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3 The Mexican Dream and Its Realities I am perfectly certain that my time in Mexico was one of the very important times of my life. I think it influenced everything I did afterward. —Katherine Anne Porter, “The Mexico I Knew” Mexico is a disturbing country. —Katherine Anne Porter, review of Idols behind Altars, by Anita Brenner During her four stays in Mexico during the 1920s, Porter completed her emergence as an artist. Some of her most celebrated short fiction appeared during this decade. The fact that these two events—her experience of Mexico and her emergence as a serious writer—coincided was not mere happenstance. Mexico provided what she needed in order to bring to fruition her long preparation as a writer not only in terms of material—though it provided that as well—but also in terms of perspective. She gained a needed distance from which to see the life of her own place more clearly. She gained, too, from her immersion in Mexican visual art as it was unfolding during the 1920s, and in particular from her acquaintance with the art of caricature as practiced in Mexico, a new honed-­ down technique along with a willingness to draw on the everyday and the familiar as the material for art. At the same time, the social turmoil she witnessed and participated in while in Mexico propelled Porter toward a more active commitment to the leftist politics she had already, to a degree, embraced. All the worse, then, was her disillusionment when she came to believe that the social revolution she witnessed there, from which she had hoped so much, had failed and that the powerful were continuing and would continue to exploit the powerless. Porter’s arrival in Mexico City on No­ vem­ ber 8, 1920, was just in time for the inauguration of the revolutionary general Alvaro Obregón as president. She immediately made contact with the leftist editor of the English-­ language page of El Heraldo de México, Thorberg Haberman, who introduced her to Luis Morones , the head of the radical labor union CROM (Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers) and one of the most powerful fig­ ures in the Obregón government . That is, she quickly immersed herself in Mexican politics. Her contact with Thorberg Haberman also meant that Porter quickly gained an outlet for The Mexican Dream and Its Realities / 35 her writing. First a biting review of Mexico in Revolution by Blasco Ibañez, then, on De­ cem­ ber 13, the essay “The Fiesta of Guadalupe” appeared in El Heraldo. These two important pieces, published in little more than a month after her arrival , were the first drops in a spate of work she would produce during this initial nine-­ month stay.1 During the same period she would also place pieces in the Christian Science Monitor, the Socialist New York Call, and the business-­ oriented Magazine of Mexico; she would complete My Chinese Marriage (1921); and she would begin some fiction. At the same time, she was also working “informally,” as Beth Alvarez puts it, for Morones.2 That is, she was moving in Communist Party circles in more than a casual way. “The Fiesta of Guadalupe,” her sec­ ond publication in El Heraldo, is especially remarkable in that Porter had witnessed the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe only the day before the essay appeared; her account was apparently written overnight .3 What is most stunning about the essay itself is its keenness of observation and its compelling rendering of traces of the Indian celebrants’ unrelenting hardships . Watching them “dancing in religious ecstasy . . . fantastically dressed,” she seems to have been struck by a discordance between their garish get-­ ups and their innate dignity. The cheap, gaudy costumes they wear represent, as she writes of them, the trappings of a religion imposed “with fire and sword.” She deplores even as she in a sense honors their “terrible reasonless faith,” writing, “I see the awful hands of faith, the credulous and worn hands of believers; the humble and beseeching hands of the millions and millions who have only the anodyne of credulity.” With the word “anodyne” she echoes Marx’s labeling of religion as the opiate of the people. Good revolutionary as she was at the time, she wished that, instead of clinging to a fantasy of help from a “vast and empty sky,” they would put their energy into demanding a reality of less work and more food (CE 394–98). The...


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