Colonial Imprints, State Projects, and Indigenous Communities at the End of the Long 19th Century in the Basin of Mexico

Friday, January 4, 2019: 2:10 PM
Salon 6 (Palmer House Hilton)
James A. Garza, University of Nebraska
In the 1890s, the Mexican Government, in a contract with the British Commercial firm Pearson and Son, constructed a series of engineering projects in the Basin of Mexico with the goal of controlling flooding and lake levels and improving hygiene in Mexico City. In the process, the project endangered the food and water sources of the indigenous and rural inhabitants that lived in the Basin. Both the Mexican State and Pearson formed a partnership that foreshadowed the classic developmentalist and exploitation of indigenous peoples across Latin American for much of the twentieth century. The Mexican state, under the authoritarian government of Porfirio Diaz, deployed a positivist strategy to develop rural areas of Mexico while Pearson, one of the most powerful agents of British imperial power, sought lucrative commercial contracts in the colonial and neo-colonial world. Moreover, both the Mexican State and Pearson, through scientific and intellectual voices, deployed the language of colonialism to justify the project. Yet colonialist language worked both ways, as rural communities responded, some with complaints, others with acquiescence, to the alleged benefits of the project and used the tools of colonial language first developed during the Spanish Conquest in official documents. This paper examines the project, collectively known as the Desagüe, through the lens of both colonialism and state power, and discusses how sources in the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) and the Archivo Histórico Del Agua (AHA), both in Mexico City, have preserved the language of Spanish colonialism through petitions to both state and imperial agent, demonstrating the adaptability of indigenous and community responses to environmental challenges and the advent of late nineteenth and early twentieth century state power.