Mexico had an exceptionally diverse population during the 16th and 17th centuries, including Indigenous peoples of different ethnicities (in the majority), Iberians, and forced migrants from Africa and Asia, who related to one another in complex ways. Society—a group of people living in a community—was configured differently in each place, based on geographical location, local customs, property distribution, and a myriad of other factors. Faced with such different contexts, historians have tended to generalize about social organization (the way people interacted) from the perspective of the men who produced the most sources. Colonial statutes and official correspondence convey the attempts of Hapsburg officials to maintain a hierarchical social order, but property records reveal a more fluid reality. The acquisition of wealth and achievement of social status by non-Spaniards frustrated colonial ideals for a stratified society that correlated to ethnicity. The success of imperial governance, to the degree it was achieved, depended on its flexibility and how it allowed people to benefit from the colonial economy and to achieve social mobility.
The Cristero Rebellion (1926–1929), also known as La Cristiada, was a conflict between the Catholic Church and the Mexican government. The Catholics, especially from western states, rose up in arms against the anticlerical and pro-agrarian measures of President Plutarco Elías Calles’s government (1924–1928). General Joaquín Amaro, Minister of War, was charged with fighting the Cristeros in various regions of Mexico. Certain army generals, unable to conquer the Cristeros on the battlefields, triumphed when negotiating the road to peace with certain priests and Cristero leaders. In the higher echelons, two bishops, Pascual Díaz y Barreto and Leopoldo Ruiz y Flores, arranged, with President Emilio Portes Gil (1928–1930), an end to the conflict. The known “arrangements” between church and state were agreed upon, officially, on June 22, 1929. Once the conflict was formally over, General Amaro planned for the writing of an authorized version of the Cristero uprising. For this, he created the Historical Commission within the Ministry of War. The commission, according to Amaro’s orders, would produce, beginning with military documents, its own version of what had happened during the war. The soldiers turned “historians” would present their interpretation to their colleagues as well as to future generations. In spite of this, in the end the version that was disseminated was that of the former Cristeros. General Amaro failed a second time upon trying to pacify newer generations.
The Motherland and the Welfare State in Mexico: Government Symbols, Programs, and Visions, 1943–1970
Alicia Azuela de la Cueva
The image of the Mexican Motherland protected by the national eagle was one of the most circulated civic symbols during the period of the welfare state (1940–1973). Between 1962 and 1977, it illustrated the covers of the free texts created and given by the Ministry of Public Education to all students. The image gained circulation again in 2008, on the textbook History and Citizenship. It was also employed as the logo for the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social [Mexican Institute of Social Security], an organization to which the government devoted an important part of its budget.
Welfare state programs developed in several countries. In Mexico, the ideals were promoted by the official party that ruled the nation for nearly seventy years. During the presidency of Adolfo López Mateos (1958–1964), when the country experienced its best moment of economic welfare, political stability, and consolidated this patriotic—and propagandistic—symbol, it became a significant component of the civic collective imaginary.
By this time, a solid symbolic apparatus already existed and marked “memory spaces”—with its expressions of public art, like the ones in the visual vocabularies of free textbooks. It formed one of the tools for the exercise of symbolic power needed for governability. The image of Motherland protected by the national eagle (with its gender connotations) can be described as: Motherland is a woman and government is a man; this allows the citizens to relate the civic realm to the private one and to the functions and divisions of the social order and in the family environment.
The example of the Motherland as a source of life and provider of social services for citizenship and that of the government as the provider, onlooker, and president of homeland functions, sublimated and reinforced these values in familiar and social arenas—a role previously assigned to the woman. Reverence to the nation obscured the predetermination of her reproductive duties to the care of its offspring and of its home to the man as head of family in his functions as a provider. Therefore, the visual arts and textbook writing in particular, as well as the visual-spatial language, led to the establishment, internalization, and preservation of the status quo in the social structures and civic norms reinforced by the uses and habits, operating to promote controlling groups, either the paternalist government or the conservative family man.
The welfare state opened a connection to art not only because of the economic boom and the investments in public works and projects, which included public works of art, but also because of the interest of political leaders in education, patronage, and artistic diffusion. Public art played a fundamental role both in the symbolic government apparatus and in the artistic world itself. Possibilities of participation in constructive projects subisidized by the government increased, consisting of both facilities for health-care and housing services, as well as museum spaces. Among these projects was the first museum of modern art, opened in 1964. In addition, the art market strengthened with the opening of galleries accesible to both the middle class and the elite. Consequently, struggles for power between different artistic trends and groups and the Mexican School of Painting that, since 1921, with its budgetary ups and downs and the downfall of its sponsor, relied on an official subsidy to make public art. Although two of the three masters of muralism, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, had died, David Alfaro Siqueiros remained active, and mural production continued with artists of younger generations, new trends, and uneven artistic quality. In the realm of public art, the Plastic Integration started by the painter Carlos Mérida and the architect Mario Pani, promoted contributions in its pursuit of a total oeuvre derived from the harmonic encounter of painting, sculpture, and architecture in addition to the geometric pictorial language of pre-Hispanic inspiration and to the simplicity of prismatic forms from international architecture. Within the modern spirit and its “tradition of permanent rupture with tradition,” the second and third group of muralists, largely led by Siqueiros, confronted the “ruputura” generation, then a group of young artists who lacked a particular stylistic approach, and likened the foreign nonrealism to the didactic and propaganda-oriented character of their rivals. This trend emerged in the 1950s and consolidated in the 1960s. It comprised José Luis Cuevas, Alberto Guironella, and Cordelia Urueta, who were linked to neo-figurative art and to abstract art in several modalities with Vlady, Manuel Felgueres, Lilia Carrillo, Juán García Ponce, Pedro Coronel, Kasuya Sakai, and Vicente Rojo, among others. Overall, these trends and conflicts between political realism and nonrealism shared characteristics on the international level during the Cold War.
Amanda M. López
Mexico City’s subway, commonly known as “el Metro,” opened its first line of service on September 4, 1969. Since then, the mass transit system, operated by the Sistema de Transporte Colectivo (STC), has expanded to include 195 stations across twelve lines that serve an estimated five and a half million riders per day. The metro was constructed not only to alleviate severe traffic congestion in the city’s center due to population growth and private car use, but also it was envisioned as part of a plan to modernize the city and raise Mexico to the status of world cities such as Paris and Montreal. The low fare has made it one of the primary modes of transportation for the city’s working class, who use it in combination with other forms of public transportation to reach jobs in distant parts of the metropolis. Some studies have shown that the Metro has exacerbated geographic segregation between rich and poor as well as perpetuated low wages. Beyond its function as a mass transit system, the Metro was envisioned as and still serves as an important cultural space. The graphic designers and architects who led the project integrated modern architectural elements with graphic embellishments and signage that incorporated national culture and history to present a modernity uniquely Mexican. In its almost fifty years of service, the Metro has become an important symbol of the capital’s cultural life that everyday Mexicans have used for their own political, economic, and cultural purposes.
Edward R. Slack
Called “Mar del Sur” [South Sea] when first spotted by Balboa in 1513 and dubbed “Mar Pacifíco” [Peaceful Calm Sea] by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, the historical relationship between the Pacific Ocean and the people of Mexico is multilayered and dynamic. During the Spanish colonial era (1521–1821), the viceroyalty of New Spain (Nueva España) supervised the Asian and Polynesian colonies of the Philippines and Guam (and briefly Taiwan and the Spice island of Ternate) across the Pacific. Acapulco became a mythical emporium of exotic luxury supplied by the galleons from Manila that for 250 years tied Asia to the Iberian New World. Beyond this famous port, littoral native communities dotting the Pacific coast, from Oaxaca in the south to the forty-second parallel of Alta California in the north, gradually fell under Spanish secular and religious control. The enormous coastline measured approximately 5,400 miles, more than double the length of seaside territory facing the Gulf of Mexico. Following the War of Mexican Independence (1810–1821), the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos) emerged. For the next fifty years, Mexico experienced domestic political instability exacerbated by wars against the United States (Mexican-American War, 1846–1848) and France (1862–1867). When political order was finally established under the regime of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1910), regionalism was confronted by the centrifugal power of a modernizing, technocratic state. Despite losing 840 miles of California coastline, and a lucrative trade route with Manila, in the Mexican-American War, Mexico’s Pacific littoral in the south grew to incorporate the formerly Guatemalan territory of Chiapas, and a new shipping network evolved. Traditional research on pueblos, cities, or states along the Pacific coast emphasizes purely local or regional contexts within the colonial or independent Mexican state; or it is grouped thematically into studies about the galleon trade or California mission settlements. Recent scholarship is encouraging a more balanced approach, accentuating the many threads that wove a rich tapestry of Mexico’s unique relationship with the “Pacific World” (as opposed to the more popular “Atlantic World”); not only in a nationalist framework, but with inter-American and trans-Pacific or global dimensions.
Michael J. Gonzales
Porfirio Díaz’s liberal dictatorship used the centenary of independence to promote material progress, political stability, and the mestizo nation, all of which have remained important characteristics of the Mexican state. The centennial program lionized José Maria Morelos as a mestizo hero of independence and Benito Juárez as an architect of La Reforma and savior of the nation. Besides his remarkable political career, Juárez symbolized the cultural transformation of an Indian into a mestizo through education and secularization, a process advocated by Porfirian social engineers as essential to Mexico’s modernization.
Porfirians also viewed Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage as a source of national pride and identity. For the Centenary, the government expanded the national ethnographic museum, reconstructed Teotihuacán, and sponsored the International Congress of Americanists where scholars presented papers on precolonial cultures. Porfirians’ appreciation for the pre-Columbians, however, did not extend to contemporary Indians, who were considered to be a drag on modernization and an embarrassment.
Mexico’s modernization was symbolized by the transformation of Mexico City, the principal venue for the Centennial programs. The capital had been remodeled along Parisian lines with grand boulevards, roundabouts (glorietas), and green space. Electric tramways also connected neighborhoods with downtown, new fashionable suburbs displayed mansions with modern conveniences, and high-end department stores sold merchandise imported from Paris and London.
During the Centenary, the Paseo de la Reforma and downtown avenues accommodated parades with patriotic and commercial themes, and central plazas provided space for industrial and cultural exhibitions similar to those found at international fairs. The Desfile Histórico depicted scenes from the conquest, colonial, and independence periods that outlined a liberal version of Mexican history. The program also featured openings of primary schools, a public university, an insane asylum, and water works, all indicative of Porfirian notions of modernization.
The Centennial’s audience included Mexico City residents, visitors from the provinces, and delegates from the United States, Europe, and Asia. International and liberal newspapers characterized events as festive and patriotic, while the conservative press protested the lack of attention given to Agustín de Iturbide, the conservative independence leader, and to the Catholic Church. During the celebration, supporters of Francisco I. Madero, the reformer imprisoned by Díaz, organized two protests that interrupted events and foreshadowed troubles ahead. Following Madero’s escape from prison, his call to revolution was answered by peasants, provincial elites, and local strongmen whose movements forced Díaz to resign the following year. Revolutionary governments subsequently used Independence Day celebrations, including another centennial in 1921, to promote their political and cultural agendas, including anti-clericalism and indigenous culture as national culture.
Liliana Toledo Guzmán
The Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA; National Institute of Fine Arts) was created to replace and broaden the functions of the Departamento de Bellas Artes (DBA; Department of Fine Arts), which was created in 1921 as a branch of the Ministry of Public Education in the context of a Mexico already in upheaval due to the revolutionary armed conflict. The decades leading up to the creation of the INBA were characterized by a constant discussion of how nationalism should be expressed in art. The answer was often associated with rural life and its artistic manifestations; thus research on these expressions became the center not only of the discourse, but of many artistic projects launched by the Mexican government. These expressions were brought to many arenas in public education, from creation to distribution, so that over the course of three decades they were articulated in an organized fashion as much in the rural education project of Jose Vasconcelos as in that of Moisés Sáez, and later, in the socialist education framework of Lázaro Cárdenas.
In the 1940s, the INBA inherited not only the art collections of the DBA but also its role. The promotion of nationalist art would take on new proportions, intending to reach the entire territory. The cultural bureaucracy began to gain strength with figures such as Carlos Chávez, the first director of the INBA. Nevertheless, Mexico was a different country than it had been in the 1920s. During the government of Miguel Alemán, art was strongly associated with tourism and economic dependence on the United States worsened, to some degree affecting artistic expression. Integrationist education, the creation of the Mexican collective imagination in the 1920s, and contradictions clearly seen through social inequality compared to the mythical indigenous world—all these were factors that led to an aesthetic rupture that would seem imminent, just as development, education, and research hoped to become institutionalized through the INBA.
In the late 19th century, Mexico’s ancient ruins captivated much of the world. European and American explorers trekked through what was often touted as an “American Egypt” in search of pre-Columbian artifacts to display in private collections and museums. Mexicans similarly hunted after the remains of the Indian past, as their country witnessed a heightened interest in the excavation and exhibition of ancient artifacts during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, the period commonly known as the Porfiriato (1876–1910). The Díaz regime embraced the indigenous past in order to present Mexico as a nation with ancient and prestigious roots. It took control of pre-Hispanic relics and ruins through archaeology, a discipline that was thought to give Mexico the coveted aura of a scientific, cosmopolitan, and modern nation. The Díaz regime gave unprecedented support to the National Museum in Mexico City, the nation’s most important institution for the study and display of Indian antiquity. Museum scholars such as Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, Alfredo Chavero, and Antonio Peñafiel, worked on building and organizing the archaeology collection as the government intensified the process of accumulating artifacts in the capital. One of the central figures in this process was Leopoldo Batres, the head of the General Inspectorate of Archaeological Monuments of the Republic. Batres brought antiquities to the museum, helped organize the archaeology collection, and built the Gallery of Monoliths, the nation’s premier showcase of pre-Columbian relics. He also carried out excavations at ruins throughout the country and reconstructed several archaeological sites, including Xochicalco and Mitla. His most famous (and most controversial) work took place at Teotihuacán, where he rebuilt the Pyramid of the Sun, turning Teotihuacán into the nation’s first official archaeological site, a project made to coincide with the centennial celebration of Mexican independence in 1910.
Juan R. García
The Bracero Program began in 1942 as a temporary wartime measure but was extended repeatedly until 1964. During that time, more than 4.5 million braceros received contracts to work in the United States, primarily as agricultural laborers. Before the program ended, braceros worked in thirty-eight states in the United States, with the majority contracted by eight states.
With the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941 and the subsequent sinking of two Mexican vessels by German submarines, Mexico and the United States entered into a bilateral agreement. In actuality, there were two bilateral agreements, the first extending from 1942 to 1949, and the second, enacted as Public Law 78, starting in 1951 and culminating in 1964. Throughout the program’s existence Mexico strove to ensure favorable conditions under which braceros were to be contracted, especially in light of the strong opposition to the program among a number of sectors in Mexico and the long history of discrimination against people of Mexican descent in the United States. Like Mexico, the United States faced opposition to the contract labor program from both employers and labor unions. Employers were wary of too much government interference in their ability to secure a plentiful and cheap labor supply, while labor unions viewed the program as a threat to organizing efforts and as an obstacle to achieving better working conditions and pay for agricultural workers in the United States. The Bracero Program also deeply affected the braceros themselves in both positive and negative ways. And it had a profound impact on the families of the braceros who left to work in the United States. The program was plagued by a number of issues and problems, primarily resulting from a lack of enforcement and widespread contract violations. Despite the problems associated with the program, both countries touted its benefits, not only to their economy, but to the braceros themselves. The braceros did not passively accept their fate and challenged their treatment in a variety of ways. Although the Bracero Program ended in 1964, its legacy continues to affect US–Mexican relations to this day. Furthermore, former braceros and their descendants have undertaken a movement to demand reimbursement for wages promised them under the requirements of the Bracero Program.