- Cold War Exiles in Mexico: U.S. Dissidents and the Culture of Critical Resistance
In the 1940s and 1950s, Mexico became a popular destination not only for vacationers from the United States looking for beautiful beaches and "exotic" locales; it also became a destination for a number of left-wing writers, artists, and filmmakers from the United States who fled their country in reaction to government harassment and obstacles they faced in creating, exhibiting, and distributing their work. These cultural producers, according to Rebecca Schreiber, "contributed to the formation of a culture of critical resistance" (p. xii) that was distinctly transnational in perspective and which "deliberately countered the dominant ideology of 'American nationalist globalism' championed by the United States during the early Cold War era" (p. xiv). Combining archival research into the historical contexts and lived realities of these exiled artists with perceptive formal analyses of the cultural forms they produced before, during, and after their time in Mexico, Schreiber skillfully demonstrates how the artists' experiences in Mexico reshaped their aesthetic strategies and cultural production and how these, in turn, reshaped oppositional art movements in the United States and Mexico. Indeed, the author's ability to weave together a transnational understanding of both the form and content of early Cold War cultural production on both sides of the United States-Mexico border is the work's most important scholarly contribution and merits the attention of both Americanists and Mexicanists.
The book begins by tracing the circumstances that precipitated the artists' decision to relocate in Mexico. The author does not provide precise figures on the number of artists who fled the United States, but notes that they constituted a "significant political exodus" (p. 1). Few had any familiarity with Mexico before moving south. Schreiber divides the exiled artists into three general groups: African Americans looking to escape racism and political persecution born from their political beliefs; blacklisted Hollywood professionals; and left-wing and Communist authors and editors blacklisted from the publishing industry. Elizabeth Catlett is illustrative of the first group. An African American who left "in part because she believed that 'the New York art scene offered no opportunities for a black woman'" (p. 37), Catlett saw her art transformed in Mexico. Although her work continued to explore the contributions of African American women to U.S. history, through her collaboration with the Taller de Gráfica Popular (an influential artist collective that created politically charged prints primarily for poor and working-class communities in Mexico), it took a "global perspective, in which she linked the concerns of African Americans in the United States [End Page 585] with people of color in Latin America, Africa, and Asia" (p. 208). Hugo Butler provides a fascinating case study from the second group. A blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter, Butler teamed with Luis Buñuel and Oscar Danciger, themselves exiles in Mexico, to remake The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1952), which they recast "not only to critique the history of European colonialism but also as a means of foregrounding the colonial encounter as a precursor to the contemporary imperialism of Hollywood narrative cinema" (p. 72). Willard Motley figures prominently as an example of the third group. After moving to Mexico, Motley turned his attention more directly to themes of U.S. racism and imperialism, using U.S. tourism to Mexico as a trope to explore similarities between the oppression experienced by African Americans and working-class and indigenous Mexicans. Not surprisingly, Butler's work, which went against the dominant paradigm of travel writing at the time, was heavily excised by editors in the United States or went entirely unpublished.
The author concludes her study by revealing that, although the U.S. government initially drove these artists into exile, it was the Mexican government that pressured most of them to return, particularly after the strike wave of 1958 and 1959, during which authorities scapegoated the exiles as "undesirable foreigners." Although the author nicely shows the diversity...