In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Americas 60.2 (2003) 280-281

[Access article in PDF]
A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico, 1948-1965. By Diana Anhalt. Santa Maria, CA: Archer Books, 2001. Pp. 246. Images. Notes. Bibliography. $15.00 paper.

The vast majority of Americas who traveled to Mexico during the 1950s went for short stints as tourists. For them, Mexico was a land at once exotic yet equipped with the comforts of modern living. For a different, much smaller group of Americans during this same period, Mexico was not a tourist destination but an option of political flight. With McCarthyism and the ensuing anti-communist witch-hunts in full swing in the United States, Mexico had also become a land of exile. Diana Anhalt offers a lively and intimate portrait of these involuntary expatriates. In turn, she reminds us that Mexico invoked a multitude of images for North Americans beyond that of a mere vacationland.

Part memoir and part historical investigation, A Gathering of Fugitives seeks to reconstruct the lives and search for community of those forced to flee the United States as a result of Cold War persecution. Above all, this is a journey of reconciliation motivated by Anhalt's own need to understand—and to forgive—her parent's decision to uproot the family (she was only eight years old) from what seemed to her an otherwise comfortable life in the Bronx in the fall of 1950. "I still don't know, despite FBI allegations, if my parents were Party members," she notes somewhat ruefully in the opening pages; "If they were, I could forgive them, or at least understand their tearing me away from my home, my school, my country" (p. 19).

In her search for meaning to her own family history, Anhalt pursues, sleuth-like, the connections between FBI and State Department allegations of a vast communist conspiracy operating south of the border (to which her father was allegedly linked), with the perspective of those once on the run. Equally of interest to Anhalt is the recovery of memory itself. A large portion of her narrative is taken up by the stories told to her, as well as her own recollections. These are the memories that give meaning to the lives these exiles—and their families—fashioned for themselves in a foreign land.

Anhalt discovers that the FBI labeled this amorphous group of individuals who constituted the expatriate community the "American Communist Group in Mexico," which the agency described as "the association on principally a social basis of American Marxists in Mexico City" (p. 28). This identification became the pretext for a deepening collaboration between the FBI and its Mexican counterpart, the DFS (División Federal de Seguridad), and resulted in a constant surveillance of the exile community. Yet the individuals themselves and the lives they led in Mexico were incredibly diverse; some continued their political activism, while many simply laid low and waited for the storm to pass. Some embraced Mexico as their new home, learning Spanish and local customs; others resisted acculturation and returned to the States once the opportunity arose. The one common denominator Anhalt discovers was the pervasive sense of fear and uncertainty. Always, there was the possibility of being "thirty-threed out of the country" (p. 117), a reference to the Mexican Constitutional clause concerning unauthorized political activities by foreigners. [End Page 280]

Organizationally, the book can be confusing. There is overlap between chapters and the delimitation of themes, episodes, and personalities is not always clear. On the other hand, Anhalt is exceptionally engaging when pursuing the details of a particular event (for example, her lively discussion of the brouhaha over alleged communist ties to the Escuela de Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende) and in recounting her own mixed feelings about her Mexico City childhood.

Although not formally trained as an historian, Anhalt has nonetheless accomplished an impressive job at pursuing her subject. In addition to a vast secondary literature (her bibliography of like memoirs from this period will prove extremely useful to future researchers), her incorporation of declassified government documents...