Society and Culture from
Obregón to Cárdenas
Between 1920 and 1940 the lives of average Mexicans changed more rapidly than they had in any previous twenty-year period. The population decline of the decade of violence stopped, and, with the greater political stability of the 1920s and 1930s, the number of people began to climb rapidly. When Obregón came to office in 1920 the total population of the country was slightly over 14 million, but when Cárdenas turned over the presidency to his successor twenty years later the total had almost reached 20 million.
Mexico was not yet an urban country when Cárdenas’s term ended, although the percentage of population living in communities with fewer than twenty-five hundred people had slipped from about 70 percent in 1920 to some 65 percent in 1940. It was in the rural areas that the change in lifestyle was most dramatic. The percentage of people who wore neither shoes nor sandals declined markedly, as did the percentage of illiterates. By 1940 cultural anthropologists found it difficult to find many of those quaint Indians who spoke a native tongue exclusively.
The new ejidatario in rural Mexico, unlike his peón forefather, was no longer bound to the hacienda. He could travel as freely as his pocketbook allowed. It was no longer necessary to purchase daily necessities in the tienda de raya, but if he did shop in the ejido store he would likely find prices somewhat lower than those in the nearby community. The old mayordomos, of course, were gone, and in most cases ejido officials were elected by the ejidatarios themselves.
Thousands of families who had fled their villages in search of security during the early Revolution returned to find that some impressive changes were taking place. Blacktop highways began to supplant bumpy dirt roads, and buses rolled over them with more or less regularity. Bicycles began to push burros off the highways. Tractors challenged the