MultiSession Conference on Latin American History Presidential Session, Modern Latin America, Part 1: Variations in Family Formation, 1850–1960

AHA Session 222
Conference on Latin American History 40
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Boylston Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Mary Kay Vaughan, University of Maryland at College Park

Session Abstract

Abstract:   “Variations in Family Formation in Modern Latin America”
    In response to protests surrounding the 2010 AHA/CLAH meetings in San Diego, the CLAH seconded the AHA’s organization of a mini-conference at the 2010 meetings around questions of historical variations in familial and affective relations with a mandate to organize for the 2011 Boston meetings a group of presidential panels around that question and the issue of unprotected labor  and Latin American migration.   This panel has been selected as a CLAH presidential panel for which we seek AHA inclusion. As the title indicates, the panel addresses variations in family formation in modern Latin American history.  In the modern period the state aggressively promoted the patriarchal, heterosexual nuclear family with its corollaries of female responsibility for social reproduction and the subordination and limited citizenship for wives. This panel addresses the social practices,  economic conditions, and socio-political pressures that obliged state compromise, flexibility and innovation but emphasizes how gestures toward equity and protection were often circumscribed by conservative practices.  
     The first paper  examines an adoption case in Mexico in the 1850s when the republican state was formulating its notion of the modern family: the argument hinges on evolving, contradictory concepts of masculinity and an association of social reproduction with fatherhood rather than motherhood.   The second paper probes divorce law and practice in revolutionary Mexico (1910-1930) and argues that while promising greater equity and freedom for women, divorce law in practice allowed men to escape unhappy unions and family responsibilities.  The third paper focuses on the predominantly female-headed households that migrated from the countryside to Buenos Aires in the 1930s and 1940s and First Lady Eva Peron’s efforts to provide them protection through state beneficent institutions.    The fourth paper examines debates and practices related to a clause in the 1940 Cuban Constitution that enabled citizens in consensual  unions to ask the courts to declare these equivalent to a legal marriage.   Like Mexican divorce law in 1914, the clause was unprecedented in Latin America at the time, and like the divorce law, social practices and prejudices circumscribed its liberating and equalizing promise.