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A performance army : the military and imaginings of nation in Porfirian Mexico, 1876-1910 Neufeld, Stephen Brent

Abstract

The modern idea of mexicanidad, or "Mexican-ness", was the product of the era known as the Porfiriato (1876-1910). After nearly a century of turmoil, insurrections, and foreign invasions, the relative peace of President Porfirio Diaz' lengthy reign saw concerted efforts by the Mexican elite to shape a modern nation that suited their views of Mexico and its place in the world. The military played a central role in representing a particular set of images and ideals that were intended to become the foundation for the nation. The Mexican regime created a performative army that could emulate European and American modernity, demonstrating and parading itself as proof and pedagogue of modern Mexican nationalism. As a public spectacle it acted out a sense of what the nation should or could be, constructing an identity through its interaction with the gaze of the nation's subjects and that of privileged foreign viewers. The military's primary purpose became the performance of cosmopolitan and nationalist ideals for the gaze of various audiences. This nationalist "imaging" of the nation and mexicanidad was a much-contested terrain, a battleground for ideas and ideals between Mexicans and also a performance that was closely watched by foreign observers including journalists, emissaries, tourists, and military experts. These "outside" observers were far from a passive audience; they broadly reinterpreted the images into their own framework of stereotypes, racial beliefs, and class assumptions before re-presenting them to the wider world. This paper examines how the Porfirian elite (political and military) formulated a particular range of national images and imaginaries for the performative military to enact, and how foreign observers, especially via American periodicals, experienced these performances. In the fissures between these two imagined spaces, we may find a more complex and nuanced understanding of culture and the formation of national identity in late nineteenth century Mexico.

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