El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

Archive for the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Category

“Vamos a Santa Maria” Lazaro Cardenas Has Come to Help Us

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A couple of blocks from my “hacienda” a guy sells used books in the entrance to a small downtown hotel. There’s the usual selection of sets of 30 year-old encyclopedias, outdated textbooks, travel guides and magazines. He usually has a nice collection of books on history, art, politics and music. They are almost all in Spanish. But he keeps one low bookcase just for books in English. The variety can be surprising, for example, he has a copy of a guide to American university graduate school programs from 1984 (I told him I had already read it). There’s always a few Danielle Steel romances, some books by Steven King, you know, popular American authors from the last century.

I stopped in last week and noticed that he had added several new books to the English “corner”. Well, I say new books but this group were mostly 40 to 60 years old. Nice hard-cover copies in really good condition. He said they had come from the same collection, he had bought them all at the same time. I saw at least two that I wanted to buy, but I decided on just one: Timeless Mexico by Hudson Strode, published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in 1944. I’ve been reading it ever since and, in fact, have started rereading it already.

I suppose this blog should really go under the book nook heading, but Timeless Mexico is really a political history of Mexico up to the time of World War II, and it gives some very interesting insights into the ideals of nationalism and how they have been formed in Mexico through the last five hundred years. With the bi-centennial coming up in 2010, the material covering the last two hundred years is particularly interesting. I’m still reading it so I’m not going to bore you with a review, but suffice to say it is a very good book.

The name of Lazaro Cardenas, president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940 has been a popular search tag on WordPress. He is also one of the most popular presidents in Mexican history. He was a man for the people, but complex and he could be a skillful political strategist. I just have one story about Cardenas to tell from the book, but it’s a good one.

“Eight days after his inauguration he announced that the national telegraph company would transmit free of charge, every day between noon and one, messages from the public explaining to him their urgent needs.”

A wit conceived a joke, which circulated widely, revealing where Cardenas put the emphasis in  administration. The president was concentrating on work at his official desk one morning when his private secretary presented him with memoranda of urgent business. “Crisis with the railway workers.” “Pass it on to the minister of communications,” said the president. “Sisal production in Yucatan under par.” “Tell the minister of agriculture.” “Important message from the United States State Department.” “Tell the minister of foreign affairs.” “Big bank scandal imminent.” “Inform finance.” The procedure was interrupted by one of the free telegrams from a remote village, Santa Maria del Tule. It was signed by Juan Diego. “My corn perished with drought, my burro lay down and died, I have malaria, and my wife is having a baby.” Brushing documents aside, Cardenas rose with alacrity. “Order the presidential train. We go to Santa Maria!”

I just think that is a good joke but it also hints at the story behind the man. In the book it says that he never traveled with a revolver and refused to have a body guard. He would visit towns and villages unannounced, walk the streets and sit and talk with people on park benches. He had four main objectives: (1) To give land to all peasants who needed it; (2) to raise the living standards of workers; (3) to give everyone a chance at an education; (4) to improve the health of the country. Where Calles, the previous president had said, “The Revolution has gone far enough,” Cardenas said, “It has just got started.”

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July 11, 2009 at 5:34 am

Don’t Hate Me ’cause I’m American (if you must hate me hate me because I am me)

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A few years ago I cut an article out of The News, the Mexico City English language daily newspaper. I like The News, it disappeared for awhile and is now back in a little different style. It must have been a slow news day back then because they published the article under the heading SOUNDOFF, which translates, roughly, to SHOOTYOURMOUTHOFF. The article was written by an American student studying in Canada. It has the headline; “Don’t hate me ’cause I’m American” I added the subtitle because I’m a smart arse. You could tell he was a college student because he actually included the sentence: “Yet I am constantly castigated by your presumptuous and quotidian fulmination.”  Man, dey sure must talk funny up dere in Canada, ay?

After securely saving this article for more than four years, I recently found it folded up and tucked into a pocket in an old notebook. I’d like to share it with you today for several reasons, not the least of which is that I assume the author has finished college by now and has a real job somewhere reading dictionaries. I should add the disclaimer that I don’t have anything against this guy because he is an American. Although technically, Canadians, Mexicans and even Hugo Chavez may be considered Americans, too, since they all live in the Western Hemisphere which is composed of the continents referred to as “the Americas”. But I don’t want to quibble (I have been waiting for the opportunity to use the word “quibble” ever since I started reading the dictionary!) The New York Times style book claims that the terms “American”, “America” and the “United States” refer, in general usage, to the “United States of America”. I know that some ultra-nationalist Mexicans don’t like to hear that because their country is officially called “The United States of Mexico” (but trust me, no one gets the two nations confused) and, surprisingly, at least to me, there was, at one time, an entity called the “United States of Central America”. (But I think that last one only existed for about 30 minutes, before there were several revolutions, probably precipitated by those damn Canadians.)

The author claims to be “a rather identifiable American” although in his picture he kind of looks like a French guy and he has a very French name, let’s just call him “J. P.”. He was attending classes at a University in western Canada, which may explain why Canucks “hated” him so much–the only people Canadians “hate” more than Americans are the French. It’s like a double whammy, a French guy from the U.S! But I digress….

So I am just going to present the original article in its entirety (really, I should say, as it was originally published in The News, as I have to presume it was edited somewhat, at least I hope it was. I doubt that   J. P.  will ever see this but if he does he is welcome to offer any additional material he may feel is pertinent). The text of the article will be in red, since, for all I know, the Canadians may be Communist sympathizers, too.  Of course I reserve the right to add any smart arse comments of my own, (in black), otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

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La Adventura Americana or My American Adventure

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Hola Amigos, El Fomentador wants to thank-you all for your visits to the blog, muchas gracias. It is that time of year when el Fomentador hits the road–the road north. Three days in el autobus from central Mexico to Canada sounds like a horror story in itself. But I have gotten pretty good at riding buses. And the system in Mexico is actually better than in the states. There are generally two drivers, the bus is filled with Mexican families from little kids to grandparents, they show movies on the trip, and everyone is friendly and willing to put up with my poor Spanish; it’s good practice for me and I have met some amazing people. Of course they are all heading to the US to work or visit family. As an example, last year I rode next to a young Mexican guy on his way to North Dakota. He was a good example of the changing demographics of our countries–a Mexican guy working in a Chinese restaurant in North Dakota! Somewhere I am sure there is a Chinese guy working in a Mexican restaurant in Michigan. I like to say: Only in America!                https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/da/Malta_01_bus.jpg
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June 9, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Nationalistic Pride and Prejudice

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//www.latinamericanstudies.org/mexico/lazaro-cardenas.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Lazaro Cardenas, Mexican President from 1934 to 1940, revered for nationalizing the railroad and oil industries

I read a recent column by a Mexican author talking about “Urban Legends” in Mexico. He cited examples ranging from a paternalistic political system designed to maintain the status quo to the reform of Pemex. I agree with much of what the columnist says. For example, that the political process in Mexico remains sort of a veiled mystery that “reflects [Mexico’s] particular idiosyncrasies” and the political class has convinced themselves and many of the people that “therefore [Mexico] can never be governed under modern democratic institutions”. He refers to Mexico’s “outdated worldviews” and says that “development has stagnated because certain sectors of the political class still manage to use urban legends successfully.”

All of this is, sadly, true, but I believe the author is confusing the idea of urban legends with the nationalistic propaganda that citizens have been force-fed for decades. A citizenry that has been left purposely undereducated and misled for centuries by the ruling class, be they Aztec kings, Spanish conquistadors or self-serving, modern-era Mexican politicians.
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March 4, 2008 at 9:53 pm