Latin American Letters and the US Goodwill Tour, 1943–69

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1D (Colorado Convention Center)
Ernesto Capello, Macalester College
In 1969, Governor Nelson Rockefeller conducted a “Presidential Mission” to twenty countries across Latin America in an effort to advise President Richard Nixon on a new hemispheric policy to replace the Alliance for Progress.  Besides being greeted by state dinners, mass protests, and spectacles of police brutality, the Rockefeller mission received thousands of unsolicited missives from across the region. Many of these took the form of what John Sandage has termed “begging letters” requesting economic aid, immigration assistance, or special favors from a perceived wealthy patron.  Others offered political advice, critiqued US policy, or narrated the daily struggles of ordinary Latin Americans from across social, cultural, or national divides. 

This paper considers this correspondence as the most dramatic outgrowth of a subgenre of Latin American petitionary correspondence that developed in concert with the transformation of the US goodwill tour from a diplomatic tool into a mass spectacle.  This began with Herbert Hoover’s 1928 battleship tour of South America and the media-friendly tours of Arturo Toscanini and Walt Disney in the 1940s. Though in decline in the 1950s, the goodwill tour was revived in the aftermath of Richard Nixon’s disastrous 1958 travels to the region.  This paper seeks to reassess the importance of such spectacular goodwill tours by analyzing the correspondence each inspired, with an emphasis upon Henry Wallace’s 1943 travels, Nixon’s 1958 tour and Rockefeller’s 1969 Presidential Mission. In particular, it seeks to de-center Nixon’s 1958 tour, which has been the object of recent studies of anti-Americanism due to public displays of protest yet which failed to captivate mass, transnational public correspondence.  As such, the paper offers an analysis of the relative hemispheric political engagement of the ‘pliable center’ of the Latin American middle and professional classes throughout this period.

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