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Backroads Pragmatists

Mexico's Melting Pot and Civil Rights in the United States

By Ruben Flores

Publication Year: 2014

Like the United States, Mexico is a country of profound cultural differences. In the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), these differences became the subject of intense government attention as the Republic of Mexico developed ambitious social and educational policies designed to integrate its multitude of ethnic cultures into a national community of democratic citizens. To the north, Americans were beginning to confront their own legacy of racial injustice, embarking on the path that, three decades later, led to the destruction of Jim Crow. Backroads Pragmatists is the first book to show the transnational cross-fertilization between these two movements.

In molding Mexico's ambitious social experiment, postrevolutionary reformers adopted pragmatism from John Dewey and cultural relativism from Franz Boas, which, in turn, profoundly shaped some of the critical intellectual figures in the Mexican American civil rights movement. The Americans Ruben Flores follows studied Mexico's integration theories and applied them to America's own problem, holding Mexico up as a model of cultural fusion. These American reformers made the American West their laboratory in endeavors that included educator George I. Sanchez's attempts to transform New Mexico's government agencies, the rural education campaigns that psychologist Loyd Tireman adapted from the Mexican ministry of education, and anthropologist Ralph L. Beals's use of applied Mexican anthropology in the U.S. federal courts to transform segregation policy in southern California.

Through deep archival research and ambitious synthesis, Backroads Pragmatists illuminates how nation-building in postrevolutionary Mexico unmistakably influenced the civil rights movement and democratic politics in the United States.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Politics and Culture in Modern America


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Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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p. v

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pp. 1-16

Between 1920 and 1950, a group of influential social scientists who helped build the civil rights movement in the United States believed that a likeminded group from the Republic of Mexico had found the solution to social conflict in the idea of the melting pot. The international conversation...

Part I. The Beloved Communities

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1. A Symphony of Cultures

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pp. 19-53

If the essence of comparative history is to find differences rather than to highlight convergences, as Daniel T. Rodgers has argued, then the relationship between the United States and Mexico may be a better case study in comparative history than the transatlantic alliance between the United...

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2. Shock Troops

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pp. 54-91

The Mexican state attempted to integrate the peoples of Mexico into a single bloc of citizens not through a timeless process of biological mestizaje, but through instruments of statecraft that included patronage of the arts, a new infrastructure network, and a renewed focus on national...

Part II. The Scientific State

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3. The Language of Experience

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pp. 95-136

The difference Mexico’s postrevolutionary state made to American integration history becomes evident when we examine the encounters of American social scientists with the policy experiments of the Mexican government. These Americans retreated into postrevolutionary Mexico when government...

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4. The School and Society

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pp. 137-175

Mexico’s scientific state was central to the civil rights career of educational philosopher George Isidore Sa´nchez as well. Long known as one of the prominent figures of the civil rights movement in the American West for his work alongside such luminaries of racial liberalism as Carey...

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5. The Yaqui Way of Life

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pp. 176-205

During the same moments that Hastings, Tireman, and Sanchez studied there, Ralph L. Beals studied central state policy toward ethnic communities in postrevolutionary Mexico. Many of Beals’s observations of life in postrevolutionary Mexico were comments on the importance...

Part III. Mexico and the Attack on Plessy

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6. ‘‘The Sun Has Exploded’’: Integration and the California School

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pp. 209-239

Mexico’s bureaucracies had transformed school policy in New Mexico and Louisiana in the 1930s. But that influence continued into World War II America. Even as Mexican nationalism reached what one historian has called the most integrated moment of its twentieth-century...

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7. Texas and the Parallel Worlds of Civil Rights

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pp. 240-285

The world of civil rights operating in the shadow of Mexico’s state was manifested in the careers of George Sa´nchez and Loyd Tireman, as well. Like the parallel world of integration that Ralph Beals created between the Tarascans and the Californians, these assimilationist...

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Epilogue. Pragmatism and the Decline of Dewey

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pp. 286-298

The Spanish philosopher George Santayana had enshrined one of the enduring images into American philosophical history in the same year that Mexico’s revolutionary armies had mobilized against Porfirio Dıaz in 1911.1 Speaking before the Philosophical Union at the University...


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pp. 299-337


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pp. 339-348

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pp. 349-353

Secretly I have hoped that this book would never come to a close because of the joy I have had on the way to its completion. Putting it to rest, however, does allow me to thank the people whose support I have long needed to acknowledge. I begin with colleagues in Mexico whose...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812209891
E-ISBN-10: 0812209893
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812246209

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 26 illus.
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Politics and Culture in Modern America
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Margot Canaday, Glenda Gilmore, Michael Kazin, Thomas J. Sugrue See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 881137418
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Backroads Pragmatists

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mexico -- Politics and government -- 1910-1946.
  • Cultural pluralism -- Mexico -- History -- 20th century.
  • Nationalism -- Mexico -- History -- 20th century.
  • Education and state -- Mexico -- History -- 20th century.
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social movements -- Southwest, New -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social reformers -- Mexico -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social reformers -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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