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.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Enlightened Voyeurism?

Talking about torture today... and I don't mean the matanza on the television of Gambia by Mexico (5-1 !).

The Antiguo Palacio de la Inquisicion off calle Brasil is a somber building. After independence and with the help of some liberals and later the Revolution, the building became the medical school. Indeed, the most "Stalinist" room in the place is a somber chamber with giant busts of medical school heroes and a massive homenaje on one wall to - you guessed it - Plutarco Elias Calles. If ever there was a guy we would associate with improving the medical school in the former inquisitorial house, that's him. At any rate, the bulk of the exhibits are dedicated to indigenous medicinal plants, old X-ray machines, examination tables, etc. There is even a small art gallery that has some miscellaneous clergy from the colonial period and space for temporary exhibit's (Paula Santiago's blood and hair clothes are on exhibit there now).

Disturbing, however, is an exhibit tucked away in the prison cells of the inquisition on the inquisition. It is "London Dungeon tour" en extremis: nude and tortured manequins, leering clergy, dramatic music, and video clips snagged from "Secret Files of the Inquisition" and "Goya's Ghosts." It is, in sum, the black legend writ large, and after passing through the exhibit one wonders who anybody in Europe or New Spain survived the *dramatic music* Spanish Inquisition.

My first thought was that this was a natural extension of the state project: demonize religious institutions while briefly mentioning that secular institutions have put far more folks in the ground than the Inquisition could ever hope to. Then I turned my academic brain off and looked around me - who was there beside el gringo gordo? Teens. On dates. In the cool dark, kanoodling over live images of women, breasts laid bare and vaginas impaled on torture racks. The second largest groups? Well, since kids under 13 enter free.... yep, mothers and little kids. There's nothing like seeing a mom explain the wheel or asphyxiation to a 5 year old.

Considering the Mexican tabloids bloody presentation, I think chalking this up to a secular state project is far from the case and instead represents a Mexico comfortable with its medieval past, and at times, medieval present in a way that those of English descent in the USA have never been able to come to terms with. For Mexico, seeing this medieval torture as part of the past that you are comfortable with means that you work to erase those problems in the present. For Americans, I think we consider the Protestant atrocities as part of a past not our own. As such, when we torture or kill we see it as necessary, as something that isn't really a crime because that is not what we do. In Mexico they admit that it is part of their past and their present, and they embrace the idea that a civil society needs to be created to eliminate such actions. In the United States, we tell ourselves that such actions need to be taken to preserve civil society.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Electrical Union Update

Met last night in Casa de los Amigos with a group of electrical workers. They say that starting at 10am yesterday morning military and police in Cuernavaca attacked and then blockaded an electricians union outpost. At this point, said the group, they have given up on getting jobs back and want to change the entire social structure of the country. They´have united themselves with a teacher protest that should be going off on Saturday, and they have attached themselves to the political prisoners from Atenco movement. They say that despite the attack on the hunger strikers that tried to go to mass in the Catedral Metropolitana, there are a number of priests that are supporting their movement and that those priests are under heavy pressure from above.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Sorry... the account got hacked and I was off line for a couple of days. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Another Village Church, Another Love Triangle

In the 1930s a pentecostal preacher headed for the Mezquital plain in Hidalgo where he had little success in gaining converts. Traveling out to the villages, the populace rejected him (at times with violence) and he found himself in the town of Ixmiquilpan - what passes for a "big town" in the area. There he had some success gaining converts and, with the help of the army, he built a chapel and started a religious colony - Colonia Evangelica. The Summer Language Institute supplied Otomi bibles, and the congregation was set.

Jobs in the colony were parceled out to members only, and such an offer brought in converts from the pueblos that had previously rejected the preacher. Once migrants were converted and given jobs, missionaries easily penetrated their home pueblos and gained more converts in the area. Of course, the PRI was the political patron of the Pentecostals, and with institutional support, Pentecostalism throve in the area.

Flash forward to 2005. When a prominent Pentecostal preacher died, Catholics refused to allow him burial in the local municipal cemetery - mostly because they claimed he had never contributed to the upkeep of the place. Evangelical Christians in Hidalgo organized a protest in response, blockading the highway to Pachuca and shutting down trade and business along the route until the governor of Hidalgo offered to meet with them. However, in elections just a short time later, PRIistas were handed their heads - on plates - by an Evangelical voting bloc that sent a message to the parties - support our causes or find yourself on the loosing end of the vote.

With presidential elections two years away, and evangelical christian growth in Mexico growing steadily, we may be looking at a new player in Mexico's national elections - not just on the regional level.

For more on the topic, see Guillermo de la Pena's "El Campo Religioso, La Diversidad Regional." See also Joseph Contreras' In the Shadow of the Giant: The Americanization of Mexico, chapter 12 called "The Evangelical Challenge." Contreras, as a reporter, gets a little melodramatic at times, and could certainly use a history lesson or two, but it is an interesting book to chew on.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Another Boycott of Arizona

This just in from the Rocky Mountain Council of Latin American Studies:
FYI: In Boulder, the RMCLAS Executive Committee decided that the 2012 meeting (remember the the 2011 meeting will be in Santa Fe) would be held in Tucson, Arizona, but last week the Executive Committee voted unanimously to revoke that decision according to the following motion:
That the Rocky Mountain Council of Latin American Studies (RMCLAS) Executive Committee revoke its previous decision to hold the RMCLAS 2012 meeting in Tucscon, AZ. RMCLAS strongly opposes Arizona legislation SB 1070. We support our Arizona univeristy colleagues who protest this as an unjust law and we agree to boycott Arizona venues until the law is repealed.
The Executive Committee is investigating alternative sites and we look forward to successful meetings in 2011 and 2012.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Publicidad: Lessons From Eight

Whether you are a fan of Prop Eight in California or not, argues La Opinion this week, what Latinos need to learn from that California Vote on same-sex marriage is that a minority using publicity can get what it wants done. A publicity fight, they argue, which needs to be taken to "white" TV:
De nada sirve hacerlo en nuestros canales latinos, son poquísimas las personas de nuestra raza que no nos apoyan. Unos cuantos rezagados Minutemen con rostros latinos que salen de vez en cuando diciéndonos que nos vayamos.
Face time is what a good PR push needs, and perhaps if anything positive can come out of the Arizona debacle, it will be to find a solution to a situation where the border of two neighbors is increasingly militarized, often by private parties (though I doubt that is what Milton Friedman has in mind regarding a free market).

On a side note, the La Opinion piece highlights another of the great ironies of this debate: much of the support for 8 in California came from religiously conservative Latinos. I'd be curious as to where various individuals that worked against 8 come down on the Arizona laws.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Suburban Dallas kids are shipping cash south of the border. They've sent tens of thousands in funds to Ciudad Juarez in the last couple of years, a city wracked with drug violence in what feels like a perpetual duel between narco-entrepreneurs. Why?

In 2004 White Rock Elementary adopted Escuela Soccorro Rivera in Ciudad Juarez and has raised $65,000 in funds via read-a-thons for supplies and maintenance. Some might see it as a paternalistic US butting in again, but I would tend to see this as a way to make US students appreciate what they have, get to know Mexico a little better, and help some fellow travelers at the same time.

It may seem small, but I needed to hear some good news this week.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Red,White, and Green Makes Mex Blue

Sol de Toluca published a report today from a psychologist saying that the central government contributes to low self esteem among Mexicans so that they don't value their rights and become ripe for social, political, and economic "manipulation." The prime culprit appears to be education which fails, according to psychologist Claudia de Mendieta, to encourage students to be critics of the system and demand rights. Says she:
"La manipulación social es muy fuerte. Aunada, además, a las cuestiones prácticas de pobreza, sabemos que la manipulación es burda: intercambian un voto por una torta, pero muchas veces el intercambio del voto tiene que ver con una manipulación psicológica".
On a similar note, The Chronicle of Higher Education notes in the April 30th issue commemorating Kent State that student activism on campuses in the United States is at an all-time low. Education costs, lack of connection to community, technology, and entertainment all work as factors to isolate students from political action, argues Jerry Lembcke, a sociologist at Holy Cross. Campuses and economies have changed, argues Lembcke, not students.