Teaching Mexican Identity (1883-1914)

Porfirio Diaz’s 35-year dictatorship revolutionized Mexico’s cultural and political identity, as societal teachings promoted ideals for the roles of women, children, and Indigenous people. While the proliferation of feminist thought appeared in newspapers, pushing the boundaries of women and society in the workplace, children became a vehicle for advancing national identity through public education curricula and as publicly venerated child soldiers. Meanwhile, Mexico sought to celebrate an imagined Indigenous past while assimilating modern-day people in society, driving Indigenous cultural erasure. Serving as a last chance at preserving national unity, these ideas culminated in Mexico's 1910 Centenario celebration as Mexico sought to advance an image of itself as a united modern liberal state. The Mexican Revolution would begin later that year (1).

El Album De La Mujer

An angel holds a large book before a young woman and a small girl clasping her doll. A stack of books, a globe, and a lyre are at the angel’s side. This image serves as the banner head of El Album De La Mujer, a newspaper targeting literate women in late nineteenth-century Mexico City. Although seeking to educate elite women about their place in the home, this newspaper also introduced women to the skills they might also offer the world through the workplace, education, literature, and art. The angel’s enthusiasm mirrors the newspaper's mission to increase literacy and education for women which, perhaps inadvertently, led to new opportunities throughout the workplace for women. Perhaps it should not be surprising that only a few decades later feminist revolutions rose up in and challenged segregated workplaces (2).

Historical Parade - Emperor Motecuhzoma

Indigenous people dress as the Aztec Emperor, Moctezuma, and his subordinates in this photograph from 1910, taken during a parade celebrating the centennial of Mexican Independence. President Porfirio Díaz spent millions to showcase his transformed vision of society, bringing Indigenous people from neighboring towns into the city center to pose as “living manikins” in the historical parade. Ensuring that life conformed to the demands of a rigid industrial economy and Western symbols of refinement, Díaz rooted out perceived societal flaws in order to secure international financial support for Mexico. By glorifying a bygone moment in time (the Aztecs), Díaz hoped to link himself to a distorted idea of ‘Mexican heritage’ while silencing the grievances of living Indigenous people who faced violent discrimination. While Indigenous culture could be appreciated with the distance of time, Díaz made it clear that Indigenous peoples would only find inclusion by abandoning their cultures and assimilating to the mestizo ideal, something seen in the attire of the parade’s spectators (3).

Ante el Monumento a los Niños Heroes

Near the end of El Porfiriato, a thirty-five year de facto dictatorship, children were first celebrated for actively participating in the U.S. - Mexico War (1846 - 1848). The Obelisco a los Niños Héroes, pictured during the Centennial Celebration of Mexico’s independence from Spain, commemorated the deaths of six teenage cadets and the other forty young cadets who were taken as prisoners of war during the Battle of Chapultepec. This celebration took place shortly before the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, and signified a shift in the national consciousness. Children were now seen as an inherently Mexican archetype, especially as they increasingly filled the military ranks of federal and revolutionary forces. The continued veneration of child soldiers further solidified children as vehicles of national identity (4).

Niños y Niñas de la Escuela de la Corregidora

This 1910 photograph shows young primary students posing with female performers during the Centenario celebration at La Escuela Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez in Mexico City. Packed with nationalistic symbols, an eagle, statue, and flags appear in the background alongside European-inspired paraphernalia and white outfits. On the eve of the Mexican revolution, school celebrations featured prominently in the month’s events, stressing the strength of public schools in the context of national allegiance and “whitening.” The country’s cultural identity would continue to develop alongside growing mestizaje ideals, promoting unity and assimilation through racial mixture, that would be catapulted post-revolution by Vasconcelos’ “La Raza Cosmica” (5).

Distribución de los Estudios

With revolution soon to follow, Mexico stood at a turning point between two societal and curricular eras, as political and cultural ideals appeared in public school curricula. Detailed with colorful pen and pencil lines, a 1914 curriculum chart describes the subjects primary school students at the National Preparatory School in Mexico City would take from year 1 to 5 (ages 6-11). Seeking to instill Mexican values in the next generation, nationalism shines in the teaching of civics, etiquette, morals, and a “patriotic history.” Meanwhile, European influences appear through language, literature, and history classes, reflecting recent conflict and inclinations towards white modernity.

  1. Gonzales, Michael J. “Imagining Mexico in 1910: Visions of the Patria in the Centennial Celebration in Mexico City,” Journal of Latin American Studies 39, no. 3 (2007): 498. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40056542.

  2. Porter, Susie S. "Working Women in the Mexican Revolution." In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. 2016. (2016, May 9). https://oxfordre.com/latinamericanhistory/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199366439.001.0001/acrefore-9780199366439-e-16?print

  3. Gonzales, Michael J. “Imagining Mexico in 1910: Visions of the Patria in the Centennial Celebration in Mexico City,” Journal of Latin American Studies 39, no. 3 (2007): 498. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40056542.

  4. Chavez Leyva, Yolanda. “`I Go to Fight for Social Justice’: Children as Revolutionaries in the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920.” Peace & Change 23, no. 4 (October 1998): 423. doi:10.1111/0149-0508.00096.

  5. Gonzales, Michael J. “Imagining Mexico in 1910: Visions of the Patria in the Centennial Celebration in Mexico City.” Journal of Latin American Studies 39, no. 3 (2007): 495–533. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40056542