- Alcohol in Latin America: A Social and Cultural History eds. by Gretchen Pierce and Áurea Toxqui
Alcohol in Latin America is a highly informative anthology covering the social and cultural history of various fermented and distilled alcoholic beverages (sugar cane arguardiente, corn beer or chicha, hard apple cider, mezcal, pulque, and tequila), from pre-Hispanic times to the twenty-first century. It is made up of ten chapters written mainly by American and Latin American historians. An anthropologist, an archaeologist, and a literary scholar also contribute to the volume, giving it an interdisciplinary flavor.
Four of the chapters deal with the production, distribution, consumption, policing, or cultural meaning of alcohol in Mexico. The other chapters address similar issues in the Andean region, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Guatemala. Overall, the volume looks at alcohol as a window to a better understanding of social relations and nation-building in the region, paying particular attention to aspects such as interpersonal violence; gender, ethnic, and class relations and identity; ideas of the nation; social hierarchy; labor solidarity and reciprocity; and popular resistance to sobriety campaigns.
The book opens with a historiographical chapter in which the editors, who at the time of publication were assistant professors at Shippensburg University and Bradley University respectively, review the available scholarship on the subject. They begin with William [End Page 411] Taylor's seminal Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion (1979) and go through a variety of published and unpublished contributions from inside and outside of Latin America written over the next four decades. As they suggest, interest in the local, regional, national and even global history of alcohol is not new, except that alcohol has not always been the primary focus of the various studies in which it appears. Rather, it has often been treated indirectly, within works on broader political, social, economic, or cultural issues in Latin America. The authors claim that their volume is a unique contribution not only because of its interdisciplinary nature but also because it looks directly at alcohol across a fairly broad portion of Latin America (two regions in Mesoamerica and five in South America), over an extended period of time.
The anthology is divided chronologically into three parts, the first of which has three chapters on the pre-Hispanic and colonial periods. The second part, with three more chapters, deals with the "long nineteenth century." The last part, with a total of four chapters, is about the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The editors introduce each part with a brief section identifying key social features and historical developments of the respective period.
The chapters on the pre-Hispanic and colonial periods are by Justin Jennings, João Azevedo Fernandes, and Aaron P. Althouse. They discuss, respectively, the meaning of chicha in the development of pre-Columbian Andean cultures and communities; the role of the sugarcane aguardiente known as cachaça in the lives of Brazil's colonial dwellers; and the association of alcohol use and interpersonal violence in colonial Mexico. The "long nineteenth-century" section has contributions from Nancy Hanway, Áurea Toxqui, and David Carey Jr. They examine, respectively, the meaning of the vineyard as a national space in Sarmiento's nineteenth-century Argentina; the involvement of women in Mexico City's pulquerias during the period from 1850 to 1910; and the impact of alcohol consumption in the forging of modern Guatemala. The section on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has four chapters, by Gretchen Pierce, Jose Orozco, Steve Stein, and Anton Daughters. These authors address resistance to Mexico's anti-alcohol campaigns among small-scale pulque, beer, and mezcal producers; the ascent of tequila to the position of national drink in an allegedly modern, clean, and non-Indian Mexico; the transformation of wine consumers, tastes, and distinctive wine cultures in Argentina over the long twentieth century; and the intriguing role of hard apple cider production in community-building and labor reciprocity in southern Chile.
Based on traditional historical methods, anthropological fieldwork...