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5 Teachers Educating Cohesion: The Teacher as an Agent of the Postrevolutionary State David S. Dalton Primary Materials: ● La raza cósmica (The Cosmic Race) by José Vasconcelos (essay, 1925) ● Alfabetización: Aprendiendo a leer (Literacy: Learning to Read) by Diego Rivera (mural, 1928) ● La maestra rural (The Rural Teacher) by Diego Rivera (mural, 1932) ● Río Escondido (Hidden River), directed by Emilio Fernández (film, 1947) ● Maclovia, directed by Emilio Fernández (film, 1948) ● Salón México, directed by Emilio Fernández (film, 1949) ● Los olvidados (The Young and the Damned), directed by Luis Buñuel (film, 1950) ● “Final alterno de Los olvidados” (Alternate Ending to The Young and the Damned) (video, available on YouTube) ● “Luvina,” in El llano en llamas (The Burning Plain) by Juan Rulfo (short story, 1953) I n 1921, José Vasconcelos accepted the position of secretario de educación pública (secretary of public education). One of the leader’s first actions in this capacity was to fund ways—both in the classroom and through state-sponsored art—to inculcate mexicanidad in the masses.1 The politician had long believed that the state needed to educate its Amerindian population 108 David S. Dalton in the ways of European society and aesthetics. Indeed, his seminal essay La raza cósmica (The Cosmic Race, 1925) asserts that because Mexico’s pervasive “fealdad” (ugliness) results from indigenous ignorance, the country can beautify itself only through a robust education program (26–27). This belief colored how he executed the Misiones Culturales (Cultural Missions)—one of the most long-lasting legacies of his tenure—which sent “apostles of culture” to rural areas in hopes that they would civilize the country (Lewis 180–82; Palou 16–22). The most celebrated actors of the Cultural Missions were rural teachers, whom the state charged with redeeming Amerindians, women, and children by incorporating them into the mestizo state (Benjamin 479).2 Art funded by the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Secretariat of Public Educa­ tion), or SEP, celebrated Vasconcelos’s Cultural Missions by deifying teachers. But as the twentieth century progressed and social problems persisted, art­ ists began to take a more critical approach to the Cultural Missions and particularly to teachers and education. As I show in this chapter, throughout the last century—and even to the present—artistic representations of teachers served as excellent barometers for gauging popular sentiments toward the governing regime. The connection between educators and the state was no mistake; teachers sat at the core of government-funded modernizing missions, particularly as they “assimilated” indigenous children in rural and urban settings. Given their desire to transform Mexican society, teachers often found themselves at odds with entrenched structures of power, especially local caciquismo (KapeluszPoppi 35–38).3 The teachers’ (mythic) steadfastness in the face of great personal danger cemented their position as national heroes within the popular imaginary until at least the 1940s. This rings clear in two murals that Diego Rivera painted in the SEP offices at the request of Vasconcelos: La maestra rural (The Rural Teacher) and Alfabetización: Aprendiendo a leer (Literacy: Learning to Read). La maestra rural shows a woman surrounded by children in the desert while a revolutionary soldier on horseback keeps watch in the distance. She may not participate militarily in the Revolution, but as she sits unarmed next to the nation’s children, she risks her life as much as any soldier. Rivera furthers the ties between teachers and soldiers in Alfabetización,in which a teacher gives books to both children and soldiers. The message of these murals rings clear: armed peasants may have overthrown Porfirio Díaz and Victoriano Huerta,but schoolteachers will ultimately rebuild the nation by educating the people into a cohesive national identity and assimilating even the nation’s military heroes.4 Teachers 109 Similar ideas appeared in state-sponsored cultural production during the subsequent decades, but no artist promulgated official discourses more effectively than Emilio “El Indio”Fernández,a film director who used the silver screen as a “celluloid school”(Tuñón 466–68).Numerous critics have written about how the director—along with his cinematographer, Gabriel Figueroa—employed filmic techniques to inculcate nationalistic discourses in their audience (Ramírez Berg 15–17; Mraz 107–8),5 but El Indio’s support of the Cultural Missions has received markedly less attention. Fernández revered rural teachers and medics, but he ultimately exalted educators as the greatest actors of the state. In Río...


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