Every historian who works on the history of Mexico is aware of the value, as well as the dangers inherent in the use, of the Mexican periodical. He is also aware of the significance of Mexican journalists and writers in providing a major medium for the political education of literate people. The fact that many of these writers were themselves among the outstanding political figures of their times makes a study of Mexican journalism an absolute necessity for an understanding of almost any period of that nation’s life.
In recognition of this importance the Press Club of Mexico has undertaken the publication of a Biblioteca del Periodista of which these five books are a part. The project includes works on the history of journalism generally as well as anthologies with short biographical studies of the major figures. The assumption underlying all of these books is expressed by Oscar Castañeda in his study of Francisco Zarco. “La historia del periodismo de México es por ello—en buena ley—la historia de las ideas políticas y del pensamiento revolucionario del país.”
Though not the first of the series published, El nacionalismo en la prensa mexicana del siglo XVIII by Tavera Alfaro should be discussed first since it is somewhat different from the other works under consideration here and because it deals with an earlier period of time. In his introduction to this anthology Tavera Alfaro explores the nationalistic elements that prepared Mexico for independence. He describes the origin and development of periodicals in Europe and in Mexico as elements in the intellectual birth of modern Mexico. While it is obvious that the masses were never reached, those criollos who led the work of the Enlightenment in Mexico helped to develop a national consciousness that otherwise might not have existed. The development of a literature making use of American themes, places, customs, and even the American idiom contributed to this.
The work of José Antonio Alzate y Ramírez and Manuel Antonio Valdés is emphasized in Tavera Alfaro’s treatment, and it is their work that is contained in the anthology. Both of these writers demonstrate the spirit of inquiry that was breaking down the religious tradition and the heavy hand of authority. The selections by Valdés from his Gazetas de México, compendio de noticias de Nueva España are illustrative of the problems of a criollo intellectual of the late 18th-century, but the work of Alzate is far more varied and most heavily covered in the anthology.
While it is impossible to show a straight line effect of Alzate on the Revolution, the ideas of this so-called “Pliny of Mexico” are certainly indicative of the secularization of the Mexican intellectual that was taking place. Since it was still dangerous to be too critical of traditional dogma, authority, laws, and divine right, asking questions of nature was a reasonable alternative. Examples of Alzate’s work range from commentaries on the geography of Mexico to the need to increase the number of crops, from archeological descriptions to mineral discoveries, from a defense of non-Spanish influences on the theater to a plea for European technology.
As is well known, independence for Mexico did not bring with it sufficient economic and social change to avoid the necessity for a resort to arms by Mexican liberals. By 1854 a second generation was to have its try at the implementation of liberal ideals. Again the press was to provide leadership and education for the people. The three studies of Francisco Zarco, Guillermo Prieto, and José M. Vigil deal primarily with this Reform era.
Castañeda, author of an earlier book on Zarco, has provided a quite adequate account of the journalistic and political career of a man who is best known for his editorship of El Siglo XIX and his service in the government of Benito Juárez. Even prior to the Revolution of Ayutla, Zarco had been writing on behalf of such traditional liberal concepts as expanded educational facilities, immigration, colonization, land reform, material improvements, and labor organization. Following the overthrow of Santa Anna, with occasional lapses due to imprisonment and the military setbacks of Juárez, Zarco devoted his efforts to promoting the government under the 1857 Constitution and to the defense of Juárez against his opponents within liberal ranks.
The anthology provided is divided into three parts, the first of which includes significant examples of Zarco’s defense of freedom of the press, a freedom he believed basic to all others. The second section contains examples of Zarco’s views on foreign relations. He was strongly opposed to foreign intervention and naturally suspicious of the Monroe Doctrine. He was, however, not a rampant nationalist but rather a Bolivarian in his support of a Hispanic American union. The last section includes a variety of samples of Zarco’s views on social and political matters. His concern over the apathy of citizens, his fear of dictatorship and love of liberty, his belief in freedom of religion, and especially his support of the Constitution of 1857 are all demonstrated.
Prieto, like Zarco, was as much a political as a literary figure during the Reform and the anthology divides his work into literary and political sections. The editor has attempted to provide examples from periodicals that have not appeared in other works prior to this. The political examples covering such subjects as the threat of war with the United States, political factions in Mexico, federalism versus centralism, and monarchy are taken largely from Don Simplicio between 1845 and 1847. The more literary examples deal with Mexican customs and places, and travels of Prieto. This anthology reflects the broad life and broad interests of Prieto. Many more articles are included covering a wider variety of subjects than is true of the Zarco work. The biographical section, however, is not so complete. The major outline of Prieto’s career at the Convention of 1856-1857, in the Juárez government, and in Congress is covered. Certainly his contributions to national unity and to a national literature are reflected in this work.
Vigil, to a greater extent than Zarco or Prieto, is identified with Mexican liberalism as a writer and not a politician, though he served briefly in Congress. This work by Carlos J. Sierra concentrates upon Vigil’s lesser-known works from periodicals, intentionally ignoring his literary and scholarly contributions. As editor of El País, Vigil added his support to the Revolution of Ayutla, writing defenses of the Ley Lerdo and the 1857 Constitution. He later voiced his opposition to foreign intervention, his support of colonization programs and industrial development and anti-clericalism. By 1870 he became a supporter of Lerdo de Tejada and an opponent of the re-election of Juárez. The first section of the anthology is devoted to the era of the Reform and the Intervention.
The second section of this anthology deals with “Political Thought during the regimes of Lerdo de Tejada and Porfirio Díaz.” During this era Vigil wrote on typical liberal subjects such as the need for railroads, public education, and immigration as a base for national prosperity. He also wrote answers to conservative views of the Reform era (foreshadowing his later book) and supported freedom of religion and the republican institutions that had been established. By 1880 Vigil became Director of the Biblioteca Nacional and his journalistic endeavors ended. This anthology is somewhat less informative than those on Prieto and Zarco. Though it contains a large number of examples, it is a bit too repetitious. It is also true that Vigil is perhaps a less colorful figure personally than his two contemporaries in this series.
The study of Mónico Neck, or more properly, Antonio Ancona Albertos, brings the story of the Mexican revolutionary past up to the present. Born in 1883 in Yucatán, Neck wrote for El Peninsular, one of the first anti-Díaz papers, under José María Pino Suárez. He subsequently served as governor of Yucatán and of the territory of Quintana Roo under Calles, while continuing his work as a writer. As a socialist, Mónico Neck served in the 1917 convention and subsequently became a member of the Mexican Communist Party.
It is unfortunate that this study does not contain a better biographical account. It is much too anecdotal and adulatory to be either interesting or informative. Similarly, the anthology, divided into sections, “Del Ayer Revolucionario” and “Apuntes de Actualidad,” leaves much to be desired. There are worthwhile pieces such as accounts from El Nacional on Pino Suárez and The Tragic Week and an account of the XXVI legislature from El Popular. Much more could have been expected on a man who lived through and contributed to such an important era.
Obviously, the Club de Periodistas de México is to be congratulated for this series. It is impossible to achieve equal quality in every book of such a series. If future editors can avoid the temptation to overstate the case for the journalist in general and their journalist in particular, the cause of history and Mexico’s knowledge of herself will be well served.