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University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico

Indian Saints and Nation-States: Ignacio Manuel Altamirano's Landscapes and Legends Author(s): Edward N. Wright-Rios Source: Mexican Studies / Estudios Mexicanos, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Winter, 2004), pp. 47-68 Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States and the Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico Stable URL: Accessed: 26/11/2010 15:16
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Indian Saints and Nation-States: Ignacio Manuel Altamirano's Landscapes and Legends
Edward N. Wright-Rios*
University of California, San Diego

Analyzing the costumbrista sketches of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano as a single multi-faceted work, and comparing his treatment of popular Catholicism in different communities, this study represents a new reading of the author's writings. It proposes that Altamirano's juxtaposition of religion and modernity across urban-ruraland ethnic continua reveals the author exploring the possibilities of Indian-centered nationalism rooted in what he describes as the innately American, independent spirit of rural indigenous Catholic practice. In short, camouflaged in a traditional, eclectic genre, Altamirano identified the foundations of the national character in Indian popular religion long before twentieth-century indigenismo looked to contemporary Native American culture for inspiration. Al analizarlos cuadros costumbristas de Ignacio Manuel Altamiranoen conjunto y comparar su tratamiento del catolicismo popular en distintas comunidades, este estudio representa una nueva aproximacion a la obra del autor. Se propone que la yuxtaposici6n de religi6n y modernidad en distintos entornos socialespor un lado hispano, mestizo y urbano; y por otro, indigena y rural-revela a un autor que identifica los cimientos de lo mexicano en lo que el describe como un espiritu indomablemente americano e independiente en la practica cat61ica de los indios de su pueblo natal. En fin, avalaindosede un genero tradicional y eclectico, Altamiranoidentific6 la fundaci6n de un caracter nacional en las tradiciones populares indigenas, mucho antes de que lo hiciera el indigenismo del siglo XX.

One of the key figures of nineteenth-century Mexican nation building is Ignacio Manuel Altamirano (1834-1893). Rising from humble, Indian origins to become a celebrated literary figure, historian, military hero,
*This article is dedicated to Enrique Pupo-Walker.
Mexican Studies/EstudiosMexicanos Vol. no. 20(1), Winter 2004, pages 000-000. ISSN 07429797 ? 2004 Regents of the University of California.All rights reserved. Send requests for permission to reprint to: Rights and Permissions, University of CaliforniaPress, 2000 Center St., Berkeley, CA 94704-1223



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congressman, and Supreme Court justice qualified him as a living model of the modern liberal man. He was a puro, a radical liberal renowned for his commitment to the absolute defeat of conservatism in battle, politics, and thought. He distinguished himself as a politician and public servant, but his true legacy resides in his path-breaking role in shaping the liberal, nationalist, cultural discourse that continues to reverberate in Mexican thought. Whereas it is impossible to do justice to his vast and diverse literary corpus in a brief essay, this article purports to shed new light on this author'soften overlooked sketches of customs and manners (cuadros costumbristas).1 These unique works sound an off-key note amidst the histories, opinion journalism, speeches, and romantic fiction that conform more closely to his political reputation. Instead they reveal an obsessive, complex analysis of nineteenth-century popular culture and its relationship to the European-inspiredconception of the secular,rationalist,modern nation-state. Above all, Altamiranograpples with the enduring socio-cultural importance of Catholic practice at all levels of Mexican society, and searches for an authentic, national character within indigenous religious traditions. These works are important for two primary reasons: they are among the best descriptions of popular religious practice during the nineteenth century; and they also reveal one of the period's great Mexican intellectuals constructing modern Mexican nationalism with seemingly unmodern ingredients. Patterns and tensions within Altamirano's compilation of these essays, Paisajes y leyendas: Costumbres y tradiciones de Mexico, demonstrate that he, like other Latin American authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, embedded a counter-modern narrative alongside the championing of the ideals and values of modernity.2 Within this ambivalent treatment of modernity, he went beyond the simple portrayal of popular customs, and forwarded a precocious brand of indigenismo that presented nineteenth-century Indian religious festivals as showcases of authentic Mexicaness, and an innate liberalism.3
1. Throughout this essay I have used a recent edition of Altamirano'scustoms and manners sketches, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, Obras completas: textos costumbristas, vol. 5, ed. Jose Joaquin Blanco (Mexico: SEP,1986). Individual sketches are cited by title. 2. My analysis of Altamirano'streatment of modernity is inspired by CarlosJ. Alonso, The Burden ofModernity: The Rhetoric of Cultural Discourse in Spanish America (New York:Oxford University Press, 1998). 3. For a discussion of Indian-centered nationalism in the twentieth century akin to Altamirano's,see Alexander S. Dawson, "FromModels for the Nation to Model Citizens: 'Indigenismo'and the 'Revindication'of the Mexican Indian, 1920-1940,"Journal ofLatin American Studies 30, no. 2 (1998): 279-99. Other Mexican writers before Altamirano spoke of the greatness of pre-Columbian civilizations, but Altamirano is unique in his emphasis on popular Catholic practice in contemporary Indian communities as a source of national values.

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and Legends


It is crucial to distinguish Altamirano's sketches of customs and manners from his fiction, as did the author himself. He stated, The novel is the book of the masses. Other studies stripped of the trappings of the imagination, and hence undoubtedly better, are reserved for a more intelligent and fortunate circle, which does not need fables and poetry in order to derive from them the desired benefit. Perhaps the novel is called to open the way for the poorer classes, so that they may rise to the level of the privileged circle and become indistinguishable from it. Perhaps the novel is nothing more than the initiation of the people in the mysteries of modern civilization, and the gradual instruction that is given to the priesthood of the future.4 This statement captures his sense that the novel was both the liberal modernizer's catechism, and the mold of a hoped-for classless Mexico. Modernity, like religion, he suggests, had its "mysteries" that must be discovered by the intellectual elite and revealed to the masses. Further on he asserted that in the absence of a truly egalitarian system of universal education, fiction remained a crucial link between pensador (thinker/ philosopher) and pueblo. He trod gently on his bridge between intellectuals and the masses, producing sentimental, nationalist stories, usually set during the Wars of the Reform, and steeped in simplified liberalism. His historical works complement his fiction. They demonstrate an attempt to forge a collective, Mexican memory of the past, and establish a firm historiographical link between the liberals of the Reform and the Hidalgo Revolt of 1810.5 Altamirano's cuadros are among the "other studies" that he asserted were for the more privileged intellectual elite that could stomach unvarnished truths. In them he says he must adhere to reality and the "prose of everyday life."6 What he does not say is that the customs and manners sketch also provided him with an unthreatening, traditional medium in which he could explore new ideas that did not always match his political reputation. Costumbrismo is a slippery, eclectic genre of infamously uneven quality combining journalism, satire, autobiography, fic4. Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, "Laliteraturaen 1870: La novela mexicana," in Obras de arte, vol. 12, ed. Jose LuisMartinez(Mexico: SEP,1986), completas:.escritos literaturay 230-6. All translations unless otherwise noted are mine, and original Spanish quotations are included in these notes. "La novela es el libro de las masas. Los demds estudios desnudos del atavio de la imaginaci6n, y mejores por eso, sin disputa, estdn reservados a un circulo mds inteligente y mais dichoso, porque no tiene necesidad de fdbulas y de poesia para sacar de ellas el provecho que desea. Quizds la novela estdclamada a abrir el camino a las clasespobres, para que lleguen a la altura de este circulo privilegiado y se confundan con 6l." 5. Nicole Gir6n, "Ignacio Manuel Altamirano," in Historiografia Mexicana: en busca de un discurso integrador de la naci6n, 1848-1884, ed. Antonia Pi-SufierLlorens (Mexico: UNAM, 1996), 257-94. 6. Altamirano, La vida en Mexico, 79-87.


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tion, and history. Rooted in early nineteenth-century Spanish models, it features detailed descriptions of local color, nostalgic recollection of past traditions, a flare for the picturesque, and a tendency to focus on the seemingly trivial aspects of daily life. In Latin America societies often lacking political and expressive freedoms, costumbrismo's nature as a genre dedicated to microscopic social analysis offered authors a platform for the discussion of power relations, as well as social, cultural, and economic divisions. Manycostumbristas were also prominent journalistsand political leaders who imbued their works with ideological content while employing the customs and manners sketch to explore national themes and critique what they perceived as their nation's failings. Thus, the cuadro often functioned as a pressure valve of dissent, an outlet for social commentary, and the introductory medium of new political and social ideas.7 Altamirano'ssketches are well within this tradition, yet they are especially interesting due to their author's own social, cultural, and economic journey from his Nahuatl-speaking,rural,Indian youth to the halls of power and recognition as one of the Restored Republic's most celebrated intellectuals. In the early 1880s he contributed a number of cuadros to Mexico City newspapers, and in 1884 at the urging of his friends he edited and republished many of them in a single volume. (Other sketches were republished posthumously.) An issue for contemporary scholars is, what does this famous radical liberal of Indiandescent intend to convey in his rambling examination of the nation's popular culture, and what does he reveal about Mexico's social and political evolution in the late nineteenth century? The results have been mixed. Essays from Paisajesy leyendas have led to claims that they reveal the author as a pragmatist devoted to national reconciliation, a shameless booster of Porfirianprogress and denigrator of established popular tradition, an early proponent of the misguided cultural analysis of Mexico according to euro-centric criteria, or a cowed radical recognizing the unbridgeable gulf between the liberal, progress-oriented, secular state he helped to build, and Mexico's deeply religious Catholic population.8 These conflicting claims emerge from Altamirano'sobsessive juxtaposition of modernity and popular Catholicism throughout Paisajes y
7. EnriquePupo-Walker,"TheBrief Narrativein Spanish America,"in The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature, vol. 1, ed. Enrique Pupo-Walker and Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria(Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1996), 490-535. 8. These divergent analyses are respectively from Chris Nacci, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano (New York:Twayne Publishers Inc., 1970);Jose Joaquin Blanco, "Introducci6n," in Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, Obras completas : textos costumbristas, vol. 5, ed. Jose Joaquin Blanco (Mexico: SEP,1986), 9-18; Nicole Gir6n, "Laidea de 'cultura nacional' en in En torno a la cultura nacional (Mexico: INI, 1976), el siglo XIX:Altamiranoy Ramirez,"

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leyendas. Altamirano's goal in writing these sketches was to explore the past and the present for cultural cornerstones upon which to build a truly liberal society, but that seems only to have been part of his project. His essays rummage through Mexican history and the author's own experiences as an observer of Mexican culture, and reveal him honestly pondering the evidence. He does much more than simply judge customs and cast those considered retrograde beneath the wheels of the on-coming train of progress. The typical cuadro revolves around the author's journey to a popular festival. He summarizes and critiques the event's history and describes its evolution in his own lifetime before commenting on the current celebration. Frequentlyhis mode of transportation is the railroadwhich allows him to use this modern innovation as the fulcrum of his discussion of past, present, and future. Altamiranoweighs what he has seen and read and describes a complex interplay of old and new, subjecting both to close scrutiny. His political and social ideology tinges his analysis, but does not overly cloud his observations. He examines the problematic coexistence of modernity and tradition, but does not leave the reader with the impression that he has solved the puzzle. These essays are not about the triumph of progress and individual initiative. At times he predicts great improvements to come and lashes out at ignorant superstitions, but it is the hybrid, increasingly stratified, commercial culture of Mexico's towns and cities that serves as the focus of his most critical commentary. Hence mestizos and the outward-looking rich are subject to his scorn, and despite the hope he pins on the steam locomotive, the rural, the indigenous, and some enduring colonial traditions win his respect. The tendency of costumbrismo's practitioners to slip back and forth between fiction, memoir, history, and journalism makes it problematic to analyze as historical documentation or literature.A satisfying synthesis Altamirano'scuadros must be rooted in their placement within Mexico's late nineteenth-century discursive climate, and the comparative analysis of sketches. In The Burden of Modernity Carlos Alonso notes that Spanish American writers of the last two centuries developed an am53-81; and David A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492-1867 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 648-74. Of these authors only Blanco approaches Altamirano'scollection of cuadros as a whole, but his analysis is disappointingly superficial. When Altamirano lauds aspects of indigenous popular religion, he accuses him of indulging in literary excess, and when the author criticizes traditional practices, Blanco asserts that he is flailing at Mexico's past. Brading taps into Paisajes y leyendas in his deep, insightful analysis of Creole patriotism and the foundations of Mexican nationalism. Brading's is by far the best of these studies and has been very influential in my analysis, but all of these scholars miss the deeper patterns beneath Altamirano'sjuxtaposition of tradition and modernity.


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bivalent relationship with modernity.9 Eschewing claims that these authors were unable to fully grasp modern discourse, he maintains that they recognized the clash between Europeanconcepts of the nation-state rooted in a shared ethno-cultural past and notions of progress and modernity, and American historical, economic, and social realities.To surmount this disjunction they crafted a contradictory, but ultimately useful, nationalist discourse built upon the projection of a truly modern nation at some point in the undefined future, which they proposed would somehow emerge from the anti-modern raw materials of the present. While discussing a broad range of authors, Alonso adds that LatinAmericans' twin obsessions of keeping up with the latest modern developments in Europe and carefullydocumenting local realities, "servedfirst to measure the distance still to be traveled to become modern, but they also helped to identify and master the most effective strategies for never leaving home."10Hence, we can view tensions between progress and tradition in Altamirano'scostumbrismo as part of a process of negotiated change, in which he, like his contemporaries, availed himself of modernity's authority, but also kept it at bay. is particularlyappropriate. Paisajes y leyendas The term "measure" Altamirano Mexican religious practice. The collection assessing captures is a collage of the author's thoughts on popular culture, and reveals him tinkering with the pieces of a new, nationalist ideology. It is full of tension between the realist'sportrayalof the traditions that he intimates his people should leave behind, and the nationalist's quest for the authenOn the surface he seems contratic foundations of the Mexican "folk." dictory, but a close examination of the concert of essays reveals a larger coherence. The key to understanding Paisajes y leyendas is to scrutinize Altamirano'sdepiction of Mexican popular Catholicism throughout his multi-leveled discussion of tradition and modernity. Three intersecting planes of this discussion emerge in Altamirano'sjuxtaposition of Mexico's cultural settings: urban and rural, present and past, and hybrid and Indian. To highlight the importance of these conceptual continua within his costumbrismo, I analyze the sketches in relation to their distance from the metropolis: Mexico City and environs; towns near the capital;villages in the mountains surrounding the capital; and the Indian community of the author's birth. As essays move from the capital to the distant village of his youth, Altamirano also transports the reader from the present to the past, and from the mestizo milieu of cities and towns to the idealized Indian culture of his native, ruralvillage. As his settings become more rural and more Indian, his characterization of popular re9. Alonso, Burden of Modernity. 10. Ibid., vi.

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ligion becomes more sympathetic. Following the author on this literary journey through space and time reveals that he was doing much more than simply advocating reconciliation, trumpeting progress, or wringing his hands over the weak foundations of the liberal state. Nestling his ideas in descriptive exuberance, and perhaps with trepidation, he suggests that Mexico's ruralIndians, steeped in their own syncretic religious traditions, are the primary source of the authentic national culture. He soft-pedals their heterodox, propitiatory, practices, and instead celebrates their originality, innate independent spirit, and Americaness. From Tixtla to Mexico City: Altamirano's Personal Journey By analyzing Paisajes y leyendas in relation to its settings, I am also reversing Altamirano'spersonal journey from his native Guerrero to the metropolis. Indeed, one way to look at his costumbrismo is that it represents an intellectual homecoming. Altamiranowas born November 13, 1834 in the Nahua village of Tixtla."1The son of Nahuatl-speaking parents, he studied, wrote, and fought his way to Mexico City. His father's election as mayor of Tixtla gained him entrance into elementary school, and in 1849 he won a government-sponsored scholarship for Indians to the Instituto Literario de Toluca. There he became a disciple of the radical-liberalIgnacio Ramirez.12 Throughout much of the 1850s and 1860s, Mexico's political turbulence shaped Altamirano'slife. Periods of liberal rule offered him the opportunity to further his education as a lawyer and burnish his reputation as a leading light in the capital's circles of radicalintellectual ferment. Conservative governments drove him back to the liberal armies of Guerrero and opposition journalism.13 With the liberal victory in 1867, Altamirano definitively returned to Mexico City. At the age of 33 he was both a decorated colonel who enjoyed battle-hardened friendships with the highly regarded generals Vicente RivaPalacio and PorfirioDiaz, and a politician/journalist renowned for his uncompromising radicalism. He became attorney general briefly, and won election to the Supreme Court. But his prestige as a thinker, journalist, and jurist did not guarantee him a prominent role in governance. Within the faction-ridden Restored Republic Altamirano represented a vociferous out-faction which, due to its public clash with president Benito Judirez,had little prospect of wielding power and shaping the state. Since the early 1860s Altamirano and his mentor Ramirez es11. Gir6n, "Ignacio Manuel Altamirano." 12. Harvey L. Johnson, "Introduction,"in Christmas in the Mountains, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano (Gainsville: University of Florida Press, 1961), ix-xix.
13. Gir6n, "Ignacio Manuel Altamirano" and Nacci, Altamirano.


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tablished themselves as the journalistic voice of opposition to Juarez's enduring political ambitions. Instead, they supported the Diaz candidacy. Juarez's ability to retain the presidency initiated Altamirano's disenchantment with politics and the democratic process in Mexico and was, perhaps, the impetus behind his increasing literaryefforts. Ironically,during the Diaz administrationsof the late 1870s and 1880s the puros would be politically outflanked again, but this time by the rising stars of "scientific politics" within the Diaz regime.'4 Altamirano'sfiction and his attempts to midwife an authentic Mexican literature emerged after 1867. In 1868 he published his first literary reviews and organized a series of high-profile readings (veladas) in private homes featuring many of Mexico's most famous writers. His founding of the literary magazine El Renacimiento in 1869 initiated a Mexican literary florescence including writers from across the political spectrum. The magazine lasted only a year, but it established him as the mentor and promoter of a generation of writers. In his own fiction Altamirano strove to produce nationalist epics. 15Throughout this period he also contributed numerous articles and essays to the nation's periodicals. He is not remembered as a gifted novelist. Above all, his fiction was a conduit of literary technique and style. His novels incorporated Romanticism into the Mexican literary tradition and paved the way towards LatinAmerican modernismo.16 His shorter works are among the most important predecessors of the renowned twentieth-century Mexican short story." As Jose Joaquin Blanco said, " He did not leave a master work: he prepared the possibility of master works."18Nonetheless, if Altamirano'swritings fail to impress today's literary critics, they are still of value in our attempts to understand nineteenth-century Mexico. Religion in the Metropolis: An Affront to Modernity In Paisajes y leyendas Altamiranolaments that modernity reveals itself fully only in a small swatch of 1880s Mexico City, from the central plaza
14. Gir6n, "Ignacio Manuel Altamirano." 15. His novels are Clemencia (1869), Julia (1870), La Navidad en las montafias (1871), Antonia (1872), and ElZarco (1888). His historical works include Revista hist6rica ypolitica, 1821-1882 (1882), and biographies of Ramirez (1889) and Hidalgo (1890). 16. Antonio Benitez-Rojo,"TheNineteenth-Century Spanish American Novel,"in The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature, vol. 1, ed. Enrique Pupo-Walker and Roberto Gonzilez Echevarria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 417-89. 17. Pupo-Walker,"BriefNarrative." 18. Blanco, "Introducci6n,"17. "No dej6 obra maestra:prepar6 la posibilidad de obras maestras."

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to the west. Despite his discomfort with the nation's backwardness, he felt it was his duty to examine it honestly and in detail. In fact, he lambastes others for avoiding the "M&xico actual."19Reviewing the capital's theater scene, he scorns the mindless zarzuelas and traditional Spanish repertoire that dominate the elite theaters. Instead, he praises the savage beauty of costumbrista puppet productions at lowly "teatrito America." Altamiranolauds their rendition of an Indian religious festival, stressing the authenticity of the costumes, manners, music, and devotional activities.20In much of Paisajes y leyendas he assumes the dual role of realist puppeteer and culture critic. In almost every essay the author examines some aspect of popular Catholicism. His criticism of these customs is especially strident when they take place near Mexico City, yet it is a nuanced attack on religion. Mestizo and elite religious activities elicit unmitigatedcaustic censure, whereas devout traditionsin poor Indianneighborhoods inspire a degree of understanding and compassion. Altamirano'scontempt for religion is most obvious in two sketches dealing with the Day of the Dead, El dia de muertos and Los inmortales.21 In the former he compares festivities in both poor and wealthy cemeteries and laments endurance of these traditions across the social the festival spectrum despite the Reform laws. For the city's "high-life," represents an opportunity for competitive display, and among the poor it is an excuse to indulge in disorder as the melancholy commemoration of the dead mutates into a tuneless songfest, drunken brawling, and scandalous public passions. 22 In Los inmortales he mocks belief in the afterlife by claiming to have spent Day of the Dead in a cemetery communing with dead fellow radicals. Melchor Ocampo's ghost delivers a blistering condemnation of the holiday as a marriage of clerical greed and bourgeois ostentation, and Vicente Guerrero lectures a crowd on the immortality of ideas.23 Altamirano broadens his diatribe against urban, religious festivals in Las tres caidas de Tacuba. Here he accuses the clergy of exploiting the population's ignorance, festive proclivities, and weakness for pageantry merely to generate revenue. Thankfully, he asserts, state authorities in the 1880s had belatedly begun to enforce constitutional prohibitions against public religious expression and curtail "this spectacle
79-87. 19. Altamirano, La vida en MWxico, 20. Altamirano, Los especteculos, 87-91. 21. Altamirano,El dia de muertos, 101-7; and Los inmortales, 107-14. See also El otofio y las fiestas de noviembre, 93-9. 22. Altamirano, El dia de muertos, 101-7. 23. Altamirano, Los inmortales, 107-14.


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which has nothing in common with Christian religion and is an affront to the culture of our century."24 Thus, he maintains, enduring popular Catholicism maligned both Christianity and modernity. In fact, a concern for "true" Christianity also emerges in his fiction. In the novel La Navidad en las montafias (1871) he advocates a Christian spirituality liberated from the baroque bad taste and semi-idolatrous veneration of the saints. For Altamirano, Christianity is nothing less than a sanctified liberalism that unites the book's characters in worship, civic morality, and progress. At one point in the story an enlightened priest says, "A democratic individual or a disciple of Jesus, isn't he perhaps the same person?"25 When he is searching for authenticity he moves beyond outright rejection of religious festivals, explores the racial intricacies of Mexican folk practice, and softens his anti-religious stance. In Lafiesta de losAngeles Altamirano offers a stinging comparison between one of the capital's Indian barrio devotions (La Madona de los pobres, also known as La Virgen de los Angeles) and the Virgin of Guadalupe.26 He criticizes the less-famous virgin's feast as an eight-day bacchanal involving forty pulquerias, 5,000 people, and usually resulting in a few deaths. But, he claims, " Among orgies, this is worth more and costs less than the one at la villa [the Basilica of Guadalupe].. ."27 It is backward and disorderly, but, he mischievously notes, it is almost a secular affair due to the participants' focus on profane revelry. This humble, urban, Indian devotion has a distinct, nationalist validity: She was not the accomplice of Cortes like Remedios, nor the hook of Zumairraga like Guadalupe; rather she was a daughter of the waters of Mexico, a creation of the poor barrio artists and the balm of Indian converts, like a homespun inspiration, due to her painting upon the walls of the poor Toltec hovels. We confess that the avocation is charming: The Virgin of the Angels. The shrine is beautiful although modest and decorated with good taste. We note with intimate pleasure the absence of retablos recounting stupid miracles.28
24. Altamirano,Las tres caidas de Tacuba, 331, "...este espectdculo que nada tenia de comfdn con la religi6n cristiana y que desdecia de la cultura de nuestro siglo." 25. Altamirano,Christmas in the Mountains, trans. Harvey L.Johnson (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1961), 24. 26. Altamirano, La fiesta de los Angeles. 27. Ibid., 69. "Orgiapor orgia, esta vale mds y cuesta menos que la de la villa." 28. Ibid., 77-8. "Noera la c6mplice de Cortis como la de los Remedios, ni el anzuelo de Zumdrraga como la Guadalupe, sino hija de las aguas de Mexico, creaci6n de pobrespintorzuelos de barrio y consuelo de los indios convertidos, algo como un numen del hogar, puesto que estaba pintada sobre los materiales de las pobres chozas toltecas. Confesamos que hasta la advocacidn es graciosa: La Virgen de los Angeles. El templo es bello aunque modesto y estd decorado con gusto. Notamos con intimo placer que alli no hay retablos con historias de milagros estdpidos."

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The Virgin of the Angels, he claims, was the creation of her suffering Indian devotees, inspired by their colonial-era hardships, and simply rendered on one of their abode-walled homes. She was neither the collaborator of the cruel conquerors nor the ruse of a bishop seeking to trick the natives with bogus apparitions. Here Altamirano draws his readers' attention to the more genuine, and hence more Mexican, nature of an Indian Catholic icon, even if he did not approve of its superstitious worship or raucous celebration. On the contrary, he lauded the temple's rustic beauty and good taste, and suggested a more pure, less magic-based Christianitythan her sister devotions. Implicitly, he tars the clergy as the mercenary proponent of the miracle-obsessed popular Catholicism that he finds repulsive. The people, he suggests, left to their own devotional instincts, prefer a simpler, more pure religion. Leaving the City: Ideal Christianity and Progress Altamirano's critique of folk Catholicism in and around Mexico City is parsevere. For the most part he renders popular religion as a gallery ticularly of social ills: ignorance, disorder, ecclesiastical exploitation, backwardness, and upper-class ostentation. The only hint of sympathy he professes for its practitioners is in his discussion of the Indian-barrioVirgin. As evident in Lafiesta de los Angeles he viewed Guadalupe'sdevotion, another religious traditionnear the nation's capital, with the same disdain he held for Day of the Dead practices. Scholarsoften have overlooked Altamirano's fierce criticism of the Virgin of Guadalupe in this cuadro.29Instead, they emphasize the historiographical essay on guadalupanismo Altamirano inserted among the costumbrista sketches collected in Paisajes y leyendas, and rest their conclusions on the author'sremarkablestatement, "The day that the virgin of Tepeyac ceases to be adored in this land it is certain that not only will the Mexican nationality have disappeared, but even the memory of the inhabitants of Mexico will have vanished."30Chris
29. In Lafiesta de los Angeles, Altamiranois very sepecific in his preference for the popular authenticity of this devotion compared to Guadalupe and others, 69: "Demos gracias al cielo de que la virgen de los Angeles no deba su aparici6n a la briboneria de un fraile y la estupidez de un indio, ni a la imaginaci6n histirica de una solterona, ni a lapropensi6n al embuste de una vieja. No:esta imagen tiene un origen lisoy llano, con algunas exageraciones que ha puesto la devoci6n, pero que no llegan hasta la supercheria, ni descienden hasta la injuria contra el sentido comdn. La santa virgen del adobe, es hija de sus obras, no es su culpa, si el carifio id6latra de un viejo cacique, el capricho de un sastrey lapasi6n por elpulque colorado, ban becho de ella una especie de Demeter mexicana, la buena diosa de los miserables, la protectora de un barrio ileno de salitre, defango y de miseria." 30. Altamirano, La fiesta de Guadalupe, 241. "Eldia en que no se adore a la virgen del Tepeyac en esta tierra, es seguro que habrd desaparecido, no solo la naciona-


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Nacci asserts that this reveals the author's acceptance of the devotion as a means of national reconciliation.31 David Brading cites this quotation as proof of the secularist liberal nation-building project's abject failure.32 Indeed, it is difficult to square the contradiction between his harsh attack on the Guadalupe devotion in one essay, and his fusion of guadalupanismo and Mexican identity in another. But, Altamirano'sincreasingly entwined treatmentof popular religion and liberalnationalismin the other sketches set beyond the capital shed considerable light on how the author resolved, or managed, this tension. In sketches concerning communities within a few hours train ride from the capital, he assumes a distinct tone. In the metropolis he seems most concerned with the gulf separating the customs witnessed in a handful of modern neighborhoods and those enduring amongst the rest of the population. In Las tres caidas de Tacuba he physically traverses this cultural continuum in his tram ride from the symbolic center of the modern capital, the Z6calo, to the city's anti-modern outskirts, epitomized by Tacuba. In El Sen-ordel Sacromonte and Tetzcoco y Tetzcotzinco he transports the reader by way of Mexico's newly expanded rail lines beyond Mexico City's immediate environs.33What is most striking about these essays is that they reveal Altamiranodistancing himself from his assault on Catholicism as he distances himself, and the reader, from the capital. He expands his discussion of "true" Christianity through historical digressions on the virtues of the first Franciscan missionaries. In El Seflor del Sacromonte he goes as far as to portray a progressive synergy between the popular religious celebrations of the indigenous poor and a glorious, modern future inaugurated by the arrivalof the railroad in Mexico's traditional communities.34
lidad mexicana, sino hasta el recuerdo de los moradores del MWxico actual." Altamirano stated in his preface to the original edition of Paisajes y leyendas that this essay had been inserted into the 1884 collection of sketches in order to include something on the most famous Mexican devotion. It cannot be considered a customs and manners sketch. It is a long survey of the previous centuries of scholarship on guadalupanismo without his usual commentary and critique of devotional practice. He does include a veiled criticism in his claim that Guadalupe had become a one-size-fits-all " virgen de consumo": orthodox Catholics saw her as the Mother of God, liberals held her up as a symbol of struggle for Independence, Indians worshiped her as a goddess, and other nations viewed her as a kind of logo of the Mexican nation. See Altamirano, "Prefacio,"in Obras completas: textos costumbristas, vol. 5, ed. Jose Joaquin Blanco (Mexico: SEP,1986), 21-22. 31. Nacci, Altamirano, 101-17. 32. Brading, First America, 666-74. 33. Altamirano, El Sefior del Sacromonte, 21-35; and Tetzcoco y Tetzcotzinco, 275-310. 34. In El Sefior del Sacromonte and Tetzcoco y Tetzcotzinco he portrays the first Franciscan missionaries as archetypes of religious purity and the first messengers of civilization. They are the only elements of Spanish colonial rule of which he approves. Alta-

Wright-Rios:Altamirano's Landscapes and Legends


In Tetzcoco y Tetzcotzinco, Altamirano emphasizes the deplorable plight of Mexico's urban Indians.35He stresses Texcoco's greatness as a pre-Hispanic center and sixteenth-century seat of missionary activity, but laments that intervening years of colonial suffocation and nineteenthcentury violence have left the city a filthy shell of its former self. Such is its decay that he wonders if the inhabitants are the true descendants of its once-proud citizens, and he lashes out at its poisonous mixed-breed atrophy. "Tetzcoco now is hybrid, hybrid in its buildings, hybrid in its inhabitants, hybrid in its customs, and hybrid in its physiognomy," he carps.36As in Mexico City,he alleges, Spanish rule expunged all vestiges of indigenous culturalvitality,leaving only place names and ruins to echo pre-Columbianand missionary achievements. After his bleak assessment of urban Indian life, Altamiranooffers only the railroadas the town's cultural and economic redeemer.37 In El Sefior del Sacromonte Altamiranomakes a complete breakwith Mexico's urban centers and begins to explore the value of contemporary, indigenous, religious activity. Abandoning the city mentally is precisely what he asks his readers to do in the opening paragraphs of the essay: Letus leave:let us look for other sketches of Mexicanlife, the emotion of the andallow ourselvesto be gentlyborne by flyingcloudsof the imagiunfamiliar; nation... to visit the towns andvillagesand blend ourselveswith the intimate life of the simplepeople who conserve somethingof the old customsand the puritytypicalof the old provinces,barelyalteredby modernnecessity.38 Thus he enjoins his readers to loosen their imaginations from the moorings of the capital's well-known customs in order to follow him in his
mirano was not the first writer to put the Franciscans on a pedestal. His friend Guillermo Prieto also lauded them in the 1840s. Prieto is much more direct in his use of the idealized missionaries to criticize clerics in the nineteenth century as the antithesis of Franciscan spiritual and ethical purity. Altamiranoavoids a direct negative comparison of contemporary and early-colonial priests. Perhaps it was cliche by the 1880s, or readers steeped in nineteenth-century journalistic tropes understood the mere mention of the first Franciscans as a critique of the modern Church. See Guillermo Prieto, Cuadros de costumbres 1:Obras completas, ed. Boris Rosen Jelomer, vol. 2 (Mexico: Consejo National Parala Cultura, 1993), 543-7. 35. Altamirano, Tetzcocoy Tetzcotzinco. 36. Ibid., 278. "La Tetzcoco actual es hibrida, bibrida por sus edificios, bibrida por sus babitantes, hibrida por sus costumbres, por su fisonomia." 37. Altamirano, Tetzcoco y Tetzcotzinco. 38. Altamirano,El Sefior del Sacromonte, 21. "Salgamos: busquemos otros cuadros de la vida mexicana, la emoci6n de lo desconocido; y dejdndonos llevar blandamente por la nubecilla voladora de la imaginaci6n ... para visitar los pueblos y las aldeas y mezclarnos en la vida intima de las gentes sencillas que conservan algo de las viejas costumbres y lapureza tipica de la antiguaprovincia, apenas modificadapor las necesidades modernas."


Mexicanos MexicanStudies/Estudios

examination of Mexico's traditions sheltered from change. He metaphorically introduces the interface between religion and modernization by beginning his journey at Mexico City's new San Litzarotrain station. He describes the neighborhood as a hell of poverty, ignorance, savagery, and disease, but with a ray of hope in a new savior-technological progress. The railroad,he declares, will bring Mexico's Lazarusback to life. The train ride south of the capital becomes Altamirano'smiracle narrative of modernization as he describes each town before and after the arrivalof the railsand predicts advancing salvationto the towns and countryside beyond. Finally,his steam-driven engine of civilization brings him to a Catholic shrine site, the Sacromonte in Amecameca. Here his discussion of the miraculous potential of progress gives way to a discussion of the shrine's Franciscan founders, "the messengers of the enlightenment, the true heroes of Latin American civilization."39 Sadlyhe notes that no collective memory of the Franciscansendures among the population. Instead, a popular legend of a miracle-working image of the buried Christ has supplanted their ascetic virtues and austere civilizing faith with a Good Fridaycelebration drawing large numbers of pilgrims every year. Despite his disappointment, Altamirano refrains from savaging the festival of the Santo Entierro as he did its counterparts in Mexico City. In fact, in El Sefior del Sacromonte he appears to have internalized the positivist notion of religious festivals as an evolutionary stage of commercial progress.40 He notes that Amecameca's priests extract their fees from the festival, but he depicts them as valuable promoters of the popular gathering and subsequent business transactions. He predicts that the celebration's strengthening of family and community bonds frayedby nineteenth-century revolutions will provide the necessary environment for agricultural and industrial development.41Thus, Altamiranolinks religion and progress in his pitch for railroads, Franciscanhistory lesson, and exegesis of contemporary rural,folk Catholicism. The steam locomotive is but a new phase in the civilizing process inaugurated by the Franciscans. The steel rails physically and symbolically connect the shrine site to the center of modern progress in the capital. But in Amecameca, the train is not enough. Altamirano envisions the village clergy playing a vital role in the rural modernization process. They, like the friars before them, are the conduits of civilized customs and facilitators of intercommunity commerce.
39. Altamirano,El Sefior del Sacromonte. 40. In Los inmortales, while discussing religious practice in Mexico City, Altamirano scoffs at the positivist claim that religious festivals represent a pre-industrial stage of commercial development. However, in El Seftor del Sacromonte, set in the countryside, he appears to concur with this aspect of positivist theory. 41. Altamirano, El Senor del Sacromonte.

Altamirano'sLandscapesand Legends Wright-Rios:


Altamiranoemployed this utopian vision in La Navidad en las montan-as as well. The novel features a priest, elected officials, and a soldier working together to shepherd a mythical rural community toward progress, order, and austere Christianity.Yet, curiously absent from La Navidad en las montafias's imaginary village are Mexico's Indians. The author simply describes the inhabitants as rustic agriculturists. In Paisajesy leyendas he remedied this omission, but continued to envelop his positive portrayalof religion in the sentimental gauze of bucolic, timeless, village life. Tixtla It is surprising that modern scholars have not given more attention to the two sketches devoted to Indian religious festivals in Altamirano's hometown, La Semana Santa en mipueblo and El Corpus.42They provide detailed descriptions of little known mid-nineteenth-century Indian religious practice from the pen of an acculturated Indian who had once been a participant in the events. Hence, they are rich in the minutiae related to emotionally charged fiesta preparations, degrees of religious belief, ethnic identity, and community social organization. The author's intimate knowledge of place and customs imbue these essays with a marked authenticity rare in costumbrista treatments of Indians. In both essays Altamirano emphasizes Indian religious autonomy and abandons his admonishments of ignorance, disorderly conduct, drunkenness, waste, and clerical exploitation. In his introduction to Tixtla's Corpus Christi celebration he divulges the reason for his interest in his hometown's Catholic festivals, It is the half idolatrousIndians,who exert themselves to give it all the encan providethem, and thanksto chantmentthattheirpicturesqueimagination Americancharacter, the them, the processionhas an originaland particularly only reasonthatmakesit worthyof mention.43 In other words, it is the autochthonous nature of Tixtla's folk Catholicism that gives it merit. It is this quality of genuine Mexicaness which allows the author to describe catholic religiosity in a positive tone that lacks the revulsion it inspired in some of his other sketches. Yet, Altamirano resorts to literary camouflage that places these events in the nebulous past or mythical present of his distant ruralhamlet. His village
42. Altamirano, El Corpus, 55-65; and La Semana Santa en mipueblo, 37-54. " 43. Altamirano, El Corpus, 58. .. son los indigenas medio id6latras, quines se esmeran en darle todo el encanto que su imaginaci6n pintoresca puede sugerirles, y merced a ellos, laprocesi6n tiene un cardcter original ypeculiarmente americano, tnico lado que la hace digna de menci6n."


MexicanStudies/Estudios Mexicanos

remains unvisited by the steam engines. It is the author's memory, not modern machinery, that guides the reader to Indian Mexico. In El Corpus Altamirano assumes a voice of mischievous, nativist glorification. As if divulging a secret, he notes that Tixtla's Corpus is the sole public, religious festival in the village that has endured the Reform Laws unchanged since his childhood. But beyond the assertion that his fellow Tixtecos conserve this tradition, he proceeds to blur the distinctions of time, leaving the reader unable to determine if he is describing events in his youth (i.e. before the Reform) or in the 1880s. In marked contrast to Las tres caidas de Tacuba, he mentions the enduring cooperation of civil and religious officials in the procession's organization, despite its flagrantviolation of the law. He does not tarry on the dereliction of duty by local government authorities.Instead,Altamiranobecomes caught up in ethnic pride. Tixtla'sCorpus was an Indian-controlledaffairin which mestizos participated only marginally.Altamirano claims that local indigenous leaders determined the order of the rituals and the procession, and directed the elaborate preparations of the oak, palm, and floral ramadas that decorated the parade route. Altamiranoalso provides a detailed description of the procession and each saint representing separate Indian barrios (Texaltzinco, Tlatelolco, and Santuario), highlighting their unique posture and dress. With palpable glee he reveals that the dominant figure of the procession is a saint called Santiago Tlateloco, who appears as a proud, wild, dark-skinned Indian soldier. This machete-wielding, sarcastic-miened santo, Altamiranocrows, is an extravagantnative god-saint rendered in the image of Guerrero's nineteenth-century insurgents.44 This dramatic depiction of the Indian rebel reappears in the author's childhood recollections of how the procession's military complement varied with prevailing political currents. During particularly chaotic times, no organized troops appeared. Instead, intense, edgy posses of irreverent Indians dressed like Santiago Tlatelolco, and heeding no devotion or drumbeat, brought up the rear of the parade.45He closes El Corpus without proposing an interpretation of this suggestive, processional history. The verve with which he describes the flesh-and-blood SantiagoTlatelolcos reveals a definite pride in Indian impiety, but he does not extend this to a condemnation of priests or more devout Indians. Nor does he suggest methods for ending this breach of the Reform laws.
44. Altamirano does not make the Indian barrio distinctions in El Corpus, but he does in La Semana Santa en mipueblo. Thus I interpret the attachment of the names of Tixtla's Indian barrios to the saints, such as Texaltzinco and Tlatelolco, as evidence that these images pertained to those barrios. 45. Altamirano,El Corpus.

Wright-Rios:Altamirano's Landscapes and Legends


Instead, he leaves the reader with a sense of awe in the primitive independence of his paisanos.46
Altamirano's La Semana Santa en mipueblo is an even deeper ex-

ploration of rural, Indian Christianity.Throughout the essay Altamirano reveals a marked sensitivity for the village's overlapping devotional, class, and ethno-cultural identities as the participants arrange themselves at masses and accompany specific images in processions. He envelops his rendering of Indian religious practice in a dream-likeworld of childhood memories, but despite this element of camouflage he portraysa profound indigenous commitment to cultural and political autonomy, which he intimates is the substrate of national unity and Mexico's commitment to political independence. He accomplishes this by stressing the natives' stubborn adherence to their religious traditions within Christianity,and linking the landscape of indigenous, devotional activity to the historical events of patriotic, battlefield victories.47 Before describing Holy Week he provides a thumbnail sketch of Tixtla'shistory and character.In contrast to Texcoco the Nahuas of Tixtla remain a proud and vigorous people thanks to their enduring dominance of village life. They maintain a marked dedication to the autonomous control of their faith rooted in Aztec tradition, which neither colonial religious authorities nor Reform Laws have managed to alter or dislodge. They initiate the village festivals and assert a sense of ownership over the parish church, the images it houses, and even the priest. Altamirano claims that during ceremonies, villagers assisting the priest watch him closely to make sure he respects their traditions.Priests, he declares, must learn the appropriate local religious customs from the Indians. The Indians in turn view clerical fees more as the payment of a hired worker than as tribute owed to a master. Alongside his claims of Tixtla's spiritual autonomy, he interjects that his village, the birthplace of Vicente Guerrero, has remained a bastion of patriotic resistance to a succession of foreigners and reactionaries throughout the nineteenth century.48 The climax of Altamirano's melding of indigenous religious traditions and liberal nationalism emerges in his interweaving of Tixtla's Good Friday celebration and his reconstruction of a battle of the Independence Wars. The day's events feature a shift in the religious focus away from the plaza and parish church. Villagers begin at dawn to walk and pray at grottos along Tixtla's "Viacrusis"extending from the parish church to a barrio chapel upon the village's steep "Cerro de Calvario." Later a deliberately slow, modest procession from the church carries the image of
46. Ibid.
47. Altamirano, La Semana Santa en mi pueblo.

48. Ibid.


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the Buried Christ and the Virgin of Solitude to this chapel. This ceremony demonstrates that nineteenth-century Tixtecos gave their village geography a sacred overlay. In essence, they mapped sacred history on Altamirano attheir own symbolic, social, and geographic landmarks.49 his event historical another to inscribe village's sacred landupon tempts the story of a bathe also tells narrative his Good Within Friday scape. tle in which Jos6 Maria Morelos defeated royalist troops on Tixtla's Calvary.During the struggle against Spain, he claims, the chapel functioned as Morelos's defensive bulwark and reverberated with the cannonades and small arms fire of Independence. Returning to Holy Week, Altamiranodeclares, "Now the only sound beneath her humble walls is the soft voice of the supplicant and the breast beating of the devout."50 Thus, he links the indigenous celebration of Christ'sPassion and the birth pangs of the Mexican nation. This melding of religious and nationalist commemoration tied to the very streets and hills of an Indian village, and Altamirano'sprevious assertion of Tixtla's continual commitment to the defense of national sovereignty, reveal the author's attempt to establish the liberal, patriotic credentials of his people. The coincidence of the battle and their humble prayers at the same chapel allow Altamirano to suggest that both their autonomous religiosity and their yearning for liberty emanate from Indian culture. Hence, he implies that this innate passion for independence makes Mexico's Indians the necessary foundation of the nation-state. Landscapes and Legends At the outset of this essay I proposed that Altamirano'ssketches of customs and manners represent an early expression of modern Mexican indigenismo, which attained prominence as a component of postRevolutionary, nationalist state-building from the 1920s to the 1940s. This powerful social, cultural, and aesthetic movement has been the subject of intense scholarlycriticism among modern Mexican historians who view it as a repackaging of racist, nineteenth-century, elite efforts to solve the "Indianproblem."This historiographical current stresses that while trumpeting the nation's remote pre-conquest past and lauding Indian artistic traditions, indigenismo sought to destroy Mexico's living Indian cultures through a broad Hispanicization project designed to achieve a national mestizo homogeneity. In short, it was but a new stage of the
49. For a detailed description of this phenomenon in Spain see William A. Christian, Person and God in a Spanish Valley (New York:Seminar Press, 1972). 50. Altamirano, La Semana Santa en mi pueblo, 53. "Ahora s61o se oyenjunto a sus muros humildes, la voz apagada del rezadory los golpes depecho de los devotos."

Wright-Rios:Altamirano's Landscapes and Legends


liberal project that defined Indians as a stubborn obstacle to national unity and modernization.51But indigenismo was not a monolithic movement. Among its proponents, men like Carlos Basauriand Moises Saienz held up twentieth-century Indian social organization and communal culture as the appropriate model for creating a more equitable, progressive, modern nation. Within Mexico's contemporary indigenous traditions they applauded what they viewed as high moral standards, natural collectivism, social unity, political egalitarianism, a pronounced work ethic, a marked ability to adapt to change, and an innate anti-clericalism and religious autonomy. This current of indigenismo stressed that Indians were the intellectual peers of mestizos and whites, and thus their match in terms of capacity for modernity.52 Paisajesy leyendas voiced this type of Indian-centered nationalism nearly forty years before it emerged in the indigenista publications of the 1920s. Altamirano did not dwell on Aztec glories like his predecessors FrayServando Teresa de Mier and Carlos Mariade Bustamante, or the giant of twentieth-century indigenismo, ManuelGamio.53 At the same time he was composing his cuadros he was also engaged in the Porfirianera intellectual debates surrounding the "Indian question." He sharply criticized prominent positivists like Francisco Cosme, who judged Mexico's Indians as so hopelessly retrograde and decadent as to be unworthy of public education.54 His one-time student Justo Sierrabelieved European blood was the font of civilization, but argued that public education could transform Mexico's Indians into a progressive and productive element of society.55 Altamiranowas also a tireless promoter of public education for Indians, but Paisajes y leyendas demonstrates that he was exploring something much more radical than Sierra's conservative indigenismo. Viewing the collection of essays as a single, multi-faceted work and
"Manuel in Mexico," Bulletin of 51. See Brading, Gamioand OfficialIndigenismo LatinAmericanResearch7, no. 1 (1988):75-89; AlanKnight,"Racism, and Revolution, Mexico, 1910-1940,"in TheIdea of Race in Latin America, 1870-1940, Indigenismo: Graham of TexasPress,1990);andDawson,"From ed. Richard Models." (Austin: University cites the workof Arturo Dawsonspecifically Claudio Warman, Lomnitz, Vaughn, Mary Kay Beckeras amongthosewho describeindigenismo asessentially a hegemonicHisMarjorie program. panicization Models." 52. Dawson,"From Cam53. DavidA Brading, Prophecyand Myth in MexicanHistory (Cambridge: Gamio." Press,1984);andBrading 1988, "Manuel bridgeUniversity Intellectuals andthe IndianQuestion," 54. T. G. Powell,"Mexican HispanicAmerican HistoricalReview38 (Feb. 1968):19-36. andWilliam D. Raat,"Los in55. Knight,"Racism;" Powell,"Mexican Intellectuals;" HistoriaMexicana 20, no. 3 (1970): tellectuales,el positivismo, y la cuesti6nindigena," 412-27.


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analyzing individual essays along a setting-based continuum stretching from Mexico City to the traditional Indian village of the author's birth reveals a coherent subtextual proto-indigenismo. This approach exposes Altamirano's analyticalprogression from what he viewed as the decadent, and clerically-exploited popular piety of Mexico City to what he hybrid, deemed the more genuine, independent, inherently Mexican religion of the Indians of Tixtla. This journey is fraught with tension between his realist, secular, modernization-oriented impulses and his quest for the foundations of an authentic national culture. But it is not the hand-wringing revelation of an unbridgeable chasm between folk traditions and his aspirations of national progress. On the contrary, tracing Altamirano's linkage of the nation to his village, the present to the past, and Mexicaness to rural Indian Catholicism reveals his experimentation with Indian-centered nationalism. The vehicle of his analysis is not the railroad or a simple juxtaposition of modernity and tradition, but rather his exploration of popular religious customs and their role in society. Essentially,he claims that the Indian hinterland, symbolized by Amecameca and his native village, has a time-honored and crucial role to play in the nation's march toward progress. Culminating in his description of Holy Week and Corpus Christi, Paisajes y leyendas projects the notion that liberalism, the Mexican nation, and the popular drive for political and cultural independence emerge from the fiercely autonomous and innately American customs of Mexico's Indian villages. He demonstrates that he was a precursor not only of a current of twentieth-century indigenismo, but also of the portrayal national archetypes and popular customs in post-Revolutionary literature and art. His preference for popular puppet theater over classic Spanish repertoire and his glowing portrait of rural, popular Catholicism anticipate the twentieth-century Mexican intellectual elite's embrace of the folkloric. His vivid rendering of the wild, irreverent, Indian insurgent reemerges in the muralistmovement, fiction inspired by the Revolution, and the Octavio Paz's Labyrinth of Solitude. Likewise, Jose Clemente Orozco's frescoes echo the author's sentimental portrait of the first Franciscans. And his ferocious criticism of the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City precede the wave of post-Revolutionary iconoclasm. Yet some important questions remain unanswered. Why did Altamirano shroud his indigenismo in the mist and smoke of literary artifice? And why did he express his Indian-centered nationalism only in the eclectic safety of costumbrismo? It is impossible to answer these questions with certainty, but I can suggest some reasons relevant to Altamirano's position in liberal politics and intellectual circles of late nineteenthcentury Mexico and the nature of Spanish American discourse. First, it

Wright-Rios:Altamirano's Landscapes and Legends


is important to stress Altamirano'smarginalization from the center of power during both the Restored Republic and the Porfirianperiod and, perhaps more significantly,his intellectual isolation as positivism became the dominant elite ideology and European race science approached its apogee in Mexico.56 Despite key figures like Sierraand Altamirano, the reigning conception of indigenous and rural culture in PorfirianMexico was overwhelmingly negative.57 His tendency to makes the heroes of his fiction righteous, hardworking Indians who had been slighted by criollos, and the press's fondness for derisive barbs that aimed at his indigenous physical appearance and cultural heritage while belittling his political and literary achievements, make it tempting to suggest that his own experience as an Indianamong the nation's predominantly Hispanic intellectuals and politicians may have made him tread carefully.58Perhaps Altamirano'sreaders, Mexico's literate elite, could not countenance straightforward indigenismo in the 1880s.59 He may have had personal difficulties approaching the issue directly due to the undeniably religious nature of rural, indigenous life. His intimate, nostalgic rendering of festivals of his youth and his preoccupation with "true"Christianity suggest that he perhaps had some personal conflicts regarding religion that he was unprepared to air in pubic without distancing himself in some fashion. Paisajesy leyendas is best understood within the context of the challenges faced by Spanish-Americanwriters as they sought to establish an authentic American cultural discourse that obeyed tenets of modernity originating in Europe and yet faithfully rendered anti-modern, local realities. They received little help from European writers who rooted their modern authorial identity in the cities shaped by the Industrial Revolution. Neither the economic, social, or cultural underpinnings of mod56. Knight,"Racism." of Nebraska 57. WilliamH. Beezley, Judas at theJockey Club(Lincoln: University Press,1987). See also Knight,"Racism." ed. Catalina Sierra andCristina Barros 58. IgnacioManuelAltamirano:iconografia, cruel caricatures of Altami(Mexico:CONACULTA, 1993) reproducessome particularly
rano. For example, in Mefist6feles, June 13, 1878 (page 77), Altamirano appeared almost

andthe accompanying simian, rhymelabeledhim "...unidolo de barropor lofeo."Elbijo del Abuizote,June 17, 1892 (page 184), showed a dark-skinned Altamirano as a pueblo musicianin a swampserenading a bust/idol of a fair-complected Porfirio Diazwhile the artssinkinto the mire. high literary ElZarcoy LaNavidad en las montaflas(Mexico:Editorial 59. Altamirano, Porrua, indictmentof the period'sracismis clearin El Zarco.The hero is a 1966). Altamirano's blacksmith valiant, honorable, enlightened,Indian spurnedby the villagebeautyin favor of the white, blue-eyed,cowardlybrigand. Both she and her banditlover mock him for
his dark skin and indigenous features only to meet their doom when the forces of law and order and the Indian smithy emerge triumphant.


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ern city life existed in Altamirano'sMexico. Hence, like his counterparts throughout Latin America, he turned to rural society in hopes of finding his nation's cultural identity, but tapped in to the authority vested in urban modernity. The conflicts embedded in this endeavor remain the source of scholarly misunderstanding of these texts. Altamirano's obsessive examination of folk Catholicism in several different settings in Paisajes y leyendas reveals that he recognized the dissonance within his personal discourse-building project. Costumbrismo was simply the best literary form within his reach that allowed him to manage this tension while forwarding new ideas. Its hybrid and traditional nature provided Altamirano with a sheltered medium in which he created texts that mix sentimental autobiography, cultural history, journalistic observation, editorial commentary, and political sermon. Herein lies the genius of costumbrismo, the reason for its endurance in Spanish America, and the source of contemporary literarycontempt for the genre. Its openness to long, seemingly trivial, minute description served as the cloak with which Altamirano draped his ambivalence toward modernity and a novel nationalist formation whose time had not yet come.