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Mexican Revolution in the Library of Congress.




In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC will inaugurate an online exhibition featuring the materials available for research at that Library in 2010. It is natural, perhaps, to think that the US Library of Congress would have a superlative collection of materials about the Mexican Revolution, one of the most significant events in the history of the Western Hemisphere and certainly a watershed in the twentieth century. However, the Library of Congress is also the Library of the Congress of the United States and, as such, many suppose it to be pre-disposed to collect only those records that pertain to the history of that country. The fact that more items at the Library are in foreign languages than in English should give people a clue that the holdings of the Library are unusual, to say the least. Most national libraries are unparalleled in their collections for their specific country, but give only token attention to other nations and civilizations. At the Library of Congress, the emphasis is precisely the reverse.


It is another paradox that the Mexican Revolution, that most national of events, should have produced so much interplay between Mexico and the United States, for good and for bad, depending on your perspective. Many of the most significant events involving the Revolution had a connection in some way with the United States. That has led to interesting collections in the Library of Congress. For example, the Library of Congress holds the Presidential Papers of most of the US Presidents from George Washington to Herbert Hoover. In the papers of President William Howard Taft (1909-1913), we find several important references to President Porfirio Diaz of Mexico (1877-1880/ 1884-1911). In those unguarded days, President Taft wrote to his wife after meeting the leader of Mexico in 1909 in El Paso, Texas that "President Diaz was a great man and that (he) hoped he would outlive him." He was also impressed by his large collection of medals. President Taft, whose contributions to the building of the Panama Canal and the institution of "Dollar Diplomacy" invasions, saw in President Diaz a bulwark against instability on the southern border of the United States. This impression of the great man would have important ramifications for the Mexican Revolution.

Significant unrest was brewing in Mexico even before Taft placed his trust in Diaz. The depression in the United States economy that began in 1905 walloped Mexico. But even more pressing was the question of the gerontocracy that was building in the Mexican ruling class. In 1910 Porfirio Diaz would be 80 years old, and his Vice-President and successor would be Ramon Corral, who was suspected of having serious health problems. Other possible presidential contenders were Jose Yves Limantour, leader of the cientificos, or those who wanted to apply modern scientific principles to Mexican governance, and General Bernardo Reyes, governor of the state of Nuevo Leon and favored by the military. In March 1908, Pearson's Magazine published James Creelman's interview with the president in which he declared that Mexico was finally ready for democracy and that he would be willing to relinquish his office so that the country could have free elections. Francisco Madero, educated briefly at the University of California, Berkeley, and the son of a wealthy cattle and cotton-raising family in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila, published a book shortly thereafter, La sucesion presidencial de 1910, outlining his plans for political reform, which especially included "no re-election." Both of these works are part of the Library's General Collections.

President Diaz changed his mind or had it changed for him and decided to run for the presidency once more in 1910. According to his vote tallies in the June election, Madero received few votes, perhaps because he and many others in the Anti-Reelectionist Party were in jail, although massive fraud is the usual explanation. By October he had escaped to San Antonio, Texas where he wrote the "Plan of San Luis Potosi" calling for Mexicans to rise up against Diaz on November 20. Although few managed to revolt in support of Madero, that date is generally seen as the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.


One person who did stand up for his political views was Aquiles Serdan of Puebla; the Library has a print by Jose . Guadalupe Posada that expresses the sorrow over the murder of that martyr and his family. Although the police in San Antonio knew of Madero's presence in their city, they somehow did not arrest him, perhaps because of the widespread support he enjoyed among the population there.


Naturally, the national library of the United States holds many items relevant to the two invasions of the US military on Mexican soil during the Revolution itself. The United States' population, particularly on the border, was keenly aware of the hostilities in Mexico. The Mutual Film Company paid Francisco Villa to stage his battles during the daytime so that it could shoot the battles for its newsreels. The Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division has many of these scenes, including depictions of US doctors patching up the Mexican wounded. The films were then shown as newsreels m movie theaters. In 1914. President Wilson dispatched military forces to Veracruz after US sailors were arrested and paraded through the street. The Library has many copies of sheet music reflecting popular sentiment in songs such as "Off to Mexico" by Glenn W. Ashley and "They're On Their Way to Mexico" by Irving Berlin.

The US public was also very interested in General John Jay Pershing's invasion of Mexico in search of Francisco ("Pancho") Villa after the Mexican revolutionary shot up the town of Columbus, New Mexico in 1916. Here too, there are many cartoons including a beauty by Clifford Kennedy Berryman entitled "Hand Carving up a Map of the Southwestern United States." Simultaneously, Europe was engaged in World War I, and that hand in Berryman's cartoon emerges from a sleeve marked with the emblem of the German military, a reflection of the feelings incited by the famous Zimmerman telegram that promised part of the United States to Mexico for its wartime cooperation. In fact, the US military used the Pershing mission as a way to test military equipment such as battlefield kitchens and motorcycle brigades, to say nothing of automobiles.


The exhibition will conclude with a discussion of the impact of the Mexican Revolution on the United States in three very important areas: the resettlement of Mexican refugees in the US; the introduction of muralism in Mexico, particularly by Los tres grandes (Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros); and the growing acceptance of Mexican folkways in the US, particularly in the border area. Thanks to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps held by the Geography and Map Division, the exhibition will display how the population of various US cities changed after 1910. It will also feature a map of the places where the famous muralists painted. Finally, it will highlight "Mexican Cookery for American Homes," published in 1923, by the Gebhardt Chili Powder Company in San Antonio, Texas.

Just as the Mexican Revolution continued from 1910 to 1917, the online exhibition will continue to add items from the Library throughout the centennial of the first successful national insurrection in the Western Hemisphere.

The Library of Congress

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States, is the world's preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library's rich resources and treasures may also be accessed through the Library's website. It is the largest library in the world by far with over 140 million items. Founded in 1800, it was burned along with the US Capitol by British troops in 1814 during the War of 1812. Congress reestablished the Library subsequently by purchasing Thomas Jefferson's personal library and building it from there. The Hispanic Division, established in 1939, is the Library's center for the study of the cultures and societies of Latin America, the Caribbean, the Iberian Peninsula, and other areas with significant Spanish and Portuguese influence.

Dr. Barbara Tenenbaum is a Latin American historian and specialist on Mexican Culture in the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress.
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Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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