Political Communication and Everyday Politics in Mexico City’s Markets, 1946-58

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM
Forum Room (Omni Shoreham)
Ingrid Bleynat, Harvard University
Now that it is widely understood that the mid-century Mexican state was not a monolithic leviathan capable of imposing its elitist designs on a passive, apathetic population, the task remains to map the workings of the public sphere under the PRI’s mild authoritarianism. To complement recent narratives of how popular protest and movements managed to constrain state actors, this paper proposes to address the political engagement of non-oppositional groups such as Mexico City’s market vendors. If the PRI was not as powerful as we once thought, what do we make of vendors’ compliance and participation in state projects? We can no longer assume it was a matter of coercion or co-optation.

This paper shows the extent to which politics permeated everyday life in city markets, and discusses vendors’ strategies for political communication. Vendors appear in presidential and municipal archives, and the press, because they wrote to politicians and sought journalists’ support in their quest for material progress. Since this quest sometimes generated conflict among vendors themselves, as well as with other groups and classes, we find them demanding resolution to their disputes. Vendors also appear in the archives of the intelligence services because the PRI worried about the prices they charged, the rumors they spread, their opinions on elected and appointed officials, and their electoral choices. The picture that emerges is one in which vendors’ organizations engaged critically and constructively with the government in the pursuit of their interests. Vendors’ use of Priísta rhetoric in the press and in dialogue with the authorities was not merely hypocritical, but part of the constant negotiations over policies and actions in the city. This paper argues that vendors had much to gain from representing the state as bigger and stronger than it was.

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