Mexican nationalist thought, as articulated by Mexico’s most powerful politicians, scholars, and writers, was never intended to describe the nation as it was or as it is. Instead, it has always expressed aspirations: it has contained multiple and often-conflicting visions of the nation as it could be, should be, or might have been. Such nationalist thinking has followed two broad tracks. One is historical. It argues that the Mexican national character—lo mexicano, mexicanidad, the essence of what it is to be Mexican—was formed through the experience of a national history that was a series of painful and unfair losses overcome by heroism and persistence. This historical narrative begins with the conquest, culminates in the loss of almost half the national territory to the United States in 1848, and is brought to a happy conclusion by the Mexican Revolution. The other track that Mexican nationalist thought has followed has to do with race. Intellectuals and politicians have changed their conceptions of the relationship between Mexico’s indigenous people and other Mexicans over the years, with the most radical shift taking place in the transition from the Porfiriato to the Revolutionary government. But across the modern era in Mexico, the presence of indigenous people, the influence of indigenous cultures, and the memory of indigenous civilizations have shaped how Mexicans understand themselves and their nation. Both of these narratives have changed over time, being rewritten and reconstructed to serve the needs of a national state that was almost constantly in the process of remaking itself from independence through the first half of the 20th century. Both of these nationalist narratives, moreover, have been subject to intense scrutiny from revisionist historians, feminists, indigenous people, and other critics since at least the mid-1960s. Neither of these nationalist narratives has ever been fully accepted by the majority of Mexicans: alternative narratives emerged from—among others—peasant and indigenous communities, urban underclasses, and Catholic groups, and these narratives gave strength and shape to multiple forms of political and cultural resistance. Nonetheless, these twin discourses of Mexican nationalism persist in Mexico because they are embedded in so many aspects of daily life: textbooks, public policies, classic films, monuments, maps, and cookbooks.
Few good, general scholarly overviews of Mexican nationalism from the Independence era to the 2010s are available in English, although Brading 1991 and Lomnitz 2001 (the latter cited under Countermythologies) cover the colonial and early national periods and the post-Revolutionary era, respectively. For the most part, this section contains texts that present or analyze some part of the official history of Mexico, which is one of the two primary underpinnings of Mexican nationalism. This nationalist-historical narrative has been presented in textbooks and political debates, among other sites, and had been an important part of school curriculums from the beginning of public education in Mexico, as shown in Vaughan 1982 and Vaughan 1997. This highly stylized story begins with the preconquest civilizations of Mesoamerica and normally concludes with the Revolutionary governments. A highly influential synthesis, Cosío Villegas 1976, began to open the nationalist-historical narrative to some revisionist accounts and took the story through the upheavals of the late 1960s. More recently, textbooks and reference works have ventured as far as 2010, which makes the story even less smooth and seamless, as in Velásquez García, et al. 2010. However, the more standard account—from the tragedy of the Conquest through the tragedy of the loss of the North, followed by a history centered on the deeds and characters of a small number of political leaders—reemerged in Krauze 1997. The patriotic historical narrative taught in Mexican schools is also embedded in maps, as seen in Craib 2004, and in national holidays, as shown in Beezley, et al. 1994 and Esposito 2010. Sheppard 2016 suggests the uses of this narrative for opponents of the Mexican post-Revolutionary state as well as for its supporters. For the presence of Mexico’s official history in visual art, see the section on Art History. For the philosophical and social-scientific literature, which used this story to underpin essays on the national character, see the sections on the Ensayista Tradition and Critiques of the Ensayista Tradition.
Beezley, William, William E. French, and Cheryl Martin, eds. Rituals of Rule, Rituals of Resistance: Public Celebrations and Popular Culture in Mexico. Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1994.
The articles in this book begin with 16th-century religious festivals and conclude with village brass bands of the 1970s, connecting popular celebrations to the national mythology that grew up around them.
Brading, David. The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492–1867. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Brading argues that Mexicans’ consciousness of themselves as creoles, defined in opposition to peninsulares (Spaniards), developed gradually across the colonial period and determined the form of the Mexican state post-independence.
Cosío Villegas, Daniel, ed. Historia general de México. Mexico City: Colegio de México, 1976.
Although it was never meant as a textbook, this and subsequent editions of the Historia general became the indispensable guide to Mexico’s past for anyone teaching Mexican history. Beginning with cautious departures from the official history, in its final editions (most recently the fourth edition, published in 1998) it had fully incorporated the revisionism offered by social historians.
Craib, Raymond B. Cartographic Mexico: A History of State Fixations and Fugitive Landscapes. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.
This cartographic history demonstrates that maps served as important symbols to unify the country around an identifiable picture. They also helped strengthen Mexico’s national identity domestically and internationally.
Esposito, Matthew D. Funerals, Festivals, and Cultural Politics in Porfirian Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010.
This book examines the importance of state-sponsored funerals and festivals during the Porfiriato, and their relation to the construction of historical narrative and national identity. Esposito argues that commemorations and rituals allowed the state to project its power and create a unified nationalism.
Krauze, Enrique. Mexico, Biography of Power: A History of Modern Mexico, 1810–1996. Translated by Hank Heifitz. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.
Emulating earlier ambitious Mexican intellectuals, Krauze combines a standard account of Mexican history before 1880 with a historical narrative for the Porfiriato and beyond that is, essentially, a series of political biographies of the nation’s rulers. These biographical sketches include some discussion of Krauze’s own relationships with some Mexican presidents.
Sheppard, Randal. A Persistent Revolution: History, Nationalism, and Politics in Mexico since 1968. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016.
Since 1968, both the state and popular movements have evoked historical myths of Mexico’s Revolutionary nationalism as ways to promote or justify their political causes.
Vaughan, Mary Kay. The State, Education, and Social Class in Mexico, 1880–1928. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1982.
The Mexican Revolution made education more accessible, Vaughan writes, while continuing the Porfirian practice of using schools to inculcate national pride and loyalty to the state.
Vaughan, Mary Kay. Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930–1940. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997.
Post-Revolutionary-constructed state schools in rural Mexican communities provided sites for public dialogue that negotiated power between the local and the national. Rural communities used the schools as spaces to protect their local cultures, while the state used schools to craft a multiethnic populist nationalism based on ideas of development.
Velásquez García, Erik, Enrique Nalda, Pablo Escalante Gonzalbo, et al. Nueva historia general de México. Mexico City: Colegio de México, 2010.
This “New Brief History of Mexico” revises Cosío Villegas’s original Breve historia and was written by a team of distinguished historians (like the original). Expanded to sixteen chapters and 818 pages, it retains the structure of the original, organizing Mexican history around political change and—in the modern period—emphasizing the role of the United States. Unlike the original, it brings the story to the moment of its publication.
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