The struggle of the masses in Mexico dates back to the early 16th century when Spanish forces invaded the Yucatan and Mexican coasts. In 1521, after two years of vicious fighting, Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) fell to Cortes, and by 1525
Francisco Montejo had conquered the Mayon people. By 1540 most of northern Mexico was under Spanish rule.
Years of oppression followed as the Spanish conquerors tried to pacify the indigenous population. For the next three hundred years Mexico was ruled as a Spanish colony. The native population revolted in 1541, but the uprising was crushed. The
Spanish rulers proceeded to rob Mexico of all its natural resources, mainly silver, and created vast plantations for the export of wheat, sugar cane, etc. By the 17th century the economy of ‘New Spain’ collapsed. Disease and overwork cut the native population from 12 million in 1520 to one million by 1720, but it was not until the early l9th century that major threats to Spanish rule began.
The first revolt occurred in 1810. It was led by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a parish priest who issued ‘Grito de Delores’, calling for an end to Spanish rule, redistribution of land, and empowerment of the masses. Costilla and his followers were captured and executed. A following uprising by Jose Maria Moreles y Pavon in 1814 was also crushed, and the disintegrating independence movement turned to guerilla warfare.
Vicente Guerrero led this new struggle and in 1821 he negotiated a treaty with the ruling Spanish elite to gain self determination for the colony. A congress was elected, and after a military rebellion in 1823 Mexico became a republic.
In 1845 the U.S. Congress voted to annex Texas and war with Mexico ensued. By 1848 North American superiority overwhelmed the Mexican Army, and Utah, Texas, Nevada, California, New Mexico, and most of Colorado came under American control.
In 1857 Benito Juarez issued a new constitution in an effort to abolish the remnants of colonialism. Land reforms did nothing however to improve the lives of the majority of the population who lived in poverty. To make matters worse, civil war broke out in 1858 between the liberals led by Juarez and the conservatives. Juarez was victorious and some of his later reforms helped to lessen the excessive power of the church and the army. His liberal successors were not as successful.
In 1876 Porfio Diaz seized power and his monopoly on political power over the next thirty years was a major cause of the revolution in 1910. The 1910 revolt was led by Francisco i Madero, who advocated neither social reforms nor drastic change. With conservative support, another general, Victoriano Huerta, overthrew Madero. The peasants continued the revolt begun in 1910 and Pancho Villa and Emile Zapata became the two key figures in the struggle against Huerta. Huerta was defeated and control fell into the hands of Venustiano Carranza, a rich landowner who had supported Madero. Civil war broke out between his forces and those of Villa in the north and Zapata in the south. By 1920 the popular uprising had been crushed. A new party, the PNR, then consolidated power, and depression in the 1930’s caused a reversal of land reforms and an
increase in the rich/poor divide. The PNR (now PRI) has ruled Mexico ever since with a peculiar one party system.
In 1968 a major student uprising was crushed and the PRI party became more indifferent towards the oppressed masses On 1 January 1994 the EZLN, an unheard-of revolutionary organisation, seized power in parts of Chiapas, southern Mexico, calling
for the reforms Zapata had fought and died for. Forty thousand federal troops now surround the revolutionaries, and the Mexican government is again under extreme pressure to reform. The struggle of the indigenous and oppressed people of
Mexico has never ceased and the EZLN have captured the imagination and won the support of many.
Throughout its history, Mexico has been a place of speculation for authors around the world. Malcolm Lowery, Fernando Del Paso, D.H. Lawrence, and Graham Greene all contribute to the rich diversity of views with regards to Mexico.
Malcolm Lowery: Under the Volcano
Much like a thriller or a Hitchcock movie, the fate of the two main characters in Under the Volcano is revealed amidst intricate but not obscure flashbacks and stunningly evoked local color. Lowry provides something in keeping with the somber mood of the first chapter: a sense of dread at something that has already happened, a thing so shattering that it has left the survivors no peace. The book concentrates on failure, particularly the failures of the Consul whose only true love comes in a bottle.
A straight-line graphic extends from the end of Chap. 1 across the page to the start of Chap. 2. The time has shifted from the Mexican Day of the Dead –November 1939-to the same celebration exactly one year earlier. The next 11 chapters cover only 12 hours, but they could be a lifetime. Under the Volcano provides a poetic style, replete with literary allusions, punning, and descriptions of Mexico that are less true to physical geography than to a geography of Lowry’s mind.
Fernando Del Paso: Palinuro of Mexico
Palinuro, a medical student, is born into a polygenetic family: Uncle Esteban, who fled from Hungary during the Great War and traveled across the world to Mexico, clinging to his dream of becoming a doctor; Grandpa Francisco, a Freemason and old-time companion of Pancho Villa; Uncle Austin, an ex-British marine; grandmothers, aunts, cousins–an eccentric menage. Since childhood, Palinuro has loved his first cousin, Estefania, with an overwhelming and consuming passion. They indulge their incestuous desires and bizarre fantasies in a room in the Plaza Santa Domingo. Drawing from a cultural cornucopia, del Paso propels Palinuro and his companions though the real and the imaginary realms of mythology, science, politics, social comment, the arts, advertising and pornography.
In the novel, Del Paso concentrates on Mexico’s difficult history and arduous present, about the ambitions of an all-encompassing knowledge, about freedom of body and mind, and about the demons of possibility.
D.H. Lawrence: The Plumed Serpent
Through typical uncontrolled prose, D.H. Lawrence delivers the story of an independent, middle aged woman, Kate Leslie, who becomes involved with the leaders of a new political-mystical religious movement in The Plumed Serpent.
It is the consummate statement of Lawrence’s so-called ‘power period’ in which he dabbles in authoritarian ideology and developed the particular strain of mysogeny for which he became so notorious. But Kate’s love-hate relationship with the intense resurrected religion of Quetzalcoatl is the frame for her relationship with the novel’s three other main characters: Ramon, Cipriano (whom she later marries), and Teresa.
Meant to be a new gospel in itself, The Plumed Serpent provides the reader with a powerfully authentic record of Lawrence’s complex experience. The novel also penetrates the psychological depths and offers the true reality of the Mexican.
Graham Greene: The Power and the Glory
Greene’s The Power and the Glory details the struggle between good and evil, heaven and hell, and church and state. Greene addresses the oldest questions of humanity, and his work speaks to the secret places of the spirit, this undoubtedly brought on by his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1926.
Greene’s whiskey priest struggles with his faith throughout the novel; he is simply an instrument – in the hands of Greene – and in the hands of God. However, the protagonist is glorified in the novel. His actions are done not for the good of the people the priest is doing them for, but to relieve his own sins and guilt. Greene utilizes and masters many literary devices and mental ingenuities to make this whiskey priest out to be the savior of Mexico and her people. And in the end, it is the Power and the Glory of God that prevails.
Authors from many backgrounds share similar visions of Mexico as a brutal and unforgiving territory. Still, each author offers different interpretations of what Mexico is truly like. These brief synopses will hopefully lead you to a greater understanding of Mexico as viewed by authors this century.
Other Suggested Readings
Rulfo, Juan, Pedro Paramo Serpents Tail/Grove Press, New York 1994.
Sabines, Jaime Pieces of Shadow Papeles Privados, Mexico City 1995.
Aguilar Camin, Hector In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution: Contemporary Mexican History (1910-1989) Texas University Press, Austin 1994.