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.
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.
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.
Luz María Hernández-Sáenz
In 1861, Spanish, British, and French forces all landed in Veracruz to collect the debts Mexico owed them. After two months, the Spanish and British representatives reached an agreement with the Mexican government, but the French troops remained with the objective of imposing a monarchy. This period of occupation, 1861 to 1867, is known as the French Intervention. France’s interference in Mexico was partly due to the efforts of a group of conservative Mexican politicians who believed that a monarchical rather than a republican system would solve Mexico’s problems. In 1863, with the French army occupying Mexico City, the provisional government offered the crown to the Austrian archduke Maximilian of Habsburg. After long negotiations between Maximilian and the French emperor, Napoleon III (who would lend military support and extend credit to the future emperor), Maximilian signed the Treaty of Miramar and accepted the crown.
The empire faced the opposition of President Benito Juárez and his republicans, who rightfully claimed to be Mexico’s legitimate government. Furthermore, Maximilian, a liberal who believed in a secular society, clashed with both the clergy and his conservative supporters. A dismal financial situation, military opposition, and the emperor’s inability to reconcile the different political factions doomed his reign. The premature withdrawal of the French troops and Maximilian’s inability to form an effective army resulted in the empire’s demise. The last remnants of the imperial army were defeated in Querétaro on May 15, 1867, and Maximilian was executed. The monarchical experiment was a complete political and military failure for those who promoted it and for Napoleon III, who supported it.
Nonetheless, the empire was not a complete failure. The monarchy did set important precedents for the administrative organization of the country: promoting nationalism, solidifying liberal reforms including the separation of church and state, and establishing the foundation for the modernization of Mexico.
Emiliano Zapata led the Liberating Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution. Zapata’s movement began with a demand for land reform, and his beliefs are most often captured by reference to the Plan de Ayala, which he promulgated in 1911. It was largely because of the Zapatistas (Zapata and his adherents) that land reform was written into the Mexican Constitution of 1917. Later, especially under President Lázaro Cárdenas, (1934–1940), the Mexican government carried out major land redistribution, which helped earn the post-revolutionary state legitimacy in the countryside. Over the course of nearly a decade fighting in the revolution, Zapata’s vision for remaking Mexico extended far beyond the Plan de Ayala and land reform to include judicial reform, decentralization of power, political democracy, the redistribution of wealth, and the promotion of the interests of rural workers and small agricultural producers while protecting Mexican sovereignty against powerful foreign interests. Zapata, however, led the most poorly armed of the main factions in the revolution and was unable to realize his goals. His enemies received large amounts of foreign military supplies, while he received no assistance from abroad. The inability of his poorly equipped volunteer army, mostly peasants and hacienda workers, to carry out large pitched battles dictated that they had to fight a grueling guerilla war. Zapata was unable to win on the battlefield, but was never totally defeated. He was assassinated in 1919. Although his larger vision for the future of Mexico did not prevail, his fight for land reform helped shape modern Mexico.
For three centuries New Spain was one of the great jewels of Spain’s colonial empire, producing wealth for immigrants and the Crown. The brunt of the labor was performed by indigenous Mexicans, often under duress, but natives also succeeded in seizing opportunities to promote their interests. It is tempting to portray the economic history of Mexico as a simple story of domination of colonial subjects by their European rulers, and indeed historians have often resorted to this straightforward rendition. This article, while certainly presenting the conventional wisdom, presents a more complex story, highlighting debates among historians on a wide range of issues, from the experiences of indigenous people to the profitability of colonialism. What follows is a general presentation of New Spain’s economy.
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.
During the Mexican Revolution and the long period of reconstruction that followed, successive Mexican presidents navigated the stormy seas of international relations. Though forced to manage repeated cases of foreign intervention in its internal affairs, the government actually enjoyed considerable freedom of action during and after the Revolution because of the world historical context. From the First World War to the Second, heightened tensions and mounting international conflicts worldwide diverted the attention of foreign governments and enabled skillful Mexican diplomats to take advantage of world conditions to advance their own agendas for international relations and domestic reform on the international stage as they sought to establish Mexico’s place within the international states system, and world history, as the first social revolution of the 20th century.