- Connected Struggles: Catholics, Nationalists, and Transnational Relations between Mexico and Quebec, 1917–1945 by Maurice Demers
A movement of solidarity involving conservative intellectuals in Quebec and militant Catholics in Mexico in the interwar years is the unlikely story studied in detail in this interesting book. In the introduction the author offers a first description of this movement in the two societies. In Quebec a group of intellectuals disappointed by the Canadian Confederation regarded their transnational relations to Catholic circles in Mexico as symbolizing Quebec’s independence—and it actually annoyed the federal government. In Mexico, ruled by an anticlerical, secular government that tried to humiliate the Catholic Church, a group of Catholic activists cultivated relations with intellectuals in Quebec, hoping that this international connection would tame the government’s hostility toward the Catholic religion. The introduction also offers reflections on two interpretive concepts the author uses throughout the book: the power of “symbolic politics” and the need for minorities to “prendre la parole,” to speak up loudly.
The book has five chapters. The first deals with several instances of Canadian-Mexican contacts before 1917. The second chapter presents in great detail the movements in Quebec and Mexico that were briefly described in the introduction. The third chapter offers a study of the Union des Latins d’Amérique, the institute set up in Montreal to promote transnational solidarity with Mexico and, more widely, with other Latin American countries. The activist groups in Quebec and Mexico promoted the exchange of students, with Mexicans studying in Quebec and Quebecers in Mexico, a topic analysed in the fourth chapter. The fifth chapter examines the veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a religious and nationalist symbol invoked by Catholics to gain acceptance by the anti-clerical [End Page 341] Mexican government. The chapter reports that after the outbreak of World War II, especially under the presidency of Manual Avila Camacho beginning in 1940, the Mexican government redefined its international relations, reconciled itself with the Catholic Church, and in 1945 received Cardinal Villeneuve, the archbishop of Quebec City, as the papal delegate for the golden jubilee of the Virgin of Guadalupe. At this time Canada and Mexico entered into regular diplomatic relations.
Reflecting on the contemporary relevance of this historical episode, the author mentions that it is an instance when a movement in civil society had an effect on political decisions, in this case the establishment of diplomatic relations between Canada and Mexico. Since my own field is religious studies, I am aware of many instances where religious movements had dramatic effects on international politics. Christian groups, especially Moral Re-Armament, facilitated meetings of French and German public personalities after World War II, preparing the ground for the diplomatic reconciliation of the two countries. Protestant and Catholic groups in Germany advocated reconciliation with Poland and the acceptance of the new German-Polish border, producing a public debate that opened the door for the German government to move forward in this direction. What the author has in mind is probably the political influence of contemporary religious and secular movements promoting peace, human rights and the protection of the environment.
The author does not hide that the Quebec intellectuals studied in this book, prominent among them the brothers Dostaler and Walter O’Leary, were arch-conservatives critical of democracy with great admiration for Mussolini and Franco. They looked on Quebecers as Latins, heirs of the same tradition that shaped the Mexican nation. They knew that Quebecers were not ethnically Latin; their ancestors were rather Frenchmen of Celtic origin, and the O’Leary brothers were in fact of Irish stock. Yet the two brothers explained that Quebecers were culturally Latin, heirs of the classical Greek tradition and Roman Catholicism, and thus mediators of humanistic values, social solidarity, and aesthetic appreciation, quite different from the individualism and utilitarianism characteristic of English-speaking North America.
The author shows that in reality Quebec and Mexico had quite different cultures. The Mexican students in Quebec schools and the Quebec students in Mexican colleges often...