Daily Archives: 29 September 2007

Sam Quinones on Two Mexicos

This post from its introduction concludes my series of excerpts from the fascinating book, True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001). I look forward to reading his newest book, which I ordered at the same time.

The Priista/licenciado is the modern version of the hacienda owner and the Spanish noble. He doesn’t return phone calls to anyone less important than he is. He is accountable only to those above him. He keeps those seeking employment waiting in his lobby for hours because he can. His shoes are too well shined to belong to anyone who really works. His sinecure insulates him from the higher standards the world demands, and from this he derives his inertia.

The Priista/licenciado culture remains an anchor around the neck of Mexico’s development. It assumes the superiority of those with power and thus is fundamentally unfair. Though clad in double-breasted suits, this part of Mexico remains emotionally stuck in the sixteenth century. It is the modern expression of the ossified top-down, hierarchical tradition left the country by the Aztecs, the Spanish, the Catholic Church, and the dictator Porfirio Diaz. This side of Mexico is hardly ready for the demands of democracy and the global economy. The very term licenciado is supposed to conjure up some kind of innate wisdom. The licenciado doesn’t need to prove his worth; he is entitled to more than his labor produces. The Priista is a Priista precisely because adhering to the state endows him with special rights. Mexico’s world-famous corruption has its roots here, and so therefore does Mexicans’ belief that their society is unjust.

I mention all this because this part of Mexico is what the world seems to know best. Certainly the press, other governments, and tourists are most aware of the official, elite, corrupt Mexico; the Mexico that won’t allow a poor man a chance; the Mexico behind the sunglasses. I’ve even been told by people, including Mexicans, that this is Mexican culture. But I know that’s not true. There is another Mexico.

This other side is vital and dynamic and is often found on Mexico’s margins. The other side of Mexico is not always pretty, but it is self-reliant and adventurous.

And this Mexico is what this book is about….

The emigrant stands for the country’s vital side. He uses his wits and imagination. He strikes out on his own, looking for a future. One emigrant does not require two people attending to his needs. Some twelve million Mexicans reside year-round in the United States. Many millions more have lived and worked there or spend part of the year up north. The United States is now part of the Mexican reality and is where this other Mexico is often found, reinventing itself.

Official Mexico holds their absence against them. Emigrants are resented for their daring. In official Mexico’s twisted point of view, emigrants must explain why they aren’t traitors to their country….

The country’s greatest modern catastrophe is that it has treated the emigrant poorly and thus been deprived of his dynamism. His absence is of greater consequence to Mexico than the nineteenth-century territorial losses of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Mexico survives today largely because the emigrant cannot bring himself to fail his country the way the licenciado so miserably fails him.

Much the same could be said for the Philippines and so many other major exporters of migrant labor.

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Mexico’s Lumpendeputies, the Bronxistas

From True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001), pp. 184, 187-188:

No Bronx was needed during the decades of PRI hegemony, when virtually all congressmen were Priistas. An occasional opposition critic at the podium was even a welcome sight, adding a democratic veneer to an authoritarian exercise.

Congressmen then were known as levantadedos—finger raisers. Cartoonists portrayed them asleep in their chairs with their fingers in the air. They took orders from the president and approved whatever he proposed. Some deputies couldn’t read or write. It didn’t matter. They had been powerless since 1933. [Sounds like one-party Hawai‘i during the 1980s—and probably the 1930s as well.]

A fire in the chamber [in 1991] forced the 55th [Legislature of the Chamber of Deputies] to spend many months in an auditorium at Centro Médico—the medical center several miles away. The auditorium had no offices, no secretaries, no telephones. Simple things like writing a letter were major undertakings. Most PRI deputies were already shut out of the decision making, which was the exclusive domain of an elite crew of twenty or so Priistas. Now they didn’t even have secretaries. They felt like schoolchildren. Ghettoized, they commiserated, and soon a collective bond emerged among sixty or so deputies. As the months wore on, they hit on the idea of publishing a newspaper as an outlet for their festering frustration…. Their newspaper … was to be a clandestine organ of dissent and barbed humor, written anonymously. [Arturo] Nájera was put in charge of collecting articles.

The paper was first published in December 1991 and was known as La Daga—The Dagger. La Daga looked like a junior high school newspaper. Only eleven editions were ever published…. La Daga was by and for the rabble. It had no budget. It was written on a typewriter—full of spelling mistakes—then xeroxed and stapled together. La Daga was a collection of gossip, anecdotes, sexual innuendo, and cartoons making fun of important chamber members—and in that lay whatever transcendence it achieved. Soon dozens of deputies were contributing. “You know, there were 250 or so underemployed congressmen,” said Nájera. “If you’re sitting there with nothing to do, in two hours you can write a poem or an article.” There was often too much to publish.

Yet if this group of deputies showed signs of rebellion, its main function was to ridicule opposition deputies at the podium. “Lumpendeputies,” one opposition-party colleague called them. Wisecracking sustained them in their discredit. Relegated, disrespected, crude—the group developed an esprit de corps around its name. How it got that name is in dispute. Nájera says it was given them by Esteban Zamora, a PAN deputy. One day, the story goes, they were attacking Zamora as he spoke from the podium. “You over there in the Bronx, leave me alone,” Zamora supposedly boomed in response. Zamora denies coming up with the name, though he admits calling them “la broza del PRI” (“the PRI’s rubbish”). “They’d already named themselves the Bronx. I didn’t invent that,” Zamora told me. “Please don’t attribute it to me. It would be an insult to the district in New York.”

Whatever the case, Mexicans had long associated the term with aggressive behavior. The group donned the name—La Daga became its voice. La Daga eventually published a map of the chamber. The PAN section was labeled Queens; the PRD, Harlem. The PRI leadership section was commonly known as the Bubble by this time, but it was labeled the Holy Sanctuary, while the group of powerful Priistas directly behind it was christened Manhattan. Left field, made up of Priistas who didn’t yell or participate but more or less bided their time, was dubbed New Jersey. In right field was the Bronx. “I think among many of us who formed the Bronx, there was this spirit of independence, of not enslaving ourselves to an orthodox, closed regime,” Nájera said. “We formed a wing that superficially could be seen as ‘rudos’—with the yelling and all that. But that wasn’t the intention. Rather it was a way of permeating this impenetrable bubble of power.”

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