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1 this book examines the construction of modern Mexico through the lens of public health and disease. Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Mexicans endured crushing epidemics while the political and social order around them changed drastically. As in other nineteenth-century states, the federal and state governments took on more and more responsibility for public health policies as it became apparent that individual health was often the effect of collective measures surrounding hygiene and sanitation. However, inside the programs designed to promote health, the state was also extending its reach far into the private sphere. In a peripheral state like Yucatán, with its mostly rural, indigenous Maya population and its small creole elite, public health issues were folded into a larger ideology, pitting “civilization” against “barbarism.” The Yucatán state, throughout the period covered by this book, was intent on redefining and exerting control over public spaces, regulating the system of raising and selling foodstuffs, creating a system of mass vaccinations, eradicating pests, and controlling drinking water; all these projects were carried out in the name of the “welfare” of the people. Yet, as we shall see, this state activity was overdetermined by other agendas, most notably that of subjecting a population to the norms of a modern Mexico-in-process. The time frame of my study extends from 1821, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, up to the postrevolutionary period in the early twentieth century, when the state took on many of the features that we recognize today. Public health programs and discourse were an inescapable presence in C hapter O ne introduction Region, Ethnography, and Medicine in Yucatán, Mexico } chapter one 2 the lives of Mexico’s citizens and were held out as a modernizing force legitimating the state’s governance. The core of this work focuses on relationships between humans and their shared environments through an examination of people’s interactions with emergent public health initiatives. By mapping pivotal shifts in public health policy and the implementation of disease prevention campaigns, I reveal a buried narrative of state-building, citizenship, and insurrection . Collectively, these interactions point toward the formation of a distinct regional Mexican identity born out of the matrix of devastating disease epidemics , civil insurrection, revolution, and modern medicine. Mexico’s southern Yucatán Peninsula, with its tropical ecology, is a particularly interesting case study because of the region’s political, cultural, and geographical marginalization from the center of the Mexican republic. Yucatán experienced a strong separatist movement; underwent one of the longest wars in Latin America, the so-called Caste War; and, after the American Civil War, became the lynchpin of the great U.S. agricultural boom due to the farming of sisal (or henequen), a native plant that was used for making the twine that bound harvested grains. In the nineteenth century, it went from being one of the poorest of Mexican states to one of the richest—although a small elite largely appropriated the export wealth. For these reasons, the trajectory of Yucatán’s history cannot be reduced to the history of Mexico; rather, it shares features with the circum-Caribbean network between Cuba, British Honduras (Belize), and New Orleans, as well as with Mexico. Yucatán’s tropical environment includes a wide range of animal and plant species endemic to the tropical rain forests. The peninsula contains no internal tributaries, but cenotes (natural sinkholes that collect rainwater) dot the sparse limestone terrain, providing much-needed water stores for inhabitants. Henequen, or sisal, became a major crop in northern Yucatán in the nineteenth century, partly because of the climactic conditions and partly because the thin soil was ideal for the growth of the cactuslike plant.1 Sugarcane production had been encouraged after independence, as well as livestock farming, and maize was grown mainly for domestic consumption. These physical characteristics formed the microenvironment in which a set of diseases “inherent” to Yucatán would impinge on inhabitants and foreigners alike as the process of modernization went forward. Herein the stage was set upon which tensions between center and periphery, church and state, and Maya and creoles were clearly woven into the policies, rhetoric, and sociocultural fabric of an emerging nation-state. After independence, the ruling creole elite made their first order of business to “civilize” the Yucatecan environment, both natural and human. Due to Introduction 3 its position on the Gulf and its relative isolation from the mainland (communication with which was mainly by boat until, in the twentieth...


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