Building Mexicannes: Before and After 1910:





In this article, the aim is to analyze the identity of Mexicanness before and after the Mexican Revolution. After the Independence, the country had attempted to create an identity that covers all people in the land though it was not a successful attempt. The colonial legacy was an impediment in terms of creating unity within the country, yet the revolution and its “mestizaje” base racial expression started to cover the notion of Mexicanness. Although there was not a significant change for the peasantry and the natives after the 1910 Revolution, the notion of unity had started to be adapted with the folkloric mestizo identity. This paper examines the historical ground in the sense that national unity and identity of Mexicannes were hollow terms before the Revolution of 1910; yet after the revolution, the discourse and the narratives have changed and the country’s identity and formal nationalism were shaped around the folkloric mestizo base identity which is Mexicanness.


Key words: mestizo, identity, land, Mexican, nation




The Mexican is a multi-layered and relative identity that is difficult to unravel and define. Purpose of this article is not to explain what it means to be Mexican in the global and capital world and to make clear definitions for the notion of “Mexicanness”. Yet, it is possible to get some features from the Mexican intellectuals’ point of view about the Mexican national identity. According to these intellectuals, being Mexican as associated with inferiority complex, has a tendency to be perceived as alienated, alone or emotional, aggressive and sometimes resentful yet on the hand also as spiritual and most importantly culturally creative.[1] Still, there is no exact definition for being Mexican due to its history of colonialism and miscegenation. Mexico’s nationalism differs from Japan, France, or Germany in the sense that it has lacked the four distinctive features that form that common ground of a national union which are the language, a common character, a relatively homogeneous race, and history. At this point, it is important to note that people living in the same territory, even the Indians, are isolated and disconnected from each other because of the lack of a common culture, race, and shared identity. Thus it is a quite difficult task to create Mexican unity and spirit. Precisely for this reason, it is not possible to mention a national identity until the 1910s due to classification, segregation, and the lack of comradeliness within the society. Therefore, after that time, it was determined that the racial expression of the country was the “mestizaje” which refers to the country’s hybridity. The cults and symbols of this mestizo base identity come from folkloric features of the pre-Columbian era. The term Mexicanness, which is the supra-identity of the country, constitutes the narrative of national unity based on mestizo race with folkloric symbols and myths. Before the 1910 Revolution, the country had no certain identity to unite all people in Mexico. There were some attempts yet they were not inclusive to the peasantry and native groups. Even in the elite circles, there were no distinct elements and notions that can form some sort of belonging to national unity. The lack of identity and belonging ceased to exist after the 1910 Revolution and thus brought stability and development to the country. The concern for building a national identity had been a central problem since 1910 because unlike the earlier times, the peasantry and natives could not be ignored due to their contributions to the revolution. Prior to 1910, the native groups were stagnant, passive and also were intentionally excluded by the elitist, white supremacist groups. In that regard, first, we will point out the social and political situation in Mexico after Independence, and then cover the changing dynamics of the unity due to the social upheavals in the country. The paper concludes that the folkloric based mestizo identity was introduced as part of national unity and it started to cover up the Mexicanness in order to settle down the disorder after 1910.

1.BEFORE 1910

Since the focus of the paper is on the Mexican identity, we need to explore the historical background of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Therefore our starting point will be the Independence War. In this section, we will try to address three main historical periods in order to give a proper explanation to the Mexican identity. The War of Independence as first, the Liberal Constitution as the second and lastly the Porfiriato Era.

2.1. War of Independence

Mexican identity can be traced back to the country’s independence. In this section, we will explore the conditions that have contributed to the creation of Mexicanness after Independence.

During the Colonial Period, today’s Mexico was called “New Spain”. This name, New Spain, was given to the region by the Peninsulares. After the War of Independence that outbroke with the rebellion of the creole and mestizo priests, the pioneers of the Independence War named the country Mexico. It symbolized a rupture from the Colonial descendants. Rather than calling the country as New Spain, naming it Mexico represented an effort to establish a bond between the pioneers and the land. Though this independence movement did not originate from a nationalist sentiment; it is possible for us to say it generated some sort of patriotism. This form of early Mexican nationalism born out of the “creole patriotism” which is basically the common love of the land. Therefore, it is not surprising that pioneers used the name of Mexico. Furthermore, they embraced the sacred civilizations of the Americas as Europeans did the same with Greco-Roman civilization. They embraced the Ingenious past in order to validate their rights and achieve their objectives more quickly and eventually were forced to exalt the indigenous past.[2] They used several symbols to combine the old and the new, so that Mexican identity came as a syncretism in a way. The use the Aztec eagle and the search for the Pre-Colonial Christian figures such as Guadalupe represented the effort to build legitimation of the creoles on the land. [3]

2.2. The Liberal Constitution

     Although after independence, the identity of Mexicanness was started to get builded through the combination of old and new, it was not a strong identity that was embraced by all. The indigenous groups and peasant mestizos were still excluded. According to liberals, the Mexican character should not be represented; neither by the Indians nor by the mestizos. This position explains the unsuccessful efforts of the liberals to populate the national territory with European immigrants with the aim of “whitewashing” (blanquear in Spanish) the country; or the conservatives’ dreams of being ruled by a European monarch. Mexican Liberals ignored the Aztecs as mere barbarians and viewed the current Indians as an obstacle to the modernization of their country. According to liberals, the two major obstacles to the emergence of a secular, democratic society in Mexico were the wealth and impact of the Catholic church and the persistent and isolated backwardness of the Indian peasantry.[4] As a result, there was no such thing as a shared identity between the people of Mexico. The rigid segregation and social stratification within the society were an obstacle to form a sense of unity. Especially with the “La Reforma”, the range between the indigenous communities and the rich mestizos/whites became wider. With the new liberal constitution, conditions of the peasants and indigenous groups got worse than ever and they were displaced from their possessions and lands. The “hacienda” system was introduced as a mean to agricultural production. The Reform indicated that building a unity, a sense of common identity for all people was something impossible due to the wide gap between people. It was not just an economic gap, it was more of dominion over the peasant and working groups. It was the reflection of the white supremacy over and over again, in spite of the collapse of the Colonial Period. While the 1857 Constitution reflected the old liberal desire to establish a just and egalitarian society, a defensive nationalism was reinforced in the face of the cutting off of more than half of the territory as result of an economy developed through the orientation of a republican and federal State. In the second half of the 19th century, the creole project of nation-building was changing hands towards the mestizo Mexico. As Octovio Paz stated, “Mexico was not a Creole but a mestizo and it was not an Empire but a Republic”. Meanwhile, the term “Indian” started to be associated with class factors to denote other incomplete citizens, including poor peasants; i.e. class labels and races were started to be used interchangeably. Just by looking at the fifty years from independence, it is easy to say that almost nothing had changed for the indigenous groups. Independence did not create a common and shared identity for all people in Mexico, it used the land possessions and its symbols as means for justification of the creoles’ existence on the land after their ancestors had left.

2.3. The Porfiriato Era

The policies carried out during the 30-year-rule of dictator Porfirio Diaz had significant effects on the Mexican identity. It is an important period in the sense that the policies made during this era led to changes in Mexican society. First of all, it should be noted that positions of the peasants, workers and minority groups worsened during the Diaz Period. The exclusionary policies of this period were also reflected in the identity of the country. Indigenous groups and peasants, who were officially enslaved with the liberal constitution, were even more excluded and ignored during this time. The importance President Diaz attached to foreign investors can be seen as the project of creating an elite society through white hegemony, the establishment of “Cientificos” based on the principles of Social Darwinism, and moreover, the sparks on the road to the revolution. Social Darwinism, which was the trend in the world back then, and the superiority of white race became a question for some Mexican elite groups who faced identity problems and questioned their “indigenousness” as a feature to be embarrassed and hidden. Although the ruling elite groups always kept their distance from the indigenous people and peasants, they associated their existence with the assets and symbols of primitive and ancient civilizations and the land namely Mexico. Not only that, but they also excluded these disadvantageous groups from all realms of social life. Of course, in this case, it is not possible to talk about a common sense of Mexicanness. Mexico was just the name of the country, and there was no common sense of national unity or even a so-called unity. As a matter of fact, the rulers and elites who adopted white sovereignty with Social Darwinism tried to equate themselves with their European and North American counterparts, which actually demonstrated the discrimination and gaps in the society. Porfirio Diaz was pro-Western and his scientific board, Cientificos, also adopted the teachings of Social Darwinism and Herbert Spencer’s ideas and planted the seeds of these teachings all over the country. According to the Eugenics studies, not only the indigenous groups but also the mongrels were a major obstacle for the evolution and development of humanity. The mongrels were perceived as a diseased state of humanity. As a result, it was not only the peasants and indigenous peoples who were affected by this process but also the mestizo groups that suffered from this dagger of Social Darwinism.

President Diaz could have been a solution to the political imbalance that had persisted in Mexico for years. In fact, with him, there was a stability and order in the political situation of the country through his elitist policies started to affect negatively people in all parts of the country. Foreign investors and companies which were brought into the country, started to disturb Mexican businessmen and entrepreneurs and hacienda landowners, while also creating an atmosphere of unrest in the country. The situation of the workers in the mines and factories and the peasants working in the haciendas was worse than ever. The separatist situation created by the social and economic conditions created unrest throughout the country. Members of the wealthy mestizo class were also affected by the white hegemonic policies of Social Darwinism. On the other hand, white hegemonic policies meant more white investors and corporations, in which case even wealthy Mexican businesspeople were affected and the working conditions of workers and farmers were increasingly getting worse. Most importantly, during this period, the ideas of Social Darwinism were very influential because the elite Mexican group saw the indigenous people as the main reason for their backwardness and presented their policies as a justification for this. Another example of the separatist policies during the Díaz era is the efforts to attract European immigrants to the country to modernize and “whiten” the Mexican nation. According to “Científicos” member Justo Sierra, only the European blood could protect the civilization level from sinking.[5]


As it is mentioned above, it was not possible to talk about any unity and common sense of belonging in the country since Independence. Although some symbols and myths seem to be used, these were all so-called changes that couldn’t alter the way indigenous people lived. After briefly mentioning the effects of the Liberal Constitution and Social Darwinism on the country, we can now examine the different identities in the society in more detail. From the Colonial Period, since the indigenous peoples were employed as workers and farmers, all people working in these areas of work began to be considered as indigenous after a while regardless of their blood ties. Rather than being a mestizo or pure indigenous through blood, one’s social status was instrumental in creating a label. All peasants working in the Haciendas were perceived as indigenous people, and social segregation was conducted over property and social status, not blood-related races. In short, being a mestizo or being indigenous was purely a social status and had no relationship through the blood. After all, it is not possible to talk about pure races with the social dynamism and mobility that emerged with the industrialization in the country. As social mobility increased, so did the miscegenation. As the anthropologist Peter Wade states that whiteness and social mobility are intimately intertwined: “There are structural links between vertical mobility and whitening which create a general association between being ‘whiter’ and having more money, education and power.”[6]

Therefore, most of the Mexican intellectuals conceive the mestizo as the key point for ensuring the unity of the country. Even, the emerging “indigenismo movement” had served for the mestizo based modern Mexican identity. The pioneers of this movement tried to dissolve the indigenous elements within the mestizo identity, therefore, the land reform movement was seen as a mean for building national unity. Unlike the white hegemonic elitists, the Mexican intellectuals of the 1900s did not ignore the indigenous peoples, but both groups had something in common; the first group saw indigenous peoples as an obstacle to development and therefore ignored it; while the second group thought that achieving nationwide development will only happen if indigenous peoples are involved. Therefore, it was very important for them to educate the indigenous peoples, to dissolve them in the mestizo element and to develop and use the indigenous groups to serve the mestizo-based national unity. As the Lomnintz pointed out “Mexican citizenship both by ‘indigenizing’ modernity and by modernizing the Indians, thus uniting all Mexicans in one mestizo community.”[7] In short, in Mexican intellectual discourse, the indigenous was perceived as an example of a traditional, primitive and archaic being that was stuck in the past and it only served for mestizo-based Mexican identity. It was not a representation of Indians, it was the dismantling of its features.

According to intellectuals such as Cabrera and Enriquez, the majority of the population was mestizo and national unity could only be reached through the mestizo-based identity. Therefore, Cabrera argued that the growing population of mestizo was necessary to establish Mexican nationality and “patria”. Cabrera defines homeland/patria as a family that shares a common territory, origin, religion, language, traditions, aspirations, and evolutionary genre. In short, patria means having unity and sharing a “common ideal”. Social mobility was therefore very important because industry meant social mobility, and social mobility resulted in miscegenation, and the key point of national development was to include isolated groups, namely indigenous peoples, in this movement. In short, social mobility was the result of both racial mixing, mestizo, as well as the dissolution of indigenous elements in mestizo through economic and social development.

The unification of race and class is evident for the mestizo which first rises as a political class and then becomes the supreme race – the strongest, more patriotic, more energetic, and “representative of true nationality”. Mexican intellectuals defined mestizo as the “real Mexican and future of modern Mexico” because it was neither Spaniard nor indigenous. Here, it is important to note that they created some sort of synthesis; the thesis was indigenous, antithesis was Spaniard and finally, mestizo came out as a synthesis but as Alan Knight indicated “It was the Revolution that mestizo cult blossomed… From this struggle emerged the mestizo, the “national race” of Mexico, the carrier of the national culture of the future… Therefore, mestizaje and nationhood were equated”. Although Mexican nationalists included Indian myths, values and history to this synthesis equation, they were reluctant to embrace the real Indian existence so that it was an “asymmetric synthesis rather than balanced one.” Yet, it is still possible to see some assertions to the Aztec rulers to instill nationalist discourses among masses: “All those who feel the blood of Cuauhtemoc throbbing in their veins.”

AFTER 1910

While evaluating this section, we will constrain the time frame with the 1940s because the main focus is to show how the mestizo based identity shaped and formed as a formal nationalism. Therefore, we will sacrifice the details and time framing for the sake of generalization.

With the armed struggle of 1910, Mexican society entered into a new stage and in the field of nationalism reached its culminating moment with the creation of revolutionary nationalism. The 1910 Revolution can be defined as democratic, popular or peasant. It manifests itself, in an explicit or implicit way, the constitutive features of the revolutionary nationalism embodied in the Constitution of 1917 that unrestricted the defense of the national wealth; by raising the standard of living of the popular sectors, either with the distribution of land, or with better working conditions. As the consolidation of the state emanated from the Revolution, a new strong discourse emerged from there, that is revolutionary nationalism. It can be suggested that with the revolution, people in Mexico found a way to be in common, unlike the earlier periods because they had achieved something in common, that is the revolution, they achieved as a whole.

Main objectives of the revolutionary nationalism is to provide coherence and legitimacy to the State that signifies that this nationalism was ready to be formal nationalism It also promoted social peace by reconciling class contradictions and establishing the bases of national political consensus. The terms of nation-revolution and Mexicanness were the only two referents of legitimacy and cohesion. After the Revolution, by using these sources of legitimacy, a large part of the artistic manifestations of post-revolutionary Mexico such as muralism, literature, and music emerged as a part of “collective consciousness”. It has shown that, with the Revolution, the Mexican people have initiated a process of creating “shared self-identity” in which the authentic is linked to the popular, with the indigenous and with the mestizo; which Manuel Gamio and Jose Vasconcelos reinforced with their theoretical reflections. After 1917, the discourse of the Mexican Revolution served as the axis of the national project and it remained for seventy years as the backbone of national unification. Nationalism was thus built in the legitimizing discourse of the State that emerged from the Revolution. [8]

By declaring itself the legitimate successor of the revolution, the post-revolutionary state, born from the new dynamics, has to rely on nationalism as the fundamental element on which its power is based, because development and improvement can only be achieved through a discourse that includes the whole society. Since the main source of livelihood of Mexico is agriculture, it is inevitable to develop a discourse that includes groups working in the agricultural sector to ensure the continuity and legitimacy of the state. Another aim is to unite the popular sections with the power and make their ideological and political independence impossible. It is the Cardenista era where nationalism gained considerable strength and gained an immense presence in all segments of the population. The nation-building project synthesizes a tradition rooted in the people, strengthened by profound social transformations. It also covers the whole society because it unites popular classes and imposes its vision of the world on various segments of the population. With Lazaro Cardenas’s mass politics, the foundations of institutional control and protection management through the State party -namely the PRM- features of the authoritarian system have been established. Thus, the corporatism-state party duality is the main mechanism of the relationship between state and society, protected by the discourse of revolutionary nationalism. Though, it is not surprising to see how protectionist economic policies and inclusive discourses towards the disadvantageous groups are coincided.

State interventionism emerged as an inevitable condition of nationalism: First, nationalism emerged as anti-imperialist and it was the reflection of the Mexican nation’s principle of sovereignty and self-determination through collectivity. When designing this principle, the Mexicans defined themselves as the opposite of the United States. “…national identity says very little about who is a ‘good Mexican,’ who or what threatens the nation, what specifically are the nation’s interests, the respective weights of these interests, or what types of policies can or should be pursued in the nation’s name.” This aspect of anti-imperialist nationalism represented a unifying criterion that emphasized differences with the “Other” rather than coincidences or common features with citizens, and Mexicans united around defending their interests against foreigners. The second meaning or scope of nationalism was the need and appropriateness of national integration, the need to unite Mexico. Therefore, it brings belonging and identity into question. Since Independence, governments did not hesitate to use the glorious Indian past. Yet despite this situation, Indian and the Indian culture was not perceived as truly Mexican, rather it was used for fortifications of the nation. As a result, the Mestizaje appeared as the solution to this problem. As Cardenas stated “Not the Indianize Mexico, Mexicanize the Indian.”

In the Mexican case, state institutions recruited a large number of anthropologists for nationalist government policies. In order for the state to develop a nationalist policy, it also needed Indian values ​​as mentioned above. The way to do this was through anthropological studies. Gamio, who is seen as the father of anthropology in Mexico, waged war on the Euro-centric perspective based on white supremacy, although his works and his intellectual world were ironically racist. Because he envisaged the education, acculturation and integration of local groups as a basis for the development of the Mexican nation yet they were part of the process of de-Indianization. Also according to Enriquez and Gamio, the equitable distribution of the land will transform the previously disadvantaged social groups (poor mestizos and Indians) into a propertied class and in turn secure the Mexican nation. Mexican revolutionaries are to create a “new patria” from the mixture of “iron and bronze.” The myth that Mexico is a homogeneous nation that is blossomed from mestizo identity appeared as a strong idea because of its spread and existence in all spheres of public culture, including official institutions such as government and universities, and especially museums, archaeological excavations, and anthropological studies. The artefacts that Gamio explored while researching Indian civilization served as a legitimate source of national pride and therefore began to be displayed in museums that were built to celebrate Mexico’s cultural success. Thus, “The Mexican revolution, then, was a contradictory movement. It was the effort to recognize Mexico’s past, assimilate it and make it live in the present.” [9]


     When we look at the development and transformation of Mexican identity since independence, it is possible to suggest the three features in short:

  • Mexican identity is a flexible one that adapts and adjusts itself to time and situation
  • It is not as solid and rigid as in other nations, and it lacks markets of certainties
  • Precisely because it lacks these markers of certainties, the common premise of the identity is the ‘cosmic race’ as Vasconcelos indicates.

Before the 1910 Revolution, Mexico consisted of isolated, independent social groups of people; After 1910, we see a group of intellectuals and states who govern and develop a nationalist discourse which reproduces itself by praising the 1910 Revolution. “The new revolutionary mytho-history of mestizaje revalued mixture terms and became the cornerstone of a new nationalist project, a structural revolution” that was explicitly anti-imperialist and anti-colonial… Mexican official discourses promoted “racial and cultural intermixture” as the only way to create homogeneity out of heterogeneity, unity out of fragmentation, a strong nation that could withstand the internal menace of its own failures to overcome the injustices of its colonial past and the external menace of U.S. imperialism.”[10] Thus, The 1910 Mexicon Revolution is not a Marxist revolution in its sense because even though some expropriation and mass politics were seen in the country after this revolution, the state used the revolution to legitimize itself and developed a nationalist discourse within it, which is the most important tool of mass politics, to alleviate the dissatisfaction that arose with that revolution. Moreover, this discourse is set up in a way to both include everyone and sometimes exclude “some”, and that is the Mexican identity based on the mestizo race.







[1] MORRIS, S. (1999). Reforming the Nation: Mexican Nationalism in Context. Journal of Latin American Studies, 31(2), 363-397. doi:10.1017/S0022216X99005313

[2] Sotelo, FS. (1983). Nacion y nacionalismos en México”, Sociológica, vol. 8, no. 21, enero-abril, pp. 44-63.

[3] Lomnitz, C. (2002). Deep Mexico, Silent Mexico: An Anthropology of Nationalism (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press)

[4] Brading, D. (1988). Manuel Gamio and Official Indigenismo in Mexico. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 7(1), 75-89. doi:10.2307/3338441

[5] Knight, A. Racism, Revolution and Indigenismo: Mexico 1910-1940, The Idea of Race In Latin America, 1940. [Richard Graham; Thomas E Skidmore; Aline Helg; Alan Knight;]

[6] Manrique L (2017) Making the Nation: The Myth of Mestizajes. Anthropol 5: 186. doi:10.4172/2332-0915.1000186

[7] Lomnitz-Adler C (1992) Exits from the labyrinth: Culture and ideology in the Mexican national space. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, USA

[8]Castro, MG (2015). Identidad Nacional y Nacionalismo en México. Sociológica México.

[9] Hoy, T. (1982). Octavio Paz: The Search for Mexican Identity. The Review of Politics, 44(3), 370-385. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from

[10] Alonso, A. (2004). Conforming Disconformity: “Mestizaje,” Hybridity, and the Aesthetics of Mexican Nationalism. Cultural Anthropology, 19(4), 459-490. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from





  1. Alonso, A. (2004). Conforming Disconformity: “Mestizaje,” Hybridity, and the Aesthetics of Mexican Nationalism. Cultural Anthropology, 19(4), 459-490. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from
  2. Brading, D. (1988). Manuel Gamio and Official Indigenismo in Mexico. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 7(1), 75-89. doi:10.2307/3338441
  3. Castro, MG (2015). Identidad Nacional y Nacionalismo en México. Sociológica México.
  4. Hoy, T. (1982). Octavio Paz: The Search for Mexican Identity. The Review of Politics, 44(3), 370-385. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from
  5. Knight, A. Racism, Revolution and Indigenismo: Mexico 1910-1940, The Idea of Race In Latin America, 1940. [Richard Graham; Thomas E Skidmore; Aline Helg; Alan Knight;]
  6. Lomnitz, C. (2002). Deep Mexico, Silent Mexico: An Anthropology of Nationalism (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press)
  7. Lomnitz-Adler, C. (1992) Exits from the labyrinth: Culture and ideology in the Mexican national space. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, USA
  8. Manrique, L. (2017) Making the Nation: The Myth of Mestizajes. Anthropol 5: 186. doi:10.4172/2332-0915.1000186
  9. MORRIS, S. (1999). Reforming the Nation: Mexican Nationalism in Context. Journal of Latin American Studies, 31(2), 363-397. doi:10.1017/S0022216X99005313
  10. Sotelo, FS. (1983). Nacion y nacionalismos en México”, Sociológica, 8 (21), enero-abril, 44-63.



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