Teaching Literacy through Disney Films in Mexico: The Secretaría de Educación Pública’s Role in a Transnational Project, 1942–44

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 2:10 PM
Room 203 (Colorado Convention Center)
María Rosa Gudiño Cejudo, Universidad Pedagógica Nacional
This paper examines the role of Eulalia Guzmán, an important but forgotten figure in Mexican public education, in promoting and then halting a transnational literacy project in the 1940s. Specifically, it considers how her ideas about age and audience led Guzmán to denounce a U.S.-created literacy project for its infantilizing narrative. Literacy for The Americas was an educational film program for Latin American countries sponsored by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) between 1942 and 1944. The OIAA was founded in 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the war effort of the United States to fight the “Nazi menace” in Latin America. Directed by Nelson Rockefeller, the OIAA financed educational films on health care and literacy and hired Walt Disney to produce and direct them. Disney Studios produced four short films to teach illiterate adults in Latin America to read and write, and Mexico was planned to be the first country where the films would be shown. Eulalia Guzmán initially participated in the project in an advisory role, but she later harshly criticized the resulting films as evidence of U.S. condescension and ignorance toward their Latin American collaborators and audience. Guzmán’s reaction forced the Secretaría de Educación Pública to withdraw its support for the project, leading OIAA agents to remove the films from circulation in Mexico. In analyzing this incident, the paper examines the ways that the U.S. vision of an infantile Mexico influenced both the creation of educational narratives and the content of those narratives, and it looks at one Mexican woman’s successful effort to combat this.