Judas at the Jockey Club and Other Episodes of Porfirian Mexico, Third Edition

Judas at the Jockey Club and Other Episodes of Porfirian Mexico, Third Edition

by William H. Beezley

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Featuring a new preface by the author, this brilliant and eminently readable cultural history looks at Mexican life during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, from 1876 to 1911. At that time the modernization that Mexico underwent produced a fierce struggle between the traditional and the new, exacerbating class antagonisms in the process. The noted historian William H. Beezley illuminates many facets of everyday Mexican life lying at the heart of this conflict and change, including sports, storytelling, health care, technology, and the traditional Easter‑time Judas burnings that became a primary focus of strife during those years.

This updated volume provides a teacher’s guide, available on the University of Nebraska Press website, offering a manual of internet links, additional readings, and practice experiences that can be used in the classroom or by anyone who wants to go beyond the chapters of this book.

Download the discussion guide.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496206909
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska
Publication date: 06/01/2018
Edition description: Third Edition, New Edition
Pages: 210
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

William H. Beezley is a professor of history at the University of Arizona. He is the author or editor of dozens of books, including Mexicans in Revolution, 1910–1946, with Colin MacLachlan (Nebraska, 2009), Mexico’s Crucial Century, 1810–1910: An Introduction (Nebraska, 2010), and Mexico in World History. Beezley is the editor in chief of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia for Latin America. In 2017 the Mexican government awarded him its Ohtili Medal.

Read an Excerpt


The Porfirian Persuasion: Sport and Recreation in Modern Mexico

With a new self-confidence, Mexicans in 1890 preened before an international audience. With a sense of well-being built on political tranquility and economic success, elite Mexicans adopted a new set of attitudes. Their notions did not represent a political ideology or an economic philosophy; they subscribed to a loose sense of progress, based on Comtean positivism with individual touches of Catholicism or anticlericalism, of Indianism or anti-Indianism, and of greater or lesser doses of the Liberal belief in the efficacy of property. These predilections constituted a somewhat ill-defined but pervasive popular sense of what a number of Mexicans thought about their country and its future. These attitudes and notions might best be called a persuasion. In some sense this popular attitude was little more than a fad that swept across the country as early as 1888, held sway for two decades, and then vanished in the depression of 1905. Certainly it was gone by the time the revolution broke out in 1910.

This persuasion can be seen clearly in the rise of sports and recreation. These leisure activities expressed it better than the government or the economy, where this temper also existed, because Mexicans had clear, unambiguous choices in their diversions. An act of volition was needed to ride a bike, go to the horse races, or join an athletic club; there was no compulsion from the need to survive that exists at least implicitly in political and economic undertakings.

The rise of many organized sporting activities represented the growing influence of the foreign community in Mexico, but simple imitation of U.S. and European sport does not explain this development. Mexicans selected the recreations that appealed to them and rejected those that seemed contradictory to their culture. Football, American style, seemed especially repugnant to Mexico's values, and after its exhibition in 1895, as we will see, it was rejected until after the revolution.

The Porfirian persuasion, this sense of sharing the same activities and attitudes of the international gentry, reveals as well the imitative quality in Mexico so brilliantly examined by Samuel Ramos in The Profile of Man and Culture in Mexico. Mexicans saw their country zooming into modernization; hence they rushed to adopt the styles, attitudes, and amusements of other modernized Western nations. Turning to these attitudes, we can find them instrumental in the changing attitudes toward bullfighting, the rise of baseball and horse racing, interest in boxing, and the fascination with bicycling.

Bullfights and Culture

Bullfighting represented a part of Mexico's Spanish heritage. Introduced early in the 1500s, during the three hundred years of the colonial era, the bullfight evolved into the spectator event much like today's corrida de toros. Several secondary features — spearing rings, tailing the bull, climbing the greased pole for a pig, and allowing amateurs from the stands — had disappeared from the bullfight by the time of independence. The rules and etiquette of the corrida emerged and the bullfight became the ritual expressing Mexican cultural values.

During the nineteenth century the essential actors of the corrida included the bull, the president, the matador, picadores, and banderilleros. The drama was worked out in a series of dynamic scenes, essentially three for each bull: the placing of the banderillas on the bull to enrage it, the spearing of the bull in the large shoulder muscles to weaken it, and the entrance of the matador for the killing of the bull, if possible with a single thrust of the sword. Not until after 1930 did the toreador incorporate the daring capework, drawing the bull within inches of his body, that has become the ballet of bullfighting. In fact, during the Porfiriato, an assistant, called the cholo or capa, often preceded the matador into the ring. His role was to wave a "gayly colored" cloth, usually attached to a long pole, before the bull, to tease it to the point of exhaustion. Then, the matador strutted across the sand to deliver the fatal sword thrust. This ultimate scene usually was called the espada (the sword). The graceful killing of the bull, not the ballet of cape and animal, was the essence of the corrida.

The tourist and casual spectator saw only blood and sand. Most English-speaking visitors watched in horror. The fans, the aficionados, knew that the entire event was controlled, in fact orchestrated by one person, the president of the corrida, usually a civil official (Díaz on occasion served). Only the president permitted a bull to enter the ring, only he allowed the progression from scene to scene, and only he signaled for the killing of the bull. This president rewarded the matador with an ear, or two, perhaps even the tail. No honor went to the man who failed to kill the bull or who made a poor job of it. On one or two occasions, the president permitted the bull to live because the animal displayed such gameness and bravery that it overshadowed the men participants. No honors or rewards went to the others, the banderilleros or picadores.

During the nineteenth century the corrida served as a metaphor of Mexican society. The president represented the caudillo, cacique, or patron who governed everyone's endeavors and determined the rhythm of daily activities. Only in a paternalistic society could such a ritual have meaning. The "players" displayed the hierarchy of society in which each man played only his part and left to society as a whole the accomplishment of the task. Although they cooperated, the banderilleros, picadores, and matador did not comprise a team. The matador depended on the others but was clearly of a different and higher level in the hierarchy, and he garnered all the honors.

The matador was the epitome of the event. He had to demonstrate the attributes most valued in this masculine order. The matador faced savage, ruthless nature in its most ferocious form — the raging bull. The matador had to be more than courageous. He had to be reckless, he had to ignore all odds, he had to stand fast in the face of the bull, he had to disregard all his own injuries and fears, and he had to succeed for honors, even his life. Above all, he had to act in a manner of exaggerated courtesy and ultimate decorum. Campesinos, peónes, léperos (street people), workers — the society itself (commentators regularly remarked that the audience represented a cross-section of society), recognized Mexican courtesy, placidity in the face of danger, and the resignation needed to stand up to impossible odds. The bullfight included cruelty, blood, and death, but life itself included these.

During Porfirio Díaz's first administration bullfights were prohibited in the Federal District and several prominent states, including Zacatecas and Veracruz. Two explanations may be given for this prohibition. One exegesis comes from the political and nationalistic ambitions of Díaz. He wanted diplomatic and economic recognition from the United States and Great Britain. Both these countries had been outspoken critics of the backwardness of Mexican society. These commentators not only described Mexico as the land of bandits, kaleidoscopic governments, and unpaid debts, but also they remonstrated against a land that gloried in cruelty to animals. Many referred to the corrida de toros as simple bull baiting, in which the animal was tormented to distraction and only when the crowd grew bored was it slaughtered. Prohibiting bullfighting in the capital, the major port of Veracruz, and a principal mining zone in Zacatecas meant that few outsiders saw them, and the dictator strengthened his image as the reformer leading Mexico from barbarism into the Western community of nations.

By 1888 Díaz's and Mexico's stock had risen tremendously. Foreign investors rushed into Mexico, railroads tied together the country, peace and stability ruled. Díaz no longer needed to worry about his country's reputation for cruelty and he ignored the petitions from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (whose honorary chairman was his wife) and the Anti-bullfighting Club. Instead, the government gave its attention to such things as requiring pants and felt hats of Indians who came to town, to achieve at least a European appearance, and by 1890 Díaz's success promoted a growing sense of pride in Mexico.

This emergent nationalism revived what it regarded as genuine traditions, though this involved a romantic notion of both the Aztec culture and the colonial epoch. Mexico City's society celebrated "the flowery war," a mock recreation of the Aztec ritual as a parade of coaches decorated with flowers from which passengers hurled blossoms at each other. Díaz also unveiled the monument to Cuauhtemoc and Aztec bravery in one of the major traffic circles in the city. And, he permitted the return of bullfighting to the capital as one of Mexico's traditions.

Another explanation of the prohibition of bullfighting comes from the anthropological study of "deep play" by Clifford Geertz and of "ritual display" by Susan Birrell. The corrida demonstrated submission to the caudillo in a hierarchical society and called on the individual to ignore all odds in fulfilling the traditional role assigned him. The bullfight was antithetical to the platform that Díaz was mouthing, one that called for rotation in political office, genuine elections, and an end to caudillismo. From 1876 to roughly 1888, Díaz (and Manuel Gonzalez) consolidated national power by breaking regional and local caudillos, wrecking personal loyalties in the army, and dismantling personal business ties. Díaz promoted central government and capitalistic economics as impersonal and institutional ideals; his consolidation of power would not admit exaggerated individualism or reckless resistance.

By 1888 Díaz had his system in place. He had realigned political power, garnered a national and international reputation, and stood ready for recognition as the father of his country — who would mediate, orchestrate, reward, and punish. This new patriarch was ready for a return to ritual displays of paternalism. Basking in the patriarch's presence, if only metaphorically at the bullfight, was a quality of the Porfirian persuasion.

Abner Doubleday in the Halls of Montezuma: Baseball Comes to Mexico

Baseball has a shadowy history in Mexico, with its origins as hazy and confused in the popular mind as the origin of the sport in the United States. Without question, baseball represented the growing influence of the United States on the Mexican elite. No one should be surprised to learn that Abner Doubleday's ghost lurks in every Mexican outfield; common knowledge explained that not only had he invented the game in the United States but he also had personally introduced it south of the border.

This apocryphal tale goes: Doubleday was a West Point graduate who served in the United States Army in both the Mexican and Civil wars. In the former conflict, U.S. troops, including young officer Doubleday, occupied Mexico City for ten months in 1847 and 1848. The troops, with little to do, soon organized various entertainments, including sports and dances. According to legend, Doubleday promoted his new game of baseball among the various companies and militia units stationed in the Halls of Montezuma. This story has been exaggerated to the point that the Illinois volunteer who had captured General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's wooden leg as a war trophy is said to have used it as a bat in one of these contests. Even if this story were true, there is no record of Mexicans learning and playing anything resembling baseball until the 1880s.

The Doubleday anecdote aside, the first bat-and-ball game, and probably the earliest organized sport in Mexico, appeared when British businessmen and mine owners established the Mexico Cricket Club in 1827. This club survived until 1904, when it merged with the San Pedro Golf Club, which soon became the Mexico City Country Club. Members played cricket sporadically during the nineteenth century. In the late 1860s and early 1870s, the club members divided into Reds and Blues for Sunday morning matches in a season that stretched over four months from November until March. The Cricket Club arranged special trolley service to its pitch at Napoles, and held a formal breakfast at 1 P.M. between innings. The premier test match in 1868 featured the Companies (Barron, Forbes, and Company, the Railway Company, and the Gas Company) versus the Club, in which the only player with a Hispanic name, M. J. Trigueros, of the prominent Mexican sporting family, led the Companies to victory with an inning of sixtyfour. The club faced yearly challenges from the Victoria Cricket Club, which Trigueros formed from students at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios. Victoria won a pair of games in 1868, and again the following year, then lost the final rematch in 1870. The game seems to have become dormant for several years after 1870, and George W. Clarke, the editor of The Two Republics, feared that this "healthy and manly game" might disappear altogether.

After a period of only occasional activity, the British reorganized cricket in Mexico City in the 1880s coincidentally with Mexico's first games of soccer in Pachuca, a town dominated by the British-owned Real del Monte silver mines. The British colony obtained a field for cricket across the Paseo de la Reforma from Chapultepec Park, and arranged impromptu games. Young Mexican gentlemen took to the game, and the cricket fad swept through the native gentry for a couple of years. A reorganized Pachuca team came to Mexico City for a test match in 1889, the first time in twenty five years, only to lose before an aristocratic audience. The sport entered a new period of decline in Mexico City in the 1890s, although it remained popular with Englishmen in Puebla, Pachuca, and Monterrey until the end of the century.

The decline of this English game was followed by the rise of baseball within the same Mexico City circles. This change in recreational preference followed the declining influence of the British business community in comparison with that of the United States. Yankee investors surpassed their British competitors by 1890, dominating both exports and imports. With booming economic activity in Mexico, large numbers of Americans of all classes and professions headed across the Rio Grande; to serve this population and bolster United States interests, the number of consular representatives increased as well. These new arrivals, representatives of the hustle and bustle of the industrializing, urbanizing United States, brought their games with them; the economic success of the United States made Mexicans susceptible to U.S. sports. Baseball appeared first in Mexico City in the early 1880s and then at roughly the same time in several places in the early 1890s.

Doubleday's heirs and the carriers of his legend were the Yankee employees of the Mexican National and the Mexican Central railroads, who organized company teams in the summer of 1882 to play scrimmage games. A challenge match pitted the National Baseball Club against the Telephone Company, Sunday morning, July 28. The railroad men, perhaps because of their greater experience, prevailed 31 to 11 before a crowd of foreigners, Mexicans, and some ladies. These teams played on the field at Santiago, but after a few contests, they disbanded.

Another pickup game was played February 11, 1883, with the Central's road department defeating the mechanical department, 25 to 19. This contest inspired more permanent organization in the summer of 1883. Mexican Central employees in the mechanical department formed a nine to play against coworkers in the supply, road, and transportation departments. The teams played their first scrimmage match, without keeping score, August 4, on the open field just west of Buena Vista station. The combined team soon split into squads representing each department, so that the workers could play a tournament over the summer. New editors J. Mastella Clarke and Walter M. O'Dwyer of The Two Republics called on the United States colony in Mexico City to aid the teams in every way possible so that this step to introduce the American national game would not only succeed but become the forerunner of several other "healthful and recreative outdoor pastimes not yet known" in Mexico.

Efforts to promote baseball soon languished, and the teams disbanded. During the next four years only occasional pickup games were played as a novelty to raise money for charities. One such exhibition matched two Mexican sides at the Corzaon de Jesus field, February 21, 1886, to collect funds for the city's poor house, and another February benefit matched Frenchmen against Spaniards in a bungling display of the game before fashionable spectators who had paid fifty cents each to support the French-Belgium-Swiss Benevolent Society. Events outside the capital brought new efforts to establish baseball.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface to Third Edition
Preface to Second Edition
The Porfirian Persuasion: Sport and Recreation in Modern Mexico
Rocks and Rawhide in Rural Society: Tools and Technology in Porfirian Mexico
Judas at the Jockey Club

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