Mexican national culture in the period from 1946 to 1982 can be understood by recognizing three overlapping transformations. The first was the consolidation of various national archetypes rooted in Mexican revolutionary and prerevolutionary mythologies of national identity and that were disseminated via state-sponsored cultural institutions as well as through global marketing campaigns related primarily to bolstering tourism. A second was the commodification of national popular culture through local cultural industries, namely radio, cinema, the recording industry, and television, and the competitive engagement of these industries with external cultural flows deriving, primarily though not exclusively, from the United States. The third was the invention of new forms of urban response to inflation and the cascading crises of political legitimacy that characterized the decade leading up to economic collapse in 1982. Across the body politic, one discerns a resilience of shared points of cultural reference—sonic, visual, culinary, and otherwise—derived, often in great measure, from governmental policies and discourse. At the same time, and increasingly over the course of this historical period, one finds movements characterized by an irreverent reappropriation of many of those same reference points, carried out by a diverse range of social actors in pursuit of individual and collective strategies of resistance to both state and patriarchal forms of authority. By the early 1980s Mexican national culture had become a rich and playful bricolage made up of iconic markers over which the state experienced a diminishing, though not yet exhausted, capacity to define.
In the 1850s, Juana Catarina Romero, known popularly as Juana Cata, peddled her cigarettes on the streets of Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, an activity that enabled her to serve as a spy for the liberals under the command of Captain Porfirio Díaz during the War of the Reform (1858–1860). By 1890, Romero (1837–1915) had emerged as an international merchant, sugar cane producer and refiner, philanthropist, and “modernizing” cacica of the city of Tehuantepec. As powerful women rarely receive credit for their achievements, popular myth attributes her success to the men in her life, a supposed youthful love affair with Díaz or a later lover, Colonel Remigio Toledo. In contrast, a study of her career helps to shed light on how women could attain and exercise power in the 19th century and the ways in which they participated in the construction of the nation-state and a capitalist economy. Her trajectory shows that when allied with these forces of modernization, women could take on a more public role in society. It also reveals that it is through the lens of local and regional history that women’s contributions and accomplishments, so often erased in national histories, can be made visible.
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.
Lucha libre, or professional wrestling, has become a staple of urban Mexican culture over the course of the 20th century. In the past twenty years, it has gained international acclaim for its distinctive style and culture. Best known for the masks that luchadores often wear, lucha libre has become a distinctly national rendition of an imported product. Along with Japan and the United States, Mexico is one of the most influential nations in the world of professional wrestling. The sport allows fans to root for técnicos, rudos, and exóticos and it provides theater that upends societal norms in Mexico. Banned from performing on television by Federal District authorities from the 1950s to the early 1990s, wrestlers like El Santo and Blue Demon took to the silver screen to film “Mexploitation” horror and science fiction films. Although the sport has become an urban tradition, it reflects the cosmopolitan nature of working-class urban culture as well as the influence of Mexican culture on other nations.
Robert M. Buffington
The Porfirian era (1876–1911) marked a watershed in social understandings of manhood. New ideas about what it meant to be a man had appeared in Mexico by the middle of the 19th century in the form of self-help manuals intended primarily for middle-class and bourgeois men who sought to distinguish themselves in a post-independence society that had done away with legal distinctions, including aristocratic titles. Marks of distinction included cleanliness, good grooming, moderation, affability, respectability, love of country, and careful attentiveness to the needs and opinions of others, including women, children, and social “inferiors”—an approach that artfully combined longstanding notions of masculine responsibility and authority with modern ideas about self-mastery and citizenship, especially the sublimation of volatile “passions” in all domains of social life. Modern qualities also mapped onto traditional concerns about male honor predicated on the fulfillment of patriarchal duties, especially the control of female dependents. The socially validated, “hegemonic” masculinity produced by this amalgamation of modern and traditional ideas proved burdensome for many middle-class men, who struggled to maintain an always precarious sense of honor or who rejected the constraints it sought to impose on their behavior. For men from less privileged classes, it represented an impossible ideal that they sometimes rejected through the adoption of antisocial “protest” masculinities and often satirized as delusional or unmanly, even as they too came to define their masculinity in relation to a modern/traditional binary. The modern/traditional binary that characterized ideas about masculinity for all sectors of Porfirian society has persisted until the present day, despite the epochal 1910 social revolution that inaugurated a new era in Mexican social relations.
The years immediately following World War II constituted a watershed in Mexico’s political development: the national government, controlled by the recently renamed Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and led by a new generation of civilian professional politicians, made rapid industrialization its top priority. In a matter of decades, the nation transformed from a predominantly rural to an ever more urbanized society. Significant social and cultural changes followed. The middle classes became the dominant voice in national politics and the beneficiaries of the government’s economic policies, while earlier efforts designed to ameliorate the suffering of the majority were suspended or even reversed, leaving urban workers and the rural poor to wonder what had happened to their revolution. Gradually, a consumerist culture eclipsed the cultural revolution of the 1920s and 1930s. Despite official claims to the contrary, Mexico in this era shed its revolutionary identity and replaced it with a modernizing zeal.
Through the 1960s, scholarly assessments regarded the nation as a model of Third World development. In the estimation of foreign and domestic observers alike, the combination of aggressive capitalist development, state protectionism, and foreign investment had created an economic miracle, while the 1910 Revolution had produced a relatively benign, paternalistic form of “soft” authoritarianism. But in the years following the devastating massacre of students in 1968 at the Plaza de Tlatelolco just days before the Mexico City Summer Olympics, scholarly assessments soured. In the coming decades, more and more evidence of political violence, media manipulation, and official corruption would surface, leading to a crisis of political legitimacy that would be severely aggravated by economic crisis in 1982. For these reasons, the period from 1946 to 1982 is a distinct and important chapter in the nation’s 20th-century development.
Diego Pulido Esteva
Social life during the Porfiriato (1877–1911) was marked by constant tension between a strict moral code and practices that varied widely according to class. In recent years, research about this period has centered on the study of myriad social practices. Renewed with diverse methodologies and perspectives, this research has contributed to understanding what has been known as “the objective social conditions,” to further explore identities through class, race, and gender. Urban contexts have been the primary focus of this new approach to social history, particularly in regard to Mexico City.
From 1870 to 1911, the population of Mexico City doubled from 200,000 to 471,000 inhabitants, while the urban area expanded from 5.28 to 25.16 square miles (8.5 to 40.5 square kilometers). Social practices during Porfirian modernization reveal different experiences according to each social sector: elites, the middle class, the working class, and marginalized groups in the cities. The subject is rather broad, so urban social spaces need to be examined, since they constitute an important point of departure to analyze the changes experienced during this period by the different social classes; these included the transformation of gender norms, and even ethnic distinctions, emanating from racist attitudes from the elites’ perspective.
The elites imposed customs based on etiquette codes adopted from European models. The desire to abandon traditional, backward, and savage society to become a modern, progressive, and civilized one had led the ruling class to promote disciplinary institutions. In the urban environment, a complex mixture of moralist, hygienist, and scientific discourses pointed to a gap between ideal behavior models and actual social practices. The elites expected society to comply with strict norms that were bent or simply broken by social practices. In that sense, each social sector unfolded its own strategies and attitudes when faced with these codes, and study of them allows for a concise overview of the elite, middle class, working class, and marginalized people.
Pablo A. Piccato
Free speech was a greater concern for Mexican politicians, legislators, and intellectuals during the 19th century than electoral democracy. This can be easily verified by looking at the large number of laws, decrees, trials, appeals, and polemics provoked by contradictory efforts to guarantee the right to express reasonable opinions, formulated since the 1812 Cádiz Constitution, and the concern to limit that freedom for the preservation of stability, morality, religion, and honor. Mexican public men spent considerably more energy reading and arguing about written words than counting votes. Yet the historiography of Mexican liberalism has, for the most part, stressed the history of frustrated attempts to expand representation and thus consolidate sovereignty. This article looks at the public sphere as a space for but also of contention. Politics, as was understood by most political agents of the time, took place in that virtual space, and a good part of political conflict revolved around the right to speak on behalf of public opinion. The broader arc to be described here starts with the contentious and romantic decades since the 1857 Constitution consecrated free speech and press juries and moves through the taming of the press using legal reforms and politically motivated prosecutions under Porfirio Díaz, to the consolidation of a new order in which a diverse and prosperous press struck an understanding with the post revolutionary regime to constrain the possibilities of political debate, around 1930.
Pulque, the alcoholic beverage of pre-Columbian highland Mesoamerica is the fermented derivative of aguamiel, the juice or sap of the agave known as agave pulquero—principally Agave salmiana. Aguamiel is a sweet, somewhat heavy juice that collects in a scraped out basin in the heart of the agave pulquero and, unless refrigerated, rapidly ferments into the alcoholic pulque. The agents of fermentation are ambient and plant-colonizing bacteria and yeasts. Fresh pulque is a frothy, cloudy brew with a slightly sour taste, usually containing around 2 percent alcohol or somewhat higher, meaning it can be drunk in large quantities without intoxicating the imbiber. Although it is a nutritious drink, consumption was condemned by Spaniards in varying degrees during the Colonial Period. Its popularity in contemporary southern Mexico is increasing after more than a century of persecution and public disparagement. Pulque figures prominently in pre- and post-Columbian Mesoamerican history.
Production of tequila and mezcal is completely different from production of pulque. The former are distilled from the pressed juice (tepache) of macerated and roasted hearts of certain agaves. The juice is fermented in vats for several days, then heated in a still, evaporated, and condensed. Tequila, by law is made from A. tequilana, and mezcal by custom is made primarily from A. angustifolia. Both these distillates contain about 40 percent alcohol. Pulque is a naturally occurring product consumed by native peoples for at least two millennia. Tequila and mezcal are industrial products derived from processes introduced into the Americas by Europeans.