Elena Jackson Albarrán
’s book Seen and Heard in Mexico: Children and Revolutionary Cultural Nationalism
(University of Nebraska Press, 2014) explores the changing politics of childhood during the period 1920-1940, in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. That conflict, a civil war which brought down an authoritarian regime, came with new political ideas about social justice that would elevate workers and peasants as quintessential revolutionary citizens. In the context of state formation and nation-building efforts, children became a key target population for revolutionary government programs to forge future citizens. Though interest in childrearing and health had been growing since the nineteenth century, in the 1920s and 1930s, the new state invested in children as never before and paid careful attention to the opinions of the nation’s youngest generation. The chapters examine state programs for art education, radio, and puppet theater as well as youth’s highly publicized incursion into civic life as spokespeople and representatives, both nationally and internationally. Drawing from an unusually-rich body of sources that attest to the importance ascribed to children in this era, Albarrán emphasizes how children received cultural messages and political ideas handed down by adults and found ways to make revolutionary scripts their own. The author notes that programming for children did not offer a universal vision of the Mexican child: rather, state officials crafted different opportunities for urban and rural populations, and some forms of participation were accessible only to children with a certain level of resources. Children pointed out these inequities, negotiating for the more inclusive horizon of opportunities that revolutionary tenets seemed to promise. Thus, Albarrán shows that children contributed to the contentious construction of ideas about the Mexican nation as critical interlocutors and as active citizens.
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 inequality, privilege, 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.