledged democracy.