Mexico after 1968: Youth, Culture, and Politics during the Aperatura Democrática

Conference on Latin American History 16
Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Defender Room (The Westin Copley Place)
William Beezley, University of Arizona
William Beezley, University of Arizona

Session Abstract

This panel presents new research on the local, national, regional, and global transformations of the 1970s through the lens of youth culture and politics in Mexico. Historians have long recognized 1968 as a key historical moment around the globe, yet much scholarship tends to lump the experience of youth into a single category without accounting for the diverse experiences and responses of youth populations at the state and local level, particularly outside Europe and the United States. These papers, in turn, examine the diverse manifestations of youth subjectivities, culture, and politics in subsequent years in Mexico City, but also in Guadalajara and rural Oaxaca. Considered a turning point in the nation's history, 1968 contributed to the eventual collapse of the country's long-standing revolutionary party, the PRI. This challenge to the legitimacy of the state and official cultural nationalism exposed social contradictions that also threatened Mexico's international claim to “modernity.” While the new administration promised to open new spaces for the Left after the massacre, they maintained this aperatura democratica through a careful balance of censorship and repression. In this context, young filmmakers, intellectuals and officials, radical students, and working-class youth pursued alternative strategies of survival, personal and cultural expression, and identity construction.

Our panel suggests that the internationalism of 1968 and global processes such as the international student movements, the youth counterculture, the Cold War, urbanization and development, and the spread of consumer culture played out in unpredictable and innovative ways among youth in local settings. Fernando Calderón's paper examines the history of an urban guerrilla movement in Guadalajara made up of disenchanted youth from diverse backgrounds, thus offering new insights on how this youth radicalism connected to international and regional revolutionary movements, but also how local conditions and personal experiences motivated students to join guerrilla groups. In Mexico City, Jennifer Boles argues that film students adapted to the context of the 1970s and shifting politics by forming art collectives. In particular, she focuses on a  group of avant-garde filmmakers who used portable and inexpensive 8mm cameras an alternative strategy of political and cultural subversion and expression. Shane Dillingham, in turn, suggests that young intellectuals and officials used their institutional affiliations to redefine indigenous policies and rights and provide local indigenous actors in Oaxaca with new tools to challenge local and national authoritarian power and construct an alternative pedagogy for indigenous education. Lastly, Stephen Allen moves away from the university and dissident politics to the realms of popular culture and working-class youth, where he examines how aspiring athletes from Mexico's “barrios” turned to boxing to improve their social status after 1968. In doing so they became virile representatives of a masculine Mexican modernity to be consumed by fans at home and abroad.

 This panel appeals to scholars of Mexico and Latin America and to a broader audience of scholars interested in  1968, the Cold War, dissident politics, youth culture, indigenous politics and education, popular culture and sports, political and avant-garde art and cinema, gender and nation, and urbanization and development.