A Look at Teotihuacan for International Archaeology Day

Founded in the first century BCE near a set of natural springs in an otherwise dry northeastern corner of the Valley of Mexico, the ancient metropolis of Teotihuacan was on a symbolic level a city of elements. With a multiethnic population of perhaps one hundred thousand, at its peak in 400 CE, it was the cultural, political, economic, and religious center of ancient Mesoamerica. A devastating fire in the city center led to a rapid decline after the middle of the sixth century, but Teotihuacan was never completely abandoned or forgotten. Today the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most visited archaeological site in Mexico.

Photograph of Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan for International Archaeology Day
View of the Sun Pyramid looking east. At 63 meters tall, the Sun Pyramid was one of the largest and tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere until the development of the skyscraper in the nineteenth century. Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara Elías, © INAH. Image courtesy of the FAMSF.
Detail of pyramid sculptures at Teotihuacan
Facade of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, assembled as a mosaic of large and small sculptures. Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara Elías, © INAH. Image courtesy of the FAMSF.

The recently opened exhibition at the de Young Museum is historic in many ways. The result of long-term international collaboration, including a 30 year partnership with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), the spectacular exhibition features more than 200 artifacts and artworks from the site displayed in dramatic and awe-inspiring ways. It is a rare opportunity to contemplate objects drawn from major collections in Mexico, some very recently excavated, and many on view in the U.S. for the first time.

Exhibition detail from de Young Museum
Installation of “Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire” at the de Young Museum. Image courtesy of the FAMSF.
Excavation photography from Teotihuacan
Two standing anthropomorphic sculptures discovered near the terminus of the tunnel beneath the Ciudadela and the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. Photograph by Sergio Gómez Chávez. Image courtesy of the FAMSF.

Today is International Archaeology Day, so curator Matthew Robb’s comments on the exhibition are especially timely.

“The ideas behind Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire were really inspired by the work of my archaeologist colleagues. They selected many of the objects for the catalogue from their own projects, and we worked together to shape those selections into a coherent image of this ancient city. We had a real opportunity to showcase their work to a broader audience, as well as provide the field with an important update to what we know about Teotihuacan. Archaeology is painstaking, intensely collaborative work—it requires so much patience and discipline. The end result is that tantalizing glimpse into the past, into how people once lived and thought—a glimpse made more complete by the meticulous gathering of data and objects archaeologists carry out every day.”  —Matthew Robb, curator

In the exhibition, monumental and ritual objects from Teotihuacan’s three largest pyramids—the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, the Moon Pyramid, and the Sun Pyramid—are shown alongside mural paintings, ceramics, and stone sculptures from the city’s apartment compounds. By bringing these pieces together, and contextualizing specific sites within the city, this is an unprecedented opportunity to experience a significant place in Mexico’s cultural landscape.

Map drawing of Teotihuacan site
Site map of Teotihuacan. Composed by Hilary Olcott, Image courtesy of the FAMSF.
Detail of exhibits at de Young Museum
Installation of “Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire” at the de Young Museum. Image courtesy of the FAMSF.

Edited by Matthew Robb and co-published with the de Young Museum, the beautifully illustrated catalogue is equally impressive in its scope and ability to unearth the secrets within and beneath the city that are only now coming to light.

Cover image of exhibition catalogue

For an all-access preview of the exhibition check out the Teotihuacan digital story. We expect that it will inspire not only a visit to the exhibition, but also a trip to Mexico to see the captivating and mysterious ancient city en vivo.

Note that the exhibition will also travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Spring 2018.

In honor of International Archaeology Day, save 30% on the exhibition catalogue with code 16M4197.


A Look at California Mexicana—An Upcoming Exhibition & Catalogue

Part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, the California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820–1930 exhibition opens on October 15th at the Laguna Art Museum.

Artistic and cultural exchange between California and Mexico has flourished since the time when California was part of the United States of Mexico. The exhibition highlights this vital aspect of the state’s history through a panorama of works by artists on both sides of the border, from scenes of mission and rancho life through images of romantic Old California, to the emergence of a cross-border modern art scene.

Cover image is a detail of La Plaza de Toros: Sunday Morning in Monterey, 1874, by Charles Christian Nahl.

Edited by curator Katherine Manthore, the beautifully illustrated catalogue addresses two key areas of inquiry: how Mexico became California, and how the visual arts reflected the shifting identity that grew out of that transformation.

Grizzly Bear of California, c. 1854, Charles Christian Nahl, Watercolor over graphite sketch, 7 ½ x 11 inches, City of Monterey Art Collection, gift from Mrs. Augusta Nahl Allen
Translation from the Maya, 1940, Dorr Bothwell, Oil on Celotex, 23 x 19 inches, Laguna Art Museum Collection Museum purchase with funds provided through prior gift of Lois Outerbridge
Fruit of the Vine, 1926, Norman Rockwell, Oil on canvas, 31 x 27 inches, Collection of the Sun-Maid Growers of California; on long-term loan to Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts
San Gabriel Mission, Ferdinand Deppe, Oil on canvas, c. 1832, 27 x 37 inches, Laguna Art Museum Collection, Gift of Nancy Dustin Wall Moure

As evidenced by the selected images above, the catalogue includes diverse works by a wide array of artists including Frida Kahlo, Juan Correa, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José María Velasco, Tina Modotti, Edward Weston, Maxine Albro, Thomas Moran, unknown artists, and many others, making it both a pleasure and an adventure to read.

The Complicated History of Crime and the Truth in Mexico

This guest post is published in conjunction with the meeting of the Latin American Studies Association taking place April 29-May 1 in Lima, Peru. #LASA17

by Pablo Piccato, author of A History of Infamy: Crime, Truth, and Justice in Mexico

Projects like the one resulting in my latest book have a life of their own. At first my goal was to take to the present the social history approach to the history of crime in Mexico City I used in City of Suspects (2001), and to engage more explicitly with the growing social science scholarship on security and drug trafficking in Mexico. But as I started the research, and the situation in Mexico deteriorated, the project changed, forcing me to ask new questions. For example, I compiled the statistics of indicted and sentenced in the entire country during the twentieth century only to find that violent crime had steadily decreased until the last years of the century. How to reconcile that with the increasing centrality of the themes of crime and justice in Mexican life? More important, perhaps, was my own disappointment with the emerging scholarship mentioned above. Political scientists, sociologists and legal scholars embraced a state-centered perspective that focused on security and policy models to solve the problem of crime. Yet much of this scholarship did not challenge some of the basic assumptions of the state discourse about crime: criminals were a well-defined group of people, policing and punishment were the only mechanisms to control them, civil society had no role in dealing with transgression, drug trafficking was the cause of everything bad that was happening in the country. A lot was happening indeed: criminal organizations were diversifying their activities and engaging in human trafficking, extortion and other predatory activities along with the production, smuggling and sale of illicit drugs. Mexican governments were increasingly relying on a militarized approach to the so-called “war on drugs.” Policies and aggressive enforcement nevertheless failed to stem the flow of drugs and reduce corruption and impunity. The arrests or killing of the higher ups of some organizations only created internecine fighting among them, and more violence across the national territory. By the beginning of this decade the toll had reached more than a hundred thousand deaths and a large number of disappeared.

Facing the overwhelming scale of the problem, it became clear to me that a mere historical narrative of the transformation of crime during the century would not be so useful. In 2010 I had published another monograph, Tyranny of Opinion, focusing on the history of the public sphere in the nineteenth century. That project’s focus on the public sphere helped me refine my approach to twentieth-century crime: questioning the way in which multiple actors discussed the problem of violence and the shortcomings of justice revealed the basic assumptions that informed contemporary understandings of crime. Thus, for example, examining the debates about famous cases in front of the jury, in the press, and in detective fiction explained the central role that murderers acquired in Mexican visions of crime during the century. Murderers became fascinating and complex characters whose first-person accounts, usually in the form of confessions, revealed the truth in a way that judicial institutions failed to achieve. Listening to people’s skeptical views about the police and judicial system since the 1930s gave me the key to understand the centrality of the problem of truth in contemporary Mexico. The majority of the homicides that are committed these days will never be investigated because the state gives priority to the disruption of criminal organizations over the loss of life that the war on drug entails. As a result, Mexican civil society, particularly the relatives of victims, no longer trust official accounts, and fight for their right to know the truth. Reading old crime news and detective novels allowed me to see the relevance and deep roots of Mexican citizens’ claims for the truth.

A History of Infamy also addressed another legacy of the middle decades of the twentieth century: Mexico’s reputation as a place of arbitrary violence and complete impunity. Today, this infamy is expressed through images and narratives of powerful narcos, and has been exploited by Donald Trump as a way to justify anti-immigrant measures. Murderers became celebrities decades ago, but it is only in recent years, and as a result of the scale of the violence of organized crime, that the entire country came to be identified with the threat of violence. As is the case with Mexican civil society, U.S. public opinion needs to go beyond the acceptance of these problems and demand the truth. Trying to understand this present, the book became an exploration of the difficult relationship between violence and the truth.

Pablo Piccato teaches Latin American history at Columbia University. He studied at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the University of Texas at Austin. His books include City of Suspects: Crime in Mexico City, 1900–1931 and The Tyranny of Opinion: Honor and the Construction of the Mexican Public Sphere.

On Suicide, Death, and Unsettling Notions of Mexico

This guest post is published in conjunction with the meeting of the Latin American Studies Association taking place April 29-May 1 in Lima, Peru. #LASA17

by Kathryn A. Sloan, author of Death in the City: Suicide and the Social Imaginary in Modern Mexico

My son asked me why I study morbid topics like suicide and death. He went on to inquire if I was depressed. I paused a moment before responding, recalling that many of my history colleagues have teased me for being attracted to salacious and macabre themes in Mexican history. I always laugh and remark on the richness of criminal documents for intellectual inquiry, especially for those of us who searching for plebeian voices. The fact is that studying a society in time and place through the lens of perceived social problems like suicide or crime or disease bears considerable scholarly fruit. In my work I have found that when I dig down into the weeds of judicial documents replete with testimony and letters and the newspaper reporting on said crimes, notions of Mexico or Mexicanidad are unsettled.

Indeed Mexico has long been associated with the macabre in popular culture. Heart sacrifice, conquest, civil war, and social revolution have marked Mexican society. Today drug traffickers act with impunity and hang headless corpses from overpasses and kidnap people in broad daylight. On a lighter note, Mexicans celebrate Day of the Dead by festooning tombstones with marigolds, feasting on delicacies, and toasting their dearly departed at gravesites. Likewise tourists consume sugary skulls as they gaze upon the exotic spectacle. Mexico’s making, cured in this crucible of conquest, war, and death, has led some prominent intellectuals to suggest that death defines Mexico. In fact, the stereotype is that Mexicans (especially the Mexican man) mock and face down death with a devil-may-care nonchalance. Death is his ever-present and intimate friend. He is immune to suffering around him.

Intellectuals shaped mexicanidad in a post-revolutionary milieu and strived to define a singular essence that set Mexico apart from its European and Anglo peers. To them Mexicans were trapped in ‘labyrinths of solitude’ and ‘cages of melancholy.’ Examining how Mexicans confronted suicide in Mexico on the cusp of the twentieth century reveals that they did not accept death with a cavalier snicker, nor did they develop a unique death cult for that matter. Mexicans behaved just as their contemporaries did around the modern world. They devoted scientific inquiry to the malady and mourned the loss of each life to suicide. Front-page articles eulogized the women who jumped from the cathedral to their deaths on the paving stones below. Mexico’s Central Park—Chapultepec Park—became a common destination for lovelorn suicides. Medical students and their teachers peered into the craniums of suicide victims in hopes of finding physical markers that foretold a death wish. Crowds of city residents congregated around literal stains of blood to mourn the young man or woman who took their lives in public spaces. Uncovering the myriad ways that Mexicans defined and approached the phenomenon of suicide reveals that they approached death like any world citizens, with an immense sense of concern, humanity, and sensitivity.

Kathryn A. Sloan is Associate Dean of Fine Arts and Humanities in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. She is the author of Runaway Daughters: Seduction, Elopement, and Honor in Nineteenth-Century Mexico and Women’s Roles in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Crossing the ‘Borderwall’: Projectiles

Depending on your intake of current event news, the wall—existing and potential—between the United States and Mexico has been a staple feature of this administration’s diet. Among other things it’s divisive, unrealistic, and up for debate on how it will be funded, but author Ronald Rael looks at it in a completely unique way: as an architect, as a citizen, and as someone who grew up occupying the borderlands himself. Ciudad Juárez-based journalist Judith Torrea describes his new book as “astonishing and magical: a realm where the absurdity of a wall is transformed from obstructive and negative to an affirmation of shared humanity.”

The below excerpt appears in a section of the book entitled, ‘Recuerdos/Souvenirs’, which proposes unsolicited counterproposals, both tragic and sublime, for the existing wall along the border.

Automobiles carrying people and drugs are not the only things traveling through the air over the wall. During the Middle Ages, with the rise of fortified castles and city walls, the catapult became an essential tool to launch objects and even bodies over protective walls. It was also a time when the cannon became a standard method of breaching walls. With the catapult’s and the cannon’s shared history of launching humans through the air, it is unsurprising that these medieval technologies would resurface in reaction to the anachronistic security barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Among the projectile launchers created to hurdle the wall are catapults, used by drug traffickers to hurl marijuana and other contraband over the borderwall. Packages of marijuana are bulkier than heroin or cocaine and therefore more difficult to smuggle hidden in vehicles or carried by hand. The catapults confiscated by Mexican authorities are built upon trailers that can easily attached to a truck, making them very portable. These “pot-a-pults,” which can be as tall as 9 feet, are constructed with steel and a strong elastic band and can hurl marijuana bales weighing approximately 4.4 pounds each. These borderland trebuchets have been discovered in use along the Arizona-Mexico border near the cities of Naco and Agua Prieta.

More powerful are the cannons used to launch packets of marijuana over the borderwall into Calexico, California, from Mexicali, Mexico. These homemade cannons are fashioned from plastic pipe and makeshift metal tanks containing either compressed air (produced by an automobile engine) or encapsulated compressed carbon dioxide. These cannons have been known to fire thirty-pound canisters of marijuana up to 500 feet. Thirty-three such canisters, fired out of one of these cannons and valued at $42,500, were recently discovered near Yuma, Arizona.

So, have people also been launched over the wall? An episode of the television program MythBusters tested the theory that in addition to drugs, immigrants themselves were becoming human projectiles and being flung two hundred yards across the border into the United States. The show constructed a human-sized slingshot to see if it was possible. The tests involved the launch of a mannequin over a fictional U.S.- Canadian border and used a chain-link fence topped with razor wire to mark the border—a vision clearly inspired by the U.S-Mexico wall. And although the MythBusters team was able to propel the dummy 211 feet, it was concluded that it didn’t seem possible to launch humans accurately enough to ensure their safety.

Although there is no evidence that migrants are being launched over the wall, human cannonball David Smith Sr., who holds the distance record for being shot into the air (201 feet, in 2002), is the first person whose launch by cannon over the U.S.-Mexico borderwall has been documented. Although it is illegal to enter the United States from Mexico except at an official port of entry, U.S. Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar granted Smith permission to cross in this unconventional fashion. So, in 2005, with passport in hand (which he waved to the crowd before blasting off from Tijuana, Mexico), he sailed over the wall and landed squarely in a large net awaiting him in San Diego, California.

When Smith was asked why he did it, his reply was simple: “I did it for the money—I get paid!”

Selections from ‘Recuerdos’ were read aloud by the author to UC Press staff earlier this spring (watch a short video from that talk), and we’ll be sharing excerpts here in the coming weeks.

Learn more in recent features on Borderwall as Architecture in The Architectural RecordThe London Review of Books, The New York Times, and a podcast produced by UC Berkeley’s Berkeley News.

Ronald Rael is Associate Professor in the departments of Architecture and Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Earth Architecture, a history of building with earth in the modern era that exemplifies new, creative uses of the oldest building material on the planet. The Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum have recognized his work, and in 2014 his creative practice, Rael San Fratello, was named an Emerging Voice by the Architectural League of New York.


Reimagining the Borderwall

This post is part of a blog series celebrating the College Art Association annual conference taking place in New York City from February 15–18. Please visit us at Booth 605 if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our new and forthcoming Art books.

Today in history the Mexican-American War ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which added 525,000 square miles to United States territory, including the land that makes up all or parts of present-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, as well as Texas. It is still by this agreement that we recognize the geographical boundaries of the two neighboring nations.

Today we are also reconsidering the boundary between the United States and Mexico in all kinds of new ways, and the forthcoming book, Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (coming March 2017) is a highly creative and optimistic re-examination of what the physical barrier that divides the United States of America from the United Mexican States is, and could be.


“A fascinating book, astonishing and magical: a realm where the absurdity of a wall is transformed from obstructive and negative to an affirmation of shared humanity.”—Judith Torrea, journalist and author based in Ciudad Juárez, México

Author Ronald Rael is Associate Professor in departments of Architecture and Art Practice at UC Berkeley, and one of the founding partners of Rael San Fratello, a creative practice and studio whose work has been recognized by the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, as well as named an emerging voice by the Architectural League of New York.

UC Press staff were lucky to have him come speak in our offices recently. His fascinating presentation on his background, and other influences on his work in and around the borderlands, was both timely and inspiring.

Watch the video below to hear more about some of optimistic re-imaginings of the existing wall (and any potential future extensions of it that are currently being assessed).

Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary will be available in March 2017—preorder now and save 30% by entering code16W6596 at checkout.

In Sight but Out of Reach: Security and Surveillance Technologies in Mexico

By Keith Guzik, author of Making Things Stick: Surveillance Technologies and Mexico’s War on Crime

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Law and Society Association annual conference in New Orleans, occurring June 2 – 5, 2016.

On May 1, 2016, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) released its second and final report on the disappearance of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Guerrero, Mexico. Convened through an agreement between the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Mexican government, and relatives of the disappeared, the GIEI caused a stir by questioning key elements of the government’s claim that the students were killed by members of the municipal police in collusion with a local crime syndicate, who later burned the bodies in a nearby garbage dump. Not only had an international forensics team found no evidence of the bodies at the dump, but a local military battalion was aware of the attack and did nothing to assist the victims. The report also faulted the government’s lack of cooperation with the investigation, which included refusing to make military officials available for interviews and not sharing phone records and video evidence collected the night of the disappearances.

That the highest levels of government would obstruct this investigation provides a stark indication of the failure of recent efforts to modernize the Mexican state’s response to insecurity. During the administration of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012), for instance, the federal government launched a trio of innovative programs to fight crime: a national mobile telephone registry designed to aid authorities responding to kidnappings and extortion calls; a national identity card featuring biometric data to protect people from identity theft and fraud; and a national automobile registry attaching radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags onto vehicles in order to combat car thefts, kidnappings, and drug trafficking.

Guzik.MakingThingsStickIn Making Things Stick, I examine the contemporary role of surveillance technologies in state security operations by considering the histories of Mexico’s mobile phone registry, national identity card, and automobile registry. The book challenges many assumptions we commonly hold concerning state surveillance and provides insight into the continuing insecurity in Mexico. For instance:

  • While surveillance technologies are generally understood as tools used by state authorities to keep watch over individuals, they are increasingly being used to monitor the things (automobiles, telephones, etc.) thought to underlie the commission of crime. By adhering RFID tags onto vehicles, having people register their phones, and creating identity cards based on biometric data, the state looks to gain purchase upon the material basis of everyday life.
  • State surveillance is directed at the state itself. In Mexico, where law enforcement officers and agencies are often corrupt and the data that the government generates on people and things are often inaccurate, programs like the automobile, mobile phone, and population registries are intended to route administrative data through devices and into centralized databases that would enable the federal government to reduce its reliance upon state- and local-level officers and agencies.
  • State plans for securitizing society through advanced surveillance and information technologies encounter great difficulty in materializing. In Mexico, the registries largely faltered as people refused to comply with measures that they saw as invasive, companies balked at the financial costs associated with the new security programs, the designs of the programs and technologies proved inadequate, and politicians, public officials, and state governments pushed back against the federal measures for political gain and to protect their domains of influence.

As the experiences with the mobile phone registry, national identity card, and automobile registry in Mexico demonstrate, state surveillance technologies have yielded neither the secured utopia nor the police state dystopia promised by their supporters and opponents.

For Ayotzinapa, the tracking of mobile communications and the recording of events via video cameras have not led to justice. But what the phone records and videos not released to the GIEI evidence is the continued unwillingness of the government to do what is required to achieve justice. And in doing this they provide the hope that surveillance technologies, when combined with sustained social mobilization and political action, may yet come to serve as tools for increasing public accountability over those in power and establishing the rule of law in our technological future.

Keith Guzik is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado, Denver. A free ebook version of this title is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program for monographs. Visit www.luminosoa.org to learn more. In addition to Making Things Stick, he is the author of Arresting Abuse and the co-editor of The Mangle in Practice.

Divided Spirits

By Sarah Bowen, author of Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Chicago. Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Tuesday, August 25th. 

What are the limitations of alternative markets in ensuring fair, sustainable food? 

As educated and socially conscious consumers, we want to believe that our purchasing decisions—whether that means buying fair trade coffee, local produce, or traditional mezcals—can make a difference. I think that maybe they can. But it’s also true that in a system based on “voting with your dollar,” people with more dollars have more votes.

On the whole, I believe that the growth of the market for artisanal mezcals and tequilas has shifted the conversation about protecting Mexico’s spirits in productive ways. But that’s not enough. In a market-based system, the right to define what constitutes “tequila” and “mezcal” extends as much from market power as it does from a sense of tradition or justice. And the interests of wealthy consumers, no matter how committed they are, are not always going to line up with what’s best for producers, farmers, or workers.

There is a need to move beyond market-based models in order to create more democratic, participatory, and inclusive ways of protecting, valuing, and preserving local foods and drinks and the people who make them. Lasting change is unlikely without the involvement of the state and a sustained commitment to supporting rural development and small-scale agriculture and to reducing inequality in rural communities.

9780520281059What reforms do you believe are most necessary to protect local producers of tequila and mezcal? 

The denominations of origin (DOs, place-based labels that tie production of foods or drinks to particular regions, like Champagne) and quality standards that regulate tequila and mezcal are structured in ways that allow for, and even encourage, industrialization and standardization. The DOs and standards manage to be both too open and too restrictive. Because they are so general, they fail to protect the linkages between specific places, the types of agave that grow there, and the production practices that developed there over time. The regulatory institutions do not define any practices as central to the identities of tequila or mezcal, and so industrial producers are scaling up, adopting innovations that are more efficient but that move tequila and mezcal further from their historical roots and make it more difficult for small producers to compete. They are also too restrictive, in that they set parameters that are almost impossible for producers using traditional methods to meet, and in doing so, further encourage industrialization.

My primary recommendation is that these regulatory institutions need to allow small producers (as well as farmers and workers) collectively define the practices and qualities that are important to them. The vast majority of regulatory decisions that have been made over the last seventy years have been pushed by large distilleries (and the multinational liquor companies that increasingly own them), with a goal of maximizing efficiency and accessing foreign markets. It’s time to hear from small producers and make the process of defining the quality of tequila and mezcal more democratic. In addition, the regulatory institutions need to take more seriously the issue of the quality and sustainability of agave, the main ingredient in tequila and mezcal and one of the things that makes these spirits so unique.

Did you encounter any unique challenges while conducting research and interviews? Is there anything on the subject that you would be interested in studying further?

One afternoon, I was conducting interviews with agave farmers in a tiny town in Jalisco. I had to drive up a very steep, windy road to get to this town. I did the two interviews that I had come there to do, and then it started to pour. This was during the rainy season, when it rains almost every afternoon, but this was a particularly heavy rainfall, and it was also getting dark. The road was slick, and I began to worry whether I would be able to drive back down the hill. I knocked on the door of the nearest house, and these two older ladies, who must have been in their eighties, invited me in. They told me I could stay the night with them if I needed to. I ended up waiting out the storm with them, but then decided I could make the drive home. But that story always reminds me of the incredible generosity and kindness of the people I met doing my fieldwork.

As far as future work, I would like to look more at the role and living conditions of jimadores—the workers who harvest the agave—in the tequila industry. Jimadores have a special symbolic significance and are often depicted on tequila labels and featured in distillery. Yet the romantic images of jimadores that we see in tequila ads conceal the health problems and chronic poverty from which they suffer. I talked to some jimadores while doing research for my book, but I hope to do a larger study, to look at how working conditions and health problems of the jimadores vary between regions and between types of companies and contracts.

Bowen, SarahSarah Bowen is Associate Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University.


Ana Elizabeth Rosas interviewed on the New Books Network

Ana Elizabeth Rosas, author of Abrazando el Espiritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border, spoke to David-James Gonzoles of New Books in American Studies this weekend. Ana Rosas is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the departments of History and Chicano-Latino Studies at the University of California, Irvine

Listen to the full interview at the New Books Network’s website, where you can also read David-James Gonzoles’ full review.

Abrazando el Espíritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border
Abrazando el Espíritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border

Abrazando el Espiritu (“embracing the spirit”), a study of the 1942 Bracero Program established between the U.S. and Mexican governments, navigates the deep impact that it had upon transnational Mexican immigrant families. Rosas’ book draws both from official government archives and family histories such as photographs, love letters, popular music, and oral histories in order to provide a closer, more personal understanding of the lives of these Bracero families and the challenges that they faced.

In this lengthy interview, she speaks about how she came to study her field, the link between the lives of Bracero families and those of contemporary migrant workers, the process of acquiring interviews and bringing the personal histories of families into her work, and the important role that love and connection play in understanding the historical moment of her study.

“A truly landmark study,” says Gonzoles, “Abrazando el Espiritu deepens our understanding of the costs of transnational labor migration on families and the efforts undertaken by women, children, men, and the elderly to preserve familial bonds amidst government surveillance and abandonment.”

Replenished Ethnicity Author on Immigration Reform in the L.A. Times

Replenished Ethnicities

Tomás R. Jiménez, author of Replenished Ethnicity: Mexican Americans, Immigration, and Identity, recently contributed an op-ed to the L.A. Times on the immigration bill just passed in the Senate whose fate will now be determined by the House of Representatives. Jiménez and co-author Helen B. Marrow argue against claims that Mexicans who immigrate to the U.S. show no interest in assimilating into American culture and will remain a “permanent underclass.”

To the contrary, they say, “Many Mexican immigrants and their children have traveled paths to becoming full Americans that, even if slower, are not unlike the paths followed previously by European immigrants.” Advocating an approach testable by social science data, the authors write:

For Mexicans, who have been immigrating to the United States for a century, the historical moment of arrival and the number of generations removed from the immigrant generation are crucial parts of the story. When accounting for both, the best analyses suggest cautious optimism. Each passing generation of Mexican Americans does better than the one before at making economic gains and progressing toward full integration into U.S. society.

One comprehensive study published in 2008 tracks Mexican Americans’ experiences in the large Mexican centers of Los Angeles and San Antonio, where sociologists Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz found significant and steady upward educational mobility. On average, first-generation parents completed just 4.1 years school in the 1900s to 1930s. Their second-generation children completed 10 years in the 1930s to 1950s, and their third-generation grandchildren completed 13.1 years of school in the 1950s to 1980s. Later-generation Mexican Americans also narrowed the gaps in educational attainment with non-Latino whites to 1.3 years from 3.4 years.

Read the rest of the op-ed for Jiménez and Marrow’s full arguments, including an analysis of border security.