The Captive Contingents: Recruitment and Traumas of Nation Formation in Mexico, 1880–1910

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM
Great Republic Room (The Westin Copley Place)
Stephen Neufeld , California State University at Fullerton, Fullerton, CA
This paper examines the effects of the leva (forced recruitment) on soldiers, in communities, and on the nation-building project in Mexico during the late nineteenth century. The so-called "contingents of blood" taken by force of arms by the national government's agents underwent a brutal transformation, shifting from victims of state policy to become the oppressors of people not unlike their own families. As garrisons and officers moved frequently to new locales, the nature of their relationships with communities changed, as did the means and opportunities for corruption. In turn, the army enforced policies that helped to shape a new nation if not always exactly in step with the aspirations of elite reformers. For the common people, including ex-soldiers returning home, the memory and meanings of this national service in arms was both emotionally charged and politically loaded, with a legacy felt to this day.

Elite visions of a scientific European-like modernity relied on this regulation of militarized manhood. Centralizing power and radiating it back through technologies of rail and telegraph, the modern regime needed the dissolution of regional loyalties and capacities. Patrias chicas and local communities faced persistent onslaught as their men disappeared to distant barracks, as strange soldiers occupied their towns, and as their own militias faded through federal neglect. Aggressive recruitment became a priority and facilitated nation building, while enfeebling the strongmen and caudillos away from Mexico City. Nevertheless, the underlying failures in inculcating new loyalties and identities among soldiers entrenched fissures in the project of building the larger nation.

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