Americans in the Treasure House: Travel to Porfirian Mexico and the Cultural Politics of Empire
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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.
he relished.7 In The Awakening of a Nation (1898), Lummis praised Díaz in a chapter succinctly titled “The Man.” The author, like many of the Ameri- Figure 2.1 . Postcard depicting the official Díaz image. Author’s collection. 70 Americans in the Treasure House cans who traveled to Mexico during this period, simultaneously championed and suspended his convictions about democracy in his homage to the president. Díaz infamously had the nation’s constitution suspended to remove all
border, from quaint villages and exotic but docile natives to the engineering marvels that were the rail lines. He was the first of many North American travelers who would record this period of Mexico’s railroad era and profit from the intense popular interest in this newly accessible nation. Around the same time, the company hired a writer named James W. Steele to promote its service between El Paso and Mexico City. “Mexico,” Steele wrote, “save to the very few, has until recently been an almost
end, Indian women were not beautiful. Travel writers often repeated the myth that Indian women could be appealing in their youth but quickly lost their looks. This tendency poses the inverse of the question posed in Chapter One, where I considered the cultural politics at work in photographic representations of Indian desirability. How do we make sense here of Indian women’s supposed ugliness? Is there a 132 Americans in the Treasure House politics of presenting particular groups of women as
Protestant missionaries, closely echoes the economic narrative of Mexico as a field for expansion. One of the most ardently anti-Catholic missionaries who worked in Porfirian Mexico was James G. Dale. In Dale’s view, Catholicism was a “religion without spirituality,” an “enemy of the Bible,” and a “Christless religion” that had contributed to the downfall of Mexico’s Indian population. Along with his wife, Katherine, a medical doctor, he lived and worked in Mexico for a number of years,
the travelers who wrote about Mexico prior to Turner’s reportage appear to have considered the dark underbelly of Porfirian modernity, as Turner himself lamented in Barbarous Mexico.2 In fact, following the publication of Turner’s articles, a spate of pro-Porfirian essays appeared in prominent American magazines and newspapers, including Moody’s Magazine: The Investors’ Monthly, which attempted to calm investor concerns following the publication of Turner’s first articles in The American