Out of the Mouths of Babes: The Proletarian Child as Revolutionary Redeemer in Mexico

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:20 AM
Madison Room (Marriott Wardman Park)
Elena Jackson Albarran, Miami University of Ohio
This paper discusses the rise of the trope of the Proletarian Child in 1930s Mexico.  I argue that the Proletarian Child emerged during the Lázaro Cárdenas administration (1934-1940) as a rhetorical device and political symbol. Discussions of the Proletarian Child signaled the redemption of the Revolution, and they were deployed by education officials as evidence of the success of the Socialist School, even as the pedagogical experiment faltered in practice.  Despite the propagandistic use of children as political symbols, the novel visibility of children as political actors—however manipulated their actions may have been—opened up new possibilities and spaces for the expansion of civic action among young people.  As part of an officially-sponsored project to forge an ideal citizenry, children participated in nationally-publicized political conferences in which they articulated a set of child-specific and social class-oriented demands.  These children self-identified as “proletarian children,” and as such, they assumed the moral core of ongoing nation-building programs.  As this paper demonstrates, the participation of these carefully vetted children in these political venues were highly scripted and staged.  Nevertheless, these children were discussed in political speeches, poetry, textbook content, radio programming, and media coverage.  Though staged, these children’s performances modeled for their peers the possibilities of children’s demands occupying the moral core of national revolutionary discourse.  In the process, the assertion of a class-conscious, politicized, and idealized child as a metaphor for revolutionary Mexico transformed official and popular conceptions of children’s role in nation-building and citizenship practice.