Week 7: The Export Boom as Modernity

This topic of the export boom and modernity is definitely a topic whose tone changes depending on who’s telling the story. A Mexican elite, a new factory worker, or an American investor might’ve spoken highly of Díaz’s presidency. On the other hand, these new benefits were only possible from the exploitation of so many who suffered during Díaz’s rule. One supporter and advocate of Díaz was James Creelman. As he put it,

There is not a more romantic or heroic figure in all the world, nor one more intensely watched by both the friends and foes of democracy, than the soldier-statesman, whose adventurous youth pales the pages of Dumas, and whose iron rule has converted the warring, ignorant, superstitious and impoverished masses of Mexico, oppressed by centuries of Spanish cruelty and greed, into a strong, steady, peaceful, debt-paying and progressive nation.

That is one way to look at it… And not a surprising perspective from a non-Mexican journalist, himself benefiting from modernity, who could easily appreciate the growth of technological advancement. Anything other than progress towards modernity and civilization fed easily into the “barbarism” rhetoric popular among his North American audience. Liberal elites found justification for Díaz’s cruelty as they believed that “their societies would never prosper, would never become modern, if order was not first established.”

On the other hand, many people’s livelihoods were disrupted, who were well off before the treasures of modernity arrived. Peasants’ land were taken away and they were forced into the workforce. I found something here in Dawson’s commentary that I want to question– he explained that “Industrial workers often found themselves able to take advantage of their new settings (concentrated in cities) to successfully agitate for better wages and living conditions, and they clearly had a higher standard of living than their rural counterparts.” Can that be said so confidently? How is this standard of living being measured? Maybe the ‘rural counterparts’ Dawson is referring to are those that lost their land during Porfiriato and were left to work on haciendas with low pay. I don’t think that they inherently had a lower standard of living though.

The transformation that took place during the export boom seems even more radical than colonial rule. Under the Spanish crown, some villages remained autonomous, but “by 1910 more than half the land in the country was in the hands of one percent of the population, and 97 percent of Mexicans were landless.” This might explain why the indigenous students in figure 4.6 decided to stay in Mexico City after being forced there originally. Maybe some of them felt that their old lives were lost as there was probably no land to go back to.