ADVICE FROM A PARVENU COUSIN
I LIKE Mexico. I like its colour, its violence, its raw tumbling mountains, green checkerboard valleys, dizzy trails, purple blue sky and stabbing sun. I like its crumbling monasteries and cathedrals with cactus growing from their roofs, and even more its ancient pyramids rising earth-covered and defiant from jungle plain and mountain top. I like the great Pacific rollers pounding on the beaches of Acapulco where the crags come down to the sea; the patio gardens, the little shaded plazas, so cool when all the world is hot. I like the quiet, grave-eyed children; the patient, stubborn asses; the compact villages each with its ruined church tower; its compounds set about with organ cactus, and corncribs like great stone vases. I like the noble frescoes of Rivera and the paintings of school children. I like the village markets, the lacquer, the pottery, the carved chocolate-beaters; and the tumbling bronze bells welcoming in the fiesta. I like the way Indians look, the way they walk, the polite "buenas tardes" they fling one on the trail; their dignity I like, their utter lack of pretence, their disregard of clocks, the tilt of their sombreros, and the fling of the sarape across the shoulder. Above all I like their magnificent inertia, against which neither Spain nor Europe nor western civilization has prevailed.
I do not like white Mexicans so well, nor the cities they live in, nor their taste in interior decoration. I do not like politicos and gun toters particularly generals -nor their mistresses, bars, or bullfights. Their personal manners, I am forced to admit, are often as impeccable as their social behaviour is atrocious. I do not like all Mexican odours, especially when cross-referenced to sanitation. I do not like travelling for more than two hours in so-called first class coaches on narrow-gauge railroads. I do not like the frequency with which entomological congresses are convened. I am convinced that all native chauffeurs, outside of Yucatan, are stark, staring mad; nor do I like driving a car myself up a thirty-four per cent grade on a slippery road eight feet wide with a 2,000-foot drop under my right wheel. I do not like Mexican dust storms, moles, newspapers, beggars, meat shops, money systems, thorns, matches, postcards, dogs, butter, hornets or coffee.
These are, however, the trivia of the unacclimatized wayfarer, fading before the grandeur and mystery of the total scene. It must be a great experience to be born in Mexico, and to have such a land to come back to and call home. Humboldt has characterized the country as "a beggar sitting on a bag of gold." He is wrong. Natural resources are not so lavish as they have been painted; human resources are far more splendid. A fairer metaphor would be "a brown philosopher astride a white volcano."
Mexico is our chief neighbour on the continent of North America, outranking Canada in population though not in area. In a vital sense she stands for all Latin America as well, and thus swells before our eyes to comprehend another great continent, unnumbered islands of the sea, and So,ooo,ooo people to add to her own 16,000,000. When we touch Canada we touch England.. When we touch Mexico we touch not Spain, but Latin America. With the exception of the belligerent ex-mayor of Chicago, we have outgrown our hatred of the mother country; Mexico has not outgrown her violent distaste for Spain. As a race, Mexicans are less Spanish than Americans are English; they comprise indeed the citadel of early American stock. America has been their continent for at least 20,000 years.
From the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego are 16, ooo,ooo white men and 80,000,000 Indians, the former European in their outlook, the latter indigenous American. Contemplating this racial cleavage, certain savants, such as Wallace Thompson, become panic-stricken and visualize a "brown peril" on all fours with the "yellow peril" of timid Californians. "That Indian culture . . . is perhaps the most sinister threat against the civilization of the white man which exists in the world today. Its strength is in its inertia; its threat is in the fact that it is the dominating factor in the political and social life of Mexico, the keystone nation of Latin America. . . . Behind the flimsy curtain of their Spanish language and religion . . . they leap in savage war dances and look forward to the day when Indian communism shall rule; when the white man with his mines and oil wells hall be forgotten."
Sound and fury signifying nothing. It would be a matter for universal congratulation if the white man with his mines and oil wells could be forgotten, allowing Mexico her own patrimony; the drift to date is in the opposite direction. The threat lies not from Indian to white but from white to Indian. Will the machine roll Latin America flat, trampling down the last vestige of the authentic American culture? Even if it does not, the notion of Tepoztlan arising in flaming zeal and march ing on the White House is preposterous. There may be duction, and all work is directed to specific function with a maximum economy and a minimum of waste. Overproduction is as unthinkable as unemployment. Life in a handicraft community is to be lived, not to be argued about, to be thwarted by economic conditions, or postponed hopefully until one has made one's pile.
On the other side of the ledger, we find that the price of stability is the absence of progress-whatever "progress" may mean. New methods are infrequently invented; new aspirations, new desires, new material wants are all but unknown. The standard of living, while adequate, is very low, and the death-rate per thousand, particularly among infants, is scandalously high. Illiteracy is appalling, though millions of Mexican villagers speak two languages. Ignorance breeds superstition, and superstition fear. Mexicans are afraid of many harmless things, such as "los aires," and not sufficiently cautious in respect to many deadly things, such as diphtheria germs. The assets of a handicraft economy are great, but its net worth, after allowing for liabilities, is a lower figure; a figure, however, black, not red. . . . If we could but take the manifest assets of Tepoztlan and the manifest assets of Middletown, and combine them. . . . Meanwhile there is much discussion of Middletown's exporting both its assets and its liabilities to Mexico. It is widely held that industrialization is inevitable, handicraft culture doomed, and a balanced consideration of its virtues and failings a purely academic question, if not a total waste of time. The inevitability of the mechanization of Mexico somehow puts me in mind of those prophetic curves which statisticians are wont to play with. They take the population growth of the United States, plot it, and extend the line until it reaches 300,000,000; they take American prosperity from 1922 to 1928, plot, and extend to 1950-when everybody will have $10,000 a year. Similarly if the curve of industrialization from Watt to Ford is plotted, it looks like the path of a skyrocket against the night. To keep on its course it needs more people, more area, more natural resources. Mexico has all three; obviously Mexico must be industrialized. Q. E. D.
But as a matter of cold fact, population in the United States is sinking
below the exuberant curves plotted a decade ago; while a certain October
29th on the New York Stock Exchange turned the prosperity plotters and
prophets upside down and inside out. Precisely why is mass industrialism
inevitable in Mexico, or anywhere else for that matter? Machine civilization
proper is still incomplete over the United States; the map is spotted
with great uninfected areas in the south and west. Oases may even be found
in the New England states. It is now moving into North Carolina, accompanied
by storms of .protests from embittered southerners. Even if we drop intelligent
observation and take to curves, how long will machine civilization require
at the present jerky rate to crawl from North Carolina to Guanajuato?
The distance is 1,800 miles.
On top of the lamentable apathy of the Indians is the organized hostility of a group of Mexican intellectuals. I talked with some of their leaders for a good part of one night and found them violently opposed to the extension of industrialism-1931 model-in Mexico. Certain members of the group hold important positions in the government. Said one of them bitterly: "I have been in towns which were practically depopulated. What had happened? American investors who wanted to try a futile experiment in raising rubber or coffee needed workers. . . . American, French, German investors who needed hands. Whole towns were depopulated against the wishes of the townsfolk in order to supply contract labourers to foreign concessions. . ..:Well, that is one way of improving, teaching, giving the results of western culture to the Mexican people."
The machine needs capital-millions of it. Mexican citizens have very little capital, and foreigners are still in fear of article 27. Until the full implications of that amazing document are made clear-a matter of decades perhaps-capital simply will not flow into the country in sufficient quantity to finance industrialization. Mexico might, like Russia, lift herself by her bootstraps, and create capital out of natural resources and labour, but that requires a centralized socialism beyond her grasp at the present time.
Most Mexicans cannot read. To operate machines, or consume their products on a scale profitable to the manufacturer, requires a literate population-which is why Russia "liquidated illiteracy" before she inaugurated the Five Year Plan. It will be many years before the little white schoolhouse liquidates illiteracy in Mexico, even to a practicable minimum.
Finally, I am not at all convinced that the Mexican can be adapted without fearful convulsions to wholesale mechanization. There are those who say he makes a good machinist, but I fear they are drawing dubious conclusions from the fact that he is a good craftsman and works nimbly with his hands. I went to enormous lengths to inspect every piece of machinery I could find in Mexico -this being a hobby of mine-and I make solemn affidavit that not even in Russia have I seen such an abnormal proportion of bankrupt plumbing systems, illadvised electric wiring, ruthlessly neglected motor cars, safety-pin railroading. So far as two eyes are to be trusted, I would say that Mexicans are the world's worst machinists; the whole metallic discipline is alien to their temperament. What do you and I do when, driving along a country highway at thirty-five miles an hour, we suddenly enter a village? We slow down to twenty or less, particularly if the street is full of pedestrians and animals. What does a mestizo do? He throws his throttle wide open, and jumps from thirty-five to sixty. Riding behind him I invariably close my eyes and pray. Why does he do this? Because he has no mechanical sense. He thinks he is still riding a horse. On horseback he is wont to dig in his spurs and come galloping into the village street, a fine figure of a man, and no damage done. Burros, pigs and children can cope with horse acceleration. He carries this pattern over into a steel machine, the equivalent of forty horses. Instead of Towelling the brute, he steps on the accelerator. It is naive, it is understandable, but it is criminally dangerous.
The most that one can see in the immediate future is a new factory here and there, a mechanized plantation or two for sugar, henequen, bananas in the tierra caliente, a steady but reasonable growth in light and power plants, and enough new automobiles to supply the new highways. Highways in Mexico, due to the fantastic grading, are very costly, and only a few kilometers can be built a year. The homicide rate will mount, of course, but fortunately most villages will remain unconnected for decades to come. Less than three per cent of them are now on any kind of motor road.
Turning to cultural penetration in the form of American sports, radios, jazz, words, habits, subdivisions, billboards, Rotary clubs, plus-fours, Arrow collars-the above conclusion must be modified if not indeed reversed. White Mexicans in the cities have shown a hearty appetite for such commodities. Intellectuals protest, but the stream has been accelerating for the past decade. Certain tributaries, as we have noted earlier, are manifestly excellent; even more are manifestly corrupting. In the Yankee invasion so defined lies Mexico's real problem. Such is her chief menace from the machine age.
The future for industrialism in the sense of mass production is not rosy, for which we may thank whatever gods there be. As a result Mexico has unparalleled opportunity to evolve a master plan whereby the machine is admitted only on good behaviour, and not bolted raw as North Carolina now bolts it. Fortunately there is a definite movement in this direction. I have referred to a group of intellectuals dubious about mass production. I can go further and present the National Plan for Mexico.
Carlos Contreras, the driving force behind the plan, is an architect educated at Columbia and the Sorbonne. He started his agitation eight years ago. In 1925, he presented to President Calles "A National Planning Project for the Republic of Mexico." In 1927, he published a magazine, Planificacion. In January, 1930, the first national planning conference was held in Mexico City, under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Works, with some fifty papers by engineers, architects, economists, doctors. The keynote read: "Our object is to plan a united, homogeneous and beautiful Mexico-and an independent, respected and prosperous Mexico, in which the life of man will be complete, filled with noble interests, dignified, and as happy or happier than in any other part of the world. . . . Know in order to foresee; foresee in order to work." Meanwhile Contreras had been given a programme department in the government with a staff of engineers and draftsmen. His first work was the reorganization of the port of Vera Cruz. President Ortiz Rubio has promulgated a "Law of General Planning of the Republic" which provides for a central conning tower in the government, comprehending and coordinating topography, climate, population, social and economic life, national defence, public health. Under its mandates, Contreras and his staff are endeavouring to set up the following specific programmes
When a project is worked out by the Programme Department, it is presented to the president. If he approves, he has the power, without legislative check, to condemn property and put the project into immediate operation. No government agency, furthermore, can undertake any major work of construction without the approval of the Programme Department. Contreras dreams no longer but has double-barrelled executive sanction behind him. At a nod from the president, his blueprints can be turned into cement, breakwaters, irrigation ditches and tall pine trees. Outside of the Russian Gosplan, I know of no such far-reaching and powerful agency, since the collapse of our own War Industries Board in 1919. Mexico has the framework of a genuine machine to control the machine; to strain industrialism through a sieve of just enough and no more. Before my enthusiasm runs away with me I must remind myself and you, kind reader, that many noble projects with the highest sponsorship have put up their heads in Mexico in the past decade, only to be decapitated. The sponsor leaves hurriedly for parts unknown, or the next government budget finds him without funds. Meanwhile, Mr. Carlos Contreras, I envy you your job.
This book is but the account of a wayfaring economist in a land he does not know much about, but which interests and stimulates him enormously. Because of that interest and stimulation, perhaps he will be forgiven if he makes bold to tender his advice for the planning of Mexico's future, particularly its economic future. He should be forgiven too because of his youth. He is a parvenu cousin with only nine generations in North America behind him; a comparative newcomer on the continent.
ADVICE TO VILLAGERS
You have in your possession something precious; something which the western world has lost and flounders miserably trying to regain. Hold to it. Exert every ounce of your magnificent inertia to conserve your way of life. You must not move until you can be shown, by the most specific and concrete examples, that industrialism and the machine can provide a safer, happier, more rewarding existence. No such examples now obtain anywhere on earth. The most likely place to look for them, if they are ever to be attained, is Russia. The United States for the moment has nothing to offer you save its medical and agricultural science. Hold to your corncribs, to your economic security. Hold to your disregard of money, of pecuniary thrift, of clocks and watches, of hustle and bustle and busy emptiness. Hold to your damned wantlessness. Hold to your handicrafts and the philosophy of your handicrafts, and watch them jealously in the face of tourists and ignorant exporters. When they debase the work of your hands they debase you. Remember the code of the craftsmen in the great civilization from which you descend. You have their honour to keep.
Hold to your implacable hatred of the latifundia; give not an inch of your land, and strive continually for more land if once it was an authentic part of your community. But remember this: Land, bare land, without knowledge, seeds, water or fertilizer to cultivate it, avails you nothing. Land is to use, not own, as your ancestors taught. Today I think more important than any quest for land is that knowledge, those tools and irrigation ditches. Support your rural schools, send your sons to schools of agriculture, learn to read, learn to know your crops and the best harvests for your valley. When you are sick, ask help from the school-teacher instead of the herb-doctor.
And if I were you, when and if the new highway comes looping over the mountains into your village street, I would buy all the boxes of extra-sized carpet tacks I can afford. Declare cuatequitl and buy them co-operatively; I will give you an address in Mexico City and the postman will bring them to you. Mestizo chauffeurs must be cured of the bronco-buster complex.
ADVICE TO GOVERNMENT AND INTELLECTUAL
To the American ear the bracketing of the above sounds strange indeed. North of the Rio Grande, no intellectual would demean himself by associating with any branch of the government, while to call a politician an intellectual is practically a fighting word. We keep the categories pure. It was not so in the days of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Mexico, for all its gun toters, pursues a wiser course. Its best brains are drifting in-also, alas, out of-political office. One need only mention such names as Manuel Gamio, Dr. Jose Zozaya, Carlos Contreras, Carlos Chavez, Moises Saenz. Painters, musicians, architects, doctors, archeologists, scientists are continually on the government payroll. There is no such haughty cleavage as obtains in the United States. I proceed, accordingly, with a joint address.
There are two main tasks before you, clearly interlocked, both of which you have begun. You must build your future in a full comprehension of the cardinal importance of the Indian, his inheritance, his psychology, his craftsmanship, his peculiar virtues; and you must strive for economic self-sufficiency for both the nation and its internal regions, a self-sufficiency not one hundred per cent perhaps, but enough to save you from the mad plunges of the business cycle in the outside world. To very few nations would this advice be other than absurd. It so happens that you are blessed with a large share of self-sufficiency already in your village economy, and with natural resources almost sufficient to close the circle. You have, for instance, both the raw cotton and the cottonmill plant to satisfy, without a great deal of new investment, this cardinal requirement. You have the soil for practically every sort of foodstuff. You have nearly all the minerals, oils, fibres, drugs, timbers. Certain machines and instruments of precision you will do better to import-automobiles, for instance, and electric devices. You should feed, clothe, house yourself, and thus establish the first great line of defence. This is more vital than the increased exports which you are also seeking. The trimmings and the comforts are legitimate fields for importation in your particular case.
To come to terms with the Indian and his traditions, you
must follow up the groundwork already laid in archeology, anthropology,
ethnology, and rural sociology. You need many more studies like Gamio's
Teotihuacan and Redfield's Tepoztlan. You need Frances Toor and her Folkways.
As yet, in spite of a brilliant beginning, you do not half know your country.
Foreign students may help, but yours should be the driving force. This
task could be accomplished many times over with what you now spend on
a ludicrous military system. One hundred airplanes in the pink of condition
and a small, efficient state police will do more to discourage revolutions
than a million armed men. Your army has no other excuse for existence.
When and if you embark on a programme of further industrialization, jump clean over that murky intermediate period of reeking factories and roaring industrial districts. You can lead the Russians at this point. It is a period antiquated, unnecessary and scandalously inefficient. Head directly-as we in America are clumsily heading, weighed down by our past mistakes-for decentralized industry, small plants in the open country fed by cheap electric power, where workers have each his truck garden. Ask Henry Ford about the relative merits and costs of the two systems. Decentralization, furthermore, is ideally adapted to maintaining and encouraging the handicrafts. Electric lights, small motors, power-driven tools can aid potters, weavers, leather workers, silversmiths. Your big investment will be for a national spinal cord of electric power. Little plants with small investment will tap this central stream. Yoked to the power programme will be of course the irrigation programme. Both depend on falling water. While jumping to decentralization it will also be well to jump to Henry Ford's other favoured programme: high wages--as high as Indians will accept without walking out-and short hours. These, he finds, are more efficient than the tradition-which Americans are outgrowing-of starvation wages and the sixty-hour week.
It is perfectly obvious by now that villages too long impounded in the hacienda system cannot properly cultivate the land you give them, whereas free villages take care of themselves. Some can be reclaimed by education or agricultural credit, and made into functioning free villages. Determine the number. Many are beyond immediate redemption. For these I suppose you must allow the hacienda to come back, but on the strictest termsperhaps even as government-directed collective farms like those of Russia. I suggest you make the foreman pass a test in scientific agriculture. The ultimate objective, of course, is a nation of free villages, but you cannot have it all at once, or under the present provisions of the land law. All your villagers know how to cooperate; they were doing it long before the landing of Cortez. In this you have a priceless asset; a ground rich and ready made for co-operative associations of producers and consumers. Cultivate that ground. The lack of it is now bringing ruin on my country's agriculture.
Analyze the Yankee invasion, take what is genuinely helpful, boycott the rest. A few sports, phrases, notions of efficiency; a few useful mechanisms can do no harm. But why make Mexico City, or Guadalajara, or-the thought blanches me-Oaxaca, into a second-rate Memphis, Tennessee? Be yourself, hombre. And how about consulting a good psychiatrist concerning that inferiority complex? You, with such a country and such a history?
And oh, Mexico, be careful of tourists in Buicks; they are the most ignorant and careless of all earth's wayward children. Unchecked they will litter your country with newspapers and lunch-boxes, they will bawl for hot dogs, they will ruin your roadsides, debase and destroy your popular arts, confuse your villagers with their shiny gadgets, bring your innkeepers to an early grave. Let them in gingerly, and when they become impossible, raise a hearty bandit scare. Why not keep a few battalions of trained bandits on hand for such emergencies? And may I ask why in the name of all that you and I hold dearwe have much in common-you allow great leering signboards on the Cuernavaca road, a road almost too noble for mere men to drive upon?
I do not need to remind you that your country needs unification, education and a greatly improved public health service. I should like to emphasize again, however, the transcendent importance of the new planning board and the planning law. It is, with rural education, the most hopeful movement in the nation today. Do not let it die for lack of funds, lack of intelligent interest, above all, lack of political integrity. Which reminds me In Russia when a government official is caught stealing public property he is stood against a wall and shot, preferably before the day is done. I commend this procedure to your attention.
ADVICE TO INVESTORS AND FOREIGNERS-PARTICULARLY THE AMERICAN COLONY
Diaz is dead.
You, my fellow citizens, do not desire to return to a handicraft economy, and one would not want you to. You could not if you wished. But there are certain features of the early American way of life as typified in Mexico which, if you could acquire them, would make you more human and more happy. As your unemployed tramp from factory to factory, you might begin thinking about a modicum of regional self-sufficiency-Mr. J. Russell Smith has sketched the basic plan; about more in the way of economic security, not in dollars but in goods. Even now your jobless are drifting back to the farms, but the farms are sinking too; they are largely innocent of corncribs. You ought to know by now that business leadership is bankrupt, that "prosperity" was but a flash in the pan, and that mechanical civilization can never give you what you want on the policy-or lack of it-heretofore pursued. The billion wild horses can be tamed only by a deliberate master plan which keeps over-production and unemployment in an iron grip. Mexico has already embarked on that great adventure.
It is almost time that you recovered from infantilism in your habits of recreation, your tinkering with mechanical toys, your watching of circus athletes, and got back to genuine enjoyment with something of the fiesta spirit in it. You would have more fun if you developed handicrafts, first as hobbies for your hours outside the mill and office, and then, who knows, for some of the more gifted of you, as a major occupation, using the backbone of cheap electric power which is coming fast in America. Mass production has a useful function in severely restricted fields. Big business has not learned to keep to those fields. In a genuine civilization there is room for mass production, for small-scale production, for handicrafts. I have no confidence whatever in the theory that cultures based on hand work and machine work are mutually exclusive.
And why do you hustle around so fast, as though a hornet were forever behind your ear? Do you arrive anywhere with all this scrambling? Have you time to live as you gulp your coffee and rush to the station, or to the garage, and back again? Mexico takes no back talk from clocks. It is an art which you too some day must learn; for it is the art of living.
It is fitting, I think, to end this chapter and this book with the dream of one Mexican for his own people. He happened to be a Maya Indian; he happened to be my friend; and a part of his dream he converted into tangible reality. Shortly after writing the words which follow he was shot to death. Whatever one may think of the man-his name was Felipe Carrillo Puerto-the policy here embodied must never die.
With their own communal lands, with good roads, with schools in every hamlet, with a self-sustaining diversity of farm products, with a social organization in each village that will serve spiritual and social needs, with the cultivation of more than one export crop, with co-operative consumers' and producers' organizations, with a cultivation of the handicrafts, the native music and dances, with a deliberate introduction of every scientific improvement, we will, in a single generation, have a new Yucatan. We will have a Yucatan that will preserve all that is rich, beautiful and useful in the traditions of the Mayas, and at the same time one that will have absorbed all that can be used of the new and modern in science. We will cherish our soil, harbour our group life, grow and develop into a free and strong people, an example to Mexico and even to the world.
Chapter 14 | Bibliography