The culture of the nation : the ethnic past and official nationalism in 20th century Mexico
Contemporary nations are founded on the conflicting and, at the same time, complementary interplay between modernity and ethnicity. In the debate of nationalism, however, sociological theory has revealed a polarisation of view points. Some theorists argue that the nation is a completely new phenomenon disassociated from the past and responding to modern conditions, while others stress that nations are expressions of cultural continuity based on the existence of a traceable ethnic past from which a sense of ethnocentrism is derived. The aim of this research is to highlight the complementarity of these viewpoints by discussing and comparing the theoretical models of two of the most representative exponents since the 1980's: E. Gellner's "modernism" and A.D. Smith "historical-culturalism". Mexican nationalism of the 20th century is the empirical backdrop against which the interplay of these theories are assessed. This research demonstrates that Mexican nationalism, despite usurping and using the ethnic indigenous past to form a unique culture of the nation, excludes the diversity of indigenous peoples by propagating a centralising discourse based on the Aztec and mestizo heritages, the civic traditions of the Liberal state, and encourages the emulation and adoption of the Hispanic side of mestizo culture. This dissertation comprises three levels of analysis: the modern and official use of a selective ethnic past conceived as a formula for integrating a multiethnic society; the inculcation of cultural ideas of common and continuous historicity through standard education and its respective text-books; and finally, the articulated responses of a stratum of educated indigenous peoples. The opinions and perceptions of native peoples are based on first-hand data obtained through interviews and a survey questionnaire. Thus, the study explores the indigenous reaction towards and perception of some of the symbols of Mexico's nationalism: the Aztec myth of foundation, the putative shared ancestry of "mixed race", and the civic cult to president Benito Juarez.