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Americans in the Treasure House

Americans in the Treasure House: Travel to Porfirian Mexico and the Cultural Politics of Empire

JASON RUIZ
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/753808
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    Americans in the Treasure House
    Book Description:

    When railroads connected the United States and Mexico in 1884 and overland travel between the two countries became easier and cheaper, Americans developed an intense curiosity about Mexico, its people, and its opportunities for business and pleasure. Indeed, so many Americans visited Mexico during the Porfiriato (the long dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911) that observers on both sides of the border called the hordes of tourists and business speculators a “foreign invasion,” an apt phrase for a historical moment when the United States was expanding its territory and influence.Americans in the Treasure House examines travel to Mexico during the Porfiriato, concentrating on the role of travelers in shaping ideas of Mexico as a logical place for Americans to extend their economic and cultural influence in the hemisphere. Analyzing a wealth of evidence ranging from travelogues and literary representations to picture postcards and snapshots, Jason Ruiz demonstrates that American travelers constructed Mexico as a nation at the cusp of modernity, but one requiring foreign intervention to reach its full potential. He shows how they rationalized this supposed need for intervention in a variety of ways, including by representing Mexico as a nation that deviated too dramatically from American ideals of progress, whiteness, and sexual self-control to become a modern “sister republic” on its own. Most importantly, Ruiz relates the rapid rise in travel and travel discourse to complex questions about national identity, state power, and economic relations across the U.S.–Mexico border.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-75381-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. NOTES ON USAGE
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION: KEEP CLOSE TO A KICKING HORSE
    (pp. 1-18)

    IN THE OCTOBER 1909 EDITION OFThe American Magazine,muckraking American journalist John Kenneth Turner published the first in a series of scintillating articles detailing the oppressive practices of Porfirio Díaz, the dictator who had ruled Mexico with an iron fist and an eye toward foreign capital for more than thirty years. According to Turner, Díaz was not the great modernizer of Mexico, as American writers had been claiming for decades in hagiographic books and articles, but was in reality an anti-democratic tyrant who had fostered only the illusion of modernity in his country. Despite being dropped by the magazine...

  7. CHAPTER 1 DESIRE AMONG THE RUINS: CONSTRUCTING MEXICO IN AMERICAN TRAVEL DISCOURSE
    (pp. 19-64)

    IN JANUARY OF 1911, an American named Frank Hamilton dropped into the mail a letter accompanied by a photograph featuring the ruins of Mitla in the state of Oaxaca. This complex of ruins, as the sender might have known, was the most important religious site in ancient Zapotec culture and a well-known symbol of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic heritage by the turn of the twentieth century. Famous Mexican archaeologist and ethnologist Leopoldo Batres created a sensation in 1901 and 1902 when he uncovered and restored many important buildings at the site. Photographers scrambled to capture its splendors, including intricate friezes, rare mosaics,...

  8. CHAPTER 2 “THE GREATEST AND WISEST DESPOT OF MODERN TIMES”: PORFIRIO DÍAZ, AMERICAN TRAVELERS, AND THE POLITICS OF LOGICAL PATERNALISM
    (pp. 65-102)

    THE HUMBLE BEGINNINGS of José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori, who was raised by a downwardly mobile mother in remote Oaxaca, could not have foretold his enduring relevance to Mexican history. As one American reporter grandly put it, the “slender, dark-eyed Oaxacan boy, with the Spanish-Mixtec blood in his veins, who was to do these wonderful things for his country, and change Mexico from a weakness and a shame to an honor and a strength among the American nations, could not foresee the part he was to play in history.”¹ Díaz’s terms as President spanned 1876–1880 and the...

  9. CHAPTER 3 AMERICAN TRAVEL WRITING AND THE PROBLEM OF INDIAN DIFFERENCE
    (pp. 103-162)

    THE PORFIRIATO COINCIDED WITH a period in which savage but subdued native people populated travel books. From Kipling’s British colonial adventure stories set in India to Boy Scout novels that transported young American readers to the Philippines, colonized or semicolonized native people played important roles in travel discourse during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.¹ As scholars of imperialism and the literary imagination have argued, the appearances of native people in travel writing almost always reinforced white dominance over those that Kipling called “new-caught, sullen peoples/Half-devil and half-child” in “The White Man’s Burden,” his famous paean to turn-of-the-twentieth-century imperialism.²...

  10. CHAPTER 4 “THE MOST PROMISING ELEMENT IN MEXICAN SOCIETY”: IDEALIZED MESTIZAJE AND THE ERADICATION OF INDIAN DIFFERENCE
    (pp. 163-178)

    THE PORT CITY OF VERACRUZ shocked an American traveler named Helen Sanborn when she arrived there in 1886. Like many who traveled through that port city before and after her, she was less than pleased with the locals. Hot and fatigued by the time she disembarked from the steamer that brought her to Veracruz, she regarded the city’s infamous buzzards and theveracruzanoswith equal suspicion. “The population is rather mixed, and impressed us most unfavorably,” she later recalled. “All the bad that has been said about Mexicans and Spaniards we could easily believe when we walked on the street...

  11. CHAPTER 5 REVERSALS OF FORTUNE: REVOLUTIONARY VERACRUZ AND PORFIRIAN NOSTALGIA
    (pp. 179-216)

    DURING THE PORFIRIATO, American travelers optimistically predicted that Mexico’s marvelous progress and stable relationship with the United States would continue forever. Porfirio Díaz was aging rapidly in the final decade of his rule, however, and some timidly wondered what would happen when the man who seemed to have single-handedly modernized Mexico could no longer rule. W. E. Carson, for one, predicted that Mexican stability would flourish because of the threat of American interventionism, as we saw in Chapter Two. Carson, like countless others in the United States, saw the continuation of the regime in Porfirio Díaz Jr. or the dictator’s...

  12. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 217-224)

    Americans in the Treasure Househas shown that travelers played a powerful role in shaping American ideas about Mexico during the Porfiriato and in its aftermath. Travel discourse that circulated in the United States imagined many Mexicos, ranging from a dangerous backwater to a rapidly modernizing “sister republic.” Above all, travel discourse subtly but firmly placed Mexican subjects—from lowly peons to Porfirio Díaz himself—within the orbit of American imperialism. Representational practices like those examined throughout this book also bled into the new medium of motion pictures soon after the end of the Porfiriato, when villains labeled as “greasers”...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 225-246)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 247-260)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 261-275)