Tuesday, January 12, 2010

5,000 Pairs of Pants

I've been reading through a series of special editions of Processo Magazine, honoring Mexico's Bicentennial. In one entitled "La Fiesta Interrumpida" (The Party Interrupted) (Sept. 2009), it talks about all the preparations for the country's 100th birthday party in 1910. The dictator Porfirio Diaz was in power, at the very end of his 30-year reign. Modern buildings were built, statues and memorials to the founding fathers were erected, cities were electrified, museums were opened, elaborate parades were held.

It was an enormous "best foot forward" for the young country. They invited the world to come to their party. Thousands of foreign dignitaries and guests arrived in Mexico City to honor 100 years of Mexican independence.

And what do President Diaz do? Why, he bought 5,000 pairs of pants and distributed to the indigenous folks in the capital who wore the traditional "calzon de manta," a kind of rough-woven fabric breeches or shorts. First, he imposed a law that all indigenous must wear pants in public or face a penalty. Then he passed out the pants--free--so that the "sensibilities of the 'civilized' illustrious guests [including the U.S. Secretary of State] wouldn't be offended." It struck me as a kind of Disney-fication of the historical celebration. Nice and tidy for the visitors...

And the a committee of rich ladies was formed to continue such acts of "benevolence" to buy "decent clothes" so that street children and beggars wouldn't give a bad impression to visitors. Entry into Mexico City was blocked by guards to those not wearing pants.

The article went on to contrast the idealization of the Historical Indian with the inconvenient reality of the modern-day Indian.