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Open Access Publications from the University of California

After the "Mexican Miracle": Writers reworking national character tropes in contemporary Mexico City

  • Author(s): Sanchez, Alberto William
  • Advisor(s): Nader, Laura
  • et al.

A new generation of writers in Mexico City are not playing the role of national intellectuals as previous generations of writers did. Between the 1930s and 1970s, writers worked to create and circulate Mexican national character tropes. Since the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, writers continue to use these tropes, however, they do so in ways that no longer reference the nation as a whole or evoke a better future for Mexicans.

My method of research included multiple and extended interviews with over thirty writers over a period of a year and a half, beginning in January 2005. All the writers I worked with were acquainted with each other, and were part of a larger network of writers that numbered over a hundred. Their work has been published in five principle magazines and cultural supplements. In my interviews with them, observations of their social interactions, and readings of their work, I have focused on how they conceive of their role as intellectuals, their work practices, and the ways that they appropriate and reformulate the national tropes as defined by the literature on Mexican national character.

I identified two principle modes of contemporary writing in Mexico City. The first is related to the literary genre "dirty realism". It focuses on chronicling violence and depravity without justification or judgment. Since this mode has been criticized for its failure to take a political stance, I attempt to demonstrate how it arises given the political developments in Mexico since the 1960s. I argue that the best way to understand the conditions for this mode of writing is through the failure of developmentalism to fulfill the expectations for modernity that it helped


The second mode is a more celebratory one. It is an upbeat consumer oriented writing that I study as it appears in urban lifestyle magazines. Both the dirty realist and the upbeat consumer copy is possible because the government no longer controls and censors intellectuals as it did in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the 1980s, to write cynically about Mexico, and to celebrate in writing the increasing possibilities for personal consumption, are both expressions of a relative autonomy from the state that did not exist previously. This independence from state control and the obligation placed upon intellectuals to reproduce a national ideology has been achieved through a shift of terrain from the state to the market. Both dirty realism and upbeat urban lifestyles magazine copy respond to the demands of niche markets.

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