Commentary on Latin America. Mostly about Mexico - but not always. Designed to encourage readers to learn about the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people spread across two continents - but not always. You can always count on a little snark.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Cristeros, Mr. Calles, and Prop 8
Having left California just over a year ago, I still have a large number of ties to the area and two friends on either side of the Proposition 8 firestorm have been in frequent contact. One was for prop 8, and in the span of 36 hours he had his sign vandalized 10 times. This is what was left after he finally replaced his official sign with spray paint and plywood.
The other friend is, as I quote him now, a "fat, white, hopelessly heterosexual Jew" that lives in the mission district of San Francisco. He stands firmly against the results of the November 4 vote, and he is truly moved that many of his neighbors were heartbroken at the passage of Prop 8. As he kept in contact with me, he recounted a growing conflict among some of my former colleagues - some of whom are evangelical Christians and Mormons - and others who are firmly opposed to those beliefs. Most interesting of the emails he forwarded on to me was the reflection of a colleague who justified his statements by saying he was a "Chicano from Bakersfield" and so his observations on why rural minorities voted for Prop 8 were supposed to have extra legitimacy. The thrust of his email was that rural minorities were uneducated and poor, thus they were in the grip of their pastors and preachers, and without the money to pay for access to other sources of information, these Latinos and blacks were mere dupes.
For me, this brought to mind the position of the Sonoran generals during the consolidation phase of the Revolution in Mexico. Doing research in Guadalajara and Mexico City, I had occasion to read not only the official public documents, but also those letters and programs designed by the official party's anti-clerical association whose motto decreed that "God is a Lie and Religion is a Farce." Their stated duty was to "liberate" the masses from the oppression and tyranny of the Catholic clergy and bring light and truth to the masses via the public education of the Revolution. Benighted Indian mobs, they maintained, waited to be brought into the Revolution by education, and women, silly and seduced in the confessional, were banned from voting in Mexico until 1952. I'm not sure that this was what my former colleague was after (and I'm sure he would balk at my comparison between him and Mr. Calles) but I was certainly struck by his language. The war that grew out of this state sponsored control of religion killed 80,000 people in 3 years.
Mexico "resolved" its conflict by simply casting aside the rule of law and allowing churches free reign, while continuing to hold the Revolutionary laws at the ready in case the clergy should insert themselves into politics in the future - a condition that was supposed to change in 1991, but in real practice never was modified.
I might observe here that the work of Jennifer Purnell has pointed out that many of the Catholics that revolted against the state's attempt to restrict religion did so because of accompanying economic issues (read the book - there is not enough space here). It might be a fun little study to pay attention to the divide that exists between those that voted for prop 8 who sip coffee at the cafes of urban California, and those that voted against it who serve that coffee.
And please, considering what I have seen on the net on this topic, take note that I am not insinuating that those who voted against prop 8 hate religion and religious people. I'm simply pointing out that those who voted against the measure and found that they were opposed by the very people that they champion in their scholarship, exist in the same situation as those Sonoran generals who claimed to have fought the Revolution for the peasants, but found that many of the people on the ground rejected their version of this Revolution. Those generals, unfortunately, reacted with violence and intolerance, and only when a "modus vivendi" was worked out were both parties able to move forward. Both the Revolution and the opponents of prop 8 should have viewed their opponents through a more complex lens than that of "oppressed people."
Jason Dormady is currently an associate professor of history at Central Washington University where he teaches courses on Mexico, general Latin American topics, world history, and religion in Latin America. He is also a member of the CWU Latin@ and Latin American Studies program faculty. You can read about my research interests at Academia.
The statements on this page do not reflect the views of Central Washington University or the Latin@ and Latin American Studies program.