Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico: Gender, Class, and Memory

By Robert F. Alegre | Go to book overview

1
“The Mexican Revolution Was Made on the Rails”:
Revolutionary Nationalism, Class Formation,
and the Early Impact of the Cold War

Pancho slid a cassette into the deck and pressed play. As the tape turned and hissed, he took a seat next to me and closed his eyes. There in the spartan room, with its cold cement floor and modest furnishings, the sound of grinding wheels and released steam from a locomotive engine bellowed. It occurred to me later that it is the same sound that wakes Geraldo Niño Mendes from his sleep, the beautiful music he tried describing to me. As I posed my first question, Pancho opened his eyes and instructed, “Shhh. Listen,” closing them again.

I would learn over the years that Francisco “Pancho” Mortera and Geraldo Niño Mendes are not unique in their reverence for steam engines and in their emotional attachment to the world of the workplace. I would also come to understand that Mortera’s devotion to the sights and sounds of the railroad is part of a general rielero pride in their place in Mexican history. The steam engine, the locomotive, and those who labored on the rails had from the late nineteenth century been associated with Mexico’s modernizing ambition. Mortera, Niño Mendes, and dozens of other railway men I interviewed place themselves, their ancestors, and the industry as principal protagonists in the story of the country’s economic development.

If we were to walk from Mortera’s house in Mexico City’s working-class neighborhood of Colonia Guerrero down Avenida Insurgentes Norte, we would be walking toward the Monumento a la Revolución, a grand arc commemorating the country’s civil war. We would

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