By Herbert Cerwin
REYNAL 8c HITCHCOCK NEW YORK
I. INTRODUCTION TO MEXICO ...... 11
II. THE MEXICAN PEOPLE . ..... .3
III. THE SILENT SHADOW . . 33
IV. THE STATES OF MEXICO . 44
V. MEXICO CITY* i .. . . 57
VI. MEXICO CITY 2. . .. 67
VII. MEXICO BEGINS TO HELP ITSELF 78
VIII. "So FAR FROM GOD AND SO NEAR THE UNITED
STATES" . . 95
IX. FROM YESTERDAY'S PAST TO TOMORROW'S
FUTURE ............ 109
X. ARTS AND CRAFTS . . 122
XI. DEATH, FIESTAS AND MUSIC .. 137
XII. MEXICANS ARE ARDENT LOVERS. . 149
XIII. IT'S THE ALTITUDE! . .. .. 163
XIV. THE GREAT GOD CORN . . 172
XV. OF BLOOD, REVOLUTION AND LAND . 88
XVI. WEALTH AND TROUBLE UNDER THE SOIL 204
XVII. SAINTS, ANGELS AND TEACHERS . 220
XVIII. REPORT ON THE HEALTH OF A NATION 234
XIX. Too MUCH TEQUILA . . 247
XX. WHAT MEXICO EATS . . 259
XXI. How MEXICO ENTERTAINS ITSELF .. 271
XXII. THE CHURCH IN MEXICO . 284
XXIII. DEMOCRACY- MEXICAN STYLE . 304
XXIV. GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES 320
XXV. THE SUMMING UP . . 334
PHOTOGRAPHS . . 351
HISTORICAL TIMETABLE OF MEXICO .353
MEXICAN WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS USED 359
NOTES, REFERENCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 366
ACKNOWLEDGMENT . 379
INDEX . ......... 380
ON OCCASIONS when the rains of summer have stopped and the
cool winds of the north have brought deep snow to the peaks of
Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, I like to climb to where
black volcanic ash and snow begin to blend. Though it is still
far from the top, it is a good fourteen thousand feet above sea
level. At this altitude on a clear day one can see the great val-
ley of Mexico which stretches for many miles on a plateau
that is itself over seven thousand feet high.
It was from here that Cortns and his group of Spanish sol-
diers saw Mexico City for the first time. It was from here too,
from the mouth of Popocat6petl, that they gathered sulphur to
replenish the gunpowder they used to conquer the New World.
On those occasions when I get up to the snow line, I am apt
to sit there and think of Mexico, of its many struggles and prob-
lems. They all seem very clear up there; only the big issues
stand out, and for the moment I can forget the political frauds,
the graft and corruption and the minor day-by-day irritations.
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
But when I go below again and mingle with the people and
face the realities of their existence, it is then that I become
troubled and the conflict within me starts. For I have a deep
regard for this Mexico in which I live, yet I want to be honest
in my thinking about it. In doing so, the truth comes out, and
the truth is not always pleasant. But then neither is it about
In the many years since we as a nation began rubbing
shoulders with this next-door neighbor, we have been forming
a composite picture of a Mexico that is not Mexico. We think
of Mexico as romantic, as picturesque, as a place where life is
easy and where everyone has a song in his heart. We also see it
as a poor country with its poverty-stricken people engaged in
one revolution after another. An Indian asleep under a serape
and sombrero, instead of an eagle with a snake in its beak, is
the national symbol of Mexico that we have come to accept.
There are many who say that Mexico is difficult to under-
stand, that the people are entirely our opposites and we shall
never really know them. But I do not agree. I do not believe
Mexico is difficult to know or understand. I do not think the
people are fundamentally different from us. It is true that
Mexico is a country of extremes and contrasts, born of conflict
and of bloodshed. But what nation has not suffered so? What
people have been always at peace with themselves? Heritage
and borders may fence in a race and a nation; but basically
all people are motivated by the same forces and emotions.
I do not say that the Mexican people are like the Americans.
I do not say Mexico is like the United States. But I do say that
only certain circumstances made one a world power while the
other lagged behind. Even at the beginning of the nineteenth
century both countries were matched alike in the land they
controlled and the population they possessed. Mexico had
about six million inhabitants, the United States the same.
INTRODUCTION TO MEXICO
Today Mexico has twenty-five million and Continental United
States one hundred and thirty-two million, nearly seven times
as many. What happened during the century and a half in
which the United States went forward at such speed while
Mexico fell back?
These are the things we shall attempt to explain; these are
the things we must understand before we know Mexico. It is
important too that we become better acquainted, for since
Mexico is our next-door neighbor its future is closely linked
to ours. It is ironic that in the past we ignored it for so long,
preferring to associate ourselves with the culture of the Old
World. We knew little of what Mexico had within its borders;
we neither knew nor cared what was happening there. By 1930,
however, American tourists really began to discover Mexico,
and since then their number has grown to multitudes. We are
finally realizing that Mexico is not just made up of Indians,
cacti and bandits.
It was natural for us to have some preconceived notions
about Mexico and its people. It is a country which lends itself
easily to romantic packaging and sentimental fallacy; we have
made the most of this superficial surface. We rarely scratch
deeply below it, but when we do we learn there is nothing
mysterious, nothing strange about Mexico and its people.
Our purpose, then, is to cut through the surface layer and
attempt to see what's under it. For if we are to understand
Mexico, we must make as honest and as deep observation as
we can. We must get to know its conflicts, its problems and the
forces that have held it back; at the same time we must analyze
its present-day progress and the future that is within its grasp.
I have said that Mexico is a country of great extremes and
of deep contrasts; so are the people. At times they can be quite
unpredictable. But when we know this, we do not expect the
impossible and so we are not disappointed.
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
A few days ago a doctor friend telephoned. "I shall pick
you up in an hour if you are free," he said, "and we'll lunch
together." I accepted. He failed to show up.
The next day I saw him. "What happened?" I asked. "I
just couldn't make it," he said, "I'm sorry."
His intentions were good. He had meant to meet me. He
didn't believe he was being discourteous, he was just being in-
formal. It didn't enter his mind that he might have incon-
Not all Mexicans are like that, though punctuality and de-
pendability, for many reasons which we shall see later, have
never been their strong points. I remember once when we
were having some furniture made, we were warned that
months would pass before it was finished. Yet it was delivered
on the day it was promised.
Mexicans can also be inconsistent. The railways, for ex-
ample, boast that their trains always leave exactly on schedule,
but offer no excuse for the fact that they never arrive on time.
Even geographically there is deep contrast. Though Mexico
City is in the tropics, it can get as cold as Chicago on a wintry
In natural resources, Mexico is one of the richest countries
in the world. Yet it cries out that it is poor, and within its
very capital it has tragic, terrible poverty.
In an election, the winning candidate may get the least
A death in a family may frequently become the occasion for
much feasting and drinking and the wake usually turns into an
orgy for the men. A funeral procession in the villages generally
has an orchestra or a band, playing pieces such as Balalaika ir
Thirty-nine years ago, Flandrau in Viva Mexico! wrote that
INTRODUCTION TO MEXICO
at the hotel he stayed in the door latches were upside down.*
Thirty-nine years later, we are in a newly constructed hotel
in Guadalajara .The latches are upside down.
Mexico has twenty-five million people. Of these, four to six --
million are Indians speaking some eighty-six indigenous lani-
guages and more than forty dialects. Only about 45 per cent- -
of the population can read and write.
For rulers, it has had an Austrian prince as an emperor, an
Oaxaca Indian who was the Lincoln of his time, and a mestizo
dictator for a quarter of a century; it has also had a president
who remained in office for forty-five minutes.
Mexico may kill off its patriots, but it doesn't kill its pres-
idents as frequently as we generally believe. Only two have
been assassinated in office, or one less than in the United
Mexico is go per cent Catholic, but no priest can walk down
the street in clerical garb and even the ringing of church bells
is subject to municipal law. More churches have been ran-
sacked and burned and more priests have been slain in Mexico
than anywhere else in the world. Practically all of its presi-
dents and leaders have been Masons.
Between the years 1912 and 1944, more than seventy million
acres of land were broken up into small parcels and given to
farm workers. During the six-year regime of President CAr-
denas, forty-five million acres were expropriated and dis-
tributed. In the same period, all American and British oil
interests were taken over by the government.
Mexico wants foreign capital without the foreigners. No
naturalized Mexican citizen can hold office as president, as
See Notes, References, and Bibliography, page 366, for references
and additional information. Further use of footnotes has been avoided.
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
a cabinet member, senator, congressman or judge; nor can he
be a customhouse official, a captain of a ship or an airplane
Despite its noble Mayan and Aztec heritage, it is a country
with a tremendous inferiority complex. Although the Mexi-
cans maintain that they have no racial discrimination, the
people are divided into various classes: the whites, who are
in the minority; the mestizos, part Indian, part white, who
are the masses; and the Indians, a silent shadow which cannot
be ignored. Some of the whites are liberal, but the majority
are reactionaries who hold themselves with aristocratic aloof-
ness from the rest. They see themselves as the gente decent,
the decent people.
Of these three groups, the mestizos are the most important
if for no other reason than that they far outnumber the others.
They are and will always be Mexico. What progress Mexico
has made in the last twenty-five years has been largely their
doing; what it will do tomorrow is also in their hands. For
eventually they will not only absorb the gente decent andseize
their power, but they will absorb the Indians as well. Biolog-
ically and historically the country is working to this end.
Yet the gente decent will not allow their influence to slip
easily from them; neither will the Indians abandon their
mountains and intermarry unless something better is offered.
But Mexico is changing, the people are changing and the solu-
tion may come with that change. So far it has been obstructed
by graft and corruption and by halfway measures of the gov-
ernment. As we shall see, Mexico's failures have been the fail-
ures of some of its leaders, who have been more interested in
enriching themselves than in helping the people. Mexico has
been caught within a vicious circle of its own making; it has to
break it to push forward, and this it is now attempting to do.
Many of us, as I said, imagine the Mexicans as a happy-go-
INTRODUCTION TO MEXICO
lucky people without a worry in the world, and we have been
led to believe that their philosophy of life revolves around the
word ma~nana. We admire the Indians for their apparent con-
tentment and their freedom from civilization. We ask: Why
change them? Are they not better as they are, singing their
funny songs and getting drunk on pulque and tequila? They
are happy in their own way or they wouldn't be taking siestas
all the time. Besides, they are picturesque in their serapes and
But no Mexicans except Indians wear serapes, and they
wear them because they are cold. They take siestas by the road-
side because they have been working since dawn, and because
the intestinal parasites that many of them have leave their
bodies dry of energy. If we were to look behind that gay serape
we would find tragedy and drama, suffering and sickness and
a meager living scratched out of the hard, arid earth. Their
songs may sound amusing to foreign ears, but the words are
sad. They get drunk, not to celebrate but generally to forget.
They laugh because they might as well laugh as cry.
Because Mexico City is a city of extremes, visitors, on their
arrival, are usually surprised. They discover that Mexico City
is a big modern metropolis, like San Francisco or Cleveland
but more sophisticated and cosmopolitan. It has skyscrap-
ers, fine apartment buildings, elaborate restaurants and night
clubs more expensive than in New York. There is an interna-
tional set and a caf6 society. There are the diplomats who
never tire of entertaining one another; there is the foreign col-
ony that remains very much by itself; and of course there are
the conservative old families, proud of their Spanish blood and
rococo furniture, who when they entertain still toast the ghost
of Porfirio Dfaz. There are also country clubs with golf courses,
auto courts and fine hotels which cater to the American tourist
trade; there are smaller hotels with bedbugs as there are in
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
Boston or Kansas City. There are taxis with fleas but there
are also taxis with fleas in Philadelphia.
Mexico City has its opera season, symphony concerts and art
exhibitions. The streets are crowded with automobiles, the
department stores packed. It is prosperous and busy, with a
population of two million. Its businessmen are hard and
shrewd and as cagey as Yankee traders. It is called the Paris of
But ten minutes by car out of the city, a farmer can be seen
planting corn with a wooden stick as did his ancestors cen-
turies ago. Forty minutes from the city, up a crooked dirt road
in the Toluca hills, the village of Guadalupita is much as it
was five hundred years ago.
We go there sometimes on Sundays. When we do we usually
stop to visit old Faustino Perez, who with his son, Gabino,
makes serapes on hand looms. Faustino with his fine-carved
yellowish face must be sixty.
Tourists seldom come to the village, because the road is bad,
but buyers from the stores come frequently. There are not
many families in Mexico who make serapes as beautiful as
those of Faustino and his son.
"How are you feeling?" I asked him the last time we saw
"Not so well," he said.
"It is my kidneys."
"Why don't you go to the city and see a doctor?"
"It is true, I should. But one is so busy these days. All the
time they want to buy more serapes. One cannot make them
fast. For the good ones it takes me almost a month."
"You could put in more looms and set your daughters to
work," I suggested.
INTRODUCTION TO MEXICO
"One does not make scrapes like that," he said with pride.
"One must have a feeling for it in the hands, in the heart.
Come, let me show you what my son is doing."
We followed him inside the hut. It has a dirt floor but, be-
cause this family is richer than most, there are two iron beds.
On the table is an altar with candles, some red carnations and
a framed picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint
of Mexico. In the corner are two looms. Gabino, who was
operating one of them, greeted us but did not stop working.
The serape on his loom was half finished. It had an intricate
design of soft colors.
The old one, Faustino, pointed' to the hand-drawn design
above the loom which the son used as his guide. "He has drawn
it himself," Faustino said. "Is it not beautiful?"
We examined the design on the wrapping paper. We knew
that the son could neither read nor write, but that he was
quick and clever with the pencil. We complimented them
"You see," the old man said, "to make such a serape one
must have a feeling for it first. Perhaps one of my daughters
could do it. Who knows? But it is not the work of a woman.
Besides, they are busy getting married and having children.
That is their work."
We left the loom. On the bed was an old serape, one of the
finest we had seen.
"May I look at it?" I asked.
"Certainly," Faustino replied.
We took it out into the afternoon light to examine it more
closely. It was thick and soft. The design was simple and pow-
erful and the colors striking. In all of Mexico there are not
many like this one.
"Faustino, will you sell it to us?" I asked.
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
"It is not for sale. It is ours."
"But I'll pay you what you ask for it. Besides, you could
make another one like it."
The old one shook his head, a faint smile on his lips.
"It would not be like it. One cannot repeat oneself, is that
not the truth?"
Yes, it is the truth, old Faustino. You and your son, who
cannot read or write, make beautiful things.
"Perhaps next time," I said, "anyway we'll come and see you
"Always my home is yours," he said and followed us to the
We went down the road and across the creek that is impass-
able in the rainy season. There are other friends to visit in the
neighboring villages, men and women who make baskets and
toys and mold clay figures and water jars. Other artists like
Faustino and his son Gabino. They work in the cold, damp
corners of their huts and sometimes outside among the pigs
and the chickens; but they do not work at their crafts all of the
time. In the early mornings they are in the milpas attending
to their corn and beans.
Ignorant, dirty, good-for-nothing Indians, they are called.
But they are Mexico. They are the Mexico we know so little
about. They are the Mexico which needs help and gets only
Only a few days ago we were with friends in the mountains,
on the trails above Malinalco. The trip is fresh in my mind;
so is Mardufio, who took care of our horses and walked silently
behind us. He obviously had something on his mind but not
until we were ready to part did he come out with it.
"Sefior," he said, holding his hat in his hand, his obsidian-
black eyes looking at us timidly, "will you not do me a favor?"
INTRODUCTION TO MEXICO
"What is it, Mardufio?"
"Could you not send me some of the pamphlets the govern-
ment has that teaches one to read and write?"
"Of course. But did not a shipment of them get to your
"Si, senior, but they were not given to us."
"Who knows, senior?"
"I'll send you some, Mardufio, but when will you have time
to study them?"
"In the evenings, senior. The evenings are long."
Yes, Mardufio, the evenings are long and the months and the
years are long. You'll learn to read and write and others like
you will too. Then they can't keep things from you, Mardufio,
for that's what they are doing, the presidents municipals and
the politicians. They don't want you to learn; but you will,
Yesterday afternoon I mailed the pamphlets to him, but I
wonder if he will study them, if he will ever have the time,
or if he will use them to start a fire, as others have used
them? For publishing pamphlets on reading and writing is
not enough; it is again a halfway measure. The people need
more than pamphlets, they need real help and opportunity.
At the moment I wish I were up there on the snow line of
the two volcanoes. But instead of the fantasies dreamed up
there, I think of agrarian workers sitting in the early evening
by the dying embers of a fire. I can see them sitting by the hour
on their haunches, not once exchanging a word, their faces
stolid and fixed, like the wooden masks they use for their
dances. There is an oriental stillness about their faces-one
sees these same expressions in China and India. What's going
on inside their heads? What are they thinking and feeling?
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
I also think of Mardufio and his long evenings, and of Faus-
tino asleep alongside his wife under that fine serape made by
his soft, gentle hands.
Why have these people not developed their human resources
and their great natural wealth except as it has been exploited
by others? Why has the course of their history been so differ-
ent from that of the United States? It is no answer to say, "Oh,
they're just Mexicans."
THE MEXICAN PEOPLE
THE PEOPLE of the United States and Mexico have many things
in common, and one of them is that neither country knows
the facts about the other. They have some strange ideas about
us and we about them. So we might as well begin by clearing
up a few of these false impressions.
For one thing, most Mexicans are a mixture of foreign stock, --
as we ourselves are, but Mexico did not have the mass immi-
gration from many countries that we had. Also, we killed off
most of our Indians while Mexico didn't, which on God's
ledger is a credit on their side. There is therefore less variety -
of blood mixture in Mexico than in the United States, very
little racial discrimination and no Negro problem. The few
Negroes who were brought in were absorbed. The Indians
have never been a color problem; no Indian has ever had to
ride in a separate part of a train or bus, nor has his color
been a bar to opportunity. The problem has been fundament-
ally economic and political, not social.
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
In the same way that the United States is a country of immi-
grants, Mexico too was created through immigration, though
Sit was exclusively Spanish. But unlike the Pilgrims, the Span-
Siards came as conquerors, more interested in finding gold than
in establishing a colony. They were a tough lot of adventurers
and soldiers with no puritanical scruples. In the name of the
Spanish Crown they took to bed as many of the fairest Indian
Smaids as they could get their hands on.
Even Hernan Cortes himself, being a realist and knowing
that often the power of a woman's love is greater than the
sword, made full use of Malinche, the Indian princess who
was constantly with him. She became his interpreter and his
mistress, and her advice was of the greatest value in treating
with the Indians. She was one of the first to give life to a Mexi-
can-a mestizo, half Spanish, half Indian.
The common practice of cohabitation with Indian women
was done openly and with a definite plan in mind, even if
the common soldiers were unaware of it. No protest came
from the priests. It was God and nature at work. It was the
way to colonize, to perpetuate; it was the way to convert.
But the Spaniards were few and the Indians were too many for
even those strong, hot-blooded warriors. Today Mexican his-
torians agree that if Cort6s had brought with him ten thousand
soldiers instead of five hundred, the Indians would have been
absorbed in a short time. All Mexico would have been mestizo.
Instead we have a different situation. Among the whites
there are two general types: the Spaniards, or gachupines,
those who were born in Spain and have come to Mexico usu-
ally to enter into trade or commerce, and the crioalla of Span-
ish parentage, born in Mexico and claiming no blood mixture.
They are often the hacienda owners, the bankers, the heads
of big companies, the industrialists, the manufacturers. They
also form the cream of Mexican society and generally are
THE MEXICAN PEOPLE
leaders of the reactionary, conservative forces. Next in line
and in the majority are the mestizos, a mixture of Spanish and
Indian. They are the businessmen, merchants, factory workers,
government and other white-collar employees, union leaders,
policemen, most professional people, and always the grafting
politicians. They too are the poets, the musicians, the writers
and the painters. They are the liberals and the revolutionists;
they are the people who run Mexico, or at least have most to
say about it.
Finally there are the Indians who make up the rest of the
population. They are an important part of the country and
form one of its greatest unsolved problems. To many a poli-
tician they seem an obstacle to the progress of Mexico, even
though they can be pushed around easily. Yet they too have
a voice, and when they are pushed too far that voice thunders
across the valleys and mountains and gains such strength that
it can overthrow dictators like Porfirio Diaz. We shall take
them up separately a little later, for at the moment we are
more concerned with the ruling class. How do they live, what
do they think, how do they feel and are they any different
The Spaniardr gachupin, though he does not like the use
of that word, long ago lost his influence in Mexico. He was
once the conqueror and he never forgets it; he invariably tries
to live the life of a Spaniard. His Spanish accent and his lisp
are as heavy as the Spanish food he eats. He is a hard worker
and cannot understand or tolerate Mexican incompetency.
He dislikes Mexicans and what he calls the lazy, easy way of
Mexican life. He treats his Mexican help with a firm hand,
kicks them around and "makes them like it." He has come to
Mexico to make money and he usually does it, but he has
little affection for his adopted country and is much too busy
to know what is happening there. Generally he is not from one
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
of the better-class families of Spain. He lives modestly and
usually mixes with his own group; he always remains a for-
The criollo is a Mexican-born Spaniard whose forefathers
may have come to the New World centuries ago but did not
intermarry. He forms a part of Mexico's upper-crust society,
the gente decent. He often comes from a family that was rich
in lands and though the revolution has reduced him economi-
cally he still gets by rather well. While he is proud of his
heritage, he attempts to change with the times, even though
his grandfather may have been a tyrant in the good old feudal
days of Mexico's past. He is no longer the conqueror, he has
blended into the Mexican way of life. He is Mexican and has
fought and shed blood for Mexico.
There are many types of criollos. For example, one of our
neighbors, Dofia Victoria, though she was born in Mexico,
never for a moment forgets her Spanish ancestry; anything
Mexican is beneath her dignity. Her son, Felipe, however,
considers himself completely Mexican, and his sentiments and
feelings are Mexican.
The father of Mexican independence, the priest Hidalgo,
who cried out "Death to the gachupines, viva Mexico!" was
a criollo; so was Father Morelos, who continued the cry and the
battle; so were the revolutionary leaders, Madero and Car-
ranza; and so they are today, many of them, the fighting liberals
for Mexico's future. But the criollos are also Mexico's aris-
tocracy and from them also spring the reactionaries and the
conservatives who, not unlike our own Republicans, speak
of the good old days.
Most criollos live in large, pretentious homes. Their furni-
ture is either French of the fragile type or massive, ugly, Mexi-
can-carved Colonial. The rooms are overcrowded and there
are usually carpets on the tiled floors. No modem paintings
THE MEXICAN PEOPLE
are on the walls; instead, there are old Spanish masters or
antique paintings from a church or convent. All their tastes
indicate they are clinging to the past.
Their conservatism does not prevent their being out-
landishly pretentious in their homes. They entertain only
occasionally at home, but when they do it is done very elab-
orately. Often either the husband's or the wife's mother lives
with them and runs the kitchen and the servants. Most criollos,
like most Mexicans, have many children; the Catholic Church
has seen to that.
The criollos who have broken away from the reactionary
ranks and are on the liberal side live somewhat the same as
their conservative cousins. Their homes, however, mirror their
mode of thinking; they go in for modern architecture and mod-
ern furniture. Instead of old paintings, on the wall may be a
Rivera, a Siqueiros or a Galvin. Their homes may have more
of a Mexican than a European atmosphere. They are often
less formal in their entertaining and they may invite a more
interesting mixture of guests. The liberal criollos of modest
means are forced to live more simply, and one finds them in
the late afternoon in cafes or coffee houses with close friends.
They discuss books, art, music and the theater and occasionally
politics. Some of their closest friends may be mestizos.
These half brothers of theirs, in whose veins are Spanish
and Indian blood, may be like the cashier at the bank where
we have our account, who is dark-skinned and has curly
black hair. He comes from Vera Cruz and the chances are that
he may have a touch of Negro. One of Mexico's younger
and better painters is about go per cent Tarascan Indian and
his features are strongly Indian. Another of our friends,
a magazine editor, has a Castilian profile and only a trace of
mixture. All three fall under the classification of mestizos.
Much of what we have described of the criollos' life applies
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
to the mestizos'. For the conservative, rich mestizo imitates the
criollo as far as he can. That terrific sense of inferiority he is
harboring comes out in all he does, and nowhere is it more pro-
nounced than in his home. He seldom has anything typically
Mexican; all of his possessions are imported, if he can afford
it, and the more elaborate and showy they are, the better. If
he is wealthy, the house is twice as big as it need be; it may
have a tennis court and a bowling alley. He entertains lavishly
and pays the newspapers to have social items and photographs
of his receptions published.
The liberal mestizo, like the liberal criollo, goes in for the
modern. He copies the United States pattern of life more than
the European. But gradually he is developing a taste for the
Mexican, or what we shall call the Indian arts and crafts. He
is also becoming less afraid to identify himself with his Indian
From this mixture of Indian and Spanish blood came strong
men like Porfirio Diaz who ruled Mexico for over a quarter of
a century; revolutionists like Zapata who wore no shoes until
he became a general; lawless Pancho Villa who drank only
coffee but liked his women brazen; Obreg6n who was assassin-
ated while a dinner was being given in his honor; Calles who,
in a Catholic country, closed all the churches; visionary Car-
denas who gave millions of acres of land to the workers and
expropriated the oil fields. They were and are all mestizos
and architects of Mexico's destiny. Yet in them, curiously
enough, it was not the white blood but the Indian that pre-
dominated. And thus it is with the personality of Mexico as
a country. It has adopted many of the Spanish customs, tradi-
tions and ways of life, but it has taken more from its Indian
ancestry and culture. Mexico is therefore neither Spanish nor
Indian; it is Mexican.
Mexico is a man's country. Whether criollo or mestizo, the
THE MEXICAN PEOPLE
men lead a freer, easier life, and demand more of their women,
than men in the United States. In all matters they are the
heads of the families; they believe that their word is the last
word. But women, as women everywhere, cleverly accept the
role of more or less passive resistance and then proceed just
as cleverly to do as they wish and get what they want. On the
surface they appear quiet and affectionate and even a little
demure; but under it they are bitterly jealous, scheming, and
capable of showing their claws if the occasion warrants it. A
Mexican woman in a temper is not something to tangle with.
Most Mexican women have fine, clear complexions, and
though their bodies appear to age fast their faces remain free
of wrinkles. When they have troubles they take them to the
Church and apparently are able to shed them there, for they
usually come out composed and tranquil. Their main inter-
ests are the Church, the family and afternoon visits with inti-
mate friends. Their existence is often marked by dullness and
repression and an indulgence in food and sweets. They seem
to be always pregnant and always eating. They spend a great
deal of time primping, but they pay more attention to their
faces and arranging their hair than they do to their bodies,
which usually become soft and fat. This, of course, is not en-
tirely true of the younger generation who go in for swimming,
tennis and other sports and who in many ways show the in-
fluence of the United States on their lives.
The women do little outside the home and most of them
have little ambition. Only lately have they become interested
in winning some independence and rights.
I don't suppose the Mexican men are basically any different
from men anywhere. All men like to feel they are men whether
in the parlor or in the bedroom, but Mexicans especially
parade it more than northerners, and they like to think of
themselves as being muy macho, much man. It would not be
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
surprising if many of the perplexities of their sex life were
due simply to their need for reassurance. After all, what else
but lack of self-assurance would possess a middle-aged man,
even if he is a politician, to have a dozen mistresses? He can't be
that macho. Yet practically every Mexican who can afford it
has his casa chica, a separate household where he keeps his
Mexicans nevertheless provide well for their families, have
great affection for their children and consider themselves good
husbands. Sunday is family day and nothing interferes with
it. The entire family gathers, grandmother, grandfather, sons
and daughters with their wives and husbands and children.
They eat Sunday dinner at home or they all go out on a picnic
together. The husbands take it without a protest and are
probably at their happiest when they are with their families.
So while they may not be physically faithful, they are essen-
tially family men.
In describing the types of people in Mexico and their lives,
I have naturally had to generalize and to give only a montage
of what I have seen and know. Much of the rhythm of their
lives varies in accordance with the section of the country.
For it must never be forgotten that Mexico is a country of
different climates that modify habits, customs and ways of life.
People do not live the same on the hot, tropical coasts and
low valleys as they do on the cold, high plateaus. People in
northern Mexico have traits distinct from those in the southern
parts, and so too the residents of Mexico City have adapted
themselves to the vicissitudes of metropolitan existence.
No group of people can be pigeonholed and classified as to
character and behavior; human nature being what it is, there
are always the exceptions. But people, whether they are mes-
tizos or criollos, whether they are liberal or conservative, rich
or poor, devout or antichurch, are inwardly the same; the
THE MEXICAN PEOPLE
change is mostly on the surface. So there is very little differ-
ence actually between the rich mestizo and the mestizo who
makes up the great middle class of Mexico. It's again a question
Many mestizos live in small homes in Mexico City and its
suburbs; they live poorly and usually in overcrowded condi-
tions, often with their fathers and mothers and brothers and
sisters, two or three generations squeezed together. And since
many lower-priced apartment buildings have been built in the
last ten years, one finds them living there too, gradually be-
coming accustomed to the freedom of being by themselves.
They are also beginning to like this new feeling of inde-
For them too, the standard of life is steadily on the uptrend.
They want and are demanding good plumbing, gas and elec-
tric stoves, radios and refrigerators and more healthful food.
They want easier and faster transportation and cheap auto-
mobiles. They are finding their way out.
But from the middle-class mestizo there is a tremendous
drop to the lower classes, that great mass of humanity that is
Mexico. They somehow just manage to exist in filth and
poverty, often in buildings known as veci4dades, Mexico
City's substitute for the East Side tenement houses of 1ew
These vecindades stink not so much of dirty, sweating bodies
and disease, as of the political corruption which has prevented
better housing. The inhabitants eat tortillas, beans, chili and
an occasional piece of meat when they can get it. They are very
close to God, with a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe and
a burning candle in the single room each family lives in; for
them the revolution has brought little change. They neither
look for nor expect any help from the government. Their
faith is only in the Church and in God. And what faith they
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
have in their hearts! That relentless faith which sends them
crawling on their knees across the church floor toward the
altar to ask there with outstretched arms for food for the soul.
These lower classes are mestizos and Indians who have gone
to the cities and then found themselves trapped, unable to
return to their valleys and clean mountains. One finds them
not only in Mexico City, but all along the towns and cities of
the highways, desperately poor, desperately tragic, buried in
hovels of death and misery.
That is another side of Mexico, the side the Mexicans don't
want tourists to see or photograph. The unclean, the bitter
indictment of Mexico, the fertile ground for seeds of revolu-
tion and Communism to fall into and grow. They don't want
us to see it because they are sensitive about it, as they well
should be. They and their flag-waving politicians with their
nimble fingers in the public trough are responsible for it.
Flandrau in Viva Mexico! said it years ago, and he said it
better than I can: "When one lives among them one marvels,
not like the tourist of a week, that they are dirty, but that
under the circumstances they are as clean as they are; not that
so many of them are continually sick, but that any of them are
ever well; not that they love to get drunk, but that they can
bear to remain sober."
THE SILENT SHADOW
No ONE, not even the government, knows how many Indians
there are in Mexico. Whatever official figures have been given
out are guesswork. The arrival of a census taker in the field
sends the Indians into hiding, for next to the white man they
fear most the mestizo government representative. Years of
experience have taught the Indians to be suspicious of any
The best authorities, however, agree that there must be
between four and six million Indians, the majority of whom
are of pure blood, though here again there is no certainty on
how much mixture there may be. The Indian population is
scattered in remnants of tribes in virtually every section of the
country, with the biggest concentration in the south, in the
states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.
A small percentage of them have settled in the towns along
the highways, but principally the mass, that silent shadow of
bronze; mystic and mysterious, untouched by civilization, still
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
lives a primitive existence on the ridges of mountains and in
hidden valleys. They hold to their old customs and strange
creeds and often revert to their ancient heritage of worship.
Occasionally too, they sacrifice an animal, tearing out its beat-
ing heart as a gift to the rain gods; they live in superstition
and fear, and in the temples the white man ordered them to
build they also pray on their knees to the bleeding Christ on
Various plans and solutions have been offered as to what to
do with them. Although a few projects have been carried out,
most have ended in failure; so far, little has been accomplished
to aid the Indians materially. Yet they are also Mexico and the
life of the country revolves around them. They form a natural
and potential resource and a wealth that has not been tapped.
The Indians can be criticized, can be held in contempt, can
be stepped upon and exploited, but they cannot be ignored.
They are a reality and a challenge and, to some Mexicans, a
constant irritant. For there are many Mexicans who regret that
the Indians were not completely destroyed in the beginning
and who believe that if this had happened Mexico's history
might have been a happier one-for themselves, of course.
How easy it has been to forget that Mexico had great and
advanced civilizations long before the Conquest. How conven-
ient not to remember that while the Spaniards failed to mas-
sacre the Indians, they snuffed out much of their culture,
enslaved them, made them into peons or forced them into
the hills. The ruling classes have held back the Indian;
the Indian has not held back Mexico.
The ancestry of the Mexican Indian goes back many thou-
sands of years; long before Christ was born they had already
established a civilization and an advanced culture. They had
invented a calendar equal to ours, they knew the working of
THE SILENT SHADOW
the stars, they had developed engineering and architecture,
they had painters and sculptors producing fine works of art
and they even had doctors curing fevers with medicinal herbs
and infections with their own version of what we now call
penicillin. But what happened to these civilizations remains
a mystery. They vanished at their peak as if uprooted by
the jealous gods who were clearing ground to make room for
the new civilization that was to rise on the Mexican earth. Yet
such culture did exist and it remains a heritage in the blood
of today's Indians, occasionally cropping out in a minor way
in some of their present arts and crafts, a reminder that there
was greatness in them once, that again greatness may come
Perhaps such a day will come, though for the moment we
must content ourselves not with dreams but with realities.
And in the scope of realities, the Indian today presents not
too unpleasant a picture, but still a sad one. They have not
degenerated. They are just lost children of a lost civilization.
And much like children they have remained these many cen-
turies, unspoiled, simple human beings who ask little, so
childlike they often do not differentiate between what we con-
sider right and wrong.
If they have developed fear, it has come because of contact
with this fast-moving civilization that has passed them by. If
they are unfriendly anduspicious itisbecause circumstances
have made them so; if they are undernourished and sick, it is
because their mode of existence makes them that way. What
they have learned, they have learned as animals learn, by in-
stinct. Only the Church has bothered much about them and,
though it has given them a certain faith, it has kept them in
ignorance and encouraged their superstition. Materially the
Church has done very little for them. Nevertheless, the Indians
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
feel very dose to God and, because of it, suffer in silence. If
they have troubles they take them to the priest, or they bare
their breasts before the altar and ask forgiveness.
Except for fiestas and an occasional drunken spree, the day-
by-day existence of the average Indian is dull and uninterest-
ing. He lives in a miserable, one-room hut, where he eats,
sleeps and dies; it is here that the woman cooks, and here too
that she gives birth to life on a straw petate, the family sleep-
The food the Indians eat they scratch out of the soil, and
it is usually corn, chili, wild greens and occasionally beans.
Some tribes in the more remote mountains have an oppor-
tunity to hunt and when they do they manage to increase their
limited meat diet. Burros, horses and other domesticated ani-
mals were unknown in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest,
though there were all kinds of wild fowl and people on the
coast had fish. There is some evidence that the Aztecs and the
Tarascos domesticated and fattened a small type of dog which
they used for food and this might well explain the present-day
fondness for keeping dogs. Those who now raise chickens and
pigs kill them only for a special day or fiesta or to sell in the
market; meat is always a delicacy and a treat. The corn which
is the basis of their diet is, unfortunately, poor corn, not only
because of poor seed but also because the soil suffers from lack
of crop rotation and fertilizer.
By nature and heritage the Indian is a hard worker, and if
his physical condition permits he is up before dawn and does
not finish until evening. He has practically no tools to make
his life easier, nor has he the money to buy them. The Indian
woman is as busy as the man, on her knees grinding corn by
the hour, making masa for tortillas, then patting them into
shape with her hands and baking them on top of the comal.
She has little time to devote to the many children she gives
THE SILENT SHADOW
birth to; often a child is suckling at her breast while she works.
Births are a matter of a few hours, the village midwife or a
relative as the only attendant. The mother usually returns to
her chores several days afterward, which may be the reason for
so many complaints later in life of abhdQminapains, or doloMrd -*-
la cintura as they call it. Most women have from five to ten
children but only about half that number survive; the rest die
from dysentery and other diseases.
The Indians are extremely polite to each other. In some
tribes, the younger men kiss the hand of the father or the patri-
arch of the clan. But, to the concern of American tourists,
there is no equality for the Indian woman. She usually walks
behind the man, and if they have a burro he rides, she walks.
Yet she is the advisor in their commercial dealings. No trans-
action of any importance is made without her approval.
The Indians are also cleaner than is generally known. If
they are dirty, it is not because they choose to be. They may
not bathe often because water has to be carried a long way
and they cannot afford to buy soap. But in the warmer, wet
climates of Yucatan and Tehuantepec, they bathe daily and
their clothes are spotless. In some regions, the huts are im-
maculate, the dirt floors painstakingly swept. Their houses are
worst in the crowded, unsanitary conditions of the towns along
the highways, where civilization changes their habits, sub-
stituting dirty streets for the cleanliness of the valleys and the
mountains. These are the Indians the tourist usually sees and
they are quite dirty.
But if we get off the highway and visit such villages as
Capula or Santa Fe or NahuAtzan, the latter fenced in and with
a wooden gate at the entrance, we get another aspect. These
towns, like hundreds of others, look clean and the Indians
likewise are clean in appearance. It is only when one lives in
such communities that one realizes how dirty and unsanitary
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
they can be and how difficult it is for them to be anything else.
There are of course no sewers, no toilets, and water is always
scarce. Yet somehow the Indians rise above this dirt and filth;
they manage to keep their houses and themselves fairly clean.
It is in these villages that one meets the fine craftsmen who
make pottery, clay saints and figures for the Christmas naci-
mientos, toys for the holidays, baskets of all kinds, handwoven
serapes and dozens of other products. Once a week the Indians
carry these articles away on their backs or on burros, some-
times traveling great distances until they reach one of the
larger towns where they will put them on sale on market day.
But even these people of trades and crafts have to regulate
their lives, like every other Indian, by the sun, rain and soil.
The ground must be plowed and must be planted, and when
the harvest season sets in, all abandon their trades to bring in
their own harvests or assist in bringing in that of a neighbor.
Nothing must interfere; they must work these small patches
of earth or go hungry.
Yet if all this is true and they are such hard workers, why
do they appear so lazy? Why is the symbol on the tourist trin-
kets that of an Indian crouched lethargically under a big som-
brero, a serape wrapped around his shoulders and up to his
The obvious answer might be that the Mexican evenings
are chilly and the Indian in his cotton shirt and trousers is cold
and is trying to keep warm.
But that's not the real answer. For the truth one must dig
deeper, and one invariably finds the logical explanation in
the medical records and investigations that have been made
of the Indians. They are a sickly lot and, while they do try to
work hard, they do not have the energy of the northern
workers. Seventy to eighty per cent of them have intestinal
parasites which tax their strength and ambition. They also
THE SILENT SHADOW
suffer from tuberculosis and a handful of other diseases. And
as if that weren't enough, the lethargic Tarascan Indian
wrapped up snugly in his serape has been found to have a
large thyroid deficiency. When injected with thyroid extract,
he loses most of his apparent laziness.
Medical facts also account for certain customs such as el
bailey de los viejecitos, the dance of the old men, in Pitzcuaro,
in which the young dancers wear the masks of old men. Why
should they ridicule old age? Apparently it is a defense against
their fear that they will become prematurely old and their
faces will be as wrinkled as the masks that disguise them. The
members of this particular tribe, when medically examined,
were discovered to have an endocrine deficiency which made
them age prematurely.
Psychologically their minds work simply and instinctively,
and this is reflected in some of their ideas of sexual morality
as practiced in certain villages. For example, in this Patzcuaro
region, the fishermen go out on the lake in their skiffs and are
gone all day. Sometimes a worker from a cornfield passes by
one of the huts, speaks to the fisherman's wife. There is an
interchange of talk, quite frequently a look of desire in their
eyes for each other's bodies. They share their passion. But
this is no secret tryst. Next day or that evening, this man whom
we would look upon as an adulterer seeks out the husband,
tells him openly that he has had his wife. There is no quarrel.
It is accepted as a fact; it was nature at work.
In a remote mountain section of Chiapas, every few years,
a group of men are carefully chosen by the elders from another
tribe for their strength, and fine physical build-up and bor-
rowed for a definite period. They are fed the best of food and
treated with much care and homage. Then they are matched
off with the best virgins. They call it hacer raza, to improve the
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
These customs, of course, happen only in some villages and
are not the rule. Also, while there are tribes which may not
see anything wrong in adultery, virginity is highly prized. Rare
is the Indian who would take to wife a woman who was not a
virgin. If this happens, the marriage is annulled and the wife
returned to her parents in disgrace. In the Oaxaca region, the
husband usually displays a serape in front of his abode the
morning after the wedding as a sign for all to see that the maid
of his choice was a virgin. Few Indians are as loose in their
habits as some mestizo servants in the cities.
Though the Indian may at times seem uninhibited, he usu-
ally has a strong feeling of inferiority, which in turn he
shares with his half brother, the mestizo. This characteristic
is easily traceable. First came the Conquest and with it the
priests as teachers and supposedly as protectors of the people.
Then many became peons for the rich hacendado and com-
pletely dependent on him for their support. Since then they
have always been treated as children and therefore as children
they have remained, exerting their rights only in times of
Much of the drama and color of Mexico's revolutionary pe-
riod came from the Indian. From his heart rose those moving
corridos which cried out against oppression and demanded
liberation. The Indian, more than anyone else, gave force to
the battle that did away with a feudal system which for years
had crushed him and kept him from developing himself.
When he did have the chance to fight, his repressed emotions
broke out tempestuously and at times he took a terrible re-
venge. And while the fighting part of the revolution is over
now, there is no doubt there still exists in the Indian's heart
that feeling of resentment and oppression which made him
act with so much violence in the past and which may make
him act again.
THE SILENT SHADOW
It is said that the apparent tranquillity, the apathetic look
on an Indian's face is only a mask; that, paradoxically, his
true face is the wooden mask of the devils and monsters which
he puts on during dances at fiesta time and which expresses
what he really feels. Certainly no one can question the latent
strength of the Indian population and the power it would
wield in shaping Mexico's future if it could be persuaded to
trust the government and to accept education and economic
For from such people as these came Benito Juarez, a pure-
blooded Zapotec, who feared nobody. It was he who took on
singlehanded the strongest influence in Mexico, the Catholic
Church, and stripped it of its wealth and property; it was he
who, with the aid of the United States, forced the French
army to abandon Mexico; it was he who outwitted the Euro-
pean-educated Emperor Maximilian and placed him before
a firing squad at Queretaro. This Benito Juarez, who had the
greatness of Lincoln, was an Indian of the type we have been
discussing: barefooted, humble, squatty. Because he was given
a chance to learn to read and write, that greatness within him
But what of the small people, what of this silent shadow
of bronzed faces who today have no Juarez to lead them?
What's to be done with them? Starve them, kill them off grad-
ually, or let them live as a free people?
The Indian wants to better himself but he is afraid of the
white man and the mestizo. Every time he has had contact
with them, he has been on the short end of the bargain. He
has received many promises but few if any of them have been
carried out; even the revolution for which he shed blood has
helped him little. He therefore prefers to be left alone, living
his own life and trying in his own way to make the best of it.
This isolation cannot last. Modern modes of transportation
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
and the chain of highways and roads Mexico is building will
eventually break into his isolation. He will be forced to face
So get ready, old Juventino, you who are up there in the
peaceful Oaxaca mountains; and you, Anastasio, who live on
the ridges and can look down on the valley of Puebla; and
you, Cipriano, who still wear your loin cloth and hunt with
bow and arrow, back of the Chihuahua hills; and you, Maria
of Juchitan, in the Tehuantepec peninsula; and also you,
Agapito of Tuliman, get ready for the good things the govern-
ment could do for you if it were honest and anxious to help.
The government can select the best of your young men. It
can bring them down to the cities for training as doctors, teach-
ers, agriculturalists, and then send them back to you, to teach
what they have learned. Of them you will not be afraid, for
they are of your own people.
And if the government will provide you with sufficient eco-
nomic assistance, you will learn to improve your ground and
to cultivate crops that will nourish you more than corn. Your
doctors, who are your sons, will establish rural hospitals and
clinics to cure your ills and teach you how to live better.
The government will also bring you electricity and water and
adequate tools so some of you can learn trades and better your
way of life. It should encourage your arts and crafts and give
you a more favorable market to sell them in. But don't let the
government force designs on you; keep your art pure, for
there are still enough people with good taste to buy it, and at
Forget your dialects and your native languages. Send your
children to the rural schools the government will provide for
you, where they will learn Spanish. For in time, your children
will no longer be Indians, but Mexicans, and the language of
the Mexicans is Spanish, not Zapotec, Mayan or Aztec. You,
THE SILENT SHADOW
who are too old to change, will die out with your languages
and your customs; so put your faith in your children and they
will not disappoint you.
But all this is impossible if the government fails you. There
cannot be any halfway measures. Otherwise, it will be better
if they leave you as you are, in your mountains and your val-
leys. So buy the biggest wax candles you can find. Light them
at the feet of the Virgin of Guadalupe and as you see them
burning and the wax melting, pray. Pray hard for the govern-
ment to help you, pray for the souls of the white man and the
mestizo, so that they will not be dishonest and corrupt with
you; pray that they will give you all the things they have
promised you; and remember that, while there are not many
of them, there are a few who really want to and will aid you.
And if these prayers are answered, we shall see the silent
shadow disappear. We shall see too how quickly they respond,
how anxious they are to learn and to become a part of the
country to which they belong.
When this happens, there will be no longer a nation divided
into Spaniards, criollos, mestizos and Indians. There will be
a nation of Mexicans, proud of their heritage, proud of saying
with dignity, I am a Mexican.
THE STATES OF
MEXICO IS FASHIONED politically much like the United States.
In fact Mexico's official name as provided by the Constitution
is the United States of Mexico. It is made up of twenty-seve
states, two territories, a federal district and a number of
islands, including its own Devil's Island, Islas Marias.
All these states will not be described here; there are good
guidebooks for such purposes. The states mentioned will be
discussed principally to show the contrasts and the extremes
in the Mexican panorama and to highlight the most important
ones. But before doing this, let us briefly consider the topog-
raphy, the climate and the resources of the country as a whole.
By stretching the imagination a little, we can see Mexico
topographically as shaped like a fat fish with a long and a
short tail and toward its mouth an appendage that forms a
peninsula. This narrow peninsula is Lower California, the
long tail is Yucatan, and the smaller one is the state of Chiapas
which joins the Guatemalan border.
THE STATES OF MEXICO
Mexico sits on the Tropic of Cancer and is near the equator.
If it were not for the mountains it would generally have a
warm, tropical climate. These mountains, a part of the Sierra
Madre range, have created cold plateaus, warm valleys and
tropical lowlands. They have given Mexico three distinct
climates, though the winters are dry and the summers rainy
throughout the country.
On a November afternoon in Mexico City the businessmen
may be clad in overcoats, the women in furs. A few hours away
in the lower valleys men stripped to the waist are picking
tropical fruit, or working in the cacao, tobacco and vanilla
fields. Farther in the tropical interior there are rubber, chicle,
huge mahogany trees, and alligators in the rivers. The abrupt
change comes from difference in altitude and produces what
they call in Mexico tierra fria, tierra templada, tierra caliente,
or cold, temperate and hot earth.
Mexico City is tierra fria; the nearby resort town of Cuer-
navaca is tierra templada; and the port of Vera Cruz on the
Atlantic, like the beaches of Acapulco on the Pacific, is in
tierra caliente. There are long, level stretches of flat, fertile
country as there are unoccupied deserts; but mostly Mexico is
mountainous and volcanic. Mexico's earth is as unquiet as its
politics. There are frequent earthquakes, new life appears in
old volcanoes and sometimes new ones are created.
Of the causes of these volcanic disturbances little is known.
Mexican geologists explain them by saying there is a fault-a
fracture in the earth's crust-that stretches through the coun-
try in a straight line, starting with the Tuxtla volcano on the
Atlantic coast and ending with the Colima volcano on the
Pacific side. But they have no way of predicting when and
where a new one will suddenly crop up.
Not long ago a farmer, Dionisio Pulido, was plowing his
small piece of land near the village of San Juan de las Colchas
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
(St. John of the Bedspreads) in the state of Michoacin. He
stopped for a moment to wipe the sweat off his forehead and
as he did so he felt something pushing under his feet. He
looked down. A small hill, such as a gopher might make, was
forming. He pushed it down with the heel of his huarache,
but it came right up again. He tried once more and the same
thing happened. This time he stepped back, and though
frightened he was fascinated enough to stay for a moment
watching the earth open like a womb and gradually give birth
to a hill blazing in fire. Then he ran and gave the alarm.
"The devil himself is in my land!" he cried out to the
people of his village, and, wasting no time, he rushed to the
church and prostrated himself before the altar, where the rest
of the village joined him when they saw what he had seen.
All that day and that night, while it rained and thundered
over the once peaceful valley, the people of the village prayed
with their children clasped closely to them, weeping from the
fear that had come into their hearts. And above the sound of
their murmured prayers and cries, there were great explosions
of red fire turning the black sky crimson.
It was not until the next morning that the priest and the
government authorities who had come to see the phenomenon
calmed the people. During the night the hill had grown into
a sizable volcano; within a short time it reached a height of
6500 feet, spitting out sand, lava and boulders weighing hun-
dreds of tons amidst a torrent of flames.
Today the little village of San Juan de las Colchas is cov-
ered with lava and volcanic sand. For miles around, the rich
agricultural land is ruined. But the volcano, Paricutin, now
full-grown, keeps on erupting, much to the pleasure of tour-
ists and the hotel and taxi owners in the nearby city of Urua-
pan. For them, Paricutin has been an unexpected treasury of
THE STATES OF MEXICO
gold; for Dionisio Pulido and his fellow farmers, a tragedy.
They can no longer use their land.
It would appear that even the land itself is out to harm
those who work it and who treat it with such care that many
of the Indians jpa wooden plow instead of an iron one, for
fear the touch of metal on the earth will hurt it. Generally,
however, the land has been good to the people and nature has
been generous in enriching the valleys and the mountains.
Few countries are as wealthy in minerals and natural resources
as is Mexico.
For Mexico and for its people these riches have had little
value in the past and they might have been better off if Mexico
had been a poorer country. But for three centuries this wealth
and the cheap labor that made it available helped finance the
budget of the Spanish Crown and made wealthy men of the
viceroys and the Spanish settlers. It has also dropped millions
into the pockets of French, British and Americans, some of
whom never set foot in the country. Since the time of Cortis,
Mexico's resources have dangled before the eyes of other na-
tions and been consumed by them.
When Mexicans apologize for the conditions in their coun-
try and resort to the myth that Mexico is poor, they forget that
it is the largest producer of silver in the world; that there are
upward of one thousand copper mines in the republic; that
the iron mountain at Durango is thought to be the largest
solid mass of iron known; that the over-all export of metals
has run as high as a hundred and fifty million dollars a year;
that the gold export alone is valued at some forty million dol-
lars annually; that there are lead, mercury, zinc, antimony and
the stuff that atomic bombs are made of, in the Mexican earth;
that the floors of the jungles in Tehuantepec, in Tabasco, in
Chiapas, are waiting to be tapped for oil. They could be re-
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
minded too that in 192o Mexico was the second largest pro-
ducer of oil in the world and at that time as much as forty
million dollars worth of oil a month was shipped from the port
We have been erroneously led to believe by those who'have
written on Mexico that it is principally an agricultural coun-
try. This is not true. What is true is that the vast masses of the
people have had to live off the soil. The total production and
value of its agricultural crops, according to published govern-
ment figures, is small when compared to the mineral output.
Its most important crop, corn, is no bigger than that of the
state of Iowa. To finance its budget Mexico has always relied
chiefly on taxes derived from its mineral wealth.
In addition to these known and partially utilized resources,
great parts of the country, still unexplored, have hidden riches
that can only be surmised. Those tremendous mountains that
play havoc with the country's topography are constant barriers
to the establishment of communications and easy transport of
what natural resources may be discovered. Such states as Yuca-
tan, Tabasco, Campeche and Quintana Roo are practically
isolated from the rest of Mexico. Until recently, when the
airplane came into general use, they could only be reached by
Less than ten years ago it was quicker and easier to go to
Yucatan by ship from New Orleans than from a Mexican sea-
port. Yucatan for years considered itself apart from Mexico.
And even now if you are in its capital, Merida, and ask one of
the residents his nationality, he answers: "I am a Yucatecan."
Yet Yucatan, the center of the Mayan New Empire, is com-
mercially one of Mexico's most important states. Henequen, a
species of agave from which rope is made, grows in the arid
Yucatan fields. During the war, when there was no Philippine
hemp, Yucatan produced virtually all of the rope used on
THE STATES OF MEXICO
American ships. Recently Yucatan is also flourishing with the
money left by tourists who come to visit the Mayan ruins at
Chichen ItzA and at Uxmal.
These great ruins, some of which have been reconstructed
by archaeologists, are among the finest in the world. Though
their existence was known, little value was put on them in
the past, and for years they lay practically hidden in the jun-
gle, approachable only on horseback. Finally the American
Consul at Yucatan, Edward Thompson, became interested in
them and shortly after 191o, for less than one hundred dollars,
bought all the Chichkn Itza ruins, including the Sacred Well
where the Mayas practiced sacrificial rites.
From the Sacred Well alone, Thompson removed priceless
gold objects and archaeological relics so rare no value can be
set on them; he did not keep them for a private collection, but
donated them to an American museum. By the time Mexico
awoke to the discovery it was too late to claim these objects,
but it expropriated the land from Thompson.
There are probably ruins in the nearby state of Tabasco;
no one has bothered much to find out. For most people, it is
a state to fly over and not to visit. Tabasco sauce is not known
there. Tabasco is full of mosquito-infested swamps, but it also
has deep, wide rivers and some of the most fertile land in
Mexico. Yet Mexico has left it isolated and abandoned. There
is electricity in only the two principal cities and it has one
broken-down hospital. The scenery is dramatic and exciting
but the climate is hot and damp and there is much malaria.
Like many of these hidden sections of Mexico, it is waiting
to be developed.
Across the way, on the other side of those looming moun-
tains, is Chiapas. While it is to be linked to the Pan-American
Highway, at present it can be reached only by air or by a
narrow-gauge train which arrives at the city of Tapachula at
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
no fixed hour. There is an amusing legend of how Tapachula
was named. It seems that in the early days the women of
Chiapas wore little clothes and whenever the priests saw them,
they would cry out: "Tapate, chula!" Which means, "Cover
thyself, lovely one."
The priests apparently never had much influence in the
Isthmus of Tehuantepec, for the women there, when bath-
ing in the rivers, are not reticent in displaying their bronzed
bodies and their compact, almost virginal breasts. They are
strong, husky Amazons with straight backs, firm shoulders,
who do not mind the hard work, leaving the minor chores to
their men. They are also the merchants and they have little
competition from the men in the markets. On special days,
most of these women still wear their elaborate native costumes,
which flatter them and perhaps account for their reputation
for great beauty. They have realistic views toward love and sex.
Many of these bronzed Tehuanas are not as bronzed as they
might be, and one comes across some with white skin, quite
a number with blue eyes and practically all with necklaces
made up of ten- and twenty-dollar United States gold pieces.
How these gold coins with dates ranging from 189o to 19o6
found their way to this remote section of Mexico is not much
of a mystery. Shortly after the turn of the century, the At-
lantic and Pacific seaports of the Tehuantepec isthmus
were among the busiest on the continent. At that time the
Panama Canal was still unfinished and the narrow Tehuante-
pec isthmus afforded the cheapest transportation for the
Orient and Pacific trade. No sooner were the ports completed
than the Hawaiian Islands began to ship their, enormous
sugar output across the isthmus to New Orleans. Ships of all
nations sailed into the harbor at Salina Cruz and this port grew
from a village to a city of thousands with no less than eighteen
trains entering and departing daily.
THE STATES OF MEXICO
Most of the engineers who constructed these ports and
handled the traffic were American and British. In other parts
of Mexico they seldom if ever mingled with the natives. But
here in Tehuantepec it was different. They not only had
Tehuanas as their mistresses but some of them married them.
Later, when the Panama Canal opened and the prosperity of
the isthmus faded, a number of these engineers stayed; others
left blue-eyed offspring and United States gold pieces behind.
Even the American Consul at Salina Cruz fell under the spell
of a Tehuana, married her and later gave up his post; now
quite old, the two still live on the Tehuantepec isthmus.
After its sudden burst of great activity the isthmus went
back to its peaceful, sleepy ways. When it awakens again it
will be to the noise of automobile horns and wheels and once
more it will hear friendly American voices, for the Pan-Amer-
ican Highway will pass through the heart of the isthmus. It
used to take eight days on horseback to get from Tehuantepec
to the state capital, Oaxaca City. I made it in an army jeep
over a ragged road in eight hours. Tourists on their way to
Tehuantepec will also pass right by the famous Mitla and
Monte Albin ruins in the Oaxaca valley. Here at Mitla, as in
Chich6n Itzi, a North American was responsible for first
drawing attention to these ruins, and he and his son at their
request lie buried there.
Not as romantic as Tehuantepec and Oaxaca but equally
interesting, because of the social experiment that is going
on there, is the cotton-growing region of Coahuila, in northern
Mexico. In an arid, hot valley that is called La Laguna, Mexico
has put to test its collective farming plan. It was here that
ex-President Cardenas expropriated 149,172 acres of land from
a handful of companies and turned the land over to thirty-
five thousand agrarian workers. Here there is no longer peon-
age but farming under government supervision and support;
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
each individual shareholder receives the profits from his work.
This region has become one of the most prosperous in Mexico.
Its principal city, Torre6n, comparatively modern, has become
a center of great activity and commerce.
In strange contrast to it is the adjoining state of Durango
with its leading city of the same name. Despite its important
mines and cattle ranches, most of Durango is sleepy and dirty
and nothing much has changed in the last fifty years. Here
Mexico's experiment in social farming has failed miserably
and peons are no better off than before the revolution. Graft
controls the state government and all of Durango suffers from
it. From Durango, to reach the adjoining state of Sinaloa and
its seaport city of Mazatlan, we have to climb by airplane
sixteen thousand feet and cross some of Mexico's highest
By automobile one may travel for miles in Mexico without
seeing a sign of a hut or a farmhouse, then suddenly, as if
rising from nowhere, there is a good-sized town or village.
The obvious explanation would be lack of population. But
there is another. The people, even in preconquest times, did
not live far away from each other. They always congregated
in groups and formed villages for common defense, and it is
from these villages that the men go out to work in the fields.
Probably no other region has as many villages or as interesting
ones as the state of Michoacin.
MichoacAn is mostly Indian, is rich in agriculture and was
once the center of the Tarascan Empire. Its capital, Morelia,
like the city of Puebla, has some fine examples of colonial
architecture. The Cathedral with its high towers facing the
plaza was begun in 1640 and took more than a century to
complete. It is a massive structure with an unusual facade of
rose stone. But it is just one of hundreds of churches whose
THE STATES OF MEXICO
yellow, blue and sometimes even pink domes peer out of the
Wherever there is a church there is a village or a town, and
while many of them are hidden from view, they are usually
close to the highway. From these villages of Michoacan come
some of Mexico's best arts and crafts, the serapes, pottery,
lacquer and tin work. Among these towns is Paitzcuaro, with
its lake containing the island of Janitzio, where at midnight
on the second of November the women bring food and wine
to the dead in the little cemetery in front of the church.
Where the state line of Michoacan ends, there is a large sign
facing the highway. It says simply: THIS IS JALISCO.
Jalisco is not only a state but also a magic name. The scenes
for many of Mexico's modern movies and popular novels are
set in Jalisco and often have the name in the title; practically
all of the ranchero songs are about Jalisco or about Guadala-
jara, its capital. This popularity is probably traceable to a
nostalgia for the good old days of Mexico which Jalisco once
represented. Jalisco had at one time the largest, the finest and
the most prosperous of the haciendas. There were always cow-
boys, charros, in their tight narrow trousers and silver buttons,
roping cattle, and hacienda owners riding on magnificent
horses. It was a careless, easy life with fiestas, dancing and
Jalisco is also the birthplace and center of the mariachis,
singing troubadours, who cry out their songs, sometimes off
key, but always with a feeling of sadness and with spirit. There
are still many left in Jalisco, though the good ones have taken
their guitars, trumpets and bass fiddles and moved to Mexico
Jalisco is famous for its tequila, the national drink of Mex-
ico, distilled in the town of Tequila and shipped from there to
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
all parts of the country. In Jalisco, too, there are Lake Chapala
and La Viuda, the widow, who runs an open-air cantina on
the shores of the lake where she sells exclusively tequila with
a notorious chaser called sangre, blood. In the past there were
always mariachis to play by the hour for a few pesos. But re-
cently La Viuda installed a juke box and most of the mariachis
are out of work. Some have sought other jobs. One of them,
Isodoro, now models Tarascan idols, ages them in the ground,
then sells them to the tourist trade as the real thing.
But even he wasn't doing so well for a while, as a result of
marital difficulties, though the last time we saw him all was
right with him again. He had been bewildered and bewitched
and the evil eye put on him, he said, but after a month's treat-
ment in which much magic was involved, he had been cured.
"It cost me almost three hundred pesos," he told us, "and
I had to sell all of my idols at a very cheap price. But it was
worth it. I'm fine now."
That's one side of Jalisco. The other side, I am afraid, is
not so gay. For Jalisco is the stronghold of reactionary forces
and wields great power. Its conservatives form a solid bloc of
obstructionists who hate and fight any change. Like the state
of Guanajuato, Jalisco is fanatically religious and there is no
law but that of the Church. At the time of the Cristeros, in
the early twenties, it was the scene of the ugliest bloodshed
and assassinations in Mexico, for Jalisco, along with Guana-
juato, was their headquarters. The Cristeros became the de-
fenders, the crusaders of the Church in those turbulent, anti-
religious days when heaven and hell were partners in crime.
Workers in the fields were shot and burned; trains were dyna-
mited; teachers in government schools were lynched; labor
unions were banned and their leaders executed to the cry of
Viva Cristo Rey!, Long live Christ the Kingl
But Jalisco is not alone in crime. The now peaceful, indus-
THE STATES.OF MEXICO
trial state of Nuevo Leon, with its capital, Monterrey, has had
its share of bloodshed. It was so long ago, however-shortly
after the Conquest-that it is forgotten; Mexican histories, in-
cluding school textbooks, have a convenient habit of omitting
such unpleasant things.
This northern section of Mexico has no Indians; the present
population is practically all white and mestizo. It is said that
the Indians never came this far north, but actually there were
Indians in Nuevo Leon, fighting warriors who refused to be
tamed like the rest of Mexico by the Spanish conquerors. So
they were all destroyed. Today there are only mestizo laborers
in Nuevo Leon and its capital; they work in the steel mills, in
the glass factories, in the breweries, in the industrial plants.
The businessmen and the industrialists of this region are
shrewd, hard-working and economical. But despite all their
success, they too have a feeling of inferiority. They are dose
to the United States, and the industrialists of Nuevo Leon
know that their mills and plants and factories are playthings
compared to those of Pittsburgh and Detroit. It is not good
to be a shadow, these industrialists say. We must be big, we
must be strong; we must fight that giant to the north. And
sometimes in Monterrey you hear them say that the gringos
are this and that. But one must not pay too much attention to
them-that is not all of Mexico speaking.
I like better what they say in Chihuahua, which is also close
to the border, close to the giant of the north and as important
as Nuevo Leon.
There are only a few reactionaries in Chihuahua. The ma-
jority of the people are liberal, free in thought and action.
They are grateful to the North Americans for some of the
things they have learned: the necessity of having good drinking
water, food without parasites, pasteurized milk and cheese and
a better standard of life for the people. So they are friendly
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
in Chihuahua and most of them are sincere when they say,
We are all one here-Mexicans and Americans. We do not feel
inferior. We think and we know we're as good as they. Why
shouldn't we be friends?
That is also Mexico speaking. That is Mexico of the future
WHOEVER CONTROLS Mexico City controls the nation. This
was true in the days of the Spanish Conquest; it was true in
the days of the revolution and it is still true today. As the
heart and the nerve center of Mexico, the capital completely
dominates the interior. For more than a thousand years, from
its seventy-four-hundred-foot-high plateau, it has ruled over
vast areas of land and over multitudes of people. It has been
destroyed and it has been rebuilt but these changes have only
altered its physical appearance; its ascendency has never been
In 1519 when Cortes and his men looked down upon the
site of Mexico City they saw an unexpected scene, for which
the towns and villages they had passed had not prepared them.
There were temples of great beauty and simplicity, causeways
that were the city streets and canoes that were the people's
mode of transportation. There were lakes and islands covered
with flowers and there were dikes and dams controlling the
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
flow of water into the city. "We could compare it," one of them
wrote, "to nothing but the enchanted scenes we had read in
Amadis of Gaul... for never yet did man see, hear or dream
of anything equal to the spectacle which appeared to our eyes
on this day."
Much later, when the Conde de Revillagigedo arrived as
viceroy in 1789, Mexico City had already taken on a Spanish
atmosphere and he found quite a different city. It had been
inundated five times. Incompetence and disease had produced
their usual result. "The contrast between the pagan Aztec city
with its stately buildings and its myriad canals alive with
gay pirogues of the pleasure-loving people, and that of the
Christian Spaniards with its filth, its pillories and grisly gal-
lows, its footpads, dirty lanes and unsanitary conditions, was
Revillagigedo instituted an engineering program to drain
the city of stagnant water and seriously attempted to eliminate
some of the graft and corruption that had taken hold of Mex-
ico. By the time Maximilian came in 1864 as emperor, Mexico
City was already becoming an important capital of the world
and had undergone a long reconstruction period. In appear-
ance it was principally Spanish Colonial. Maximilian and Car-
lotta now gave a new flavor to the city, drawing on French
influences for buildings, street planning and parks. There
was also a gayer, more formal social life, with a court at which
Maximilian and Carlotta presided. The Paseo de la Reforma
with its trees and flowers, the Zocalo by the Cathedral and
Chapultepec Park with its castle, owe their existence to Maxi-
Today the city is a mixture of the old, the more recent past
and the very modern. It has taken on the air of a metropolis,
with skyscrapers and apartment buildings of distinctive archi-
tecture. There are sections, also, which might well be in
bombed England or Holland. But no bombs hit here. They
are the result of the expansion that began during the war
years when entire blocks were torn down to make room for
large new buildings now under construction.
Property owners made rich by the inflation and the sudden
war prosperity, took to real estate development as a protective
investment. In Mexico City, where rents had always been
reasonable compared to big cities in the United States, they
jumped 3oo and 400 per cent; houses and apartments con-
tinued to be at a premium. Mexico City was no longer the
uncrowded capital of 19oo with a population of 541,516 per-
sons. In 1947, it was a congested capital with a population of
more than two million.
In the old days, Montezuma and those before him had built
their capital, which they called Tenochitlan, with great care
and thought. The homes of the Aztecs, of limestone and tim-
ber, were beside the waterways which led to the main tem-
ple. Here in this temple they worshiped, and here when the
city was in distress an Aztec or one of their prisoners was taken
to the sacrifice table, his breast bared and his heart torn out
and given to the gods. On this same site the Spaniards ordered
the construction of the Cathedral, and today the descendants
of the Aztecs go there much as they did centuries ago, only
now they kneel, often for hours, sometimes with their arms
outstretched, forming living crosses.
When the homes of the Aztecs as well as their temples were
destroyed, the debris fell into the canals so that before long
they were turned into streets. The only canals left are at
Xochimilco and these, with the little boats covered with
flowers, are a vague reminder of how life must once have been
in Mexico City. The table of sacrifice, the war gods, the Aztec
stone calendar are in the National Museum. The pyramids at
Teotihuacin and those at Tenayuca still stand, patched up
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
in places but as strong and as impressive as ever, tombstones
of a dead civilization. Even the lake at Texcoco, where Cortes
fought from boats, has been drained. On windy days the lake-
bed's red dust rises and falls upon the city.
Present-day Mexico City has recaptured in a different form
some of the beauty of the former Aztec capital: there is dra-
matic splendor in the colonial buildings of the Spaniards, in
the Cathedral and in a few of the smaller churches; there is
charm in the homes in Coyoacin, as there is in Maximilian's
Paseo de la Reforma. The old and the new somehow blend
harmoniously. But Mexico City grew too fast for thoughtful
planning and many parts of the city appear cheap and tawdry;
some of the homes of the newly rich, for instance, are as
ostentatious as they are ugly.
The Palacio de Belles Artes is typical of the architecture
of the Diaz regime. Its tremendous weight, and possibly bad
engineering in laying the foundation, have caused this build-
ing to sink more than six feet. Reconstruction and repairs have
brought the total cost of the building to thirty-five million
pesos. It contains the national theater and a glass curtain de-
signed by Tiffany; it has also on the walls murals by Rivera,
Orozco and Siqueiros. Some of these murals depict the con-
quest of Mexico City, the emancipation of the peons and the
industrialization of Mexico.
But this industrialization is no longer a dream painted on
the walls. It is fast taking place, and most of the larger fac-
tories are right in Mexico City or its outskirts. While this
industrialization would have come eventually, it was hastened
by the war. The hostilities in Europe and in the Orient began
to work wonders on Mexico, particularly on Mexico City,
which became the center of the industrialization boom. Mex-
ico began to export to the United States great quantities of
essential war materials and, since it could import very little,
gradually amassed a huge credit abroad. Mexico did not have
to compete with mass production and low prices; it was a rare
opportunity for Mexico's industrial program and the small
industrialists. Mexico undertook to manufacture articles it
had always purchased, and not only sold them at home at high
prices, even if they were of inferior quality, but shipped them
to the United States and to Latin American countries. The
setting for most of this activity was Mexico City, where the
banks financed these new industries and watched over them.
Because Mexico City was the seat of the government and
government aid was often necessary, the industrialists found
it advantageous to establish their factories inside the Federal
District, where they could be close to every new development.
Workers too began to arrive in Mexico City, seeking jobs in
these factories, and before long the capital was bulging with
an increased population.
So far, however, the war boom and the growing industrial-
ization have benefited only a minority of the people. While it
is true that there has been a general rise in salaries, living cost
increases have been greater than the increase in wages. There
is more money to spend, but the standard of life of the people
has not improved noticeably. Whatever change has come has
come mostly in Mexico City.
Outside of Mexico City, it has meant little, except in certain
strategic industrial sections. The Indian still plants his corn,
still lives his life as before; the average working mestizo,
whether in the factory or the field, also is no better off. Actu-
ally only a small number of the gente decent, a few of the
mestizo class and the politicians have reaped the profits from
the war and the boom.
While this industrialization may solve some of Mexico's
most pressing problems, industrialization in itself is not
enough. Benito Juarez indicated long ago that the way out
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
for Mexico was through social changes and economic freedom.
For purposes of clarification, I call these measures of Juarez
the three essentials or the three inseparables: health, education
and economic opportunity. None of these can be gotten singly
and Mexico needs all three. As elsewhere, their accomplish-
ment depends principally on the government and on what is
decided in the capital.
Mexican leaders, spurred by the revolution, tried to help
the people. But the revolution itself became a free-for-all and
few of their promises have materialized. Greed and selfish-
ness have been first, the people and the welfare of Mexico
taking second place. As a result even the government's most
ambitious projects, such as the land distribution plan, have not
fully succeeded, not through lack of concept and practicability,
but because of halfway measures. Graft and corruption have
inevitably stood as the dominating factors between success
The key, therefore, to Mexico's problems and the shaping
of its future is to be found in Mexico City. For Mexico City
is more than a capital; the states are dependent on Mexico
r City and the governors usually are puppets of the administra-
tion. Not only does the power of the government lie in Mexico
City, but also the power of the Catholic Church. Here too are
the headquarters of the unions, the principal offices of foreign
corporations and the embassies and legations. And here to
Mexico City, sooner or later, comes every American who visits
Mexico. Often his impressions of the country are based on what
he has seen and heard there.
Yet, though Mexico City dominates the interior and repre-
sents it, in reality it is not the Mexico of the people. That is
probably why we have had such false concepts of Mexico, that
is probably why we have never known Mexico; we have relied
too much on Mexico City as our slide rule.
In these days of so many changes, it would appear on the
surface that Mexico City had also changed a great deal. In
some respects it has, while in many others it is still the Mexico
City of fifty years ago.
The physical transformation of the city-the tearing down
of old structures, the construction of new ones, the building of
skyscrapers which take the place of what once were one-story
buildings-is part of the current boom, of modern Mexico in
the making. This boom has affected in various ways the lives
and habits of the people.
In the past, Mexico City's night life was never an active one.
With the exception of official and diplomatic receptions, there
was no more entertainment than there now is in the interior.
Whatever entertaining there was, was usually done at home.
Even as late as 1940, only one important night club existed in
the capital, and there were very few good restaurants. Cocktail
bars were for the tourist trade and such things as a cocktail
hour were unknown. The price of a Scotch highball was twen-
ty cents and a steak dinner might cost, at the most, seventy-five
When the change began in 1939 it was so gradual that it
was barely noticeable. But by 1940 with the war in Europe
under way and refugees arriving, many with fortunes in jewels
and securities, Mexico City was fast becoming one of the
headquarters of the international set. Then the bombing of
Pearl Harbor, the fear that the Japanese might invade the
Californian and Mexican coastline and the sudden stopping of
the American tourist trade had an immediate effect. For
several months hotels were empty, rooms in Acapulco could
be had for any price and many tourist agencies closed. It
looked as if Mexico were in for another period like the one
which followed the oil expropriation in 1938 when travel
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
Within six months, however, not only had more refugees
arrived, but the American tourist trade had returned to nor-
mal and was substantially increased by American escapists. By
the summer of 1942, Mexico City had more tourists than it
could handle and hotel rooms without reservations were sel-
dom available. In the fall of that year, Acapulco, which ten
years before had been a dirty, deserted seacoast town, became
the Riviera of Mexico. The international set went there as did
American tourists and Hollywood motion-picture stars.
That same year, an American opened the first smart night
club in Mexico City, against the advice of Mexican acquain-
tances who predicted failure for such a venture. But even the
shrewdest of the Mexicans had been caught asleep, had not
realized the change that was coming over their capital.
This new night club, under the name of Ciro's, started with
a two-dollar-and-a-half cover charge. Within a month the
charge had increased to four dollars. Drinks averaged from
one dollar to one dollar and a half, higher than in most New
York night clubs at that time. It is reported that in less than a
year Ciro's had paid for itself, including the barroom nude
paintings by Diego Rivera. Some time later this same night
club owner, by then an important figure in Mexico City, took
possession of its leading hotel, the Reforma.
Other night clubs, equally expensive, followed the lead of
Ciro's. There were small, intimate Casanova and Minuit and
finally Sans Souci. To these went American tourists, Euro-
pean refugees and Mexican politicians, industrialists and
businessmen, rich with war profits. The inflation was on and
money was spent recklessly.
Mexico City has always had a limited number of excellent
restaurants, such as Prendes, Manolo's, Paolo's and of course
Sanborn's. But these were not enough for Mexico's sudden
prosperity. It wanted restaurants with a richer and a more
cosmopolitan atmosphere. Papillon was one of the first of this
kind which opened, next was La Vie Parisienne and finally
Ambassadeurs, which used heavy silver place plates and fea-
tured a French menu and French wines. The price was in
keeping with its atmosphere.
By this time Mexico City, which boasted the world's largest
bull ring, now cast it aside and constructed an even bigger one.
Tickets for some of the corridas in which the Spaniard, Mano-
lete, took part, sold as high as two hundred dollars. Exclusive
dress shops began to appear on the Paseo de la Reforma, and
a French refugee designer charged anywhere from fifty to a
hundred and fifty dollars for a woman's hat. Motion picture
theaters doubled their prices and for some showings tickets
sold at two dollars.
But early in 1947, this heavenly prosperity began to drop
off. Mexico's credit reserve in the United States was dwindling
at a fast rate. The price of silver fell. The free-spending era
of American tourists and Mexican businessmen loaded with
war dollars was about over.
By the spring of the same year, hotel rooms in Acapulco
were available without reservations. Hotel rates in Mexico
City were lowered from 20 to 30 per cent. The restaurant
owner with the silver place plates was thinking of pawning
them to pay the back salaries of his waiters. The night club
operator who had turned hotel proprietor wasn't so sure that
he had made a wise investment.
Then by summer the tourists began to increase again and the
only dark cloud was a presidential decree which banned im-
portation of everything from Scotch to automobiles. But not
many Mexicans were worried. Mexico's larder was well
stocked and there was always tequila. Still, there was a feeling,
as in other parts of the world, that something was going to
happen, perhaps not at once but soon.
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
In the meantime, those who could kept on going to Cuerna-
vaca. Here, at a lower altitude, they could sit in the sunshine
on the porch of the Hotel Marik, sip cold drinks and look out
at the red-walled palace which once belonged to Hernin
Cortes. When Mexico City got too much for Cortes, he also
used to go to Cuernavaca, as did the Spanish viceroys and later
Maximilian and members of his court. Present-day Mexicans,
when the altitude begins to pinch their nerves, go to Cuerna-
vaca or to Acapulco. Mexico City's altitude is always a good
Life in Mexico City for the average Mexican is far from
quiet. Instead of the leisurely life that is usually pictured, it is
fast-moving. The people are often nervous, impatient, jittery
and hot-tempered, with many illnesses which they attribute
to the altitude, the kidneys, the liver and gall bladder. Every-
one seems to suffer from "bilious" attacks. The consumption
of aspirin per capital in Mexico City is four times as great as
in the average American community.
I know of few cities in the world which can be as noisy as
downtown Mexico City at noontime or in the late afternoon.
Car drivers appear to get a sadistic pleasure from keeping their
hands on their horns and seeing how close they can come to a
pedestrian without running him down. And yet there are times
when Mexico City can be as quiet as a cathedral at morning
mass, and as colorful and as beautiful. Nowhere are Mexico's
plentiful extremes as strong and as apparent as in their capital.
THE AMERICAN tourist trade in Mexico, which has developed
into an industry of sixteen million dollars a year, was not a mat-
ter of chance. It was completely planned. While eventually it
might have come anyway, it was nevertheless created by United
States initiative and enterprise.
For many years prior to 1930, the Southern Pacific Railroad
Company had large holdings in Mexico and operated a branch
freight and passenger service in conjunction with a subsidi-
ary, Ferrocarril Sud Pacifico. In order to increase its traffic
haul between Chicago and California and to meet the competi-
tion of the Santa Fe Railroad, it decided as early as 1928 to
offer a side trip to Mexico as an attraction and at very little
additional expense. As a further inducement, the railroad
also constructed a resort hotel in Guaymas, where the deep-sea
fishing is among the finest in the world.
Southern Pacific then took the problem to its advertising
agency and a campaign was organized that included full-page
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
advertisements in America's leading magazines and newspa-
pers. Next, working with its western affiliate, the Chicago
Rock Island Railroad, it instructed all its agents to attempt to
sell the Mexican side trip. The help of travel bureaus and
agencies scattered throughout the United States was sought
and obtained. Finally arrangements were made for magazines
and newspapers to feature Mexico in their travel sections.
The depression which hit the United States almost upset
their plans, though as it turned out their campaign could not
have been better timed. A great number of Americans almost
at once recognized Mexico as a place to go to forget their
worries. It was less expensive than a European trip and it
offered something new. By the end of 1930, the tourist entry
to Mexico, which before had been in dribbles, had increased
to 23,769 persons per year.
A short time afterward, the Laredo-Mexico City Highway
was finished and tourists began coming by automobile, though
the main traffic was still by train. Next, one of the airlines
established direct connections between points in the United
States and Mexico City. By 1945, the tourist business had in-
creased to 156,447 persons for that year, and their expendi-
tures were estimated at more than eighteen million dollars.
In 1946 the number of tourists totaled 254,079 persons.
While in 1947 there was a natural and expected decline in
tourists, there is no reason why they shouldn't continue com-
ing to Mexico in large numbers. Interest in Mexico appears
to be stronger than ever and today there are four major air-
lines connecting that country with the United States. Even
the once isolated Yucatan peninsula with its magnificent
Mayan ruins is now only a few hours from New Orleans.
As a result of this tourist influx, Americans for the first
time are beginning to know something about this south-of-the-
border neighbor; in the same way Mexicans are getting to
know Americans. There are some American tourists, of course,
who leave much to be desired, buthey are in the minority and
they confine their activities to shops, night clubs in Mexico
City and to Cuernavaca and Acapulco. The majority repre-
sent our great middle class, the schoolteacher, the mechanic,
the store clerk, the scientist, the artist, the small businessman,
who come to Mexico to see and enjoy the country. Mexicans
are suddenly awakening to the fact that these Americans,
whom they find in museums and in art galleries, are quite un-
like the money-mad gringos they have been taught to hate.
Americans too are discovering that Mexicans are not all In-
dians and that they do not spend all their time playing guitars
and taking siestas.
This personal contact between the two peoples may be in-
strumental in eliminating the sense of distrust and suspicion
Mexicans have for Americans and Americans for Mexicans.
Actually Mexicans have no deep hatred for Americans; they
would like to be friends with us if we met them part way. But
here again, the grafting politician, in order to cover his own
operations, has often blamed the ills of his country on the
United States. He still cries out against "Yankee imperialism"
when such accusations are passe. Despite this, relations be-
tween the United States and Mexico have never been better
than they are at present.
Almost all these American tourists, whether they come by
train, automobile or airplane, end up in Mexico City. The
majority of them make it the focal point from which they
start on trips to the various regions of Mexico. There are re-
liable tourist agencies in Mexico City and some of the package
tours are good, particularly for those who come without cars
and cannot afford to rent them. But for tourists who prefer to
be on their own there are passenger cars called tourismos
which go to many sections at reasonable rates. There are also
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
first-class busses or camiones to some points. Second-class cam-
iones-always full of people, chickens, turkeys and fleas-are
not too comfortable but go almost everywhere.
Just as all tourists end up in Mexico City, they usually end
up at Sanborn's purchased some time ago by the Walgreen
drug chain. Sanborn's, with its central location, over a period of
years has become the logical place to meet, for not only Ameri-
cans but Mexicans as well. It was once the homeof the Conde
de Orizaba, a black sheep who made good and returned to
construct a house of handmade tiles. In 1829 it was the scene
of a socially important murder case, and from 1890 to 1910
the headquarters of the famous Jockey Club. It's a far cry to
the Sanborn's of today which made its reputation on milk
shakes and ice-cream sodas and finally developed into a two-
million-dollar investment, selling everything from silver to
A block behind Sanborn's, along the Street of Doncelles,
prostitutes ply their ancient trade. Nearby too are dives where
a tequila costs the equivalent of a nickel and a marihuana
cigarette a dime. Tourists in search of a thrill sometimes go to
the Tenampa bar, where four or five mariachi orchestras play
different tunes at the same time and where there is a knifing
almost every night, usually after the tourists have gone home.
The Mexican police have seen to that. For the Mexican govern-
ment knows that the tourist business is a good business and
one to be protected. Officially it has done everything possible to
aid American tourists, even to having English-speaking police-
men with little metal American flags on their chests. No one
with an American license plate ever gets a traffic ticket. Cus-
toms officials are easy and so are immigration authorities as
long as the visitors are tourists.
For those who want to live or work in Mexico it is another
story. Immigration laws are stiff and Mexicans are afraid of
the competition of foreigners. Legally it is difficult for an
American to get working papers, though it can still be done by
paying off the proper persons. Recently when the government
railway purchased from the United States a dozen Diesel loco-
motives, the company offered to send a number of technicians
to instruct the Mexican engineers and attempted to do it le-
gally. It became so involved the American Ambassador had to
see three cabinet members to arrange entry for the technicians.
Tourists are generally well treated and rarely exploited.
Only when they ask for some special service or privilege are
they expected to pay a mordida, or handout. Bargaining has
all but disappeared from Mexico City and it is encountered
mainly in the markets or in dealing with Indians. One must
still bargain for taxi fares, though lately definite rates have
been established. In the principal stores the price asked is
usually the fixed price, the same whether one speaks Spanish,
English or Turkish. Some of the smaller shops may boost the
price when they see a tourist enter but this is not frequent.
Bargaining is of course practiced throughout the interior.
All Indians bargain; it is part of their method of doing busi-
ness and is in part a game for many of them. They will reduce
an article for which they ask three pesos to two and a half pesos
and even to two, since Indians always have an "asking" price
and one for which they will actually sell. They will never, no
matter how much arguing there is or how much they need the
money, go below the "selling" price.
There are some who say that the Americans and particularly
the tourists have caused the present price rise and that they
spoil the Indians by paying them too much. Often those who
say these things are the reactionaries who want the Indians
to remain in their low economic status. These reactionaries
call us sentimentalists because we feel sorry for the Mexican
poor when we shouldn't; those of us who live in Mexico are
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
also accused of overpaying our servants and thereby ruining
them. It is good we are that way and I hope we keep on
spoiling the Mexicans by paying them decent wages so they
will not have to steal to eat and to clothe themselves. Over-
paying, however, can be as bad as underpaying. I have seen
Americans pay a fantastic bill without question in a night
club and next day try to beat down an Indian merchant for
a few cents.
Even more important than the Mexican government's desire
to please tourists is the fact that the Mexicans themselves as a
people want to do it, not because it is good business but be-
cause it is natural for them to be courteous to visitors. They
strive to make a good impression and are thoroughly pleased
if the tourists like them and their country. Nowhere else are
the people so eager to be helpful. It is odd that they are so
friendly, for tourists sometimes don't meet them halfway.
They know very little about Mexico and less about its people;
most of them have merely glanced through a travel folder or
hurriedly read a book on Mexico. Often that is the extent of
"I like Mexico," the tourist will say. "It is so different from
what I expected. I like it all right. But I would like it a great
deal more if it weren't for the horrible poverty on the streets,
the faces of the undernourished children crying out at me, the
beggars, the filth and the dirt."
It is not pleasant. Humanity crying out is never pleasant.
But humanity is crying out everywhere. In New York, in
Chicago, in Los Angeles and in Tennessee, South Carolina
and Mississippi. Poverty is there as it is in Paris or London or
Rome. And it is in Mexico City. But in Mexico City it is more
For in the United States the poor are in districts-the slums
-and the more fortunate live in another district. The poor
don't have to be seen; they don't have to be faced every day.
But in Mexico City not only do the poor live close to the
wealthy but they don't stay put. They think nothing of walk-
ing down the Paseo de la Reforma or Avenida Madero. They
too like to look around and so they do. No one pays any atten-
tion to them, except the tourists. They are part of the Mexico
And every day Indians from all parts of Mexico come to its
capital. They come with their wives, their children, their
chickens and their dogs. Some of them have traveled a long
way. Most of them have never worn shoes and they arrive in
their cotton suits with serapes slung on their shoulders. En
route they may have bought a new straw sombrero but they
will wear the old one with the new one on top; Indians never
throw anything away. They are very ignorant, so they think
nothing of walking down Mexico City's smartest streets. In-
dians are also very curious, so they look into the windows of
fine stores, and one sometimes wonders what goes on in their
minds when they see these things they have never seen before.
They may also go to the Palace of Fine Arts and look at the
murals of Rivera and Orozco, and one wonders then what they
think when they stand before these paintings that depict their
long struggle, the struggle they have never won.
They may do many other strange things, these Indians who
are so curious and so ignorant. I have seen them at the book
fair pick up books and thumb through the pages as if they
could read; I have seen them laugh and joke when a taxi
almost runs them down; I have seen them enter the Presi-
dential Palace, walk over the thick red carpets and go into the
President's office with complete ease and dignity. When it is
evening I have seen them throw down their serapes, roll into
them and go off to sleep; they may do it in a doorway or in
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
an alcove of a building on the main street, any place they
think good for sleeping.
They are so ignorant they do not know the difference. They
do not know they should stay away from the eyes of the tourists
and of the gente decent. All they know is that they are in
Mexico City and Mexico City is Mexico and the Mexican earth
is their earth, even if it is paved.
As the sun rises over the city, they are walking to the Basilica
de Guadalupe. As they approach the courtyard they remove
their hats and look upon the shrine that was built on the site
where one of them, a poor Indian, saw the vision of the Vir-
gin and was helped by Her.
When they enter the church, they cross themselves and
kneel. Then, on their knees, with eyes cast down, they move
all the way down the long center aisle until they are at the
altar, then, and not until then, will they raise their eyes
toward the painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe. That is what
they have really come to Mexico City to see.
Other people come to Mexico City for many purposes. But
of all the people who arrive in the capital, probably none get
more out of it and leave with more satisfaction than they,
who traveled miles to kneel at the Shrine of Guadalupe.
By now we can see that Mexico City is a combination of
the wicked and the good, the poor and the rich, the beautiful
and the ugly, and somehow, perhaps despite its outer dress,
not unlike other large cities. There are differences, of course,
the result of customs and traditions, many of them radically
opposite to our way of life.
Last night I went to the theater. The performance was
scheduled for ten o'clock, though the curtain did not go up
until ten-thirty as the matinee, which had started at seven
o'clock, had just finished. I dined closer to one o'clock than
midnight and there were still many people in the restaurants;
only the tourists and the poor dine early in Mexico City. The
gente decent seldom go to a night club before midnight.
Mexico is now producing many motion pictures but only a
few compare favorably in acting or technique with the better
American films. Performances at motion-picture theaters be-
gin at four in the afternoon and between the finish of the fea-
ture picture and the rest of the show there is usually a long
intermission. Few Mexicans go in during the middle of a pic-
ture, which isn't such a bad idea either.
Music draws the gente decent, and there is a good sym-
phony orchestra and rather passable opera during the season,
the altitude apparently not affecting the visiting stars. But
dancers, even members of the Ballet Russe, have difficulty
catching their breath, as do ball players and other athletes who
come from sea level. Tourists seem to do well enough some-
times at a pace that would kill them back home.
Mexico City publishes six influential newspapers, one of
which is owned by the government and another by the labor
interests. The three principal morning dailies feature an
English section. Unfortunately some of the newspapers, like
the fifty-odd magazines published in Mexico, are not always
scrupulous. Their editorial columns are for sale to anyone who
wants to buy them, including foreign governments. Not so
long ago, an anti-British newspaper overnight became pro-
British as the result of a heavy British subsidy. When it
stopped, the paper became anti-British again. Except for two
or three magazines, the rest are all political in character and
political in obligations; if a state governor or a certain official
doesn't come through with the cash requested, he is attacked.
It is not entirely the fault of the publishers and editors, for
until recently magazines and newspapers had only a small
amount of advertising, and politicians were a better source
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
of revenue. This condition is improving and of late news-
papers have attacked government corruption and politicians
even though they pay off. This is the best sign that the Mexico
City newspapers and magazines are coming of age.
There are more radio stations in Mexico City than in New
York, though most of them are small and have a limited audi-
ence. But the principal station is as good as any American
station and is also the most powerful on the continent. The
best programs on the air are direct copies of United States
broadcasts even in the use of titles. There is no split-second
timing and overlapping is the rule, not the exception.
Mexicans like parades and take them seriously; hardly a
week passes without a parade or a demonstration in the capital.
Some political demonstrations have lasted from ten in the
morning to six o'clock in the afternoon.
Official receptions and diplomatic parties seem to go on
practically every night. At presidential functions everyone
dresses up, except the President; it is an unwritten law that he
must always appear in plain street clothes.
Mexico's biggest night is the sixteenth of September-their
Fourth of July-when the President from the balcony of the
palace shouts the grito of independence and rings the liberty
bell. The official cry of Hidalgo when he and his small band
turned against Spain was: Muerte a los gachupines, viva la
independencia, viva Mexico! In consideration for the Span-
iards, the part of the grito asking for their death has been
abolished; they are once more gente decent.
Much more spontaneous than these official celebrations
and demonstrations are the unexpected things that happen in
the everyday life of Mexico City. Downtown, on a main
street, a bugle blows, a crowd gathers around in a circle. It is
a street circus with tumblers, and fire and glass eaters. The
performers collect a few pesos and are on their way. I park my
car and return to find it being washed. I protest. Who asked
you to wash it? But senior, can you have any objection if I
wish to make a few centavitos?
Down by the Plaza of Santo Domingo, a servant girl is
sitting next to a professional letter writer as he prepares to
type a love note on his old Oliver machine. Tell him, we
overhear her say, that I shall die if he does not return. The
typist lights a cigarette, thinks for a moment, then begins to
write the letter that will cost fifty centavos.
Nearby a student is standing in front of the College of
Medicine. An attractive girl passes by. He whistles and shouts:
Que guapa, que linda! She does not turn but her cheeks
redden; the student grins and is apparently satisfied with this
These things are but a few that form the backdrop for the
play that goes on daily in Mexico City. Sometimes the play
is tragic; sometimes it is comedy; sometimes the actors are
rich and well dressed; more often they are poor and badly
But the theme is always Mexico, struggling, fighting against
those who seek to do it harm, battling, defending, trying to
make a better Mexico for its people. Of these battles, Mexico
City has been always the center. For Mexico City'it is an old
MEXICO BEGINS TO
IT WAS a fine, warm morning in Mexico City. All the stores,
all the offices, all the schools were closed. On the main street a
procession which was to last for hours had formed. Every army
and municipal band had been ordered out and there were
soldiers of the infantry and the artillery and cadets from the
military academy. Children with flags lined the sidewalks.
The President and cabinet members stood ready to review
the procession along with top-ranking generals in their dress
uniforms. The bands began to play, the soldiers to march. In
the middle of it all there was a black hearse pulled by six
horses with high plumes. But the bands were playing quick-
tempo marches and the people were shouting Viva! Viva!
What kind of joke was this? It was no joke and no ordinary
funeral; the year was 1841 and they were paying homage to
General Santa Anna's leg.
General Santa Anna himself as President of Mexico pre-
sided. His leg, lost in the attack by the French at Vera Cruz,
MEXICO BEGINS TO HELP ITSELF
had been exhumed and now that he was in power again he
had made certain that this time his leg would be interred with
appropriate ceremonies. Who was this Santa Anna? He was
Mexico's most fantastic figure, a man who whirlwinded his
way through a half century of the country's history.
Who paid for this elaborate demonstration to his leg? The
people. Santa Anna placed a tax on all the wheels of carriages
and wagons, on all windows opening to the street, on dogs, on
horses, on water consumed and even on those wooden sticks
the Indians use to plant corn. Fabulous Santa Anna, who a few
years aft. the leg-burial episod~ost Texas to the United
States in an hour while he slept, and then returned to Mexico
to regain his prestige and the presidency.
But that happened long ago. Things have changed.
It was the year 1914. Pancho Villa was in control of Mexico
City. This strange Robin Hood, this teetotaler who killed his
men for taking a drink, had a twinkle in his eye for the women.
Riding through the streets, he caught a glimpse of an attrac-
tive girl of good family. But she had become aware of the
glance he had given her and she ran and sought asylum in the
nearby Belgian Legation. Villa sent his men for her. They re-
turned. The Belgian minister had promised her his protection.
Pancho Villa himself went. The minister refused him admit-
tance, claiming extraterritorial rights.
"The moment you enter this door you are in Belgian terri-
tory," the minister declared firmly.
"Que caray!" said Pancho Villa, "since when did we annex
Belgium?" He pushed aside the minister, took the girl, made
her his sweetheart and later his wife; for Pancho Villa married
all his women.
It was the year 1944. Maximino Avila Camacho, the brother
of the President, was the minister of communications, one of
the most important of the cabinet posts. He was another of
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
those fabulous figures who have appeared in Mexico's history.
In a short time he had amassed a fortune; he owned 365 suits,
one for every day of the year, fifty automobiles, and, it is re-
ported, as many mistresses. He controlled the bullfights, the
railways, the highways and all air transportation.
One afternoon he called a press conference of Mexican
newspapermen and oddly enough included the New York
Times correspondent. Maximino took out a roll of thousand-
peso notes, and as he passed them out to the reporters he said
quite casually, "Now write something nice about me." But the
New York Times man refused to accept the money.
"We are not allowed to receive decorations or gifts from for-
eign governments," he told him diplomatically.
Maximino shook his head.
"You know," he said, "you Americans are very strange
Yes, I suppose we do appear strange to Mexicans and on
occasions they to us. It is difficult for us to understand and to
take seriously these musical-comedy aspects. How can Mexico,
we ask ourselves, talk of industrialism and economic inde-
pendence? How can it possibly achieve these things? It can
achieve them because there is goodness and ability and will-
ingness to work and to fight in the people and because the
people who are Mexico never lose hope, even if that hope some-
times may be dim.
My friend Carlos, now an old man, talks often of Mexico's
revolutionary days. Carlos had a small distilling plant in the
state of Morelos on which he made aguardiente, a native
brandy. For a long time things were not easy for him. The
moment he had distilled enough aguardiente to sell, the
Zapatistas would move in and take what he had on hand. He
would then make more only to find that the Carranzistas were
MEXICO BEGINS TO HELP ITSELF
already at his door helping themselves to his supply. This hap-
The only point to this story is that the average person would
have blown up his still and said the hell with it. Carlos didn't.
He kept on distilling more and more aguardiente, hoping that
he eventually would have a lucky streak and be able to sell
some of it.
"Did you?" I asked him.
"Si, senior, things quieted down after a bit."
"But didn't you lose your property?"
"Si, senior. But I was able to get some more and I put in
a new still and it was far behind the hills, so they left me
The Mexican people are like that. They have a combination
of Oriental fatalism and religious fanaticism. One finds it in all
classes, among the rich and the poor. It makes them want to
live for today, letting tomorrow take care of itself. And it
brings to them a certain feeling of tranquillity that does not
come to many other peoples.
The majority of Mexicans, that is the mestizos, live up to or
beyond their means. If they have money they spend it on
elaborate homes, on automobiles, on clothes, on entertain-
ment. It soothes their sensitive pride and makes them feel im-
portant. And there is another reason. In Mexico's turbulent,
revolutionary history, long periods of security have not been
frequent. What was one man's property yesterday becomes
someone else's today. Mexicans say that riches, like life, are
fleeting. "It is better to spend it and to enjoy it while we have
it, for who knows what the future will bring?"
It is perhaps a good way to feel, but not very clear thinking
for a country that is on the verge of industrialization and
possible economic independence. My Indian friends talk that
[8 1 ]
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
way. They do not like to trust in the future. They plant only
what corn they and their families need for that year and no
more. If things go badly they will go to the Church for help;
somehow they are certain God and the Virgin of Guadalupe
will take care of them. Many other Mexicans inwardly have
the same feeling and do not provide for the future; it is better
to let things be. But you can't build a nation on faith or solely
on the help of foreign capital. That has been Mexico's tragedy.
It has never learned to help itself.
But why is this true of Mexico and not of the United States?
Why when Mexico had the head start did it fall back while
the United States moved forward? What is really wrong with
Mexico? Part of these answers are in the history books. The
United States was an English colony for a comparatively short
time, and, when it did break with Britain, it broke completely.
There were no traditions of long standing, no Englishmen vho
wanted to get rich quickly and return to England; the Church
did not control the couAtry's wealth. The Americans had to
be on their own.
Not so Mexico. Its history is a sad and complicated one. Its
independence from Spain did not bring much of a change,
except that other nations, England, France, the United States,
began to look with covetous eyes toward this vast piece of
unprotected land that had so much hidden wealth. But if the
Mexicans were aware of it they did not show it, nor did they
make any plans or efforts to defend themselves. The rich
hacendados continued their easy way of life.
One evening a group of Mexican Army officers on a drunken
spree entered a French pastry shop and became involved in a
quarrel with the French proprietor. Cakes and pastry began
to fly all over the place; it was slapstick comedy, but the French
accepted it as a serious incident. One of their battleships was
MEXICO BEGINS TO HELP ITSELF
ordered to Vera Cruz where it fired on the city, using as an
excuse smashed pastry
Mexicans usually accuse the United States of taking Texas
away from Mexico. But they forget that Texas, like the states
of Yucatan and Chiapas, wanted to break away from Mexico.
In the case of Texas, the United States did not want war. It
even requested permission to send a diplomatic emissary in an
attempt to arrange a peaceful settlement. But Mexico had no
diplomats to meet with the Americans, only General Santa
Anna of the missing leg. Santa Anna called for war and went
to the defense of Texas. In a short time Mexico lost not only
Texas but Arizona, New Mexico and California.
The United States had hardly had time to withdraw its
troops from Mexico when the French moved in, in 1863, this
time with an emperor. The French were actually welcomed
in Mexico. The gente decent, the clergy and the reactionaries
preferred foreign rule to that of Benito Juarez, the Indian of
Oaxaca, who had assumed the presidency. Juarez with the
passage of the Reform Laws in 1859 had broken the power of
the Catholic Church and ordered government confiscation of
all Church property.
In the unsettled times which followed enactment of these
laws, a treaty was signed in London in 1861 by the British,
French and Spanish governments to land troops in Mexico
for the protection of their interests. This treaty was dissolved
less than a year later and the Spanish and British soldiers left
Mexico. The French did not. They advanced farther into the
country, captured the capital and, with the help of the clergy
and the reactionaries, brought Maximilian of Hapsburg as
Juarez in the meantime had fled across the border and had
then returned to organize a group of faithful followers which
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
began to harass the French. Eventually the French invaders
were forced out and Maximilian was executed. But Juarez,
who now took over the presidency again, was ill and he died
too soon. One of his generals, Porfirio Dfaz, entered Mexico
City at the head of a revolutionary army and in 1876 was
proclaimed Provisional President. From then on, except for
a short four-year period, he became the country's dictator.
Once more the reactionary forces were in control. For the
next thirty years Mexico had a stable government and its
credits rose high in the world markets. Concessions were
granted to American and British companies, railroads were
built, mines and oil wells were operated. There was prosperity
and peace, no musical-comedy antics now. This was big busi-
ness with its thumbs in the rich pie. Mexico had become a
safe place to make investments. There were no graft, no cor-
ruption, no beggars on the streets. Few questioned Diaz' rule,
only the peons who were slaves on the haciendas, and they
had no voice.
The Church regained its power, the hacendados traveled
or lived in Europe, the foreign investors did as they pleased.
There were no bandits in Mexico any more; no one ever
thought of disorder. It was as dead as Mexico's past. Porfirio
Diaz glowed with pride, and his uniform was weighed down
with the decorations of foreign governments.
But early in 1909 the earth began to rumble. It was not
the rumble of an earthquake, but the murmuring of a people
that had been pushed too far. In the hills of Durango was
Pancho Villa, waiting; in the valley of Morelos was Zapata,
waiting; in all of Mexico there were millions waiting, not for
riches, not for glory, but for the freedom which for centuries
they had wanted and never had.
This rumbling, this murmuring that history was to call a
revolution, was no revolution. It was civil war. It was war
MEXICO BEGINS TO HELP ITSELF
between the army of the few and the army of the masses. On
one side were trained troops in uniforms; on the other side
were undisciplined peons, untrained and barefoot but with
vengeance in their hearts.
In 1911 Diaz'resigned and went into exile. But that was
not enough; the clash was inevitable. The taste of blood was
satisfying like a fine wine.
All over Mexico this human wine began to flow and there
was no stopping it. Not until 1920 did the revolutionists
have enough of it and begin to make some serise and some
order out of this tragic drama. But there were still difficulties
ahead, again with the Church, again with the United States.
It is paradoxical that in the late nineteen thirties when other
countries were preparing for war, Mexico was preparing for
peace. It patched up its differences with the United States
and with the Church and by 1940 it had no great internal
issues before it. A year later it was at war with Germany and
Yet despite its tempestuous history, Mexico has been gradu-
ally growing, gradually progressing. This becomes more ap-
parent when we look at certain phases of Mexico's past. For
example, the country did not have a bank until 1864. By
1896 it had twelve banks, and just before the revolution of
1912 it had thirty-three banks with investments and deposits of
180,000,000 pesos. From 1912 to 1920 the country was prac-
tically bankless and printed money had no value. American as
well as other foreign companies paid their employees in gold
and silver coins; a hole in the backyard was the safest vault.
But by 1920 came the establishment of the Bank of Mexico
as a federal institution to control the monetary system of
the country; for the first time there was some assurance of
security for the depositors. Today there are more than 630
banks with investments totaling about 4,000,000,000 pesos,
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
roughly 825,000,000 dollars. (The present rate of exchange
is 4.85 pesos to one United States dollar.)
At one time banks had difficulty persuading anyone to
open a savings account. What we earn tomorrow we will spend
today, was the creed of the majority. There are now approxi-
mately 145,897 savings accounts in Mexico, with a total of
219,000,000 pesos in deposits. And this amount represents
only a portion of the actual savings of depositors, for Mexican
banks have other methods of getting people to save their
money. One of the systems they have devised is called titulos
de capitalizaci6n, a type of savings bond. Such bonds have
a ten-year maturity value of from one to ten thousand pesos,
depending on the size of the monthly payments.
There are about 364,788 subscribers to this form of bank-
ing and it represents a total in savings of more than 155,000,000
pesos. The interest paid is small, but as an inducement to
depositors the serial numbers of the bonds are put into a
lottery each month. A bond buyer if he is lucky may win
the full maturity value of his ten-year bond the first year,
or even the second month.
If banks had a hard time getting depositors, it was even
more difficult to talk a Mexican into buying a life insurance
policy. Life insurance companies were virtually unknown;
the best insurance had always been the gold and silver buried
in the backyard. Yet today there are nineteen life insurance-
companies collecting more than 57,000,000 pesos yearly in
For years, and as late as 1938, practically all the profits
from investments by foreign companies, with the exception
of pay rolls and operating costs, went out of the country and
into the pockets of foreign stockholders. In the oil business
alone there were in Mexico in 1930 eighty-nine companies,
fifty-five of which were American, thirteen British and twenty-
MEXICO BEGINS TO HELP ITSELF
one Mexican. But the Mexican companies were small and un-
important, representing in capitalization less than $2,5oo,ooo
against $175,000ooo,ooo of American capital and $75,ooo,ooo
of British investments.
What was true of the oil business then is true today of the
mining interests, which are still mostly in foreign hands. Even
wealthy Mexicans themselves have in the past preferred to
live abroad, spending their incomes outside the country. It
does not take an economist to figure out that no country can
establish national prosperity or improve its standard of life
when almost all profits leave the country.
Picture the United States with its oil, its mines, its water
and power, its railroads, its airlines, its streetcars, controlled
by British, French, German and Spanish companies who
send their profits to their own countries.
Yet there is no question that without United States invest-
ments, without American daring, technique and know-how,
Mexico would not have developed her resources to the extent
they have been developed in the last fifty years. But times
change and obviously Mexico could not continue to al-
low the exploitation of her riches without demanding some-
thing concrete in return. She began to fight back at her ex-
ploiters and, because she is a country of extremes, she de-
manded not her share, but all. Instead of putting a high tax
on and limiting the profits of the American and English oil
companies, she expropriated them. Instead of permitting a
reasonable profit to American and English utility companies,
she has so whittled that profit that they have not found it
possible to put in improvements and continue any kind of
maintenance. As a result, equipment has become obsolete
and the service is deplorable. Either Mexican capital will
have to buy out these utility corporations or the government
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
will be faced with the problem of expropriating them or
allowing increased profits.
At the same time some of these foreign companies have
not played too fair a game. There is no justifiable reason
why Mexico should be burdened with two telephone com-
panies and subscribers forced to have two telephones. For
years the government has been demanding a merger of the
two corporations into a single company, and has even put
a penalty of a thousand pesos a day on each corporation for
failing to merge. But the two, one Swedish, the other Amer-
ican, so far have preferred to pay the penalty rather than
combine their interests.
These are things that are on the bad side of the ledger.
On the good side are the new manufacturing companies and
industrial corporations that are being formed, some with
huge investments, the capital generally being 51 per cent
Mexican and 49 per cent American. Such capitalization may
assure greater security to American interests, with fair returns
on their investments. But a sizable portion of the profits will
remain in Mexico, which is as it should be.
Mexico is definitely taking its first important step into
industrialization. But such manufacturing and industrializa-
tion will have to come slowly, and with sufficient adequately
trained help, which the country does not have at present. The
success of its industrialization hinges on sufficient demand to
make production in large quantities profitable and on having
the trained help available. This will take time, perhaps many
years, and so Mexico at first, instead of planning to manufac-
ture complete automobiles, will have to be content with the
manufacture of spare parts, going on then to larger units, such
as bodies and engines.
Mexico does not understand that United States industrial-
MEXICO BEGINS TO HELP ITSELF
ization was not an overnight miracle but one of gradual de-
velopment. Mexico wants industrialization to come quickly;
it wants to give birth to full-grown industries without tak-
ing into account the fact that there is not now the demand
that will make manufacturing in quantity possible and
For example, a Mexican corporation in Monterrey sold
stock and obtained enough money to establish a steel mill
for the production of pipe. But its output, governed by the
demand, was so small that it could not produce in large
quantities and soon found it was cheaper to buy the pipe from
the United States. Consequently it began agitation, to raise
the tariff on the imported pipe so that it could sell its own
product at a profit.
During the war years small industries mushroomed and,
because exports far exceeded imports, Mexico was able to
build up a three-hundred-million-dollar reserve in the United
States. But immediately after the end of hostilities, business-
men began to worry about what competition from foreign
markets would do to Mexican-manufactured goods. For they
knew that though they had cheap labor, they could not com-
pete with United States mass production methods. It was one
thing to make, say, electric irons during the war and sell them
at a high price when there were no others to be had. It was
another thing to manufacture and sell them once imported
irons were available. For these imported irons, due to mass
production, could be sold cheaper, even though duty was paid
In the fall of 1945, Mexico passed a decree prohibiting the
import, except with special license, of a large number of items.
Mexico said it was doing this to protect its favorable trade
balance abroad and to prevent the dumping of surplus war
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
materials into the country. But this decree was not enough
to stop imports. Mexicans wildly clamored for all the im-
ported articles they had been denied during the war. Imports
from the United States came pouring into Mexico at the rate
of ten million dollars a month. Mexico, on the other hand,
due to inflation and the high cost of production, was unable
to sell its wares in quantity to foreign markets. Imports ex-
ceeded exports many times over.
Many of the small industries established during the war
faced bankruptcy. At the same time the dollar reserve in the
United States was dwindling too fast and going for commodi-
ties which were in the luxury class rather than for machinery
and equipment necessary for President Alemin's industrializa-
tion and agricultural program. In a single year (1946) Mexi-
co's adverse trade balance had reached a peak of $130,ooo,ooo
of which $60,000,000 went for automobiles. In the first five
months of i947, auto purchases were running 50 per cent
over this figure.
Obviously something had to be done about it. But Mexico
had only a few months before renewed a reciprocal trade
agreement in which United States and Mexican markets were
open to each other's products at correspondingly low tariffs.
The Mexican government now placed its problem before the
economic unit of the American Embassy. There is also good
reason to suspect that President Alemin discussed the matter
in the White House, during his visit to Washington in the
spring of 1947, and received a presidential nod. It would be
strange if he hadn't. At any rate, our Embassy representatives
in Mexico were in on what followed.
On July 11, 1947, the newspapers announced that Mexico
had passed an emergency economic decree on imports. This
drastic measure was called a temporary decree. It banned the
import of virtually everything the United States exported to
MEXICO BEGINS TO HELP ITSELF
Mexico, from automobiles to electric refrigerators, from
canned foods to nylon stockings, from pocket watches to Kraft
paper. It also stopped the importation of all liquors and wines.
Only machinery and a handful of other items were permitted
The seriousness of the decree has not been realized by the
American people. We have probably lost Mexico as an im-
portant customer. Although the decree is scheduled to last for
only two years, it may be renewed or be succeeded by high
tariffs. There is no question, of course, that Mexico has had
to protect its growing industries. Although the decree was
passed with the approval of the United States, it is unfortunate
that the decree had to be signed by a cabinet member who in
private life is an industrialist and whose manufactured goods
no longer have to compete against United States imports in
the Mexican market.
The decree will doubtless give an impetus to Mexico's in-
dustrialization program. It will also lead to a black market.
My Mexican friends will not be satisfied with drinking tequila
and wearing Mexican-manufactured shirts and shoes. The
mistresses of the politicians and industrialists who were so
anxious to have the law enacted will still get dresses and hats
from New York and Paris.
Also there is a loophole in the decree. Special permits can
be issued to import certain prohibited items. I already know
of one large American corporation which is counting on that
loophole. I doubt that many such permits will be issued, but
this provision does open a door for possible graft at a time
when Mexico is fighting hard to eliminate political corruption.
Mexico in the July eleventh decree has challenged itself. It
has virtually cut itself off from the outside world as far as
imports are concerned. Can it meet the challenge? Can it in
two years make itself industrially independent and will the
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
capitalists and industrialists keep faith with the people? Or
will prices go sky high without United States competition to'
keep them down?
"We are today just where the United States was fifty years
ago," a prominent Mexican industrialist said to me recently.
"Then the United States raised its tariffs to protect its grow-
ing industries against European competition. We are doing
the same thing now."
But what he forgot to mention was that fifty years ago
the standard of life in the United States was already on the up-
trend; consumer demand was increasing, prepared to buy what
could be produced in large quantities; that the problem of
price through mass production had already been solved.
Tariffs were raised but imports were not prohibited. There
was no export tax on production; shipping to the world's
markets was made as easy as possible.
In Mexico the standard of life is still low because wages
are low and therefore there is not sufficient consumer de-
mand to warrant large industries. Also there is not the Amer-
ican know-how for mass production. The answer, of course,
is for Mexico to manufacture in quantity, decrease produc-
tion costs and thereby sell at a low price and with a small
margin of profit.. In addition, wages commensurate with an
industrial economy are the largest factor in increased con-
sumption of low-priced goods.
Mexico could well eliminate the export tax on what it
ships out if it expects to do business abroad. At present a
Mexican-manufactured article is taxed from 10 to 35 per
cent when it is exported. While such taxation may help to
balance the budget, it definitely cuts down Mexican exports
and keeps them from competing with the products of other
countries. In its industrial program, Mexico will have to
MEXICO BEGINS TO HELP ITSELF
strive for increased consumer demand. It is the proved way
to produce at low cost.
For example, the normal sale of refrigerators in the United
States is probably more than four million annually. In Mexico
it is about seven thousand for the whole country, less than
the average American city buys. The United States, due to
volume in production, can produce the sealed unit of an
electric refrigerator at about three and a half dollars. But
the same unit made in Mexico, despite low wages, would cost
an estimated fifty dollars. Thus, before Mexico can even
produce refrigerators, it will have to increase the sale to meet
the United States manufacturing price and also produce an
article of equal quality.
It is no answer either to produce a poor product. A Mexican-
made electric bulb costs the same as one of United States
manufacture, but there is a difference. The Mexican globe
burns fifty hours, the American two hundred hours.
Summing it up, Mexico needs well-trained technicians,
plants operated on United States standards, and consumer de-
mand. Most of this will come about when American companies
establish industrial plants in Mexico as they have done in
Canada, France, England and in other European countries,
and as they are beginning to do in Mexico.
Mexican labor has the latent possibilities, amply proved
during the war when Mexican labor was imported to the
United States and after training worked in factories along-
side North Americans. But while they have the capacity and
are extremely able, the Mexicans, like all workmen, require
training, the proper tools and the modern techniques of how
to use them. They can learn this better from us than from
anyone else. We should give them that help not only be-
cause we may profit from it, but because it is the decent
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
thing to do. It is the kind of good-neighbor policy that is
more than just talk.
But the main industrialization problem of Mexico is the
problem it faces every day: the low standard of life of its
masses. A skillful workman must have some education and
training, and nourishing food to eat. Mexico must provide
decent housing and modern health and sanitary conditions.
For no workman, no matter how skillful and how well trained,
can turn out a good product and feel proud of his work if
he is sickly and has parasites in his intestines.
With better wages and a better standard of life, Mexico
will not only produce but buy and consume. Such things
made the United States the nation it is today; such things
will make the Mexico of the future.
"SO FAR FROM GOD
AND SO NEAR THE
MEXICO IS our closest and most important Latin American
neighbor. We have many things in common and we could
be friends if it were not that neither completely trusts the
other. This feeling continually comes up in our relations with
Mexico; it has become a barrier that has kept us apart when
we could be working together advantageously.
Even old Don Porfirio Diaz, a staunch friend of American
interests in Mexico, must have had his doubts at times.
"Poor Mexico," he is reported to have said one day, "so
far from God and so near the United States."
It has not been easy for Mexicans to watch the growth of
the United States from a young and unimportant country
into a powerful nation. It has not been easy for Americans with
their capacity for production to look at Mexico's great lands
and its riches and think, What we could do in Mexico if we
had a chance.
I am certain that thoughtful Mexicans must often wonder
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
why they failed and we succeeded. How, they must ask them-
selves, was it possible? Why, we were a nation before the
United States was even a colony. But in less than a hundred
and fifty years, the United States has become a world power
while we are still a weak and underpopulated country. It
just is not fair. Well, never mind, at least we have our culture.
But you can't eat culture and you can't live on it. So,
like a poor cousin, Mexico looks at its fattened relative and
tries to cover its envy by crying out: The United States robbed
us of our land. The United States exploited us. It promised
us many things but it gave us nothing. It elects our presidents
and it attempts to control our politics. And only lately has it
tried to make amends for past wrongs.
Under such circumstances it would not be human if the
Mexicans did not dislike us, did not fear us. From these
circumstances has grown the anti-gringo sentiment we hear
so much about, though it is not as deeply rooted as it might
be. Being human, the Mexicans, instead of assuming responsi-
bility for their ills, find it more convenient to place such
blame on the United States. We are therefore used as an
excuse for almost anything unfavorable which happens to
Mexico or to Mexicans.
There is Sefiora Cuca, for example, who runs a restaurant
and a souvenir shop near the shores of Lake Pitzcuaro. When
we go there we usually have lunch at her place and chat with
her. The last time we saw her she was alarmed over the in-
creased cost of living.
"And Sefiora Cuca," we asked, "on whom do you blame it?"
"On whom do you suppose?" she said. "The gringos, of
course. They are our fathers. We are their children. They
do anything they want with us."
It was no use arguing with her. It was no use telling her
that the Mexican government, the politicians, her own people,
FAR FROM GOD, NEAR THE UNITED STATES
as well as world conditions, were responsible for the rising
costs and that the United States had nothing to do with it
but was actually aiding Mexico.
More recently when there was a baby kidnapping scare in
Mexico City, it was widely rumored and believed that we
were stealing Mexican babies to give to women who had lost
their soldier husbands in the war. Mexicans, who by nature
have a love for folklore, like to accept such tall stories. Noth-
ing is too farfetched to blame on their rich neighbor.
When President Roosevelt crossed the border for a con-
ference with President Manuel Avila Camacho, the Mexicans
were impressed and flattered that the head of the most power-
ful nation in the world should take the time and trouble
to meet with the President of Mexico. Then almost at once
they grew suspicious. What did Roosevelt want from Mexico?
What could be so important to warrant such a visit? Was
Mexico being sold down the river again? The Mexicans were
suspicious and afraid.
We want your friendship, all right, they said, but how
do we know you mean it? How do we know we can count on
your being our friends? Won't we always be at your mercy?
I cannot blame them for being suspicious and afraid; our
past dealings with Mexico were not the most desirable. I am
not confident even now that we mean everything we say and
that our intentions toward Mexico are always honorable.
I know the American people as a people respect Mexico
and her sovereign rights. I know that such friendship is ex-
tended with no strings attached. But I am concerned about
certain individual Americans and certain members of the
American colony in Mexico. I am also concerned with such
Americans as those who closed the United States oil market to
Mexico and forced her to sell her oil to Germany, Italy and
Japan; I am concerned with such Americans as those who, at
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
the start of the war, rushed to Mexico because there was no
rationing; I am concerned with such Americans as those who
used the steel we needed for our battleships to construct a mil-
lion-dollar racetrack in Mexico City; I am concerned with such
Americans as the representative of a United States corpo-
ration in Mexico, who on the night of V-J Day strolled past
our table in the Sans Souci night club and said: "Thank
God the war is over. Now we can scrap the good-neighbor
policy and tell these bastards where they get off."
I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I'll say that if he
hadn't been drinking he would have been too cautious to
make such a statement. I'll give him the same benefit of
doubt I would give a Mexican who, when he's had too much
tequila, shouts: "Todos los Americanos son unos chingados!"
But as all of us know, we don't say things when we are
drinking if deep down we don't feel them and mean them at
least in part. I am certain that American meant what he
said; and the Mexican means what he says. I believe that at
the bottom of all this double talk is the suspicion and the
general distrust the American has for the Mexican and the
Mexican for the American. The American is convinced that
the Mexican will not play square with him; the Mexican is
equally convinced the American will do everything to get
the better of him and his country.
As long as this suspicion exists, there will never be any real
friendship between the two countries. We must therefore
attempt to uncover the reasons behind it before we can even
approach the problem. For it is not a question of the United
States needing Mexico or Mexico needing the United States;
it is basically a matter of how two peoples living together as
neighbors can get along better.
Mexicans by nature and by heritage are suspicious not
only of Americans but of all foreigners. Their history shows
FAR FROM GOD, NEAR THE UNITED STATES
the logic of this. First the Spaniards came and not only did
they pose as friends but they accepted the hospitality of
Montezuma. When his back was turned they kidnapped him,
then attacked his people and eventually took possession of
Mexico. After several centuries of rigid Spanish rule, the
Mexicans broke away and declared their independence.
But it was not for long. Next the French came and once
more Mexico felt the heel of a foreign country digging into
her. Again Mexico fought back, and did away with French
rule and the emperor. Mexico did not have the chance to
take a deep breath before the British moved in, not as soldiers
but as businessmen and investors. As such they dominated
Mexican trade as well as some parts of the country. But this
was replaced to a certain extent, during the Diaz regime, by
American businessmen and .investors. Diaz ruled, but it was
British and United States capital that controlled Mexico and
often made its policy.
Once more Mexico revolted not only against dictatorship
but against foreign control. Yet this revolt, which was to last
for so many years and which split Mexico wide apart, played
right into the hands of what came to be termed Yankee im-
perialism. While during those years we refused to recognize
the various Mexican governments, we were in almost com-
plete control of the country. It was in the United States and
not in Mexico City that the decisions were made as to who
would and who wouldn't be president of Mexico. It was
during this period, too, when Mexico was the second largest
producer of oil in the world, that we and the British virtually
ran the seaport of Tampico. There was even serious talk of
the United States declaring war on Mexico again and annex-
ing Mexico. Fortunately the first world war, and the good
sense of the American people, interfered with such talk.
Mexico managed to struggle along and, as it began to settle
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
some of its own internal issues, gradually peace was restored.
At last Mexico was having an opportunity to rule its own
house and was enjoying it, even though there was disorder.
But still the American threat was ever present. The Mexicans
feared Washington. Did not the first Roosevelt say: "Speak
softly but always use the big stick?" Now once more there
was a Roosevelt in the White House but this one spoke in
a friendly fashion and used no big stick. He said instead:
"In the field of world policy I would dedicate this nation
to the policy of the good neighbor."
The Mexicans didn't believe it. As always, they suspected
a trick. Then slowly they began to realize that Roosevelt
meant what he said. In 1940 the United States did every-
thing possible to keep from interfering in the presidential
elections, though there were still Mexicans who were con-
vinced that Washington had put in Manuel Avila Camacho.
In 1946, while Mexico was not entirely pleased with the
president it had named to office, it was satisfied, I believe,
that the United States had completely kept its hands off.
But will it continue that way? Will the tradition of Roose-
velt and his good-neighbor policy remain as an example in the
future? Was President Truman's visit a sincere one? Mexico
wonders and is suspicious, as she has a right to be.
That is the case for Mexico. The case for the United States
is something else again.
In the past the United States justified its interference on
many grounds. Some Americans, especially those with in-
terests in Mexico, said that as long as Mexico behaved itself
and kept its house in order, it was not our concern. The
United States did not want the war in 1846 with Mexico. It
tried to prevent it diplomatically, only to run up against
General Santa Anna.
Mexico lost that war, and it also lost Texas, which never
FAR FROM GOD, NEAR THE UNITED STATES
did belong to it anyway, and it lost Arizona, New Mexico
and California. While it is no argument, nevertheless it is
true that Mexico with its small population had more land
than it could control or protect; sooner or later some other
foreign country might have seized portions of it. When Com-
modore Sloat anchored in Monterey Bay on July 7, 1846,
and took California, not a single shot was fired. The Span-
iards and Mexicans there, having no allegiance to the central
government in Mexico City, actually welcomed the Amer-
icans. Even the states of Yucatan and Chiapas tried to secede
from Mexico to establish their own independence.
When Diaz later brought comparative order to Mexico, it
was he, not the United States, who urged American invest-
ments and developments. After Diaz was overthrown and
there was chaos, the United States took the position that it
had to protect American life and property. To do this, it
was forced into interfering politically. That's why Pershing
was sent with troops to chase Pancho Villa; that's why battle-
ships were sent later into Vera Cruz; that's why the blockade
in Tampico had to be broken by a United States gunboat. The
United States argued that it could not stand by while a
neighbor was disturbing the peace; this lawlessness, this
banditry had to stop.
To the credit of the American people and the United
States, let us say that we were misinformed and ignorant.
of what was really taking place. We did not know Mexico;
only a small group of Americans had been there. We did
not realize that this was no special attack on United States
life and property, but a class struggle, a war somewhat similar
to what we had had ourselves. We overlooked the issue and
wanted only law and order.
Let us also admit that if we were sinners, the Mexicans
were not saints. They too forgot the issue at stake and there
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
was graft and corruption. American companies were forced
to pay bribes to officials in order to obtain protection. Few
of the leaders could be counted on to keep their word. No
man of the strength and vision of Juarez came out of this
It is still the weakness of Mexico today that it lacks leaders
of stature and character. The closest since the revolution was
CArdenas and he was far from approaching greatness. He
pushed social reforms that were necessary, but always with the
halfway measures that kept them from fully succeeding. He
shut his eyes while his relatives and his friends helped them-
selves liberally to public funds. Members of the American
colony knew this well and whatever respect they might have
had for Cardenas was lost because he became "just another
American investors have learned the lesson that almost
every Mexican has his price, even if he is a top-ranking cabi-
net member. With money, they have discovered, practically
everything is possible in Mexico. Americans have also found
that Mexicans, even when money is paid over, do not always
keep their word. How do we know, these Americans ask,
that the present government means everything it says it does?
How do we know that what we invest today in Mexico will
not be expropriated tomorrow? How do we know that dis-
criminatory measures against Americans will not be passed
in the future? How can we count on Mexico as a friend and
ally? So far nothing has been done to set aside these sus-
picions, and only of late have we become a little more toler-
ant in our dealings with our neighbor.
That, briefly, is the case for the United States. It is impor-
tant because on it depend our future relations with Mexico.
Yet despite these misunderstandings, something has hap-
pened in Mexico outside the realm of our State Department
FAR FROM GOD, NEAR THE UNITED STATES
and certainly outside the influence of Mexican politicians.
The people of both countries are beginning to discover each
other. This may do more than anything else to eliminate this
mutual distrust. The American middle-class tourist goes to
Mexico, taking nothing away from the country but instead
bringing money into it. When he departs he is laden not
with Mexico's material wealth but with souvenirs of Indian
handicraft. Mexicans are finding out that all Americans are
not millionaires with money to throw away; they are learn-
ing that the American middle class is made up of people not
unlike their own and with interests similar to theirs. They
are also becoming conscious of the fact that these American
tourists are friendly and kindly and that they do not attempt
to show off their superiority or their higher standard of
living. It is a fresh experience for Mexico to have this kind
of foreign invasion.
It is also rather an experience for the American tourist
to find that Mexico is entirely different from what he be-
lieved it to be. The people are friendly and helpful; the
country is not as backward as he had expected.
Whatever antagonism there is toward the United States
exists on the surface and is not deeply rooted in the Mexican,
It is centered mostly in Mexico City and once outside the
metropolitan area it begins to diminish gradually and virtu-
ally to disappear in the north. The great mass of Mexicans
does not dislike the United States; it is indifferent.
In the minority there are those who hate the United States
and are outspoken about it, particularly if they are politi-
cians or labor leaders, because they feel it is good business.
There are writers and artists too who find that an attack on
Yankee imperialism is a sure-fire subject and an easy way
to draw attention to themselves. Yet I am confident that in
the majority are those who like the United States and our
THESE ARE THE MEXICANS
American way of life but are still afraid to be outspoken
about it. For Mexicans are sensitive, proud, and above all
It is also true that some of this hatred toward the United
States is not inspired by Mexicans themselves, but by various
foreign elements in Mexico, such as the Spaniards and the
French, who control certain markets and businesses, and before
the war by the Germans. They are afraid of American com-
petition and mass production. They do not want Americans
in business in Mexico because they know that United States
enterprise usually wins in competition.
There was a time when European culture, specifically
French and Spanish, was the predominating influence in
Mexico. But that time is gone. Every day United States influ-
ence is becoming more widespread. One sees evidence of this
everywhere and it will grow deeper as the American tourist in-
flux increases. In addition, the summer school held at the
national university, attended by many teachers and students
from the United States, has accomplished a great deal toward
the betterment of relations.
Mexicans really like us. They like our women with their
freedom of life and independence; they like our frankness,
our relative honesty in government and our standard of liv-
ing; they admire our industrial and inventive capacity; they
like our sportsmanship, our baseball, our different types of
athletics; they also like the things that we, as a nation, stand
Most Mexicans who can afford it ride in American-made
automobiles; their letters are written on American type-
writers and signed with American pens. They listen to the
radio on American-manufactured sets, hear our symphonies
and dance to our swing or our boogie woogie. Once they