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Reviewed by:
  • Cold War Exiles in Mexico: U.S. Dissidents and the Culture of Critical Resistance
  • Helen Delpar, Professor Emerita
Cold War Exiles in Mexico: U.S. Dissidents and the Culture of Critical Resistance. By Rebecca M. Schreiber. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. 336 pages, $22.50.

Long seen as a place of refuge for discontented or fearful Americans, Mexico attracted many victims of the second Red Scare after World War II. Communists and other leftists who faced the actual or potential [End Page 192] loss of livelihood or freedom could enter Mexico without passports and live more cheaply there than in the United States. In the volume under review, Schreiber concentrates on a subset of "Cold War exiles"—African Americans and Hollywood screenwriters—and on the work they produced in Mexico. This work, she argues, "constitutes a form of critical transnationalism that challenged the official versions of U.S. national culture from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s" (202).

The first chapter discusses the circumstances that led to the arrival of these and other exiles in Mexico, starting in the late 1940s, while the last examines the departure, in some cases involuntary, of most of the exiles in the late 1950s and '60s. These two chapters supplement Diana Anhalt's A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico, 1948–1965 (2001).

Four middle chapters constitute the most valuable contribution of Schreiber's book. Chapter 2 reviews the experiences of African American artists, notably Elizabeth Catlett and John Wilson, who were primarily fleeing American racism and were drawn to Mexico by their admiration for the achievements of its great muralists. Catlett was also inspired by the Taller de Gráfica Popular, an artists collective, which produced prints for the masses. Joining the Taller in 1946, she created The Negro Woman, a series of prints, and collaborated with other Taller artists on the series Against Discrimination in the United States. The influence of José Clemente Orozco is evident in Wilson's fresco The Incident (1952), which depicts a lynching by the Ku Klux Klan. According to Schreiber, the work of these artists found little favor in the United States, where abstract impressionism was in ascendance—with the blessing of the federal government.

After moving to Mexico, the novelist Willard Motley produced two manuscripts: the nonfictional "My House Is Your House" and the fictional "Tourist Town." According to Schreiber, in these writings, Motley "contrasts U.S. and Mexican racial ideologies and excoriates U.S. imperialism, in the form of tourism, in Mexico" (138). Because of their content, publishers rejected the manuscripts, though a bowdlerized version of "Tourist Town" was published as Let Noon Be Fair (1966) after Motley's death.

Criticism of US racism and imperialism is also evident in the work that screenwriter Hugo Butler produced in Mexico in collaboration with independent filmmakers. For example, Los pequeños gigantes (1958), about the Mexican team that won the Little League World Series in 1957, illustrates racism against Mexicans and Mexican Americans and Mexican resistance to imperialism. Screenwriter Gordon Kahn developed similar themes in a novel published posthumously as A Long Way from Home (1989). His protagonist, a Mexican American from Los Angeles, moves to [End Page 193] Mexico to avoid military service during the Korean War and eventually renounces his US citizenship.

In discussing these and other works, Schreiber shows in detail how they deviated from conventional depictions of American society and politics. She bases her conclusions on a wide range of secondary sources and on research in numerous archives. Only a handful of Spanish-language sources are cited, however; as a result, the Mexican context is not fully developed. Even so, her book should stand for a long time as the definitive analysis of the defiant cultural productions of Cold War exiles in Mexico.

Helen Delpar, Professor Emerita
University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa


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