The iconography of Latin American heroes remains a subject that often receives short shrift in contemporary process-oriented historical writing. In their efforts to understand the dynamics of revolution, modern scholars have often subsumed the phenomena of personalism, charisma, and hagiography under generalized categories. Such, Manuel Sarkisyanz argues in his book, is the case with Felipe Carrillo Puerto, one of the heroes of revolutionary Yucatán, who attempted a socialist transformation on behalf of the Maya Indians there between 1920 and 1924. Principally using newspapers, the Yucatecan state archive, and secondary literature, the volume relates Carrillo’s career, its context, and its legacy in 83 small chapters.
The study consists of four parts. The first, chapters 1 through 27, analyzes the Maya world view and previous instances of rebellion from the pre-Columbian period up to the Porfiriato. It places Carrillo’s career in the context of the Maya’s cyclical view of history. Part 2, chapters 28 to 66, describes Yucatán’s henequen economy and the impact of the Revolution there until 1920. It then delineates Carrillo’s tenure as governor of Yucatán with particular emphasis on his government program and his attempts at popular mobilization. Part 3, chapters 67 to 71, briefly studies the reasons for and circumstances of Carrillo’s assassination in 1924. The final section, chapters 72 to 82, discusses the ideological heritage of Carrillismo and its significance for understanding patterns of rebellion and revolution in Yucatán.
The book’s primary strength is that it successfully advocates looking at Carrillo not as a failed figure of the Mexican Revolution but as an embodiment of the periodically reborn hopes of the Yucatec Maya peasants. Thus, as Sarkisyanz aptly demonstrates, the image of Carrillo looms even larger in death than it did during his lifetime. The author concludes that the field of Yucatecan history has not grasped the symbolic import of Carrillo’s experiment in Maya socialism. Sarkisyanz argues, probably too simplistically, that existing “utilitarian-positivist” studies of Carrillo have reduced his role to that of a “clever politician” capable of consummate political management (p. 427).
This exercise in iconography serves as a corrective for previous studies that looked principally at Carrillo’s role in the Revolution in Yucatán and not at the larger historical significance of his emergence as a popular hero. In avoiding a theoretical framework that would make the Yucatecan experience with Carrillismo intelligible in a larger, comparative sense, however, Sarkisyanz has deprived himself of the opportunities contained in his subtitle: to understand, in more general terms, the making of revolutionary legends and heroes. This failure to provide a theoretical or methodological contribution to the study of iconography limits somewhat the volume’s usefulness and scope.