This compilation consists of nine articles by authors who have published extensively on Spanish immigration to Mexico. It includes a short presentation by Nicolás Sánchez-AIbornoz underlining the innovative character of this collection and a prologue by Clara E. Lida that provides a detailed summary and assessment of the articles included. The core of the book describes how Spanish immigrants have fared in Mexico between the end of the colonial period and the mid-twentieth century. Each article is rich in details and concrete cases, but—with the exception of two ideas, one regarding the immigrants’ political options (Antonia Pi-Suñer) and the other on the difficulties of defining who those immigrants were (Leticia Gamboa Ojeda)—there is a coincidence (as there should be) between the conclusions presented in the prologue and in each article.
The articles provide quantitative analyses at the national and regional levels, as well as qualitative, deeper assessments of several Mexican regions. Together they present a representative picture of Spanish migration to Mexico over time and the patterns of the migrants’ insertion into Mexico’s society and economy. During the first period, 1821 to 1936 (the focus of eight of the nine articles), immigration was private and “chained” (en cadena), based on family and neighborhood bonds. Between 1936 and 1977, the second period, immigration was promoted and organized by the Mexican government to provide political asylum for Franco’s victims. During the first period, diplomatic relations between Mexico and Spain underwent severe ups and downs (Spanish claims for losses during the wars of independence, forced loans, external and internal debt, French intervention). Tensions subsided between 1874 and 1894, but new ones emerged after 1910. As for migration, however, after a short period of decline between 1820 and 1830, Spaniards arrived in steady numbers between 1840 and 1880, and subsequently (at least until the 1930s) their numbers increased dramatically (Lida, p. 31). Between 1936 and 1977, Mexico was the only Latin American country that remained loyal to the republican government in exile. Only with Franco’s death in 1977 did Mexico recognize the government of Juan Carlos I.
Although a small minority among many small minorities in Mexico, Spaniards have shown a consistent pattern of socioeconomic and political insertion into Mexico’s main cities (especially Mexico City), where they are linked to the development of urban capitalism. We learn that Spanish immigrants were “privileged” and “successful,” in part because of their class and regional origin in Spain. During the first migration period they came in great numbers from northern Spain; these arrivals became merchants and engaged in transport, finance, industry, mining, and export agriculture. Their presence in mining and the agrarian sector greatly diminished following the expropriations and nationalizations after 1910. During the second period we find a slightly different profile, largely determined by political events in Spain. These immigrants were highly qualified workers and technicians, as well as artists, scientists, and academics from Madrid and the Mediterranean area. In both periods, Spanish immigrants strengthened their ties to local, regional, and national elites through marriage, financial arrangements, and political bargaining.
Coming back to the two points mentioned at the beginning, there are two questions the reading of this book brought to my attention. The first is the political involvement of Spanish immigrants; not so much how they gained power (the book provides ample information on this point) but their political outlook and influence. We learn that Spaniards were predominantly conservative, favoring a return to colonial times and monarchy; that only a few sympathized with liberal ideas; and that most were more interested in their personal fortunes than in politics (Pi-Suñer, p. 87). Not much is said, however, about how and why. The second question, related to the first, is the very essential Who were the Spaniards? Again, not in a strictly socioeconomic sense (this amounts to the core of the compilation) but in a more philosophical sense. The farther we go back in time and the closer we come to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the hazier the dividing line between “Mexicans” and “Spaniards” becomes.
Gamboa explicitly addresses the issue. In some cases, first-, second-, and third-generation Spaniards are perceived to be Spaniards (p. 203). In other cases the definition has relied on “self-perception” as “Spaniards” registered or claimed repayments for damaged property during the wars of independence or the aftermath of 1910, or were defined as such on the expatriation lists produced by the Mexican government. Sometimes “Spaniards” even are those born in other former Spanish colonies (p. 190).
The problem continues beyond the people. What does “repatriation” of capital mean when all capital produced was produced from investments in Mexico? (Leonor Ludlow, pp. 144, 161). From there on, some other issues arise. Did Spaniards act differently or were they treated differently from, say, other members of the Mexican elite or other immigrants? Were some Spaniards shot because they were Spaniards or because they supported Díaz and were merchants (Carlos Illades, p. 173)? When and according to which criteria did “Spaniards” become “Mexicans”? In short, how far did class and nationality overlap? The text provides two tentative and potentially interesting routes of inquiry. One is the idea about the convergence of capitalist expansion and entrepreneurial endogamy (Lida, pp. 16-17); the other is the construction of citizenship (or perhaps identity) on uncertain international economic and political terrain (Pi-Suñer, p. 76).
In the end, I agree with Nicolás Sánchez-Albornoz: this is a valuable and innovative compilation that provides a sense of what it has meant to be a Spaniard in Mexico; but we all know that it could mean even more.