About Secret History

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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Out, Damn Aurrera, Out: Organizing Against Corporate Stores in Puebla

The Puebla page of Sintesis is reporting that store owners in Atlixco, Puebla, are organizing an association of business owners to protect their town from the imminent arrival of stores like Coppel (the Sinaloa based mega-store - what ever happened to that Coppel super-community?) and Bodegas Aurrera (the Wal-Mart / Walmex owned store). The head of the association said that there was probably little they could do to stop the coming of the companies, but they might be able to create a plan to keep themselves in business. It noted that with so much migration and the slow collapse of Pueblan agriculture, local stores served as one of the few employers in the area.

Interstingly enough, the same page had a link to a story on San Pablo Ahauntempan and the effects of migration on that town where the streets are half empty, full of large houses that nobody lives in, and a general poverty of billetes verdes. E. Bradford Burns and the Poverty of Progress? It always surprises me when I have people tell me that book is "out of date."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Rain God's No Rain Maker

Sol de Toluca reports that the folks in San Miguel Coatlinchan (former main city of the Acolhua) near Texcoco are getting a little grumpy, as 45 years has gone by since the National Anthropology Museum packed off the giant figure of Tlaloc. Losing out on the tourism that the stone used to bring in, the people are getting a little agitated - so much so that they are guiding visitors to archaeological zones and letting them dig for artifacts. It looks like the Municipal President in Texcoco is going to step in and "build a museum" to attract visitors to the town that won't loot the place. While the town traded Tlaloc for a road, school, electricity, and a hospital, the services have apparently not kept coming. And of course, one has to ask why a town has to swap heritage for services.

A year ago it looked like a replica in the central plaza might work to draw some tourists (they had a catchy tourism campaign about the past being the future) it looks like things haven't quite caught on as expected (like ecotourism in Chihuahua, I suppose).
(click on the photo to read the story of moving Tlaloc at Mexico Lore)

When Texcoco started to recognize that Tenochtitlan was taking a little too much off the top of the Triple Alliance deal, they probably weren't thinking that the city would continue to loot Texcoco for years to come. While I like the National Museum, I think it would have been far more beneficial to creat a string of museums around the old lake that celebrate the culture of the Central Valley... one out in Chalco, out in Xochimilco, over in Texcoco. The big museum in the center could still show case the culture of the nation, but it seems that some attempt to spread the wealth of history should be in order. Perhaps as Greece demands the repatriation of its artifacts, the pueblos of the nation should demand that Mexico return their heritage (no matter how imagined for some places).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Feeling Porfirian in Toluca, or Holiday Greetings from The Man

I know it is a little industrial, but Toluca is one of my favorite Mexican cities. It just feels honest, you know, like Omaha or Fargo ... it just has the feel of a place that's not trying to be Cozumel or DF or something.

I was a little bummed to see in Sol de Toluca that the portales, the lovely shopping area in the center of town under went a Porfirio Diaz style cleansing of the semi-mobile merchants that fill the portales around the holidays (day of the dead there is great fun - no Oaxaca, but again, it ain't trying to be). Women, kids, handicapped - the police even used some teargas in the day-long expulsion of the vendors to get the place "cleansed" for Christmas Eve. Zounds.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why We're in the Game, No?

I've wrapped up the semester, and I found myself in an interesting few conversations with the grad students this time around. Being Texas and having older grad students (MA program), I'm looking at mostly George W. Bush clones - until they read about Latin America from the historians. Economic, cultural, social, narrative - there was just no place for these folks to hide from the realities of the relationship between the US and Latin America and the play of class and race in Latin America that really had them questioning their positions on US policy as well as immigration. Dare I say it, but "mission accomplished." Not like I'm trying to create little Al Gore's here (heaven help us), but I like the idea of thinking and wrestling with ideas and problems from an informed position.

The strangest exchange came with a very vocal evangelical (who repeatedly self identified his faith for the class) who I assigned Leonardo and Clodovis Boff "Introducing Liberation Theology." His position all semester had been that blaming the United States for the sloth of Latin Americans (as he put it) made no sense. Well, he balled his eyes out at the intro to the book, and cried again as he told the rest of the grad students about the book. He caught me after class and went on and on for nearly an hour about how Americans consumed too much and that sin really can be structural. And while he had some good academic questions about the approach, personally he was moved by the Boffs.

Well, come the following week on US/Latin American Relations, he was back at Latin America, hammer and tongs, for what he called their clearly racists and envious greed at the Protestant success of the United States. Between comments on Hispanic culture and slurs at the Catholic church, it was as if the Black Legend had embodied itself in the student. We had one reader explaining Phillip Wayne Powell's Tree of Hate that week as well. When he jumped in and clearly explained the source of all of the biases that had been present in the student's comments the student looked a bit sheepish. That was followed by Emperor's In the Jungle and Empire's Workshop. Needless to say, good times had by all. (And yes, there were other books covered, so keep the "hey, you forgot book so and so" comments to yourself.)

Ties That Bind, or, The Hmong Among Us

This from the International Herald Tribune:

Made into cold-war castoffs when the Communists won that proxy war in 1975, more than 100,000 Hmong (pronounced MONG) refugees were resettled around the world in places like St. Paul; Fresno, California; Thailand; France; Australia; and — quietly, but successfully — this former prison colony on South America's northeastern hump.

Since arriving more than 30 years ago, the Hmong, who account for only about 1.5 percent of French Guiana's 210,000 people, have thrived. Once penniless, the refugees and their families produce up to 80 percent of the fruit and vegetables sold in this overseas French department, which must import other food at a high cost from mainland France or Brazil.

The first time I met Hmong was in the farmer's market in Missoula, Montana, while attending university there. The IHT story reminded me of the ties that are created by diaspora, but also of the scant coverage given Asian minorities in Latin America. When I cover the Chinese in Mexico, my students are generally very surprised. Unfortunately, some of my students from Mexico (well, maybe fortunately considering the confessional way in which it happens) disclose that most of the really offensive racial jokes they know and freely tell are about Asians - and the class usually agrees that such jokes about Latinos would result in big trouble. Nobody laughs when we discuss Chinese hanging from the lamp posts of Torreon, however.

The level of respect we have cultivated for some groups far out strips that developed for others. I think that perhaps for the Hmong it has been some sort of producer ideology driving acceptance as opposed to the "money changer" position that the Chinese have had in the Pac Rim world (think Indonesia, Cambodia, Hawai'i, Mexico, etc.).

Anyway...Hmong in French Guiana...I imagine there is a dissertation in there for some grad student.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Film, Cash, and Latin America

We have a department audio-visual web site that looks at movies. For April, we have a Latin America conference on campus and we are taking submissions of papers on films from Latin America. Pick a film and do a historical point of view on it and turn it in. Below is the call for papers. Spread the word if you know people who are interested.

Call for Papers

The Latin American Studies Program at Stephen F. Austin State University, in conjunction with Clio’s Eye, a film and audio visual magazine for the historian produced by the Department of History at Stephen F. Austin State University, seek submissions of essays and reviews on films from or about Latin America or the portrayal of Latin America in film. The call for papers comes in conjunction with the April 2-4, 2009 conference of Latin American Studies scheduled to be held at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. http://www2.sfasu.edu/latinam/Home_.html

Submissions are accepted in English, Spanish, French, or Portuguese.

Graduate and undergraduate submissions are eligible for consideration for the Mary Devine prize of $250.

Contributors may submit essays about or reviews of films that introduce, review, evaluate, and promote discussion of film and literary works concerned with historical topics or themes to the public.

Authors who wish to submit materials may submit manuscripts to Dr. E. Deanne Malpass, Department of History, via email at malpasseliza@sfasu.edu or via CD to P.O. Box 13013, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas, 75962.

Please see http://clioseye.sfasu.edu/ (follow the Clio’s News link) for manuscript guidelines. Essay manuscripts should be no longer than approximately ten standard typed pages.

Deadline for submission: February 15, 2009.

Publication: April, 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shoot 'em up

I read a post by an old college buddy of mine (we have fairly different points of view, for the record). It prompted me to point out an article that I saw in the Dallas Morning News earlier in the year. Read his post - it should make your blood boil when you read the Dallas Morning News. And I suppose, according to the original post my friend made, if your blood boils it is apparently not good, red, American blood.

"Right now, we know Texas is the No. 1 source of weapons smuggled into
Mexico, with most of them coming from Houston and Dallas," Mr. Webb said.
They're bought "by 'straw purchasers' who act as buyers for the cartels."
One of the ATF's biggest cases in Dallas involved a security guard whom
agents documented buying 152 firearms, including 78 Romanian-made assault
rifles, at a Mesquite gun store over four months in 2003.
Agents determined
that Adan Rodriguez was a paid straw purchaser for members of a Mexican cartel.
One of the pistols he bought in Dallas was used in the cartel gunfight near
Reynosa, Mexico, in which two federal police officers were shot. Mr. Rodriguez
was convicted on federal gun charges in 2004 and is serving a 70-year sentence.
Nearly half of the 14,111 firearms recovered and traced in Texas came from
Houston and Dallas, according to a 2007 ATF report. Houston was No. 1, with
3,820, and Dallas close behind at 3,358.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Peregrinos and Burgers

Happy feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe ... tomorrow. In prep for the celebration, I wanted to share a great picture from last year that appeared on the Univision web site.

Who doesn't love a good "Pilgrim's Combo." Yep, for 32 pesos and a few miles walking on your knees you get a double burger, kid sized fries and a small drink.
I put this on my office door last year with a small sign saying "Viva Capitalismo Mexicano." A few people stopped to say that they couldn't believe that a burger and fries in Mexico cost $32 dollars. jajajajaja

Ruben Martinez writes in The Other Side that Mexico was the first post-modern nation 500 years ago. Nothing like a Peregrino Combo to drive home the point.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Little Mad

Botanist Edgar Anderson wrote almost 50 years ago that botany was the prisoner of popularity and not the impulse to investigate areas that were grossly neglected.

I was thinking of this because a colleague asked me about a certain program well known for a particular area in Latin American history. He asked what the "head" of that cadre of specialists focused on as well as what his/her grad students wrote about. When I had to put in words that person's research as well as the grad student's writings I realized that they had all written the same book, only the blanks were different.

How this garbage keeps coming down the pipe as original contributions to the academy is beyond me. When I mentioned this at lunch to one of the deans here who knows the "head" of this cartel, his reply was that the wo/man throws great parties. Seriously. *sigh*

I'm not sure I can look my grad students in the face tomorrow night. Suckers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Viva Mexico

Our little town of 30,000 people out here in the Piney Woods area of East Texas has a pretty healthy number of Catholics. Not too long ago the local Catholic congregation held a "diversity day" parade - a decision that is fitting as it has the most diverse congregation in town with LARGE groups of Filipinos, Latinos, SE Asians, South Asians, East Asians, various recently arrived Europeans, etc.

One of the big floats of the parade was built by the Spanish speaking youth group at the Catholic parish on the south end of town. It was a gigantic red, green, and white thing dripping with young kids hanging off of straw bales, all dressed in the peasant cotton / red scarf set up for boys or the china poblana look for the girls. As the float passed by the statue of the Spanish founder of the town in the main square, one of the boys looked around really fast then threw his machete up in the air and gave a whopping - if quick - Viva Mexico. What followed was rather fun. I gave my automatic Viva from the parade route (I hadn't been back from Guadalajara all that long and such Vivas seem automatic), and I'm not sure who got more stares, the embarrassed kid who shrank down in the straw bales after he shouted his viva, or me, the big gabacho guy with the little blonde boys who responeded to him. Either way, the stares we got were not friendly looks of approbation.

What got me thinking about this was a post I read on the Ask a Cholo web site from a "reader" (are those REAL questions???) about why Mexican and Mexican Americans shout Viva Mexico. The incident in the square came flooding back to my mind, along with statements from Richard Rodriguez in Brown about "culture" and Pamela Voekel's really early work called Peeing on the Palace: Bodily Resistance to Bourbon Reforms. I imagine there was a little bit of Rodriguez's compelling culture driving the kid, but I suppose that the machete made me think that this guy was making his little stand in the middle town with his own sign of resistance.

Thinking about what I said yesterday concerning California or Texas, I imagine in Cali that the float would have been covered with kids shouting Viva Mexico (I actually think I have seen that same float in the Santa Barbara Fiesta Parade with lots of Vivas shouted). Here in East Texas I am having a hard time imagining a float full of shouters.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Texas and California

When I first read Jose Antonio Burciaga's "Drink Cultura" I wasn't entirely convinced that there was a huge difference between Chicanos in California and Tejano Chicanos. Then I moved from California to Texas. I was wrong. Way wrong.

I think I'll start a series of posts on California vs. Texas. First entrants.

Ask a Chola for California (which is, by the way, the most June Cleaver Chola I have ever seen).


Latino Comedy Project for Texas (the "Mex/BC" part 3 had me wet my pants laughing).

El Signo De La Muerte

The Houston Chronicle reported on Saturday that the reinstatement of the death penalty in Mexico is unlikely to get the 2/3 majority needed to reinstate the death penalty there. And while I felt a little more sympathy for Benito Juarez last week, the statement by the La Arquidiócesis Primada de México has gone a long way to get me back on the path. I consistently battle to get my students to see Mexico as a nation that has aspects of political and international leadership that the United States could learn from. But, as the Catholics are putting it, the death penalty is reinstated, we are looking at nothing more than “un instrumento más para la injusticia humana”.
On the other hand, I'd certainly like to see more done by the Catholic Church on the LOCAL level to deny known narcotraficantes the ability to partake in the sacraments as well as participate in the community festivals that help gain them local respect and honor. While some movement was made on that front in the 1990s, I'm not sure much has been done since the response to the killing of Posadas Ocampo.

And my apologies to the Cantinflas fans for the choice of title....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The OTHER Violence in Mexico

As the narco-violence in Mexico grows, my students are expressing extreme distress about our upcoming trip to Mexico City and Oaxaca. Aside from pointing out to them that 2 people an hour are murdered in the US, I pointed out a statistic that worries me a little more. Last year at this time the Calderon administration discussed a fairly disturbing number: 80% of women murderd in Mexico are killed by a family member, and 30% of women assaulted felt the attacker did it out of love. At the same time, Calderon mentioned that the traffic of humans - not just for migration - is the third most profitable crime in Mexico, with 80% of the victims being young girls and women.

I hate that my students watch the news and have a "Barbarous Mexico" moment, one that will probably stop them from going to Mexico and learning more about it in a way that could help them contribute to it as fellow citizens of the world. Well, a way beyond stopping their own possible recreational narcotics habits and funding the cartels...but I guess that is best left for another post.

Monday, December 1, 2008

President Elect Obama on Latin America

This link was President Elect Obama's position on Latin America made in Miami on May 23, 2008.

This link gives you a Senate speech from 2007.

This link gives a video of a speech made in Alexandria Virginia. It is only shows partial statements, so the context may not be full.