What was most impressive to me this week was the power that was given to the one article by the journalist, James Creelman, after his interview with Porfirio Diaz. Written in 1908, just two years before the Mexican Revolution, Creelman portrays Diaz in a reverent light, painting him as a saint-like figure who has single-handedly steered Mexico toward modernity. Diaz’s words, themselves, aid in cementing this heroic version of himself, and he speaks as though he is merely doing what the people have asked, sometimes unwillingly, and always with the advancement of the nation at the forefront of his thoughts. He speaks of the trust Mexico has in his leadership, and the points to an economic dip while he was ill to justify the benefit of his rule. He talks about this with modesty, stating that he must overcome his “personal inclination to retire to private life.” Like the nation will crumble if he if off work for a few days.
After the publication of the article, the political sphere went crazy. Diaz would retire! Those who had been given no way to enter office because of Diaz’s changes to laws against extended presidency finally saw an opening. Oppositions that had been percolating suddenly spoke out with hopes that finally Mexico would host a free and fair election. The glowing praise that Creelman showered upon Diaz, in hindsight, seems almost mocked by the legions of people whose hopes were kindled with the promise of an end to Diaz’s presidency, one that some described as a dictatorship. It is clear that Diaz believed he was leading his country toward modernity, order, and progress. It is clear, too, that Creelman believed him. It’s fascinating to read this article knowing what we know about Mexican history. And as Dawson points out, accounts like Creelman’s interview with Diaz teach us that no one can predict the future of a nation. No belief, no matter how strongly held or eloquently communicated, stands against the uncertainty of change.
Perhaps we can also consider how detrimental aesthetic modernity can be without simultaneously modernizing other aspects of a nation. Liberal democratic ideals must be explored if a nation wishes to enter into modernity. Simply building elegant structures and cobblestone boardwalks is meaningless if most of the people are suffering under such progress. The revolution of 1910 in Mexico seemed to burst out of decades of pressure. Diaz and Creelman seemed unable to feel that pressure from “the heights of Chapultepec Castle.”