Why commemorate the centennial of the Mexican Revolution?

By Magdalena Mieri

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the National Museum of American History will hold a symposium and cultural festival, Creating an Archetype: The Influence of the Mexican Revolution in the United States, September 23-25, 2010. Why commemorate the centennial of the Mexican Revolution here at the National Museum of American History? I could safely assume many people will wonder. There has been much research in recent decades about the relationship between Mexico and the United States, and at a time of political turmoil about immigration and other issues, it is imperative to understand the historical context and connections between the countries at the beginning of the 1900s.

Zapata(Left) 1910s photograph of Emiliano Zapata, courtesy of the George Bain Collection, Library of Congress. (Right) 1976 United Farm Workers poster for a fund-raising dance for Cesar Chavez’s legal defense fund. Similarity shows influence of Mexican Revolution on American culture

The three-day commemoration begins Thursday with an academic symposium with Jaime Marroquin of George Washington University, Mary Kay Vaughn of the University of Maryland, Adela Pineda from Boston University, and Alejandra de la Paz from the Mexican Cultural Institute and the Smithsonian Latino Center. The symposium will focus on the relationship between Mexico and the United States through several lenses: intellectual connections, artistic exchanges, social movements, and political interventions. Presenters and their papers were selected after two years of research and consultations. The Smithsonian Scholarly Press will publish an edited volume based on the symposium presentations.

Thursday night, guest artist Guillermo Gomez Peña will present his latest work, Strange Democracy, inspired by the events of the Mexican bicentennial of its independence from Spain and the centennial of the revolution. His performance piece will provide an opportunity to reflect on the legacy of the revolution from an artistic perspective.

EstampaIllustration from the 1947 publication Estampas de la Revolución Mexicana, a portfolio of 85 woodcut illustrations by various Mexican artists depicting scenes of the Mexican Revolution, held in the Marta Adams papers (1929–1991) at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art

The Mexican Revolution has often been portrayed in America’s popular imagination through somewhat stereotypical “sleeping Mexicans” or fearless revolutionaries. For an opportunity to look at the revolution from a different perspective, we will show a series of classic films with thorough analysis from Boston University’s Dr. Adela Pineda on Friday in the museum’s Carmichael Auditorium.

Finally, all can agree that music brings to life memories of time and place. The Mexican Revolution told its many stories through corridos, ballad style songs with lyrics based on tales of events, heroes, and heroines. Corridos were created and recreated during the revolution as a way to carry news and ideals from town to town. Mariachi music likewise gave tunes to stories of lost love and won battles. Both genres will be presented during the festival on Saturday, with interactive presentations about corridos at 11am and 1pm, as well as performances by Mariachi de los Amigos at noon and 2pm.

Check out the full program, and I hope to see you at the museum!!

Magdalena Mieri is director of Program in Latino History and Culture at the National Museum of American History.