In 1847 Mariano Otero, attempting to account for the ease with which “ten or twelve thousand men . . . penetrated from Veracruz to the very capital of the republic,” offered a stinging explanation: Mexico did not constitute, nor could it properly call itself, a nation.1 Locating the absence of nationhood in the persisting legacies of colonial rule, Otero questioned the degree to which Mexico had moved from colony to modern nation. Such an assertion must have proved disturbing to many, coming as it did a quarter-century after the proclamation of independence from Spanish rule. Certainly the Mexican elite that inherited the mantle of independence in 1821 imagined themselves to be members of a distinctly Mexican nation and state.2 Yet acts of imagination were not, in and of themselves, powerful enough to sustain Mexico, regardless of how hard or heartfelt “its” leaders imagined, as the turbulent years leading...

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