Society and Culture in the Middle
of the Nineteenth Century
Mexico was still overwhelmingly rural in the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s, and life for the average citizen changed very little. Those who resided in the Indian pueblo or the mestizo village lived much like their parents or their grandparents. In terms of earning power, standard of living, diet, life expectancy, and education, the life of the rural Mexican during the empire and the restored republic closely mirrored that which two earlier generations of independent Mexicans had experienced. In almost every important respect he remained outside of the mainstream of national society, and his life was one of privation.
The gap separating brown and white Mexico, poor and rich Mexico, was not bridged in the middle of the century. It might even have grown more pronounced. The dichotomy of Mexican worlds in 1865 was described by Francisco Pimentel.
The white is the proprietor; the Indian the worker. The white is rich;
the Indian poor and miserable. The descendants of the Spaniards have
within their reach all of the knowledge of the century and all of the sci-
entific discoveries; the Indian is completely unaware of it. The white
dresses like a Parisian fashion plate and uses the richest of fabrics; the
Indian runs around almost naked. The white lives in the cities in mag-
nificent houses; the Indian is isolated in the country, his house a mis-
erable hut. They are two different peoples in the same land; but worse,
to a degree they are enemies.1
Foreign travelers to Mexico found the main roads slightly better than they would have a generation earlier, but most others were still
1. Quoted in Daniel Cos´ıo Villegas, ed., Historia moderna de México, vol. 3: La
república restaurada, La vida social, by Luis González y González et al. (Mexico
City, 1957), p. 151.