The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics (The Latin America Readers Series)

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Overview


The Mexico Reader is a vivid introduction to muchos Méxicos—the many Mexicos, or the many varied histories and cultures that comprise contemporary Mexico. Unparalleled in scope and written for the traveler, student, and expert alike, the collection offers a comprehensive guide to the history and culture of Mexico—including its difficult, uneven modernization; the ways the country has been profoundly shaped not only by Mexicans but also by those outside its borders; and the extraordinary economic, political, and ideological power of the Roman Catholic Church. The book looks at what underlies the chronic instability, violence, and economic turmoil that have characterized periods of Mexico’s history while it also celebrates the country’s rich cultural heritage.

A diverse collection of more than eighty selections, The Mexico Reader brings together poetry, folklore, fiction, polemics, photoessays, songs, political cartoons, memoirs, satire, and scholarly writing. Many pieces are by Mexicans, and a substantial number appear for the first time in English. Works by Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes are included along with pieces about such well-known figures as the larger-than-life revolutionary leaders Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata; there is also a comminiqué from a more recent rebel, Subcomandante Marcos. At the same time, the book highlights the perspectives of many others—indigenous peoples, women, politicians, patriots, artists, soldiers, rebels, priests, workers, peasants, foreign diplomats, and travelers.

The Mexico Reader explores what it means to be Mexican, tracing the history of Mexico from pre-Columbian times through the country’s epic revolution (1910–17) to the present day. The materials relating to the latter half of the twentieth century focus on the contradictions and costs of postrevolutionary modernization, the rise of civil society, and the dynamic cross-cultural zone marked by the two thousand-mile Mexico-U.S. border. The editors have divided the book into several sections organized roughly in chronological order and have provided brief historical contexts for each section. They have also furnished a lengthy list of resources about Mexico, including websites and suggestions for further reading.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

”For any journey through Mexican history, politics, social movements, and popular culture, travelers should start with this fascinating collection. Expertly edited and translated, each document adds to the rich landscape and each is cogently introduced to the reader. The perfect source book for any college course on Mexico from the Aztecs and Mayas to the 21st century.”—John H. Coatsworth, Harvard University
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822330066
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2003
  • Series: Latin America Readers Series
  • Pages: 792
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.46 (h) x 2.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Gilbert M. Joseph is Farnam Professor of History and Director of Latin American and Iberian Studies at Yale University. He is coeditor of Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico and Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.–Latin American Relations (both published by Duke University Press).

Timothy J. Henderson is Associate Professor of History at Auburn University Montgomery. He is the author of The Worm in the Wheat: Rosalie Evans and Agrarian Struggle in the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley of Mexico, 1908–1927 (also published by Duke University Press).

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Read an Excerpt

THE MEXICO READER

History, Culture, Politics

DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2002 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0822330423


Chapter One

The Mexican Character

Joel Poinsett

Today, Joel Roberts Poinsett's chief claim to fame in the United States is as the man who brought home the Mexican "Christmas flower," which came to be called the poinsettia. Despite this innocent association, however, few figures in Mexican history have excited quite such passionate controversy. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Poinsett (1779-1851) first became involved in Latin American affairs in 1811 as special envoy from President James Monroe to Chile. Returning to the United States in 1813, he pursued a political career in the South Carolina legislature and in the U.S. House of Representatives, to which he was elected in 1821. In 1822 he traveled to the Mexico of Agustín Iturbide and authored a short book on the subject, Notes on Mexico. In 1825 he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He later would serve as Secretary of War in the cabinet of President Martin Van Buren.

From the outset of his tenure as ambassador to Mexico, Poinsett was an outspoken proponent of U.S.-style liberalism: decentralized, constitutional, republican government; anticlericalism; and free trade. A substantial number of influential Mexicans found such activity decidedly pernicious, and their antipathy toward him wasexacerbated by the fact that the ambassador advocated extending the southern boundary of the United States to the Rio Grande. Poinsett found like-minded cohorts in the York Rite Masonic Lodge, which he helped to organize in Mexico. The York Rite Masons (or Yorkinos) were rivals of the Scottish Rite Masons (or Escoceses), and the two lodges increasingly emerged as bitter, secretive political clubs. The sub rosa nature of these political organizations was conducive to conspiratorial thinking, and Conservative Escoceses became increasingly convinced that Poinsett was a subversive foreign agent seeking deliberately to weaken and undermine Mexico.

As will be seen from the following excerpt from an 1829 letter to Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, Poinsett had a pessimistic view of the Mexican character and of the nation's potential for progress. Poinsett's generalizations might serve as a compendium of North American stereotypes of Mexicans to this day.

The character of this people cannot be understood, nor the causes of their present condition be fully developed without recurring to the oppression under which they formerly laboured. It would lead you into error to compare them with the free and civilized nations of America and Europe in the Nineteenth Century. They started from a period nearer to the age of Charles the fifth, and it is even a matter of some doubt whether this Nation had advanced one step in knowledge and civilization, from the time of the conquest to the moment of declaring themselves Independent. No portion of the Spanish dominions in America was watched over by the Mother Country with such jealous care as Mexico. Its comparatively dense population, its extensive and fertile territory, its rich and varied productions, and especially its mineral wealth, rendered it a source of great profit to Spain; while the history of the ancient splendour of Mexico, and the glory of its conquest could not fail to enhance the value of its possession in the eyes of that chivalrous people. In order to preserve that possession every precaution was taken that human prudence could devise to prevent the access of strangers to Mexico and to keep the people in profound ignorance of their own strength and resources as well as of their relative position with regard to other Nations....

The nobility and gentry then as now, inhabited spacious hotels, built after the fashion of those of the mother Country, solid and substantial; but still more destitute of all comfort or convenience. Their style of living was not generous or hospitable, although they sometimes gave costly and ostentatious entertainments. From their absurd pretensions to rank and from their unmeaning jealousy of each other, there never did exist that social intercourse among the higher orders, which in every other Country forms the chief charm of life. Here every man of distinction considered it beneath his dignity to visit his friends or neighbours, and remained in his own house, where in a large gloomy apartment dimly lighted and miserably furnished he received a few visitors of inferior rank who formed his tertulia [social gathering] of every night. It is not to be wondered at therefore that the sons of these men, equally uneducated with themselves, fled from the gloomy mansions of their fathers to the Theatre, the coffee houses or the gambling table; and this circumstance united to the absence of all excitement to industry, from the preference given by the Council of the Indies to Europeans for all appointments, rendered the Aristocracy of Mexico an ignorant and immoral race. The same state of society existed among the higher orders of the clergy and marked their character in the same unfavorable manner. The regular clergy formed from the very dregs of the people, was then and is now disgustingly debauched and ignorant. They have lost the influence they formerly possessed over the common people, and so sensible are they of the universal contempt which they have brought upon themselves by their unworthy conduct, that they would not oppose a thorough reform of their orders if the Government had courage to attempt it.

But what more particularly distinguishes the condition of the people in the Spanish colonies is the character of the labouring classes. That portion of America conquered by Spain was inhabited by a people in a high state of civilization for the age in which they lived. The higher classes fell [as] a sacrifice to the cruelty and rapacity of their Conquerors, and the common people were reduced to a state of the most abject slavery. The existence of this degraded race had a singular effect upon the character of the Spanish Settler. The poorest white man scorned to be placed on a level with the unfortunate Indian. His colour ennobled him, and Spaniards and their descendants would have perished rather than degrade their caste in America by working in the field, or by following any other laborious occupation in which the Indians are habitually employed. Here therefore is wanting that portion of a community which forms the strength of every nation, but especially of a Republic, a free and virtuous peasantry. The Indians cannot as yet be regarded in that light. They are laborious, patient and submissive, but are lamentably ignorant. They are emerging slowly from the wretched state to which they had been reduced; but they must be educated and released from the gross superstition under which they now labour before they can be expected to feel an interest in public affairs. The only political feeling these people now possess is a bitter hatred of the Spaniards or Gachupines as they call them, a hatred which has never ceased to exist, and which has been kept alive both by tradition and by constantly recurring instances of cruelty and oppression. Less attention has been paid by this Government to the establishment of primary schools than in any other part of Spanish America. This has been a lamentable oversight, for not only do the great mass of the population require to be educated in order that the real principles of a representative Government may be carried fully into operation; but to inspire them with a decent pride and to induce them to more constant labour and to employ their earnings in rendering their habitations comfortable and in purchasing clothing for themselves and their families. At present seven eighths of the population live in wretched hovels destitute of the most ordinary conveniences. Their only furniture a few coarse mats to sit and sleep on, their food indian corn, pepper and pulse, and their clothing miserably coarse and scanty. It is not that the low price of labor prevents them from earning a more comfortable subsistence in spite of the numerous festivals in each year, but they either gamble away their money, or employ it in pageants of the Catholic Church, in which pagan and Christian rites are strangely mingled. All these evils, if not cured entirely, would be greatly mitigated by education....

It appears then that the successful precautions taken by Spain to prevent all intercourse between Mexico and other Countries prevented the light of knowledge from penetrating into this Country. Not only were the Mexicans deprived of the means of keeping pace with the rapid progress of knowledge in other Countries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; but the peculiar circumstances in which they were placed scarcely allowed them to retain the station they occupied at the time of the conquest. The emigrants from Spain who alone were permitted to settle in the Country were among the most ignorant and vicious of that people, who are notoriously a century behind the rest of Christian Europe. They were for the most part the favorites of great men, and came to lord over the creole, to occupy all the offices of honor and emolument and to keep the natives in subjection. As has been already remarked, one mode of effecting this object was to keep them even more ignorant than they were themselves. They were assisted in their efforts to this effect by a variety of causes. The want of means of acquiring knowledge, the absence of all excitement to exertion, the facility of procuring the means of subsistence almost without labour, a mild and enervating climate and their constant intercourse with the aborigines, who were and still are degraded to the very lowest class of human beings, all contributed to render the Mexicans a more ignorant and debauched people than their ancestors had been. Another cause operated still more strongly to produce this effect. The puerile ceremonies of their worship, and the excessive ignorance and shocking profligacy of the clergy. The creoles were taught from their infancy to revere their pastors as Superior beings and it is not therefore surprising that their pernicious example should have produced such melancholy results. When therefore we examine the actual condition of this people, we ought always to bear in mind the point from which they set out. They were in every respect, far behind the mother Country which is notoriously very inferior in moral improvement to all other Nations. They were not even equal to the other Spanish colonies in America, because their comparative importance and their vicinity to the United States rendered Spain more vigilant in preventing all intercourse with foreigners as well as the introduction of all works, which could enlighten their minds and inspire them with liberal ideas.

The Cosmic Race

José Vasconcelos

José Vasconcelos (1882-1959) was among the most important and influential Mexican intellectuals of the twentieth century. His childhood was spent partly on the U.S. Mexican border, where he attended schools in Eagle Pass, Texas. During his formative years, Vasconcelos developed a profound suspicion of Americans, whom he viewed as crassly pragmatic, arrogant, shallow, aggressive, and lacking in spirituality. Undoubtedly, he was also offended by the fact that many Americans continued to endorse ideas like those espoused earlier in the century by their compatriot Joel Poinsett. Like certain other Latin Americans of the turn of the century-such as the Uruguayan philosopher José Enrique Rodó, the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, and the Cuban patriot José Martí-Vasconcelos's thought developed in part as a reaction against North America and its materialistic values. He felt that Latin Americans must avoid imitating American culture, and that in order to do that successfully they would need a guiding philosophy, one that celebrated their strengths and virtues. In this spirit, he argued that the Latin American mestizo constituted a new race, a "cosmic race," which combined the virtues of Indians and Europeans. This, Vasconcelos believed, would be the race of the future.

While Vasconcelos's theory turned the white supremacist racism of the day on its head, it remains at heart a racist theory. By imputing inevitable characteristics to the various races of the earth, Vasconcelos engages in rather reckless stereotyping. His romantic notion of the spiritual essence of his people and of the soullessness of Anglo-Saxon culture, together with his increasing bitterness at the course of events in Mexico, would lead him to embrace fascism and anti-Semitism during World War II.

For all his failings, Vasconcelos remains a uniquely engaging figure. Active in the Mexican revolution from its earliest days, he would serve as Mexico's secretary of education, and in this capacity he acted with boundless energy and idealism. An advocate of Indian literacy, he greatly increased the presence of education in the countryside; his Ministry of Public Education produced massive quantities of inexpensive workbooks and textbooks; and the ministry's department of fine arts sponsored the work of some of Mexico's greatest modern artists, including the muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, as well as musicians Manuel M. Ponce and Julián Carrillo. At odds with the Mexican government after 5924, he ran unsuccessfully for president in 5929 in an energetic campaign plagued by violence and fraud on the part of the newly formed official government party.

Greece laid the foundations of Western or European civilization; the white civilization that, upon expanding, reached the forgotten shores of the American continent in order to consummate the task of re-civilization and re-population. Thus we have the four stages and the four racial trunks: the Black, the Indian, the Mongol, and the White. The latter, after organizing itself in Europe, has become the invader of the world, and has considered itself destined to rule, as did each of the previous races during their time of power. It is clear that domination by the whites will also be temporary, but their mission is to serve as a bridge. The white race has brought the world to a state in which all human types and cultures will be able to fuse with each other. The civilization developed and organized in our times by the whites has set the moral and material basis for the union of all men into a fifth universal race, the fruit of all the previous ones and amelioration of everything past....

Let us recognize that it was a disgrace not to have proceeded with the cohesion demonstrated by those to the north, that prodigious race which we are accustomed to lavish with insults only because they have won each hand at the secular fight. They triumph because they join to their practical talents the clear vision of a great destiny. They keep present the intuition of a definite historical mission, while we get lost in the labyrinth of verbal chimeras.

Continues...


Excerpted from THE MEXICO READER Copyright © 2002 by Duke University Press
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
A Note on Style
Introduction 1
I The Search for "Lo Mexicano"
The Mexican Character 11
The Cosmic Race 15
The Sons of La Malinche 20
The Problem of National Culture 28
Does It Mean Anything to Be Mexican 33
Mexico City 1992 41
Two Ranchera Songs 53
II Ancient Civilizations
The Origins of the Aztecs 57
The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society 61
Popol Vuh 79
The Meaning of Maize for the Maya 86
Omens Foretelling the Conquest 92
III Conquest and Colony
The Spaniards' Entry into Tenochtitlan 97
Cortes and Montezuma 105
The Battles of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco 109
The Spiritual Conquest 114
Why the Indians Are Dying 122
The Colonial Latifundio 131
A Baroque Archbishop-Viceroy 141
On Men's Hypocrisy 156
The Itching Parrot, the Priest, and the Subdelegate 160
IV Trials of the Young Republic
The Siege of Guanajuato 171
Sentiments of the Nation 189
Plan of Iguala 192
Women and War in Mexico 196
The Glorious Revolution of 1844 206
Decimas Dedicated to Santa Anna's Leg 213
War and Finance, Mexican Style 217
A Conservative Profession of Faith 220
Considerations Relating to the Political and Social Situation 226
Liberals and the Land 239
Standard Plots and Rural Resistance 252
Offer of the Crown to Maximilian 263
A Letter from Mexico 265
The Triumph of the Republic 270
Pofirio Diaz Visits Yucatan 273
Scenes from a Lumber Camp 279
President Diaz, Hero of the Americas 285
Gift of the Skeletons 292
Mexican History in Photographs 297
V Revolution
Land and Liberty 335
Plan of Ayala 339
The Restoration of the Ejido 344
Zapatistas in the Palace 351
Mexico Has Been Turned into a Hell 357
Pancho Villa 364
La Punitiva 372
Pedro Martinez 375
Juan the Chamula 387
The Constitution of 1917: Articles 27 and 123 398
An Agrarian Encounter 403
Ode to Cuauhtemoc 406
The Socialist ABC's 411
The Ballad of Valentin of the Sierra 418
Mexico Must Become a Nation of Institutions and Laws 421
The Formation of the Single-Party State 426
The Rough and Tumble Career of Pedro Crespo 428
A Convention in Zacapu 439
The Agrarian Reform in La Laguna 445
The Oil Expropriation 452
Cardenas and the Masses 456
VI The Perils of Modernity
They Gave Us the Land 465
Mexico's Crisis 470
Struggles of a Campesino Leader 482
Art and Corruption 492
The Two Faces of Acapulco during the Golden Age 500
Mexico 511
The Dark Deeds of "El Negro" Durazo 512
The Sinking City 520
Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl 536
Modesta Gomez 544
VII From the Ruins
The Student Movement of 1968 555
El Santo's Strange Career 570
After the Earthquake 579
Letters to Cuauhtemoc Cardenas 591
Corazon del Rocanrol 598
I Don't Believe Them at All 612
Identity Hour 613
The COCEI of Juchitan, Oaxaca: Two Documents 619
Women of Juchitan 625
EZLN Demands at the Dialogue Table 638
The Long Journey from Despair to Hope 646
A Tzotzil Chronicle 655
Debtors' Revenge 670
Mexicans Would Not Be Bought, Coerced 684
VIII The Border and Beyond
Plan of San Diego 689
The Mexican Connection 692
The Maquiladoras 698
Dompe Days 708
Pedro P. Coyote 717
There's a Party Going On in Texas 728
Two Poems about Immigrant Life 731
The Deadly Harvest of the Sierra Madre 734
Two Songs about Drug Smuggling 747
The New World Border 750
Suggestions for Further Reading 757
Acknowledgment of Copyrights 763
Index 773
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