In 1994, Mexico’s powerful television network, Televisa, aired a biographical telenovela, which intended to rehabilitate dictator Porfirio Díaz (1830–1915) as part of the neoliberal revision of history. Early episodes featured Díaz’s relationship with a young indigenous cigarette vendor, Juana Catarina Romero (portrayed by Salma Hayek). Romero’s historical role was almost completely expunged, and she appeared mainly as the exotic sexual aggressor in one of Díaz’s romantic dalliances. In reality, she risked her life as a Liberal spy in the struggle against Conservative armies. In later decades, she emerged as the richest merchant, sugar refiner, and philanthropist in her region. This study argues that Romero’s representation is emblematic of the treatment of women and indigenous peoples in Mexican history, the erasure of their agency not only by nineteenth–century nation builders but also twentieth–century neoliberals. While it reconstructs Romero’s actual role in history, it demonstrates how this telenovela perpetuated gender, racial, class, and ethnic biases that serve neoliberal interests and the increasing social inequalities they generate.


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pp. 106-129
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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