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Bakers and Basques

A Social History of Bread in Mexico

Robert Weis

Publication Year: 2012

Mexico City’s colorful panaderías (bakeries) have long been vital neighborhood institutions. They were also crucial sites where labor, subsistence, and politics collided. From the 1880s well into the twentieth century, Basque immigrants dominated the bread trade, to the detriment of small Mexican bakers. By taking us inside the panadería, into the heart of bread strikes, and through government halls, Robert Weis reveals why authorities and organized workers supported the so-called Spanish monopoly in ways that countered the promises of law and ideology. He tells the gritty story of how class struggle and the politics of food shaped the state and the market. More than a book about bread, Bakers and Basques places food and labor at the center of the upheavals in Mexican history from independence to the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Financial support for the research and writing of this book came from the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS), the Reed Smith Fellowship, the UC Davis History Department, the Jarena D. Wright Scholarship, the UC Davis Hemispheric Institute on the Americas, ...

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pp. 1-10

A young bakery worker, maybe ten years old, appears in a photograph from 1930. He stands in the passage that divides the retail section of the panadería (bakery) from the workroom in back. Thin and dark, he is dressed in an apron and cloth hairnet and looks at the camera somewhat timidly out of the corner of his eye, ...

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1: “Zelo y desvelo”: The Bread Monopoly and Late Colonial Market Reforms

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pp. 11-23

A black slave, owned by Hernán Cortés, allegedly planted Mexico’s first wheat after he found three grains at the bottom of a rice sack. A single grain yielded 180; soon, wrote the sixteenth-century chronicler Francisco López de Gómara, “there was infinite wheat.” Cortés established the Santo Domingo Mill ...

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2: “A system that offends the hands of brothers”: Small Bakers and the Free Market in Independent Mexico

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pp. 24-43

The leaders of independent Mexico explicitly followed the late Bourbon model of free market with limited government oversight. They continued the search for a balance between releasing the supposedly innate dynamism of competition and curbing the equally innate greed of merchants and producers. ...

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3: “An uncle in America”: Chain Migration and the Spanish Monopoly

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pp. 44-61

Few Spaniards took part in the “invasion of pastry chefs” of the 1850s. But a decade later, immigrants from northern Spain, particularly the Basque province of Navarre, slowly began to arrive in Mexico City and venture into the bread trade. By the 1890s, they had become owners of most of the city’s panaderías. ...

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4: “Dough Kneaded with Blood”

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pp. 62-82

Gendarme No. 905 was at his downtown post near the Plazuela Aguilita around 11:30 p.m. when he heard a tremendous crash and a voice calling for help. He ran down the street and entered La Florida, the flour mill that Pedro Albaitero and José Arrache had established the year before. ...

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5: “We have no bread”: Hunger, Opportunity, and War

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pp. 83-99

At the high point of the revolution’s violence, in fall of 1915, Coronel Ignacio C. Enríquez, interim president of Mexico City, ordered his subaltern Pablo des Georges to take the next day’s train to San Andrés Chalchicomula, Puebla, where he was to pick up four thousand cargas (around 710 tons) ...

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6: The Bakers’ Revolution

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pp. 100-123

The bakers’ revolution began in 1915, when the civil war brought the worst misery on the city, five years after the initial outbreak of violence in other parts of the country. It was no accident that bakers formed their union while residents were suffering hunger. Workers, who felt the crisis disproportionately, ...

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7: Unionists, Tlalchicholes, and Canasteros

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pp. 124-146

The Spanish monopoly had proven itself to be an essential partner of the governments that emerged in the revolution and its aftermath. Hunger coincided with the brutal factional battles, and the government’s ability to see that people were fed became a crucial sign of political legitimacy. ...

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pp. 147-152

In the mural in the Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market, chubby capitalists count money they have extracted from workers whom artificial scarcities have reduced to walking skeletons. Placed anywhere else, the mural would be a simple denunciation of inequality, an accusation that the rich profited from the hunger of the poor. ...


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pp. 153-184


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pp. 185-210


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pp. 211-217

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780826351470
E-ISBN-10: 0826351476
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826351463
Print-ISBN-10: 0826351468

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 5 halftones, 6 tables
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 810531435
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Bakers and Basques

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bread industry -- Mexico -- History.
  • Bread -- Economic aspects -- Mexico -- History.
  • Bread -- Political aspects -- Mexico -- History.
  • Bakeries -- Mexico -- History.
  • Bakers -- Political activity -- Mexico -- History.
  • Mexico -- Economic conditions.
  • Mexico -- Social conditions.
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