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History and History Textbooks



     The issue of history textbooks hits almost every country in the world. We have discussed the case of Chile, but really that of Mexico cuts deeper, since it involves religion. The new offensive of the Mexican Catholic Church in promoting the cause of the 27 new Mexican saints is linked to the textbook problem.  The whole issue must involve  the Mexican College in Rome, about which almost nothing has been written. In connection with the Vatican's Mexico Day, Pope John Paul II visited the College, but no details were given.
     There is a politically correct account of Mexican history, especially of the modern period, which is discussed in a new book: Thomas Benjamin La Revolución: Mexico´s Great Revolution as Memory, Myth and History (University of Texas Press, 2000, pp. 237). Benjamin skillfully gives the hard facts of the events discussed and then shows how they have been transformed into an official legend, with its own ballads and iconography.  In earlier reviews we have discussed the cult of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, but the critical period as far as the textbooks is concerned in the Cristero War of 1926 to 1929, when the people of north central Mexico rose against the anti-clerical regime of Plutarco Elías Calles to the cry of "¡Viva Cristo Rey!", whence the name of the war. The government´s repression was ruthless.  Photographs showed bodies of Cristeros hanging from every telegraph post along a railroad track. The priests beatified by the Pope were victims of this repression.  The selection was criticized because it gave the impression hat all the victims were priests, whereas in reality they were a small minority.
     The candidates in the present presidential elections argue sharply, but even the non-believer Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas avoids the religious issue They seem aware that "Qui mange du Pape en meurt."   The Church is said to support Vicente Fox, but it is careful not to show its hand, and Fox does not wish to be painted as the hound of God.
     Mexicans at Stanford argue heatedly about the upcoming election, and they too in general avoid the religious issue. However,  Bernardo Naranjo has sent me a long message  about the distortion of the facts and the blatant omissions in the textbooks distributed free. He writes: "The 1926-29 civil war disgraces our history. It reflects the intolerance of those in power, while the Catholic Church was accused of intolerance. However Calles has been pushed aside and is not remembered, even though he founded the PNR, the grandfather of the present ruling PRI, which has been a fundamental factor in assuring the stability of post-revolutionary Mexico."
     I would be grateful if WAISers in Mexico would report back on the progress of the textbook battle. Much will depend on who wins the election.  As usual, it will be very difficult to get general approval for any textbook.  In the United States the selection of textbooks is largely left to the school districts, but not in Mexico or most other countries. Is anyone following the battle of the history textbooks in Mexico? I hope Thomas Benjamin is.

Ronald Hilton - 5/23/00


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