Tag Archives: modernity

Week 8 – Signs of Crisis

Diaz’s proclamation, in 1908, that he would not run for the presidency opened the floodgates for countless marginalized groups to speak out against modernization. Groups that had for decades been silenced, displaced, repressed, and forced to work for the capitalist system, could take advantage of this political opening and launch their own version of revolution against the oligarchy. Though motives of the revolting groups throughout the Mexican revolution are ambiguous and diverse, the lengthy revolution seems to be a push against the idea of modernity itself. Or at least that is how the revolution is remembered, particularly when we consider the images that have come to represent the Mexican Revolution: Zapata and Villa sitting on the thrones, and the “unruly” villagers drinking expensive chocolate in elite spaces. This week’s readings are very different from Creelman’s article. We hear from those who benefitted the least from the export boom, and the “capitalist penetration” that occurred throughout rural areas in Latin America.

The United States is recognized more broadly as a threat to Latin America during this time. Dario’s “To Roosevelt” is inspired by the United States’ interference in Panama’s economy for its own political gains. Increasingly, the United States, rather than Europe, was bullying its way into economic and political domination over Latin America, and the country could profoundly affect any Latin American state’s prosperity and independence by using its superior global status, or the ideals of “progress.”

The article I found most puzzling is Vasconcelos’s “The Cosmic Race.” He seems to be promoting an idealized vision of humanity growing into an enlightened race naturally, and as a result of racial mixing, but at times he uses extremely exclusionary language. At one point he suggests that a person who is only mediocre will willingly choose to not marry or have children for the good of the race, or that only beautiful people will feel that they can produce offspring on a moral basis. While Vasconcelos is presenting his ideas as hopeful suggestions that humanity will grow spiritually, he simultaneously suggests that there is an “in group” that will carry us forward into this ideal future, while the rest of us can quietly eliminate ourĀ  inferior genes from the bloodline. I picture Vasconcelos as a person suffering from undiagnosed mental illness, but I’m not a psychologist and have no legitimacy in making that claim. I feel that if Vasconcelos’s ideas gained momentum, the result could be a version of ethnic cleansing similar to earlier claims that there are scientifically supported bases for superior intelligence in certain races. Though Vasconcelos is less scientific and more spiritual in his views, the ideas are equally dangerous.

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Week 7 – Modernity

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.”


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