Connecting History

Connecting History logo

Milestones

Milestones logo

Hot off the Press

Book Reviews logo

History Talk

History Talk logo

Transcript: Juntos Haremos Historia: AMLO and Mexico's Fourth Transformation

[Listen to the podcast here.]

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (a.k.a.AMLO) rode to the presidency in 2018 by promising Mexico "juntos haremos historia" ("together we will make history"). Pundits have fallen over themselves trying to categorize AMLO, refering to him variously as Mexico's Jeremy Corbyn and Mexico's Donald Trump. AMLO's keen sense of his country's history has found expression in his promise to inaugurate the country's "fourth transformation." In doing so, he has positioned himself squarely in the pantheon of Mexican reformers. The phrase is a reference to the march of Mexican politics towards social democracy (after independence in 1810, the liberal reforms of the 1850s, and the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s).

This month, hosts Lauren Henry and Eric Michael Rhodes speak with two experts on 20th century Mexican history—Drs. Elena Jackson Albarrán and Reyna Esquivel-King—to consider what exactly such a transformation might look like. From AMLO's strategic deployment of history to corruption and the politics of Mexico's "Other Border," we explore in this episode the historical context and contemporary ramifications of Mexico's 2018 election.

To learn more about modern Mexican history, check out these Origins features: Shifting Borders: The Many Sides of U.S.-Mexican Relations; Mexico and the Memory of 1968; A Postcard From Oaxaca, Mexico; A Postcard from Mexico City.
 

Transcript Begins Here:


Lauren Henry 
Welcome to History Talk, the podcast that brings together experts to discuss current events in historical perspective. My name is Lauren Henry, and I'm here with my cohost Eric Michael Rhodes.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
Hey, Lauren. In July 2018, Mexican voters broke with decades of precedent and elected Andreas Manuel Lopez Obrador, former Mexico City mayor and populist agitator to the presidency. The election of Obrador, who's often referred to by his initials AMLO, represents a seat change in Mexican politics. Since the Mexican Revolution, He is only the third president not to come from the long dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party. AMLO was the first candidate to receive more than half of the electorates votes. He is also the first openly leftist president since the great depression. As president, AMLO faces a bevy of pressing issues, spiraling inequality and corruption, a record high murder rate of nearly 30,000 murders in 2017, not to mention an increasingly bellacose neighbor to the north. His ability to deal with these manifold challenges will determine not only his political future, but the fate of the country as a whole.

Lauren Henry 
To help us make sense of the historical forces that have led AMLO's election, we're very lucky to be joined today by two highly esteemed scholars of modern Mexico. First we have Dr. Elena Albarran, who is Associate Professor of History and Global and Intercultural Studies at Miami University. Dr. Albarran studies revolutionary and social movements in Mexico and Latin America with a particular interest in the history of childhood and visual culture. She's joining us today from Oxford, Ohio. Thank you for speaking with us, Elena.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Thanks for having me. It's great to be here to talk today.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
And in the studio today is Rena Esquivel-King, a PhD candidate in Latin American history at The Ohio State University. Rena specializes in the history of modern Mexico. She is currently completing her dissertation on Mexican film, and the construction of Mexican national identity. Welcome, Reyna.

Reyna Esquivel-King 
Hello. Thank you for having me.

Eric Michael Rhodes
Just to give us a bit of background here today. Traditionally, Mexican politics have been dominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party or the PRI who have held the presidency for 76 of the last 90 years. What are the origins of the pre and how did they become the dominant force in Mexican politics during the last century?

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
I can jump in and give a brief background about the origins of the of the PRI. Many people know it by the PRI. It started off as the PNR in 1929, which was the Partido Nacional de la Revolucion, which was begun by the president from the revolutionary administration, Plutarco Elías Calles. that name it was changed in 1934, or 36, to the PRN. But it got its final name of the PRI in 1946, the Party of the Institutional Revolution. So people consider that history of the PRI even though it's gone through several name changes all the way back to 1929. It was basically intended to centralize the state, to democratize Mexico by putting lots of state agencies and bureaus out into more provincial areas of Mexico. But ultimately, that democratizing structure over the course of the 20th century, kind of flipped to become an authoritarian structure and more, rather than democratizing, more of a way of effecting a kind of a top down control over even the most provincial areas in Mexico.

Reyna Esquivel-King 
My work actually centers on the bureaucracies created during the Cárdenas administration from 1934 to 1940. I think a lot of people consider that way, the really the heart of the structure of bureaucracy with him. And he's considered kind of a legacy from Zapata and Via this beacon of hope for for Mexico with Cárdenas. So the I think it became such a dominant force because they do have the implement a lot of funding, state funding, either, like Dr. Albarran said that they do education reform in the 1920s, 1930s trying to reach out to the indigenous population, even though that's not. They didn't always succeed. And then they also do with film as well giving a lot of money to state funding for films that also preach a certain message of the PRI party. So that's how it's like authoritarian with kind of this message of democratization. But really, you could only get money in regards to film and things like that if you had a message that was positive of the PRI party.

Lauren Henry 
And that's Lázaro Cárdenas, right?

Reyna Esquivel-King 
Yeah. Lázaro Cárdenas.

Lauren Henry 
Excellent.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
And Rena, would you mind elaborating a little bit on what you mean by the legacy of Zapata and this sort of the meaning in Mexican history?

Reyna Esquivel-King 
Well, the Mexican Revolution really centers on Zapata I think, as a huge figure, obviously, as somebody who's the father of Morelos in the state of Morelos, who's giving land who really wanted land back to the to the peasants. And he really embodied what the ideals were for the revolution. And during the 1920s, people are a little disappointed, like President Obregón, and walk around the first two, they didn't really enact the changes that people wanted to see. So it was Cárdenas where we do see a massive land reform and, of course, the nationalization of oil in 1938. He kind of takes that legacy and moves it forward. So people can have seen the promises of the revolution fulfilled, if you will. And it's unfortunate, then, as we go further on into the, you know, '50s and '60s, it does get a lot more conservative.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
In 2018, more than 56 million Mexican voters went to the polls, in what observers have called the biggest election in Mexican history delivering a decisive victory for AMLO and a major defeat for the PRI. What were some of the issues around which the election turned?

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Some of the pressing issues that are ongoing, they're not new to 2018. But that that really occupied a lot of time and space, especially in the debates among the candidates are the issues of the increasingly powerful drug cartels and, kind of connected to that, to the issues of political corruption that often have some bearing on the power of the drug cartels. Those issues were pretty foremost in the conversations that the candidates were having. Other issues were education reform, and less than less than you would think were issues of relations with the US. Although it did come up. It wasn't nearly as much of a part of the national conversation as I think it gets projected in our national media here in the U.S.

Lauren Henry 
In 2018 AMLO ran under a coalition heading of, "Together, we will make history." Now. We've just spoken a bit about this longer history of 20th century Mexican politics and specifically 20th century leftism. What are some of the ways that AMLO has deployed Mexican history to his advantage during his campaign, and even afterwards?

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
AMLO himself is a sort of historian in his own right. He's written, I think, 17 books. Not all of them are history, but some of them could be classified as traditional works of history. His wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, is also a historian and a journalist. And so more than any other president in Mexico's history, AMLO has really, really identifies with, with history as a narrative as a narrative process, has studied it, and really inserts himself in it very intentionally. So I think this is actually a really fascinating aspect of the presidency--is the incredibly conscious level in which historical narratives, images, rhetoric, and historical literacy are inserted into almost everything that he does politically. So, for example, the name of his coalition "Juntos heremos historia," which is, "Together we make history," as you mentioned, itself is a way of reframing the historical narrative that puts him kind of at the end of it. So one of the ways we can speak, I'm sure Reyna has some examples that she wants to contribute as well. One of the things that comes to mind right away is within the first day, actually, the first day of his presidency, they unveiled a new logo for the website of the govierno de Mexico the website, which is kind of the portal to all Mexican government service, and it's a catchy red and white graphic that says, "Juntos heremos historia," and then it has together a very carefully selected pantheon of national heroes that include the independence heroes, Morelos and Hidalgo. At the center, it includes Benito Juárez, Mexico's first indigenous president from the mid 19th century to the late 19th century. It has Francisco Madero, who technically won the Mexican Revolution of 1910. And Lázaro Cárdenas who we've already spoken about that very reform, oriented distribution, redistribution oriented revolutionary president of the 1930s. So that careful selection of national heroes as the kind of re-inscribed history of heroes that is legible to all Mexicans, is interesting not just for the individuals that it includes, but it's also very interesting for the individuals that it does not include. Zapata is not included in that selection of national heroes, which is a really tactical omission, for reasons that we can talk more about. But all of these, the heroes Modelos, Hidalgo, what is my own car that is all represent, I think, a different aspect of a very classically interpreted liberalism. That's part of Mexico's political heritage, political liberty, technical legal liberalism, from represented by what as and the efforts towards democratization put forth by Morelos, but in a in a very kind of moderate way. And then Cárdenas represents the most radical of those, and you could argue that this goes from you know, conservative towards, more liberal on from left to right in this pantheon of heroes, suggesting that AMLO  comes in a direct lineage from Cárdenas, I think that logo type itself has lots of space for analysis, as it speaks to how the everyday Mexican sees that as a representation of Mexico's new government.

Reyna Esquivel-King 
I think the connection with Cárdenas is very clear. And I again, as I'm going over thinking of the legacy of the revolution, it's interesting that Zapata isn't, isn't part of that logo, because I argue to that Cárdenas sees himself as kind of a legacy coming from Zapata. And he puts himself as the end game really as that too. So it's interesting, it's like a continuation, but it's, it has this very deliberate omission of Zapata. It's different, but I also see it very much rooted in this very traditional rewriting of history, especially during the, at the post revolutionary period, where you have all of the murals taking place. And you do have Morelos and Hidalgo and you have these certain characters placed in in them and you continually see them, wherever you go within Mexican history, so super familiar to everybody. To me, it's like that's how you get most of the classes involved is you don't have to be able to read or you don't have to know a lot of history, have to be super educated to understand who these people are and what they represent.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
Would these have been the murals by artists such as Diego Rivera, that your reference?

Reyna Esquivel-King 
Yeah, Diego Rivera, Siqueiros, yeah.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
In the same vein, in terms of how AMLO has been channeling Mexican history, he speaks often about harkening a fourth transformation, can either of you speak to what he means by this?

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
This is a this is a really cosmic approach towards history that I appreciate, as a historian. And I think future teachers of Mexican history are going to have a lot of fun unpacking what the fourth transformation was intended to mean and what it does mean. We can't speak too much about it yet, in terms of what it's accomplishing. But we can certainly talk about what's being projected by the fourth transformation. So he calls his whole government, the fourth transformation, la cuarta transformación or the fourth transformation, the hashtag shortcut for referring to his whole government is just 4T. So you'll see references to just like the 4T. And that's a shorthand for AMLO's entire government. So the fourth transformation itself asks the everyday Mexican to hearken back to four transformational moments, as written in the official history of Mexico. These are very subjective, not every historian would agree that these are the turning points in Mexican history, or the only ones are the most significant ones. But this is the way that official history works. It is carefully kind of curating a lineage. So the first transformation is obviously independence, where Mexico becomes a nation. That process lasts from 1810 to 1821. So that's the first moment of transformation that's referred to. The second transformation is La Reforma, or the period of liberal reforms that's headed by Benito Juárez, that first indigenous president that I mentioned to you, from 1858 to 1861. And so during that period, it's really the kind of last gasp of the fight between liberals and conservatives as the prevailing dueling ideologies in Mexico. And you see the kind of final separation of church and state, which was at the core of some of those struggles, although not the only issue at hand. The Mexican Revolution that we've made reference to from 1910 to 1920, is the third transformation. And that's a civil war that frees Mexico from the long-term administration and dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz from 1876 to 1911. And ushers in a government that does not just lip service, but very, in the first couple of decades, transformational redistribution of land resources and access to government to the historically marginalized, and predominantly rural and indigenous population. So following those three moments of transformation, AMLO's positioning his fourth transformation, as his administration. What's different from the fourth transformation is that this is intended to be a peaceful one. All the other ones took the form of a war. And so this is intended to be a peaceful transformation that's carried out through democracy, and there's sort of a almost like a messianic power of this type of promise that he's going to deliver the ultimate liberation to the Mexican people at this moment, 100 and some odd years after the last transformation has taken place.

Lauren Henry 
So if we were to look at AMLO as a political figure, you know, who's bringing about this change, I think one thing that's interesting to note is that he's using this rhetoric of a political outsider. But of course, he's been a major figure in Mexican politics for more than two decades. Most notably, he was the former Mayor of Mexico City. Could either of you talk a bit about what Mexico City looks like now versus what it did when he took over? What sort of policies had AMLO implemented in Mexico City? And how can we maybe think about what AMLO's Mexico will look like using Mexico City as an example?

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
His tenure as governor or as Mayor of Mexico City rather, was interesting. He was drawn into national politics by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, who's none other than the son of Lázaro Cárdenas and became a very significant opposition candidate to the PRI, especially in the highly contested elections of 1988. Following that election, which is largely considered to have been a corrupt election, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas formed the PRD, which was the leftist party, el Partido de la Revolución Democrática. Cárdenas brought AMLO  in to become the president, the national president of the PRD in 1996. And that gave AMLO the visibility to become, to ultimately become Mexico City's Mayor in 2000. So in his role as Mayor of Mexico City, it's interesting because he established a a style of politics that was intended to constantly undermine the government, the PAN government of Vicente Fox at the time. So one of the strategies that he had as governor of Mexico City was to, and it's a tradition that he continues today to some the grave mockery, but he holds these confirencias mañaneras, which are morning daily briefings that he holds at six o'clock in the morning, every day. They're publicly broadcast and his staff is up and recording him at 6am almost every single day. And what he does with that, which he started as doing as mayor, is he establishes himself at the beginning of the news cycle every day. Everything else that happens after that has to happen in response to the declarations that he makes in the morning at 6am. So he set the tone with Fox, this kind of gentle antagonism that was ongoing throughout the Fox administration, where he was pushing back on Fox's policies. And some would argue trying to push Fox towards more of a liberal policy. And he undertook some public works that Fox himself wasn't supportive of. Most notably, while he was mayor of Mexico City, he constructed the "segundo piso del Periférico," which is the second story of the, the Periférico is the highway that circumnavigates Mexico City's greater metropolitan area. And he added a second story to it, which was a major deal and quite an expense, and a really visible stamp of transforming Mexico's transportation network to make the city flow a little bit better to improve commuting from outside areas. And so in that way, it kind of intended to modernize Mexico. And he also accompanied that by an overhaul of downtown Mexico City. Kind of controversially, part of that was removing a lot of the ambulatory vendors from the historic center, which prior to this kind of came towards the end of his term as mayor. But throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, Mexico City's  downtown was just lined with ambulatory vendors of part of the informal sector. And those were, quote, unquote, "cleaned up." And part of that was a way to draw more tourists into historic downtown Mexico. And it really has had that effect. It does smack a bit of the processes of gentrification that we're familiar with, in all of our big urban cities because those vendors were, you know, relied on that informal economy to make their living. But those are two of the kind of big public work projects that we can see that, that we've seen in Mexico in the last couple of decades.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
So as we've seen AMLO is far from a political outsider. It's also not his first time with presidential politics, either. He ran for president on two prior occasions in 2006 and 2012. And the 2006 election was particularly close with AMLO losing by only half a percent. Could you talk us through some of the controversies that surrounded the 2006 election?

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
I was living in Mexico City in 2006. So I witnessed that election firsthand. And I actually was present at the meeting in the Socolow, which was a really fascinating moment. I've got to see AMLO speak a few times, sometimes just in the neighborhood I was living in. He would just kind of pop up and people would cluster around. And he was notable for showing up in his bomber jacket and being very unofficial, very populist and not wearing a suit, not projecting that image of the traditional political figure. But in 2006, the election was for the first part of the year, it was kind of a tight three-way race between the candidates. Between the candidate at the time, he was running on the PRD ticket, the leftist ticket party, of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. He was running against Felipe Calderón, who was the PAN party candidate, which is the Conservative Party, and Carlos Madrazo who was the PRI candidate. The three of them were kind of neck and neck for the first half of the year. At the end Madrazo and the PRI started to fall behind. And ultimately, ultimately, it came down to a very tight race between AMLO and Calderón. I think he, I think Calderón won by a .62 margin if I'm not mistaken, a very, very slim margin something like a national total of 200,000 votes. So the margin was as slim as it could possibly be, and certainly warranted a recount. But all kinds of mysterious things happened to ballot boxes that made a recount impossible, and ultimately Calderón took the oath of office in a very rushed ceremony that took place at midnight, and wasn't the grand spectacle that's the staged grand spectacle that people are accustomed to with the "toma de protesta" of a president. In the wake of this AMLO kind of took to the scene and contested the election to no real avail legally. But he did hold a meeting in the Zocalo, which is Mexico City's central plaza right in front of the National Palace and adjacent to the National Cathedral. And he called everybody who was present there a delegate. There were stations set up around the city for people who had come in to attend this meeting in the Zocalo and people came on horseback. People came walking from Durango, which is really far away. We talked to people who had come from Zacatecas, indigenous groups came up from the south and from the coast. Barefoot people were coming barefoot, all converging on Mexico City to attend this meeting that AMLO had called in protest of not having been given the opportunity to contest the election. And so people would comment to these stations. There was one set up at the very iconic Monument of the Revolution, a few blocks away from the Zocalo where people would go and they would receive their credenciales, which is like a official ID and it was signed by dignitaries of his party. Famously, the author Elena Poniatowska, at the time was one of his cabinet members. He started to form a cabinet, even though he had no official position. And so everybody got these IDs, and they were asked to afix their own photograph to the IDs and write their name into it. And they wore them around their necks like they were at a convention. Everybody converged in the Zocalo. It was packed. And he got up on the stage and gave a speech. And he held a plebiscite and said, we have two options moving forward word, I can step back, you know, concede the election, or I can, with your vote, be voted the presidente legítimo or the legitimate president of Mexico, by your vote, raise of hands. So the public screams that they should, you know, do the vote by the raise of hands. And somebody said, everyone who thinks that I should be voted the presidente legítimo de Mexico raise your hands. And everybody raised their hands and roaring clamor, and somebody came up and put the presidential sash on him. And he claimed from that point that he was the presidente legítimo de Mexico. Now, of course, this is symbolic. Of course, this has no legal bearing. It meant a lot to the people who had walked there from far flung states in Mexico to feel that active participation in a democratic process and see an immediate result take place. The longer term outcome of this, of course, is that it put AMLO in a position of being roundly ridiculed by people that considered themselves to be legitimate politicians in their own right. And so he got the nickname of you know, presidente legítimo, that became very tongue in cheek by a lot of people who referred to him. But he immediately said about putting together, finishing putting together his cabinet and functioning like a parallel government. O f course, he didn't have any jurisdiction. But he started a process of campaigning around the country to visit every Mexican municipality, something no politician, and probably no person had ever done before, over the course of the sexenio or the six-year period of the presidency. So as presidente legítimo he showed up in every municipality, in Mexico, over the course of the next six years. Sat down, ate tacps, rode horseback, you know, drank hot chocolate in the markets with people, very much an echo of the kind of style of politics that Lázaro Cárdenas did in the 1930s, right? And so while that was the subject of kind of ridicule from the political elite, that really formed the basis of gaining his popularity in the 2018 election, which he won with 53% of the vote, which is an astronomical percentage, given a party system that often runs multiple parties, you know, against each other, not just the two party system. So I see the the relationship between the 2006 campaign and the 2018 campaign really tied to each other, the 2012 campaign was kind of fell through the cracks a little bit. He didn't perform all that well.

Lauren Henry 
So you mentioned the fact that AMLO in 2006, had this far flung support. And in fact, in these two prior elections, I believe, AMLO did quite well, in the south. I wondered if there was a historical component to this, whether or not there are regional differences that translate to political differences historically, in Mexico, thinking, you know, all the way back to the 1930s.

Reyna Esquivel-King 
Yeah, I would definitely say well, because a lot of those states do have indigenous people, a large indigenous and rural population, which is much different than you're going to find, obviously, in central like Mexico City, or like Guadalajara and the State of Jalisco. They're all big, bigger municipalities. And then along the border, so you have different regional politics, but definitely in the south, on the south, of course, is where Zapata forms his, and then the state of Morelos is where he's from. And that's where they form his army, which is all full of peasants and people and indigenous people who want their land back. So I think too as we talked with Cárdenas, they do pretty well, he does pretty well there, too, because he gives land away and it is more of this traditional politics of I'm not a politician. I'm like one of the people kind of idea that others in the 1920s hadn't done. So and you can definitely see then that AMLO, which was why he's done so well in the southern states. And that's probably why people will walk so far from Durango, and things like that, because he is more, he's someone that you can relate to. And, again, he's trying to carry, I feel, this legacy of being for the people, liberating the people, giving them more access to government necessities and things like that.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
I'm thinking about, yeah, I'm thinking about these southern states and what their realities have been in the last few decades. And it would, it's kind of hard to paint them all with a single brush. Because they are really diverse and do have a long history of being excluded from national politics certainly helps that ALMO made a point of, you know, visiting equally during his stent as legitimate resident, visiting equally, you know, all of these regions of Mexico and he himself was from a southern state. He's from Tabasco. And he does have more of a regional affinity for that, for that part of the of the country that's often marginalized. So I can't really speak specifically to the electorate in each state, and how they might have responded to some of the other candidates. But I do think there might be something there to the echoes of the kind of representational politics that he at least espouses rhetorically, that does promote a pro, I'm a little bit reluctant to say pro indigenous stance, because the last few weeks' news cycle has made made that a little bit more complicated. But he has at least done lip service to a more inclusive government. One of the things that he's done in the first few months of his administration is, is take the first step towards decentralizing the government. This is a really controversial and kind of unheard of thing, where he's sending the state or the different agencies and bureaus of the government to have headquarters in different states across the Republic. They've all been housed in Mexico City, but he's sending the secretaria de educación publica, which is the Public  Education Bureau, he's sending that to Pueblo, I think, he's sending the Bureau of Culture and Tourism to another state, foreign relations. I mean, he's really decentralizing the government in a very literal way. And the goal is to try to draw some of these more far flung or less incorporated states into the national political life a little bit more. It is going to make bureaucracy, which is already pretty thick in Mexico, is going to make it a lot trickier to navigate, I think in the shorter term. But anyway, those are some of the kinds of ways that he really delivers on his promises to attend to the regions of Mexico that haven't been usually paid much attention to at the national level.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
So to stick to these themes that we're discussing of exclusion indigeneity at the south of Mexico. When Mexico does enter the US news cycle, it's predominantly about the US border with Mexico. But Mexico southern border has entered into the country's political sphere as well. Is this a new phenomenon? Could you speak to Mexico's historical relationship to its southern neighbors, and what's shaping the current news cycle in Mexico with regard to Guatemala and Nicaragua and Honduras?

Reyna Esquivel-King 
I mean, I guess, I'm thinking of the, well, the first thing that comes to mind is Chiapas. The state of Chiapas has always been a little bit hostile. I mean, and you can see them with NAFTA. And the movement of the Zapatista movement that was then, you know, down there when Chiapas, after NAFTA, and after Mexico, removing part of their constitution, which would take away that land that they granted to them.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
This was in the early '90s.

Reyna Esquivel-King 
Yeah, yeah. That I mean, that was, of course, mostly Mexico, but also entered the news in the United States, too, because people were worried about that. And it's been pretty hostile environment, especially because I don't think they're, they're not included very much in the national government. And when they were obviously with NAFTA, their lands were taken away. So they weren't part of making that decision. So I think that's the first thing that came to my, to my mind is the indigenous fights there. And also a lot of again, with Guatemala, and being so close, a lot of them are all Mayan as well. So they have more of a cultural roots with Guatemala, more than, let's say, like other parts of Mexico and Central Mexico.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Yeah, waves of migration from Central America, are are not new, but they have been cyclical. And they're not always directly a result of failed US foreign policy in the area, but almost always. The major significant wave was in the '80s. With the Cold War era genocides that the US trained paramilitary troops, especially in El Salvador, and Guatemala, were levying on their indigenous populations, that led to waves of asylum seekers coming up through Mexico and trying to pass as Mexican in the process to make their way to el Norte or to the North. That wave in Mexico, kind of, I think, triggered some sentiments of racial anxiety and in Mexico against the neighbor, that their neighbors to the south, some of which are coming back again, in full force with the most recent waves of migration from Central America, which are also a result of endemic gang violence, that are part of the aftermath of the US sponsored war on drugs that pushed much of the Colombian trade up through the landmass of the Americas, through Central America. That's not the only factor. There's also some climate change factors that are pushing migrations out of Central America and through Mexico. And so in Mexico, there is mixed response to the migrants that are coming through. In some ways, you see a direct echo of the kind of really strident nationalism that we see on our southern border with Mexico. Those sites of contact really become the places where those anxieties are most strongly felt, and acted upon emotionally and physically on this, like, you know, militarized line. But on the other hand, there's an incredible culture and network of solidarity, of charity, of brotherhood, and I don't want that to go unremarked upon as well. Unfortunately, a lot of that is done entirely through goodwill and private initiatives, not got the sponsorship and the backing of the government, right. And a lot of it also, you see a lot of involvement, transnational aid organizations, and individuals will go and help at these migrant centers that provide resources, places to rest, directions, advice to migrants that are making their way through Mexico. So we see both things. It's an echo of what we have in our country and the response to waves of immigration. And it's a lot like our southern border. It's militarized. It's fraught, and it isn't new. But I think it's evolving in the same context, as Mexico's northern border is evolving, in terms of the way it fits into the respective national discourses.

Reyna Esquivel-King 
It's not new, but I think you are right with the revolving, especially with social media so heavily. We can see it in real time.  And a lot of them use social media in order to find places to meet and things like that. I know some of the groups, the organizations that do help people down there, that's how they're able to find them. So I think that's a huge part of why it's also become a national rhetoric because more of it can be seen. So this happened in the '80s, too, but it's not something you can just like pick up your phone and see people marching in real time.

Lauren Henry 
One of the things that we're always really interested in with our podcast, and something that I think has been really, you know, wonderfully exemplified today is the way in which earlier events such as the crisis in the 1980s, then have a sort of knock on effect throughout the way that issues are seen, you know, in in subsequent generations. To that end, I was wondering about how thinking about the 2018 election, we can see it not only as the culmination of the sort of more recent phenomenons with corruption, and issues with the cartels, but also as a moment in which historical resonances in other directions are coming into play. That is to say 2018 is obviously the 50th anniversary of Tlatelolco massacre. Can one of you tell us exactly what it was and what happened in this event, which I know is, still has a very strong effect on the way people think about everything from, you know, student rights and organizing to the relationship between the state and the people in Mexico.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Yeah, so that's what the local massacre was. That's the unofficial name of what happened. But in 1968, actually years of student protests which had begun in the late 1950s, that had were increasingly requesting that the PRI government of Mexico the PRI, be accountable to its citizens and be transparent across a lot of areas, was gaining momentum in the global context with student movements and other types of civil movements taking place over the world. So this happened in a context in which Mexico City was poised to host the 1968 Olympics, the first nonWestern or not, or less developed country to do so in the history of the franchise. And so there was a lot of pressure on Mexico to project itself as modern, stable, democratic and safe for people who might have reservations about heading down. So in that context, there were a series of student protests that were had been put down by the government by the special forces which are called the granaderos or the riot police. And on one episode on October second in 1968 students, a group of students had been converged peacefully in the Plaza Tlatelolco, which is a working class neighborhood, just south of Mexico, or just north of Mexico City. And they were gathering to have a peaceful demonstration singing songs, having hosting speeches, and as night fell some of the special kind of paramilitary forces, and we don't actually have all the full information of who was involved, but agents of the Mexican government opened fire on the students that were collected there in the plaza, and anywhere from the official number of 40 to larger estimates of 700, but probably more in the average area of 300 plus people were assassinated in that episode. Hundreds, if not thousands of others were arrested and detained, some for years following that event. That very authoritarian and violent crackdown on its own population, primarily just to save face before the Olympics is something that is a really kind of shameful piece of Mexico's legacy. And since then Mexico, the Mexican government has very much owned responsibility for that episode. And in fact, they constructed a whole Museum of Memory right on the site of where that right adjacent to the site where the massacre took place. That's a very well-funded space for people to tell the stories of recount and collect evidence about what happened at that event. In the last few years. In the in the year or so leading up to the 50th anniversary, there's been a real push to make public all documentation that exists regarding the Massacre at Tlatelolco. And in particular the UNA, Mexico's National University, has a marvelous digitized project where you can go and it's a lot of private collections, but has newspaper clippings, documents from the student organizations, from the National Strike Committee, the CNH, all kinds of internal documents have all been digitized, and they're open for public use. And that's just one agency that's begun to digitize a lot of the material. So there's rich archival material available about this. It's one of the areas where Mexico's been very transparent about its history, in a concerted effort to move forward. That said, in 2018, during the campaign, there were some more student protests that had so much of an echo that people started borrowing the graphics from the 1968 movement and adapting them to modern purposes. And students at the National University were demanding resignation of the rector demanding disbandment, the disbanding of this unofficial, they're called poras. They're kind of like strike breakers for student protests. They kind of come in dressed as if they are members of a certain student body and then they commit violent acts of sabotage, and to try to gain negative press for the students that are protesting. Those are hired by politicians who are trying to destabilize the political process. So a lot of that student unrest began to see a resurgence and the students themselves were cognizant of the echoes of 1968 and brought that historical memory back to life by recycling the graphics or recycling a lot of the language and making explicit references to government corruption, government collusion with drug cartels, when framing it as a continuation of 1968 in a moment in which the Mexican government has tried to kind of move beyond 1968 as the way that the government does politics. So there's a lot of, students are really aware of the power of those historical narratives to still draw the attention of the previous generations who are now the political elite.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
A few years before 2018, 43 students disappeared on the way to a demonstration in the state of Guerrero. In what ways were the echoes of Tlatelolco present in the aftermath of that scandal? And how has it played out in politics since then?

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
That is a very tightly paired episode again with 1968, specifically because it resulted in the probably death, right? They don't they don't have any forensic evidence that suggests the whereabouts of these missing 43 students except for I think, bone fragments from one finger were positively identified as one or maybe two students. But of the 43, they don't have graves. They don't have bodies. They don't have answers about where these students went. But what is almost certain is that there's a level of the government, the municipal, and maybe the state, and potentially the national government being complicit in either the initial disappearance or the immediate cover up of the disappearance of these 43 students of education. They were normal school students, so they were studying for to be teachers. The main impact of that event at the national level, was the fact that the president at the time Enrique Peña Nieto who was from the PRI party, dealt with it very poorly. This contributed to him achieving the lowest I think approval ratings of any president ever, at the low point of towards the end of his presidency. He dealt with the the issue very poorly, and did not immediately call for the fullest and deepest investigation that could take place, he did not immediately mobilize all of the national resources to try to get to the bottom of the disappearance of the students. The best work on the subject is by the journalist Anabel Hernández, who just pretty recently wrote the book, La Verdadera Noche de Iguala, or The True Night of the Iguala. Which the name is the episode, sort of, of what happened at Ayotzinapa? She's just recently been awarded a freedom of speech award from the German press, the first woman to ever gain that recognition. But in an era in Mexico, in which journalists are the number one targeted victims of assassination by drug cartels, it's a really dangerous time to be doing this kind of investigative reporting. And so there isn't as much vigorous journalism to uncover what's going on as there could be under other circumstances. That's what differences that's what diferentiates it a bit from what happened in 1968 is just the sheer extra legal danger that surrounds topics of government collusion and corruption that characterizes our present moment.

Lauren Henry 
Talk to us a little bit about the way in which gender works into sort of 20th century Mexican politics around kind of leftism? I know that the way in which we think about sort of feminism and liberalism in an American context isn't always exactly the same as the way it works in other countries. So I guess speaking as a historian of gender in Mexico, has there been, has the women's sort of liberation movement been hand in hand with leftist movements in Mexico? Or have we seen that there's some sort of a divide?

Reyna Esquivel-King 
I think there is. It's been hand-in-hand. But there's a divide within the leftist movement between women and what's going on. Actually, my advicor just finished her book on political exiles and revolutionary art. And she talks a lot about Frida Kahlo, and she, that's her third book is the biography. And we see Frida Kahlo as this person who's obviously part of the leftist movement. It's kind of a thing of a Mexican feminism. But we always hear her as Oh, she always wanted children. She always wanted to be a mom, and we see the painful works in her when she has a miscarriage. But when we were talking about it, there's actually a lot of records that say that she didn't want to be a mom. She didn't really want to have children. It wasn't like a huge priority. And a lot of these women also didn't really get married or they had different partners. Home life wasn't really a thing. Like that's not part of what it was. But it's kind of this idea of making Frida Kahlo, of just one I guess instance, where we're making Frida Kahlo a mom or somebody that she could be something that we can understand in typical gender norms as opposed to looking at her as a person by itself. And you see her in Diego Rivera's murals is handing out guns, as opposed to actually taking up arms either. So I think you see that too in Tina Madate's, a photographer during that time, you see her take pictures of Indigenous women with children, which is of course motherhood. But it's also the sign of being a really strong type of woman that can stand on her own. So I think they are part of the leftist movements, but I think it's very different because they still are delegated to these kind of certain roles of being mother or what have you. That's what I've gotten from there. So and even in my talk about Women in Film, and you try to get them to, to break away, but it's really these traditional roles are either like the Satan or the mother or the whore image. I mean, that's kind of what the dichotomy is for Mexican, especially Mexican film, the Mexican identity in the '30s and '40s anyway,  probably even '20s, you know, '20s to the '50s. But they are part of leftism. It's very, yeah, it's very gendered, even in itself, within the movements.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
I think in terms of Mexico's political culture, and moving forward, issues of women's liberation and inclusion in politics, we see kind of a mixed bag. And in politics in Mexico, we see women at the forefront of both the most conservative and some of the most corrupt areas of Mexican political life, but also really pushing the more progressive agenda as well. So especially I'm thinking about the journalist Carmen Aristegui, who is a media magnate in her own right. I guess, people refer to her as the Mexican Rachel Maddow. But I don't like to make that comparison. But she really she has a TV show, basically a channel. She has a website and a digital newspaper magazine. And she's asking the hardest questions of the people in power, and really getting into the root of all kinds of political corruption in ways that very few people are daring to do, in ways that men in Mexico are, are not have not been able to do. We do have examples of, of women really breaking through and not in spite of being women, because of being women, having a stronger and a sharper voice in pushing for the progressive agenda. Well, and another example, again, is in the AMLO government. One of the things that he did, that was kind of part of the start of his administration, the kind of big signature things that he was that he wanted to do to mark a difference from previous structures and political culture is that he, along with his wife, abolished the position and the title of First Lady. So Mexico does not have the title of First Lady. They rightly recognize that it doesn't actually have any meaning. It's not an official government position. But previous first ladies had gotten a salary just for having the title of being first ladies and a whole bunch of staff to not really do anything with any official capacity in the government. So he said, this is a useless position. And it's a gendered one that just puts women in this strange, subservient attached position, and it's a waste of money. So we're doing away with the position of the First Lady. I have a wife. She's a person. She's a professional. She's going to do stuff, but she isn't going to be the First Lady. That's a really innovative approach. And one that I think is worth contemplating for a minute, right? What do we what are we doing with the First Lady? What do we need a First Lady for? And so he took that kind of to an unexpected next level, just a signal of departure from, you know, Mexico's previous president's wife was a soap opera star. And, and really just eye candy, right. So this is a, marks a new moment. I don't know that that also is going to be accompanied by major strides forward in terms of women's rights, but certainly the AMLO government is is paying more lip service to the issues of family and women and gender issues than we've seen in previous Mexican governments.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
I guess the cabinet is half men and half women. Is that right?

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Yeah, the cabinet is intended to be as representative and as democratic as possible, right. Yeah. That was from day one, one of the, one of the goals.

Lauren Henry 
We'll wrap it up on that note. Thank you to both of our guests, Dr. Jackson Albarran and Rena Esquivel-King.

Eric Michael Rhodes 
Thanks, everyone. This episode of History Talk was brought to you by Origins, Current Events in Historical Perspective, an online publication of the public history initiative in the Goldberg Center and the history departments at The Ohio State University in Columbus and Miami University and Oxford, Ohio. Our main editors are David Steigerwald, Steven Conn and Nicholas Breyfogle. Our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer. Our audio producers and hosts are Lauren Henry and Eric Michael Rhodes. Song and band information can be found on our website. You can find our podcasts and more on our website origins.odu.edu, on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and wherever else you get your podcasts. As always, you can find us on Twitter @originsosu, and @HistoryTalkpod. Thanks for listening.

Lauren Henry 
See you next month.