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Latin America perspectives a series of information and comment about Latin America with Dr. C. Harvey Gardner research professor of history at Southern Illinois University. These programs are recorded by station w s r u FM. Here now is Dr. Gardiner. Our southern neighbor Mexico. Is and always has been the land of the tenacious struggle. Those of you who have seen the Mexican coat of arms recall that the serpent is in the beak of the eagle the eagle is standing on the cactus. The cactus is growing out of a rock which is thrust up out of the lake. There is struggle in the cactus growing out of the rock. Their struggle in the serpent being torn by the beak of the eagle. And the history of Mexico makes appropriate in all time this the indication of
the tenacious struggle. Indeed the period of the conquest when Spaniard fought Indian in one of the most dramatic of all encounters of widely divergent civilizations. We have a tenacious struggle and then centuries later when calmness wearied of being dependent upon motherland. There was another tenacious struggle the struggle that lasted considerably more than a decade when Mexico won its independence and then in years of independence. Sometimes subtle and not obvious and sometimes so obvious as to be not at all subtle. There was a tenacious struggle between the Liberals and the conservatives and in more recent times there has been a struggle in Mexico concerning the tenure of the old order and the
coming of modernity. A new historian writing about the history of Mexico in the full sweep of the total story. Charles C. Cumberland has authored a volume entitled Mexico the struggle far modernity published by Oxford University Press. Mexico has been the object of attention in full historical sweep of other writers as well in the English language. Indeed from the vantage point of the United States. But only within the last half century has this call it the dignified cation of the Mexican record. Been such that the students north of the Rio Grande day have had English language texts in which to survey the history of the southern neighbor. In the 1920s volume was written by a man named Priestly. That was
heavily on the political and indeed drab Blee done and so has long since outlived its usefulness. That was replaced by a volume by a man named Parkes much more dramatic much more interesting. And yet Parkes has held the field has had a monopoly because indeed it has been the only thing with the coming of the Cumberland volume which is indeed the third volume in a new series of Latin American histories by Oxford University Press. There is a choice. Indeed there is an improvement at the same time though there are strengths and weaknesses in this latest Anglo-American statement of Mexican history and I would like to refer referring to the book itself and the writing of Cumberland to some of the strengths and weaknesses. One great strength in this book is the fact that it has a social dimension and indeed an economic
dimension that has not previously been brought in to such brief historical surveys of Mexico. Let me for example turn to a section in a chapter entitled marking time where in Cumberland writes in one short span during 1843 brigand robbed seven consecutive stages from Vera Cruz to Mexico City and as late as 1863 three consecutive shipments of bar silver and gold from one mine and seen a lot fell to highwayman robberies on the road were so common that all shipments of valuables of any kind were heavily escorted frequently by hired gunmen some of whom acted as scouts for the road agents. And every stage stop maintained an emergency supply of blankets and clothing to cover passengers denuded by the brigand's on one occasion a group of passengers arrived in Mexico City
covered only by old newspapers. Mexican transport may not have served the economy particularly well but it certainly had zest. These words by Cumberland point up the fact that a century and a quarter ago the roads did not make possible the social the economic unification of Mexico and indeed they were one great barrier to its advance toward modern times. In that same period. That is I repeat entitled marking time. A century and a quarter ago we read this about the Mexican farmer it being remembered. There are more farmers than at any other work category in all Mexico even today. The Mexican agriculturists be set by a climate a transportation system a disturbed political condition and a mentality that militate against any real
progress continued to apply the rudimentary technology which characterized the colonial period the primitive digging stick the ineffectual ox drawn wooden plow and all the other wasteful and inefficient practices he retained the agricultural revolution then in process in Western Europe and in the United States passed him by completely. And such inefficiency takes its toll. In spite of the low wages paid to agricultural workers in some regions as low as 25 cents a day and in the highest less than a peso the costs of production were prohibitively high at a time when cotton sold for 15 cents a pound in U.S. markets. A Vera Cruz producer spent 13 cents a pound to get his fiber from the field to the buyer. Prices of products varied enormously from place to place depending upon the
abundance of the local crop sugar which cost a penny a pound to produce sometimes sold far less than that in the immediate vicinity. But for 25 cents a pound in regions distant from the cane fields. Wheat which cost five and a half pesos to produce sometimes sold for three and a half pesos as a consequence. The planter perceived a bountiful harvest to be and a Lloyd disaster if he so luckily he could do so at a loss and if he moved his crop to another region the transportation costs the taxes and the middle man share would eat up any profit. This is but another statement by Cumberland pointing up the fact that modernity in Mexico has to a remarkable degree in the economic world been synonymous with a better transport system. We know today of course that the planes fly to
many parts of Mexico but there are indeed thousands upon thousands of miles of paved highway and efficient operating railroads. All of this then is part of the story of the move from the last century to the present century of the throwing off of that old order. In this the battle that has brought on modernity. I mentioned earlier that the social factor has also crept into the writing by Cumberland to a degree that makes this history refreshing as well as more complete in 1064 the capital of Mexico had 51 cantinas but it turn of century there were thirteen hundred bars at any given moment. It would have been possible to crowd about one fifth of the total population into the drinking establishments. In contrast to the thirteen hundred bars there were only 34 bakeries
furnishing the entire city with bread for every three milk cows in the vicinity of the capital. There were two shops selling alcoholic beverages. One journalist in 1895 calculated that on the national average the Mexican spent nearly 30 percent more per year for alcohol than did the Dutch. In spite of the vast difference in average income and that the Mexican consumes 30 percent more than the French. And that among alcoholics the death rate was nearly three times as high as that in England. At about the same time a doctor who devoted his time to a demography as well as medicine gave the death rate due to alcoholism as six times that frets. Over consumption of alcohol may have created social problems but it made a booming business for those who specialized in its production meaning those who had plantations or rather the ranch is featuring the MCG a cactus
from which PL K.. The native beer like beverage was to be derived. There have been social problems then that Mexico has had to face. There have been transport problems. There have indeed been political problems. In Cumberland history of Mexico there are then assets in the social and economic emphases there are several liabilities however. One can read of the conquest of Mexico for example and not get a meaningfully clear crisp statement of this conflict between Spaniards and Indian. One can read of the dynamic period that was Juarez's leadership of the reform movement and have it all tucked into a chapter as though it were a part of marking time instead of an explosive step toward tomorrow. We have a limited statement of the
War of Independence which likewise becomes one of the liabilities in this. And so the military has been deflated. The political has in part been made to share space with the social economic picture. Perhaps this means and all a better balanced treatment of Mexican history. And we have previously had this writing. I might add it is readable and hence aimed at the general reader. This writing I might add is reliable and hence is aimed at the student. This work then that now becomes Vol. 3 in the series of Latin American histories of Oxford University Press is the finest general statement we have had of Mexican history. And this is available to us in a form that suggests a measure of balance.
Such as we have not previously known. The epic revolution is here. The age of Porfirio Diaz the dullness that is that marking time prior to the long stretch that is the colonial period to call the War of Independence an attempt at revolution is perhaps to misstate it to call the dynamic period of the reform marking time is to misstate it. But there was a great deal of confusion in Mexican history. There is a great deal of light in this history of it. Charles Cumberland's Mexico the struggle from a der Nitty is recommended to you. This was another programme in the series Latin America perspectives with Dr. C. Harvey Gardner research professor of history at Southern Illinois University. Join us for our next program when Dr. Gardner will comment on another interesting aspect of Latin American affairs. These programs are recorded by station WFIU FM and are made available to this station by the national
educational radio network.
Latin American perspectives II
Episode Number
Episode 17 of 38
Producing Organization
WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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For series info, see Item 3544. This prog.: Mexico: The Struggle for Modernity
Global Affairs
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Producing Organization: WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Producing Organization: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-31-17 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:13:49
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Chicago: “Latin American perspectives II; Episode 17 of 38,” 1969-01-13, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 29, 2024,
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APA: Latin American perspectives II; Episode 17 of 38. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from