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Primary Materials ● Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother Too), directed by Alfonso Cuarón (film, 2001) ● Las batallas en el desierto (Battles in the Desert) by José Emilio Pacheco (novel,1981) ● Letters and poems by Salvador Novo (1930–73) ● Photographs by Semo (1942–63) ● Life trajectories of María Conesa (b.1892,d.1978) andVirginia Fábregas (b.1871, d. 1950) T he notion of gente decente sheds light on the ongoing national failure to respect the civil rights guaranteed by law to all citizens of Mexico. In practice, the select groups that trample the civil rights of others correspond to the sectors that imagine themselves to be socially superior, the gente decente (decent people). The automatic deference awarded to persons of seeming “decent” status, conferred by such dubious virtues as a light skin tone, or a strong financial station, or an advantageous job and the attendant connotations of authoritative literacy skills, conditions a national debate over the abuses perpetuated by these supreme citizens. Twenty-first-century footage from Mexico City, available on YouTube, includes the video Gentleman 9 Classism Gente Decente and Civil Rights: From Suffrage to Divorce and Privileges in Between Emily Hind Classism 185 de Las Lomas (Gentleman from Las Lomas), taken from a security camera in 2011, and Las Ladies de Polanco (The Ladies from Polanco), shot on a cell phone, also in 2011. These notorious videos, and others like them, show the despotic behavior of the gente decente in Mexico City as they verbally and physically abuse, respectively, a valet parking attendant and a police officer, with onlookers passively watching. The videos succinctly illustrate the despotism of the gente decente and can prove stressful for the viewer, thanks to the onesided violence directed at the less economically privileged and darker-skinned workers. The colonial viewpoint that cast the indigenous peoples as inferior until they turned Catholic, and even then prohibited them from inner-circle status, grounds the contemporary workings of the gente bien (nice people) or the “GCU,” which stands for gente como uno (people like oneself) (Loaeza 60). The very phrasing of these terms reveals the enduring claim not only to righteous moral standing but also to an elite collectivity. The collective identity of the gente decente attracts aspirants, and this resulting “we” invests the term with impressive political power. Perhaps confusingly for outsiders, gente decente are not strictly defined by economic status. Julio Moreno observes that the category allowed democratically inclined mid-nineteenth-century citizens to imagine“that Mexicans could have ‘class’ and ‘culture’ without having money” (84). The opposite of gente decente were the “common” or “uneducated” people, which registers the cultural capital underlying this status (83). Steven Bunker’s study of the Porfiriato, the dictatorship that lasted from 1876 to 1911, supports this elastic definition, and it reveals the connection between gente decente and the middle class, which was “as much a cultural as an economic category” (109). Bunker lists the “gente de­ cente values” as “thrift, sobriety, hygiene, and punctuality” (109). Whether cit­ izens professed those values in their aspiration to the middle class or as a reflection of already achieved middle-class status, the desire to belong to this group remains an overwhelming imaginative force.Jorge Castañeda reports the findings from a poll commissioned in 2011 that asked how Mexican respondents viewed themselves: “1% said ‘rich,’ 16% replied ‘poor,’ and an astonishing 82% stated that they belonged to the middle class”(60–61). Castañeda cautions that in the most optimistic of measurements, only 60 percent of Mexicans fit into the middle class in economic terms. The nebulous nature of gente decente means that citizens must surveil their own behavior to make sure they are following “decent” etiquette. The following analysis contemplates less discussed discriminatory prejudices based on qualities such as age,body fat,and disability. 186 Emily Hind Perhaps because of the imaginary nature of the gente decente in the first place, a surprising variety of qualities can threaten citizens’“decent” status and convert them into the uninfluential segment whose civil rights prove unenforceable in the corrupt legal system. Besides the YouTube videos, the analysis below suggests study of the film Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother Too, directed by Alfonso Cuarón,2001),the novella Las batallas en el desierto (Battles in the Desert ,1981) by José Emilio Pacheco,select poems by Salvador Novo,images by the photographer Semo, and the life trajectories of the actresses María Conesa and Virginia F...


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MARC Record
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