March 21, 2019 – Birth of Benito Juárez

Welcome back to my little corner of the internet! It’s been a while since my first post… life happened and I decided to put this project on hiatus for a while, but now I am recommitted to getting it going again.

March 18, 2019 is the celebration of the Natalicio de Benito Juárez (the birth of Benito Juárez). Although he was actually born on the 21st of March, 1806, this legal holiday is celebrated on the third Monday of each March.  Benito Juárez served as President of Mexico from 1858-1872, excluding a lapse between 1864-1867. A popular and deeply influential President, his legacy is still celebrated in México, especially through the dedication of streets, towns, monuments, and even currency (his face is on the 20 peso banknote) in his name.


Statue of Benito Juárez @ Secretaria de Educación Pública, CDMX. Photo: Candace Garcia, 2015.

He is perhaps best known as the face of Mexican Liberalism, part of a larger movement occurring throughout Latin America and Europe in the 19th century. Juárez presided over a period in México known as La Reforma, where a series of liberal reforms were enacted that drastically changed the official relationship between church and state, as well as land tenure laws that would cause severe disruption in the country.

This is admittedly a huge topic – many scholars have devoted time to Mexican liberalism and La Reforma. Here, my goal is to present a brief overview of what 19th-century liberalism was and Juárez’s legacy (in a nutshell).

In order to understand Juárez and his period of history, it is critical to define the term liberalism. In 19th century Mexico, it consisted of many of the following elements:

  • Appealed to middle class groups, small landowners, lawyers, professionals, aspiring mixed-race people.
  • Favored a federalist government, inspired by US & European models.
  • Guarantees of individual rights.
  • End to special privileges for the military and church.
  • Confiscation of church property.
  • Abolition of slavery.
  • A disregard for the communal lifestyles of indigenous people; saw this as an impediment to modernization. In Mexico, this resulted in the breaking up of ejidos (communal lands).

(Keen, Benjamin, and Keith Haynes. A History of Latin America. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2013.)

Benito Juárez, public domain.

From the 1830s through to the time of Benito Juárez, there was a constant struggle between liberals and conservatives, the usually upper-class sector of the population who supported the church and a strong central government. Benito Juárez, a lawyer and governor in the state of Oaxaca, was a leader of the Liberal Party and also of Zapotec indigenous origin. With his rise, he represented a new demographic entering onto the national political scene, yet it remains a complex relationship because he favored the breaking up and sale of indigenous lands through the Ley Lerdo in 1856.

His Presidency ushered in a period known as La Reforma. To put it simply, Juárez oversaw the implementation of several new liberal reforms during this time, the most important being:

  • Ley Lerdo (1856): a sweeping land reform that required all religious properties not in direct religious usage to be auctioned off. This is the law that also did the same for indigenous ejidos, breaking them up and auctioning them off, usually ending up in the hands of hacendados (hacienda owners), which furthered the creation of a landed elite.
  • Ley Juárez (1856): eliminated clerical and military privileges (fueros). This obviously angered the Church and the military.
  • Ley Iglesias (1857): required that Church-issued services such as birth and marriage certificates were to be handled by the state going forward. This expanded the bureaucracy of the state and stripped more power from the Church.

Benito Juárez was President through the War of Reform or Three Years’ War (1857-1860) and was temporarily displaced during the French Intervention of Mexico by Maxmilian I (1861-1867), a European Hapsburg royal who briefly reigned as emperor in Mexico. Juárez remained in office until his death in 1872.

Monument to Benito Juárez, Alameda Central, CDMX.
(Hemiciclo a Juárez, Avenida Juárez). Photo: Hajor, 2004.

His legacy stands as a major liberal innovator during a turbulent period in the 19th-century: he was anti-clerical, breaking up many of the privileges of the Church; he subjected the military to government control; and he passed land reforms that changed the landscape of the Mexican countryside (literally). As previously mentioned, he remains a national hero in México and his likeness can be found everywhere.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. I want to inspire you to take time to learn more about Benito Juárez and La Reforma. It’s a fascinating, complex, and important period of Mexican history.

If you have book or film suggestions for this period, or if there is a topic you would like to see discussed in the future, please comment below.


July 9 – 15, 2017 – Frida Kahlo

Saludos desde California! I’d like to welcome you all to my blog, This Week in Mexican History.

I’m excited to begin this online adventure with a post about a very significant person within the last century of Mexican History — a strong, intelligent woman whose story means a lot to me personally. What I admire most about her is the desire to stay true to herself and to embrace her mestiza identity, while often flouting social convention in her fashion choices, gender/sexuality, and artistic mode of expression.

Photo: Nikolas Murray, Frida Pink/Green Blouse, Coyoacon, Bentley Gallery, 1938.

Of course, I’m referring to Frida Kahlo de Rivera, who was born in Coyoacán, México on July 6, 1907 and also died in her hometown on July 13, 1954, at the age of 47. Her work and personal life have become more renowned over the last 20 years here in the U.S., especially due to the Hollywood blockbuster featuring Salma Hayek (Frida, 2002).  Much of her personal story is already well-known, so instead, I would like to pay respect to her significance as an artist by exploring the place and moment in which she lived, which so inspired her creations.

Mural de Diego Rivera, DF
Photo: Candace Garcia, Secretaría de Educación Pública, Mexico D.F., June 22, 2015.

The art of Post-Revolutionary Mexico (~1920s – 1940s) is most often characterized by the murals of “The Big Three/Los Tres Grandes”: Diego Rivera, Davíd Alfaro Siquieros, and José Clemente Orozco. This artwork contained important symbolism, embodying the new social reforms that were called for by the Mexican Revolution: land, labor, and education for all; national unity; idealizing and embracing Mexico’s indigenous past (indigenismo), accompanied by a rejection of the primacy of European culture; and a rise in secularism and intellectualism, which was sometimes associated with the popularity of socialist thought at the time (see: Bolshevik Revolution, 1917).

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Beyond Los Tres Grandes, it’s important to recognize the work of Mexican women who were also inspired by Revolutionary values, some who ran in the same intellectual/artistic circles as those named above. Frida Kahlo was one of these women, along with Tina Modotti, Lola Cueto, Rosario Cabrera, Chabela Villaseñor, and Nahui Olin, whom art historian Tatiana Flores characterizes as “Strategic Modernists.” Flores defines this as:

  “Women avant-garde artists of post-revolutionary Mexico who engaged with modernist thought and prevailing modes of visual production… All rejected academic traditions and pondered through visual means what should be the purpose of Mexican art in the postrevolutionary moment. Their strategies included critiquing dominant avant-garde models, experimenting with diverse media that challenged the parameters of high art, employing pedagogy and activism as a means to effect social and cultural changes, and asserting the relevance of art that engaged personal experience. Stylistically heterogeneous, their work redefines the role of art and the artist in the post-revolutionary period.”

Flores, Tatiana. “Strategic Modernists: Women Artists in Post-Revolutionary Mexico.” Woman’s Art Journal, Fall-Winter 2008, 29, no. 2 (2008): 12.

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We can easily see, by looking at the repertoire of Kahlo’s artwork, how intimately she portrayed her own personal experiences, by showcasing herself as the subject of many of her paintings. She used aspects of Mexican folk art (indigenous aesthetics) and surrealism to depict herself overcoming physical and emotional suffering or also living everyday life. Kahlo challenged gender roles by depicting herself wearing a man’s suit with short hair, for example, and by depicting herself as a woman surrounded by dreamlike, sometimes gory imagery, as opposed to looking pristine and conventionally beautiful.

Kahlo painted what she knew, her immediate environment including herself, her thoughts, plants and animals, close friends. Although she’s now become part of popular Latino culture here in the U.S. (I have a great pair of socks with her likeness on them), I’m using this opportunity to remember her for her contributions to the art world. Kahlo is both representative of the Post-Revolutionary moment in Mexico and its values, while simultaneously challenging the status quo in regard to gender and visual expression.

Thanks for sharing this moment of reflection for Frida during this week, that of her birth and death.

[A huge shout-out to my former professor, mentor, and friend Dr. Miriam Riggs for the resources and intellectual inspiration for this article. Thank you!]


Visitar : If you’re in Mexico City, make sure to visit Frida & Diego’s home, La Casa Azul aka Museo Frida KahloAlso check out Rivera’s awesome collection of Pre-Hispanic art @ Museo Anahuacalli.

Ver : For a general, North American overview of Frida’s life, watch the film Frida (2002)

YouTube has some cool Frida videos – including this one from Univision about the newest exhibition at Museo Frida Kahlo, which showcases fashions from her closet which has remained under wraps for 58 years, now being made public.

Take a brief tour of Coyoacán , including the Museum, from a Mexican vlogger (in Spanish, can use subtitles).

No longer running in So Cal, now at the Cincinnati Opera, try to catch the opera based on our favorite lady, aptly titled Frida.

Know any good books, documentaries, films, exhibitions, etc. related to Frida Kahlo? I welcome your suggestions!!