Mexico’s Election: Drug Continuities or Contingencies? By Javier Alvarez-Isasi and Elaine Carey

As historians, we know that there are historical continuities and contingencies.  We study these, debate these, and occasionally we attempt to make a few insights into the present day.  This post attempts to perform the latter. So, here we go again with another Mexican presidential election that is rife with continuities and contingencies.

Voting in Atlacomulco, July 2012

In 2000, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) lost seventy continued years of presidential power. That year, we observed the elections and the massive eruption of street celebrations when it was announced that Vicente Fox had won the election.  Twelve years later, 2012 was the PRI’s come back year, and it ran as a deep-pocketed opposition party with a telegenic candidate Enrique Peña Nieto.  Of course, the PRI had less support from the middle and educated classes, groups that the party had  courted since the 1940s. With the murder of the PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in 1994, the Zapatista uprising that same year, and the Aguas Blanca massacre of a group of campesinos (Mexican peasants) in 1996, the PRI lost credibility in all levels of the public sphere.  The PRI political machine had long created an illusion of respectability and control through sheer force and media manipulation.  However, massacres, social upheavals, bank collapses, power politics resembling organized crime syndicates, hyper inflation, and devaluations became more and more difficult for Mexicans to stomach and ignore. Continue reading →

Pirates and Cocaine: The Buccaneer Spirit and the Psychoactive Revolutions

In January 1681 an English buccaneer ship, the Trinity, appeared on the coast of Spanish America. The intended target of the pirates was the port town of Arica, now in the north of Chile close to the Peruvian border. At that time Arica played a vital role in the economy of Spanish America, as port of exit for the silver from the Polosi mines where Indian slaves toiled for the riches and glory of Spain: a prime target therefore for “the Brothers of the Coast,” as the buccaneers called themselves.

Buccaneers appearing on the coast

One of them was an educated and intelligent observer whose journal of the voyage was subsequently published. Basil Ringrose was a pirate with more interests than gold and silver.  While the pirates landed on the island of Iquique to prepare for their attack, Ringrose observed the ‘poor Indian inhabitants’ of the island. They were forced by the Spaniards to carry fresh water from a river on one side of the island over a path over the mountains to a barque on the other shore that brought the water to the mainland. Exhausting work, and the Indians were treated as beasts according to Ringrose. And he noticed that they ‘eat much and often a sort of leaves that are of a taste much like our bay-leaves in England, insomuch that their teeth are dyed a green colour by the continual use of it.’

The leaves were obviously a species of coca, and were distributed to keep the Indians fit to work. Continue reading →

Holy, Hated, or Hip?: The Circuitous History of Mexico’s Pulque

We here at Points are very excited to present the first installment of guest blogger Gretchen Pierce’s new three-part series. Gretchen is an Assistant Professor of History at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.  Her research focuses primarily on the social and cultural history of Mexico, a topic she will exploring in today’s article on the Mexican culture of pulque.

Mayaheul, the Aztec goddess of the maguey plant.

Dr. José Siurob Ramírez (1886-1965), legislator, Chief of the Department of Public Health, and ardent temperance advocate during the Mexican Revolution, would be turning over in his grave if he knew that pulque, a beverage made from the fermented sap of the agave plant, has been making a comeback in the last few years. An ancient concoction whose roots trace back to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, pulque was once a holy beverage associated with the goddess Mayahuel.  For centuries elite Spaniards and then many Mexicans hated it, equating it with the poor and largely indigenous population of Central Mexico.  Today, young urban Mexican hipsters consume it as a way of reconnecting with their indigenous history and defying mainstream cultural norms.  It should be noted that a similar trend has taken place with European and American young people, who have rediscovered the formerly blacklisted absinthe or the déclassé Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Until recently, intellectuals like Siurob viewed pulquerías, Mexican taverns that serve pulque, as dives that only catered to poor men looking to get a cheap buzz.  Today, they are hip and happening gender-neutral joints catering to the twenty-something college crowd.  Two such bars are Pulquería La Risa and Pulquería Las Duelistas, both of which were founded in the opening decades of the twentieth century.  Although they are proud of their heritage (La Risa, or The Laugh, has a plaque stating the establishment was opened in 1903 and belongs to the Historical Zone of Mexico City), the owners have consciously worked to modernize their businesses, introducing brightly colored Aztec-style murals, loud jukeboxes, and Facebook pages.  Arturo Garrido of Las Duelistas (The Duelists) says, “I have totally changed the image of the pulquería, a totally new concept, with different clientele.  Most of my clients are young, and it is my way to continue giving life to pulque.”

The pulqueria is now, apprently, a “thing” with young, educated Mexican urbanites.

Pulque is not only cool with Mexico’s trend-setters but is going global. At the New York restaurant-bar Pulqueria, patrons can choose between seven types of pulque, including ones infused with ingredients like tomatillos, maize, and watermelon.  Pulque is now even showing up at gourmet and other specialty grocery stores, most commonly in the southwestern United States.  For several years, Boulder Imports has been bottling and canning the fermented agave nectar as Pulque La Lucha.  Others may want to experience pulque in its natural habitat; No Reservations’ Anthony Bourdain broadcast his visit to a pulquería in 2009.  Thirsty tourists can even sign up for tours which allow them to travel to several different pulque estates over the course of a few days, giving them the chance to not only consume the beverage, but also to see it being made.

These developments would be shocking to someone like Siurob. Like many of his contemporaries, not to mention his predecessors, he believed that pulque was the scourge of the nation.  Reformers claimed that the abuse of the beverage led to cirrhosis of the liver and made the drinker more susceptible to typhoid and venereal diseases.  Temperance advocates also linked it to crime and domestic violence. Further, the besotted could not go to work or be trusted to participate in the political process; thus it challenged nation-building goals of the revolution. Because of all of these problems, at a congressional debate over taxation of the beverage in 1917, Siurob explained “pulque is opposed to the principal idea of the Revolution, which is to raise up the spirit of the masses.”  Continue reading →

The Mule

In 2004, the role of women as mules entered the popular imagination with the release of the film Maria Full of Grace that depicts the life of a young Colombian woman who swallows cocaine and smuggles it into the United States  She passes through the port of entry at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport, the present day Ellis Island.  In the film,  Maria works in one of Colombia’s other leading industries, flower export.   She resorts to working as a cocaine mule due to her precarious economic situation when she loses her job.  Young, unemployed, and pregnant,  she enters into the trade seeking to improve her life. Instead she encounters difficulties.

Directed by Joshua Marston, 2004.

The case of “Maria” is not unusual in considering the work of contemporary anthropologists and criminologists who study drug trafficking.  Maria Full of Grace gained recognition because it placed women into an alleged masculine world.  Maria is instrumental to transnational flows of products whether of legal carnations or illegal cocaine.  The protagonist Maria was not the stereotypical feminine image of films in the drug genre. Women of this melodramatic imagination play sultry sirens to drug lords, junkies in search of  fixes, or whores who turn tricks in the freak houses. Continue reading →

The Women of Narco B-Movies

Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, Queens is known for its money-sending “chops,” gold and silver vendors, ethnic markets, and great Argentine, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Mexican, and Peruvian restaurants, all conveniently tucked under the 7 trains.  The doorway I sought led up a stairwell that advertised the store’s music offerings: cumbia, bachata, grupera, salsa, and the standards of rock and pop. Among the music CDs, one can find hip-hop clothing and narco B movies. The bleary-eyed attendant grew suspicious when I asked for all his narco films with female protagonists.  I bought my first narco-chick action flick, Rosario Tijeras, a couple of days after its Latin American release from a street vendor two blocks from this store.  I felt sure that the number of female protagonist B-films had grown with the release of La colombiana and Miss Bala.  These films are for the foreign and elite movie going public; the B-movies are for everyone else.

Gerardo Naranjo, 2011

Long before more accomplished filmmakers entered the narco market, narco B-movies documented Mexico’s role in the drug trade since the 1970s.   These low-budget action films have fairly simple story lines,  and often the same actors appear regardless of production company.  The narratives depict the realities of the drug trade in Northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Many of the screenwriters base the films on narco-corridos, ballads about the drug trade, while others create stories from the news headlines.  In the narco Bs, drug traffickers are social bandits who struggle against each other, corrupt police officers, and government officials.  Until recently, women have played marginal roles as lovers, mothers, or daughters. Continue reading →

Freaky Friday: Gloria Anzaldúa’s Alien Nation: Queering Altered States

Editor’s note: Today’s Freaky Friday brings us again to the psychedelic borderlands, where University of Florida Professor of Women’s Studies and English Tace Hedrick talks about the mushroom trips of Gloria Anzaldúa– and their connections to her queer mestiza cosmology.

Gloria Anzaldúa,1942-2004

Chicana lesbian feminist writer Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) is best known for her 1987 Borderlands/ la frontera: Towards a New Mestiza Consciousness, a text combining diary entries, essays, and poetry. It is a sometimes bilingual meditation on how to survive being mestiza (mixed-race European and indigenous), queer, feminist and New Age in a white supremacist patriarchal world. The text is something of a bible for post-Second Wave feminists, yet as radical as it is, in her interviews Anzaldúa was even more open about how her sexuality and her New Age consciousness worked in concert with her indigenous heritage. Anzaldúa felt herself to be intensely “alien,” and that term was more than a metaphor for her, as she notes in Interviews/Entrevistas:

We only want to know the consciousness part of ourselves because we don’t want to think that there’s this alien being in the middle of our psyche….The movie Alien affected me greatly because I really identified with it….My sympathies were…with the alien. I think that’s how the soul is: it’s treated like an alien because we don’t know what it is (39-40).

In Borderlands and subsequent texts, Anzaldúa connected queers with indigenous souls and mestiza bodies—and linked all three to the figure of the alien and the metaphor of alienation. She gave a central place in this framework to the healing force of the (seemingly inherent) spirituality of indigenous peoples—a spirituality that she acknowledged was sometimes linked to the consumption of psychoactive plants. Continue reading →

Freaky Friday: Exploring the “Secrets Mushroomic”: R. Gordon Wasson in Mexico

Editor’s Note: Today’s Freaky Friday brings Points readers the insights of Tace Hedrick, Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida and a specialist in 20th-century Latin American literature and culture.  Having written previously on Mestizo Modernisms, Hedrick is now at work on a study of national and cosmic identity discourse across the Latin American and Latino Americas diaspora.  Her meditation on the mid-20th century Mexican mushroom vogue is drawn from that project, whose working title is Queering the Cosmic Race: Gloria Anzaldúa, Ana Mendieta, and Walter Mercado, 1968-2010.  She will return in a few weeks to discuss the psychedelic journeys of Gloria Anzaldúa.

Plants of the Gods, 1979

Most people do not think of the middle of the 20th century—the super square 1950s—as a time when indigenous drug rituals and experiments with psychoactive plants were topics of popular interest for the average Joes and Janes (or Ozzies and Harriets) of the United States.  In Mexico, however, traditional rituals with psychoactive plants had been a sometimes intense focus of interest (for Mexicans and people from the United States alike) since the post-armed phase of the Revolution, beginning in the 1920s, and in the U.S. the 1950s brought a resurgence in the popularity of earlier texts about indigenous drug use. Among these were Carl Lumholtz’s 1902 Unknown Mexico, which detailed Mexican Huichol peyote rituals, and Robert Zingg’s 1938 writing on Huichol artwork, commonly assumed to be psychedelic because of their religious use of peyote.  Also during the 1930s, Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes traveled with anthropologist and ethnobotanist Raoul Weston LaBarre throughout Oklahoma (not quite as exotic as Mexico) to study Plains Indians’ peyote use. Their disparate findings, published in 1938, were among the texts revived first in the 1950s and again in the ’70s:  LaBarre’s The Peyote Cult sought to psychologize the indigenous use of peyote visions, while Schultes’ “The Appeal of Peyote [Lophophora Williamsii] as a Medicine” (published in American Anthropologist) argued that the substance’s value lay in its therapeutic and stimulating properties more than in its psychoactive ones.

Research performed in the 1930s and ‘40s, then, formed the basis of many of the bestselling ‘70s volumes on the indigenous roots of psychedelic culture.  Continue reading →