Sparks, Fire, and
Despite major breakthroughs in science and medicine and the space spectaculars that saw the United States place men on the moon, the late 1960s and early 1970s found a world full of tensions and hate. Modernization in general, and communications technology in particular, interlaced nations and dramatically shrank the globe. Word of Martin Luther King’s assassination reached Angola only minutes after it reached Atlanta, and Robert Kennedy’s assassination was known in São Paulo almost as soon as it was known in San Francisco. By the end of the 1960s the entire literate world knew that the United States had dropped a greater tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than the total dropped on all fronts during World War II. Massive marches for peace, for civil rights, and for the right of agricultural workers to organize were reported on the front pages of the world’s press.
Mexicans in their living rooms, watching the evening news, saw the destruction of the black ghetto in Washington, the burning of Watts, and riots in Tokyo, Prague, and Berlin; they saw Parisian students pelting police on the Boulevard St. Michel and the senseless killing of students at Kent State University. Mexico’s entire history demonstrates amply that Mexicans needed no foreign instruction in standing up for change or, if necessary, putting their lives on the line. And while the late 1960s did not witness any worldwide conspiracy of the young, there was a youthful commonality of interests that transcended national borders. The international pantheon of heroes, with a few national adaptations, included Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Malcolm X, and Mao Tse-tung. The intellectually inclined devoured Herbert Marcuse, while others opted for the simpler, more doctrinaire answers of Fidel Castro. But, however an older generation might have been repulsed by the rebellion, shocked by its rhetoric, and disgusted by its tactics, many of the issues were real and deserved a fair hearing. In Mexico, as well as elsewhere, the sparks would soon begin to fly.