Kevan Antonio Aguilar
The political and cultural legacy of Ricardo Flores Magón (b. San Antonio Eloxochitlán, September 16, 1873; d. U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas, November 21, 1922,) has become an integral component of the histories of the Mexican Revolution, Mexicans and Chicanos in the United States, and global social revolutions. Despite being deemed by historians and the Mexican state as a “precursor” of the national revolution, Flores Magón’s political activities preceded and surpassed the accepted chronology of the Revolution (1910–1920), as well as the borders of Mexico. While historical literature on the Revolution is extensive, the global and radical implications of the event as a social revolution are often underappreciated.
Through the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM, Mexican Liberal Party) and the newspaper Regeneración (Regeneration), Flores Magón mobilized a transnational social movement in 1906 and continued to inspire popular revolt through his writings on anarchism and revolution until his death in 1922. Many of the members of the PLM (often inaccurately referred to as ideological adherents to Flores Magón, or magonistas) continued to participate in revolutionary activity well after the organization disbanded. Even in death, Flores Magón continues to inspire revolutionary movements in Mexico, the United States, Latin America, and Europe. The history of Ricardo Flores Magón therefore intersects with various local and global histories of resistance throughout the 20th century.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the Mexican populace demonstrated a fascination with the nation’s railroads. Newspapers, literature, poetry, music, and art focused their attention on the symbolic power of the locomotive, revealing its capacity to reshape people’s social and cultural worlds. As the most potent symbol of progress and civilization, the arrival of the iron horse offered both powerholders and ordinary individuals the opportunity to imagine new possibilities for their nation and themselves, musings that could be highly optimistic or dreadfully distrustful. The locomotive emerged as a ubiquitous symbol throughout the restored republic (1867–1876), the Porfiriato (1876–1911), and the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) that inspired individuals to reflect on the meaning of an array of issues: modernization, cosmopolitanism, citizenship, sovereignty, and national identity. During the restored republic and Porfiriato, government officials and the press celebrated the railway as the dawning of new age of peace and prosperity, discourses that often sought to legitimize and justify sitting presidents and their policymaking. At the same time, popular and opposition groups used the symbolic power of the railway to question the decision-making of the elite that had resulted in extreme social inequality and foreign economic domination. These divisions were a portent of the conflicts that would spark the 1910 Revolution, a popular struggle where railroads and railway workers played principal protagonists. As such, the railroad emerged in a new context as a symbol to represent the heroism, violence, and disorder of those years.
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.
During his breathtaking 19th-century scientific explorations of New Spain (as Mexico was known under Spanish rule), illustrious German scientific traveler Alexander von Humboldt crammed a lifetime of scientific studies into one extraordinary year: exhausting inspections of three major colonial silver mines, prodigious hikes to the summits of most of Mexico’s major volcanoes while taking scientific measurements and botanical samples, careful study of hitherto secret Spanish colonial archives in Mexico City, and visits to recently uncovered archaeological sites of pre-Hispanic cultures. Humboldt wrote voluminously about his Mexican experiences and is an indispensable source of insights into the colony of New Spain on the eve of its troubled birth as independent Mexico a decade later.
After decades of revolutionary upheaval and political violence that began early in the 20th century, Mexico had seemingly achieved stability and a relative level of social peace by the 1940s. The peasant revolution of 1910—beginning with its armed, insurrectionary phase (1910–1920) to the subsequent decades (1920–1940) that involved making “The Revolution” manifest in the everyday lives of Mexicans who (to borrow historian Jeffrey Pilcher’s metaphor) chose à la carte from the revolutionary menu—produced a durable political order characterized by an active level of popular participation and legitimacy. The peace was durable, yet potentially fragile since postrevolutionary rulers, contained within the confines of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and its previous incarnations, could not take the peasant masses for granted. Revolution had taught these masses something about their power, both its limitations and potential, to shape the content and form of the Mexican state.
After 1940, as the PRI gradually exhibited its preference for political authoritarianism and an economic project that rapidly industrialized and urbanized the country while pauperizing the countryside, a series of disparate popular protest movements continually emerged. Usually peaceful and basing their alternative modernizing visions on the 1917 Constitution and the radical policies of President Lázaro Cárdenas during the 1930s, these movements—peasant, organized labor, and student movements—often faced repression and violence at the hands of state agents and/or local-regional caciques when demanding political democracy and economic justice. The spectacular massacre of protestors in public spaces and the selective assassination of dissident movement leaders represent two of the tactics employed by the PRI to quell popular resistance in the post–1940 era. Yet, such instances of state violence also stimulated political and tactical radicalization as some protestors organized revolutionary expressions of armed struggle and guerrilla warfare. From 1940 to 1982, more than three dozen armed organizations emerged in almost every region, in both urban and rural settings, displaying a wide variety of revolutionary ideologies and practices. Beginning with Rubén Jaramillo’s 1943 armed resistance in Morelos and ending with the formal dissolution of the urban Liga Comunista 23 de Septiembre in 1982, these armed struggles generally shared the goal of overthrowing the PRI regime, seizing state power, and articulating a socialist vision for a post-PRI Mexico.
Michele McArdle Stephens
The Caste Wars of the Yucatán tore apart the peninsula between 1847 and 1901. While the violence was not constant throughout the more than five decades between the start and conclusion of the war itself, the threat of rebel hostilities was ever present. Scholars have debated the origins of the war for many decades, with most recent academic treatments focusing on heavy tax burdens, poor working conditions for Yucatán’s peasantry, and the loss of land that occurred during the second half of the century. Tensions between political leaders exacerbated relations with the Mayas in particular and the peasantry more generally. The emergence of the breakaway state of Chan Santa Cruz, in the southeastern part of Yucatán, allowed rebel forces to coalesce between 1850 and the early 1870s. Here, a “Speaking Cross” oracle gave direction to the rebellious Mayas, who crushed their enemies and exacted revenge against those who would not support their cause. The emergence of Porfirio Díaz as President of Mexico in 1876 led to a gradual “reconquest” of the areas held by the cruzob, or “people of the Cross.” By 1901, the Mexican military ended the Caste Wars, though violent episodes still marred Yucatán until the early 1930s.
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.
Although their history can be traced further back to the study of heredity, variability, and evolution at the beginnings of the 20th century, studies on the genetic structure and ancestry of human populations became important at the end of World War II. From 1950 onward, the tools and practices of human genetics were being systematically used to attack global health problems with the support of international health organizations and the founding of local institutions that extended these practices, thus contributing to global knowledge. These developments were not an exception for Mexican physicians and human geneticists in the Cold War years. The first studies, which appeared in the 1940s, reflect the emerging model of human genetics in clinical practice and in scientific research in postwar Mexico. Studies on the distribution of blood groups as well as on variant forms of hemoglobin in indigenous populations paved the way for a long-term research programs on the characterization of Mexican indigenous populations. Research groups were formed at the Ministry of Health, the National Commission of Nuclear Energy, and the Mexican Social Security Institute in the 1960s. The key actors in this narrative were Rubén Lisker, Alfonso León de Garay, and Salvador Armendares. They consolidated solid communities in the fields of population and human genetics. For Lisker, the long-term effort to carry out research on indigenous populations in order to provide insights into the biological history of the human species, disease patterns, and biological relationships among populations was of particular interest. On his part, Alfonso León de Garay was interested in studying human and Drosophila populations, but in a completely different context, namely at the intersection of studies on nuclear energy and its effects on human populations as a result of World War II, with the life sciences, particularly genetics and radiobiology. In parallel, the study of chromosomes in a large scale using newly experimental techniques introduced in Mexico in the 1960 by Salvador Armendares allowed to tackle health problems regarding Down and Turner syndromes, and child malnutrition. The history of population studies and genetics during the Cold War in Mexico (1945–1970s) shows how the Mexican human geneticists of the mid-20th century mobilized scientific resources and laboratory practices in the context of international trends marked by WWII, and national priorities owing to the construction movement of postrevolutionary Mexican governments. These research programs were not limited to collaborations between research laboratories but were developed within the institutional and political framework marked at the international level by the postwar period and at the national level by the construction of the modern Mexican state.
The Ministry of Communications and Public Works, the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas, or SCOP, was a powerful institution that accompanied Mexico along important historic eras: the Porfiriato, or rule by Porfirio Díaz; the Mexican Revolution; the reconstruction decades of the 1920s and 1930s; World War II; and the subsequent decades of economic, demographic, and political growth. SCOP responded to global and political crises by helping defend and protect the nation in a unique way: by ensuring that Mexico had strong and stable buildings, rivers, causeways, etc. SCOP also unified Mexico from the inside, quite literary. Since 1861, when the Ministry was established, to 1958, when it dissolved and became the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes, progress was measured in the number of kilometers of paved roads and telegraph and telephone lines, in the number of bridges, damns, tunnels, canals, and radio stations in operation, as well as in the state of new or restored government offices, hospitals, post offices, telegraph buildings, schools, and other public structures it was commanded to construct.
The Ministry was responsible for constructing and maintaining a wide range of public services, from the telegraph to the drainage system, to canal and tunnel construction, to the management of ports and building government schools. Understanding its impact, then, requires bringing together the role that art, architecture, local and regional political forces, international events, and new advances in technology and mass communication had on Mexican society. In a more deliberate way than other government bodies, SCOP was in a perpetual state of revision and renewal; the word most frequently used to describe new and existing projects was transformation. Every action the Ministry took was intended to integrate and unify the nation, both symbolically and factually. SCOP leaders always looked to the future and worked to ensure that as a nation Mexico was well connected and prepared for what was to come.
Natasha S. Varner
The India Bonita Pageant of 1921 marked a critical moment in Mexico’s revolutionary identity formation. This serialized pageant hosted by the Mexico City newspaper, El Universal, also played a major role in the formulation of indigenous “authenticity,” as defined by race, material culture, gender, and sexuality. The aims of the pageant were at least superficially focused on celebrating indigenous peoples, but it ultimately narrowed popular understandings of what it meant to be indigenous through its focus on select visual markers of indigeneity. It thereby discursively erased portions of the indigenous population that did not conform to these parameters. The pageant also played into broader efforts to solve the so-called Indian Problem by situating ideal indigeneity in the rural past, favoring Aztec heritage over other indigenous identities, and positioning Mestizos as the race of the future. Ultimately, this attempt at indigenous inclusion was part of broader revolutionary identity projects that sought to isolate and erase one problematic part of the population under the guise of celebrating it.