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Culture, Politics, and National Identity in Mexican Literature and Film, 1929-1952


Anne T. Doremus

From 1929 to 1952 Mexico underwent a period of intense nationalism as the state, newly emerging from the Mexican Revolution, sought to legitimize itself, consolidate its institutions, and promote economic growth. As a consequence, these years also witnessed a fervent search for national self-awareness in the cultural sphere. This work contrasts constructions of national identity in some of the most renowned literary works of the period with those in some of the most popular films, revealing their distinct functions within the nationalist project. It demonstrates that in spite of their striking dissimilarities, articulations of a Mexican consciousness in these two mediums were complementary within the framework of nationalism, as they satisfied and shaped the interests and desires of distinct sectors of Mexican society.


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CHAPTER 4: Nationalism, the Pelado and the Myth of Authenticity 80


Chapter Four Nationalism, the Pelado and the Myth of Authenticity By the middle of the 1930s a period of incipient industrialization had begun that attracted increasing numbers of Mexicans to the urban areas, particularly to Mexico City _I Reflecting these changes, some authors began to focus on the urban milieu and on what it meant to be a modern Mexican. Film was more hesitant to deal with the urban environment, and instead concentrated on Mexico's countryside. Nevertheless, it was responding to the changes brought about by the modernization process and Lazaro Cardenas's (1934-1940) agrarian policies. Film's idealization of ranch life in porfirian Mexico expressed nostalgia for times past, and a rejection of Cirdenas's agricultural policies, which called for the breakup of the large haciendas. It reinforced traditional values that many Mexicans felt were being threatened. Nonetheless, in the late 1930s one urban figure began to appear in cinema who became tremendously popular during the next decade: the comic Mario Moreno "Cantinflas", a pelado (poor urban immigrant, of partial indigenous descent) from the Mexico City slums. The pelado was also employed in literature, usually as an archetype through which to analyze the Mexican character. However, constructions of the pelado in literature were usually quite different from those in film. Often they embodied the worst national character traits, those that were maintaining the nation in a state of economic backwardness. Reflecting and promoting the interest of the educated elite and the economically privileged, many authors of "Mexicanness" sought to identify Mexicans' pre-modern...

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