Sunday, March 13, 2011
Alan Knight polemically once wrote that "provincial Mexico" was "the real Mexico." Yet over the course of the twentieth-century, the majority of the country's population moved into urban centers, creating new dynamic urban cultures and often discarding "provincial" trappings. Simultaneously, however, the countryside became the repository of a mythologized romantic past that was evermore distant. Popular movies celebrated rural life, and the city's radios often played ranchero music.
While residents of the metropolis cheered for parading charros and thronged to street stands offering barbacoa, policy toward the countryside after 1940 alternated between neglect and abuse. Increasingly, the government sought to feed--literally--the industrialization process by suppressing food prices and commercializing agricultural production, subsidizing urbanization at the expense of the campo. Excess rural population was squeezed off a limited land-base, the emigrees first providing the manpower for new urban factories, then, increasingly, becoming economic refugees north of the border.
In the face of these bittersweet realities, rural life still exerts a strong pull on Mexican culture, even in the concrete-bound center of the Distrito Federal. The tunes and traditions of the countryside are also the tunes and traditions of Mexico's past, the core of a well-armored national imagination.