University of Nebraska Press

The Mexican Experience

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

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The Mexican Experience

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Redeeming the Revolution

The State and Organized Labor in Post-Tlatelolco Mexico

Joseph U. Lenti

A tale of sin and redemption, Joseph U. Lenti’s Redeeming the Revolution demonstrates how the killing of hundreds of student protestors in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco district on October 2–3, 1968, sparked a crisis of legitimacy that moved Mexican political leaders to reestablish their revolutionary credentials with the working class, a sector only tangentially connected to the bloodbath. State-allied labor groups hence became darlings of public policy in the post-Tlatelolco period, and with the implementation of the New Federal Labor Law of 1970, the historical symbiotic relationship of the government and organized labor was restored.


Renewing old bonds with trusted allies such as the Confederation of Mexican Workers bore fruit for the regime, yet the road to redemption was fraught with peril during this era of Cold War and class contestation. While Luis Echeverría, Fidel Velázquez, and other officials appeased union brass with discourses of revolutionary populism and policies that challenged business leaders, conflicts emerged, and repression ensued when rank-and-file workers criticized the chasm between rhetoric and reality and tested their leaders’ limits of toleration. 
 

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Routes of Compromise

Building Roads and Shaping the Nation in Mexico, 1917-1952

Michael K. Bess

In Routes of Compromise Michael K. Bess studies the social, economic, and political implications of road building and state formation in Mexico through a comparative analysis of Nuevo León and Veracruz from the 1920s to the 1950s. He examines how both foreign and domestic actors, working at local, national, and transnational levels, helped determine how Mexico would build and finance its roadways.

While Veracruz offered a radical model for regional construction that empowered agrarian communities, national consensus would solidify around policies championed by Nuevo León’s political and commercial elites. Bess shows that no single political figure or central agency dominated the process of determining Mexico's road-building policies. Instead, provincial road-building efforts highlight the contingent nature of power and state formation in midcentury Mexico.
 

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San Miguel de Allende

Mexicans, Foreigners, and the Making of a World Heritage Site

Lisa Pinley Covert

Struggling to free itself from a century of economic decline and stagnation, the town of San Miguel de Allende, nestled in the hills of central Mexico, discovered that its “timeless” quality could provide a way forward. While other Mexican towns pursued policies of industrialization, San Miguel—on the economic, political, and cultural margins of revolutionary Mexico—worked to demonstrate that it preserved an authentic quality, earning designation as a “typical Mexican town” by the Guanajuato state legislature in 1939. With the town’s historic status guaranteed, a coalition of local elites and transnational figures turned to an international solution—tourism—to revive San Miguel’s economy and to reinforce its Mexican identity.
             
Lisa Pinley Covert examines how this once small, quiet town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one of Mexico’s largest foreign-born populations. By exploring the intersections of economic development and national identity formation in San Miguel, she reveals how towns and cities in Mexico grappled with change over the course of the twentieth century. Covert similarly identifies the historical context shaping the promise and perils of a shift from an agricultural to a service-based economy. In the process, she demonstrates how San Miguel could be both typically Mexican and palpably foreign and how the histories behind each process were inextricably intertwined.

 
 
 

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Seen and Heard in Mexico

Children and Revolutionary Cultural Nationalism

Elena Jackson Albarran

During the first two decades following the Mexican Revolution, children in the country gained unprecedented consideration as viable cultural critics, social actors, and subjects of reform. Not only did they become central to the reform agenda of the revolutionary nationalist government; they were also the beneficiaries of the largest percentage of the national budget.

While most historical accounts of postrevolutionary Mexico omit discussion of how children themselves experienced and perceived the sudden onslaught of resources and attention, Elena Jackson Albarrán, in Seen and Heard in Mexico, places children’s voices at the center of her analysis. Albarrán draws on archived records of children’s experiences in the form of letters, stories, scripts, drawings, interviews, presentations, and homework assignments to explore how Mexican childhood, despite the hopeful visions of revolutionary ideologues, was not a uniform experience set against the monolithic backdrop of cultural nationalism, but rather was varied and uneven. Moving children from the aesthetic to the political realm, Albarrán situates them in their rightful place at the center of Mexico’s revolutionary narrative by examining the avenues through which children contributed to ideas about citizenship and nation.

 

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Street Democracy

Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late Twentieth-Century Mexico

Sandra C. Mendiola Garcia

No visitor to Mexico can fail to recognize the omnipresence of street vendors, selling products ranging from fruits and vegetables to prepared food and clothes. The vendors compose a large part of the informal economy, which altogether represents at least 30 percent of Mexico’s economically active population. Neither taxed nor monitored by the government, the informal sector is the fastest growing economic sector in the world.   

In Street Democracy Sandra C. Mendiola García explores the political lives and economic significance of this otherwise overlooked population, focusing on the radical street vendors during the 1970s and 1980s in Puebla, Mexico’s fourth-largest city. She shows how the Popular Union of Street Vendors challenged the ruling party’s ability to control unions and local authorities’ power to regulate the use of public space. Since vendors could not strike or stop production like workers in the formal economy, they devised innovative and alternative strategies to protect their right to make a living in public spaces. By examining the political activism and historical relationship of street vendors to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mendiola García offers insights into grassroots organizing, the Mexican Dirty War, and the politics of urban renewal, issues that remain at the core of street vendors’ experience even today. 

 

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Working Women, Entrepreneurs, and the Mexican Revolution

The Coffee Culture of Córdoba, Veracruz

Heather Fowler-Salamini

In the 1890s, Spanish entrepreneurs spearheaded the emergence of Córdoba, Veracruz, as Mexico’s largest commercial center for coffee preparation and export to the Atlantic community. Seasonal women workers quickly became the major part of the agroindustry’s labor force. As they grew in numbers and influence in the first half of the twentieth century, these women shaped the workplace culture and contested gender norms through labor union activism and strong leadership. Their fight for workers’ rights was supported by the revolutionary state and negotiated within its industrial-labor institutions until they were replaced by machines in the 1960s.

Heather Fowler-Salamini’s Working Women, Entrepreneurs, and the Mexican Revolution analyzes the interrelationships between the region’s immigrant entrepreneurs, workforce, labor movement, gender relations, and culture on the one hand, and social revolution, modernization and the Atlantic community on the other between the 1890s and the 1960s. Using extensive archival research and oral-history interviews, Fowler-Salamini illustrates the ways in which the immigrant and women’s work cultures transformed Córdoba’s regional coffee economy and in turn influenced the development of the nation’s coffee agro-export industry and its labor force. 

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