Scoundrels, Politicos, and Prostitutes: Mythmaking in Latin American History

Conference on Latin American History 53
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Empire Room (The Westin Copley Place)
Margaret E. Crahan, Columbia University
John H. Coatsworth, Columbia University

Session Abstract

Mythmaking in Latin American History has been a constant from pre-columbian times to the present.  Such myths often revolve around an individual or a group of outsiders and impact national images and are incorporated into mainstream patriotism.  This session analyzes individuals and groups categorized either as saints or sinners in Mexican and Cuban history and the impact they had on official histories in these countries.  By comparing the role of such "saints and sinners", in both Mexico and Cuba, the presenters will illuminate the roles of messianism, officialista patriotism in state building, and ultimately the impact of mythbuilding in the construction of Latin American history and histories. 

Few have been as denigrated in Latin American history as the members of The Spy Company in mid-nineteenth century Mexico and prostitutes in Costa Rica in the era of liberal state building in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Nor have many been as exalted as Maximino Avila Camacho, cacique of Puebla in the 1930s and 1940s, or as Ramon Grau San Martin and Eduardo Chibas in Cuba in the 1940s and 1950s.  These politicians were widely regarded, at least initially, as saviours who would eliminate corruption and bring about an era of good government in their respective countries.  Skilled manipulators of their own images, they assumed mythic proportions in the public mind during their lifetimes and after.  This was in marked contrast to the negative images of the bandilleros of The Spy Company and prostitutes in the booming coffee export port of Puntarenas.  Yet all contributed to the construction of both popular and historical images of their countries.  In addition, these images have had substantial impact on the nature of political and cultural formation in Mexico and Cuba.  A comparison of the processes in these two countries will help increase understanding of the impact of mythbuilding on popular understanding of the histories of Mexico and Cuba and hence our understanding as historians.