The 1968 Mexican student movement remains essential to the formation of the modern Mexican human rights movement. Mexico has had a long tradition of revolutionary activity, rural social movements, and an active labor movement that sought to gain basic human rights such as education, adequate housing, decent wages, and access to land. In 1968, students drew inspiration from leaders of the revolution, labor movements, and rural social activists. They echoed their demands, they used their images, and they insisted that the government respect the 1917 constitution. Despite their efforts to build a nonviolent social movement, they met violence at the hands of the government, which brutally suppressed the movement on October 2, 1968.
Following the massacre and into 1970, the government imprisoned students while others fled into exile to avoid prison. By the 1970s, the government initiated a “democratic opening” in which former activists were released from prison and others returned from exiles. While some former leaders entered government service, others questioned the impunity of the government and demanded answers. In their writings, films, and public presentations, they made connections to the struggles of the past. Like their counterparts in Europe and the United States, their struggles matured and evolved, and they became the leaders of the feminist, LGBTQ, and the modern human rights movements.
Maira Mayola Benítez Carrillo
Gabriel Vargas Bernal created one of the greatest examples of Mexican comic strips, The Burrón Family. He had a remarkable career as a prolific cartoonist, screenwriter, historian, and journalist, with many titles published throughout decades of work. His predominant topic is social criticism and his narrative style is that of journalistic humor. Self-taught, he worked for the country’s most important–newspapers. Over the years, he wrote pieces on sports and the most popular festivals in Mexico, completed comic strips to support literacy campaigns, and designed many types of comics: historical, religious, war, detective, ecological, didactic, humor, and adventure. In 1948, he created the comic La familia Burrón, a series that tells of a poor family’s daily life in a working-class neighborhood. The author’s sense of criticism was the key to allowing readers to identify with the almost one hundred characters who appeared on its pages. Many of them came from real life and were recreated on the pages of this comic, which was published for six decades.
Vargas had a clear critical view of Mexican society. He incorporated costumbrist scenes and knew how to use idioms and popular expressions through his characters, adapting them to each decade in which the comic strip was published. His stories are full of humor and absurd situations, a mix of reality and fiction. The strip had a half-million printings per week and has been published in compilation books that are among the most sold at Mexico’s main book fairs. Vargas’s work is a necessary reference to learn and understand the idiosyncrasies of Mexicans—their customs, traditions, conflicts, and short-comings—in the urban environment.
During the Cold War’s earliest years, right-wing governments and oligarchic elites in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua fostered closer relationships with the Catholic Church. Dictatorial leaders like Guatemala’s Carlos Castillo Armas and dynastic regimes like Nicaragua’s Somoza family regarded the Church as an ally against supposed Marxist influence in the region. Those ties began to fray in the late 1960s, as the Second Vatican Council’s foundational reforms moved Catholicism farther to the political and social left around the globe. This shift was especially prominent in Central America, where Catholics like El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Guatemala’s Father Stanley Rother were among Central America’s most visible critics and reformers as political violence increased across the region during the 1970s. Relatedly, evangelical Protestants, particularly Pentecostal groups based in the United States, flooded Central America throughout that decade. Their staunch anticommunism and established ties to influential policymakers and political lobbyists in the United States, among other factors, gave evangelical Protestants greater influence in US-Central American relations. Their influence was strongest during the early 1980s, when José Efraín Ríos Montt, an ordained Pentecostal minister with Eureka, California’s Verbo Ministries, seized Guatemala’s presidency via a coup in March 1982. Notable US evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson praised Ríos Montt’s regime for its rabid anticommunist ideology, while President Ronald Reagan claimed that the dictator had received a “bum rap” in the global press. Concurrently, some US evangelical missioners and pastors also foregrounded the Sandinista government’s anti-Protestant activities as additional justification for US support for Nicaragua’s Contra forces. Religious actors were also instrumental to Central America’s peace processes after the Cold War, as Catholic and Protestant leaders alike worked closely with regional governments and the United States to end decades of political violence and enact meaningful socioeconomic reforms for the region’s citizens.
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.
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.
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.
Joseph U. Lenti
For seventy-five years the Mexican government allocated private and public land to people who needed it—and lots of it. An average of 1.3 million hectares were redistributed annually from 1917 to 1992, for a total of nearly 1 million square kilometers, or, almost exactly half of the nation’s arable area. On the other hand, serious flaws in government policy, coupled with macroeconomic, demographic, and environmental phenomena, undermined the program and turned its signature component, the ejido, into a synonym for rural backwardness and poverty. Thus, in spite of the astonishing volume of redistributed land, many assert that revolutionary land reform in Mexico failed: that it did not permanently improve the lives of rural land recipients as much as convert them into clients of the government.
Since the early 1960s, Mexican women writers have relentlessly fought to become recognized within a traditionally male-dominated literary canon.
In the 20th century, women’s writing began to flourish, in many cases emerging as a counternarrative to the patriarchal discourse that had dominated the literary scene for decades after the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920). The work of women writers can be examined according to three different phases: from 1960 to the 1970s, 1980 to the 1990s, and 2000 to the present, and by highlighting in particular a group of women writers from the northern border region, who have faced additional obstacles in their path to becoming published writers. All in all, each of the writers discussed here contributes to a snapshot of the literature written by women from the 1960s to today. The chronological trajectory of their literary voices underscores Mexico’s rich cultural and historical past through the eyes and voices of those traditionally silenced and marginalized in the patriarchal and hierarchical spaces of power.
The John F. Kennedy administration took a bet on the incoming president of Brazil, João Goulart, as he took office on September 8, 1961. Goulart was not a radical socialist, but his opponents portrayed him as an unpredictable nationalist who might unadvisedly fuel the flames of social upheaval and radical revolution, turning Brazil into a second Cuba. Yet, the White House estimated that Goulart was someone they could do business with and sympathized with the idea of Reformas de Base (Goulart’s program of “basic reforms”), which included the extension of labor protections to rural workers, redistributive agrarian reform, and universal suffrage. United States support for Goulart materialized in the form of economic aid, financial assistance via the IMF, and development assistance via the Alliance for Progress partnership. Within a year, however, the tide turned as Goulart failed to comply with American demands that he ban leftists from his cabinet. In a matter of months in 1962, the White House abandoned any hopes of engagement with the Brazilian president. While the crisis that led to Goulart’s fall in March 1964 was the making of domestic political actors within Brazil—as was the military coup to unseat the president—the likelihood and success rate of the golpe grew as the United States rolled out successive rounds of targeted actions against Goulart, including diplomatic and financial pressure, threats of abandonment, support for opposition politicians, collusion with coup plotters, signaling future military support for the plotters in the eventuality of civil war, and the granting of immediate diplomatic recognition for the incoming authoritarian military leaders after the coup. After Goulart, Brazil remained under authoritarian rule for two consecutive decades.