’s 2016 book Creating Charismatic Bonds in Argentina: Letters to Juan and Eva Perón
(University of New Mexico Press) is a history of Peronist populism that puts everyday people at the center of her exploration. Using letters written by Argentine citizens to the Perón couple between 1946 and 1955, Guy offers a nuanced approach to understand charisma, that ineffable quality said to bind popular actors to leadership. She shows that the bonds between popular groups and the Perón couple did more than turn out voters to elections. Ordinary Argentines, at the request of Juan Perón, shaped policies by making suggestions for Five-Year Plans, communicating their visions of national uplift directly to the president. Many letters discussed in her work come from impoverished Argentines living in the countryside or recent migrants to Buenos Aires, groups more marginalized than the members of organized labor and other sectors known for their Peronist loyalty. Guy makes clear that the charisma of Juan Perón is inextricable from the charisma of his wife Eva, bringing the insights of gender history to understand the couple as a dual political force.
Many Argentines, especially women, directed their requests and suggestions to her, and her responses helped build the popularity both Juan and Eva Perón. Although writing letters to political leadership is a longstanding practice among popular groups in Latin America, Guy notes the particularities of correspondence to the president and First Lady in the mid-twentieth century. Citizens’ consumption of modern media, such as the radio, shaped the content of their written letters. Furthermore, given high levels of basic literacy throughout Argentina, most of the people sending letters were able to pen their own missives without the help of notaries or other intermediaries. This facilitated the sense that the Perón couple could be directly accessed by the people, making the emotional connection to their addressees all the more deeply felt. In the podcast, Guy discusses the archival sources that form the heart of this book, once assumed to be lost, and she provides context on inequality and modernization in Argentina. This book shows that charismatic bonds were shaped as much by the Argentine people as by their leadership, and her close reading of hundreds of letters offers a window into how ordinary Argentines built the charismatic reputation of the Perón couple that has long outlasted their lifetimes.
Rachel Grace Newman is Lecturer in the History of the Global South at Smith College. She has a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University, and she writes about elite migration, education, transnationalism, and youth in twentieth-century Mexico. She is also the author of a book on a binational program for migrant children whose families divided their time between Michoacán, Mexico and Watsonville, California. She is on Twitter (@rachelgnew).