Seen and Heard in Mexico: Children and Revolutionary Cultural Nationalism

Seen and Heard in Mexico: Children and Revolutionary Cultural Nationalism

Seen and Heard in Mexico: Children and Revolutionary Cultural Nationalism

Seen and Heard in Mexico: Children and Revolutionary Cultural Nationalism


During the first two decades following the Mexican Revolution, children in the country gained unprecedented consideration as viable cultural critics, social actors, and subjects of reform. Not only did they become central to the reform agenda of the revolutionary nationalist government; they were also the beneficiaries of the largest percentage of the national budget. While most historical accounts of postrevolutionary Mexico omit discussion of how children themselves experienced and perceived the sudden onslaught of resources and attention, Elena Jackson Albarrán, in Seen and Heard in Mexico, places children’s voices at the center of her analysis. Albarrán draws on archived records of children’s experiences in the form of letters, stories, scripts, drawings, interviews, presentations, and homework assignments to explore how Mexican childhood, despite the hopeful visions of revolutionary ideologues, was not a uniform experience set against the monolithic backdrop of cultural nationalism, but rather was varied and uneven. Moving children from the aesthetic to the political realm, Albarrán situates them in their rightful place at the center of Mexico’s revolutionary narrative by examining the avenues through which children contributed to ideas about citizenship and nation.


My home is the Women’s Penitentiary. I sleep on a woven mat on
the floor. the clothing that I have is one pair of jeans, one cotton
shirt, one jacket, and leather shoes…. the toys that I have I made
myself at school: a grasshopper, a see-saw, a hobby horse, and a croc
odile. I practice marbles, the harmonica, and the cup-and-ball….
My mother treats me well; she neither beats nor scolds me, and my
teacher is kind, and I learn from her in a friendly and caring way. I
am not satisfied with the way that I live.

—ENRIQUE GÓMEZ herrera, child autobiographer in Guanajuato, 1937

It takes a long time to become young.

—PABLO picasso, Cannes, France, 1966

Enrique Gómez Herrera awoke each morning on his straw mat on the floor of his mother’s cell in the Women’s Penitentiary in Guanajuato, where she was serving a twentyyear sentence for the murder of her older daughter’s abusive husband. Daily, Enrique bathed and dressed his younger sister and then donned his only set of clothes and set out from his prison home for school, where he attempted to integrate himself into a classroom of his peers. in an autobiographical essay solicited for a collection of Guanajuato schoolchildren’s personal experiences, Enrique dutifully relayed the expected hallmarks of childhood: a catalog of his toys, his siblings, and the adults and institutions that shaped the contours of his young life. Despite the extreme circumstances that distinguished him from other children his age, he strained to provide a normal-

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