During World War II, US–Latin American relations were shaped by the noninterventionist Good Neighbor policy and the projection of soft power via US government-orchestrated public relations and propaganda campaigns. This included extensive film and radio propaganda overseen by the US Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) and disseminated throughout the region. One dimension of that campaign involved radio propaganda aimed specifically at women, who were regaled with stories of heroic Latin American women and carefully curated female perspectives on life in the United States during wartime. In much of this material, the United States was presented as a dominant yet gentlemanly hemispheric partner, offering Latin America protection and material abundance in exchange for loyalty and deference. As the war wound down, such propaganda took a sharp turn toward the Cold War, when Good Neighbor chivalry gave way to more strident rhetoric, prefiguring a return to US interventionist politics of the prewar era.
When we think about women and World War II propaganda, we likely recall the iconic Rosie the Riveter, encouraging US women to assist the war effort via employment outside the home.1 Or the treacherous Tokyo Rose, the somewhat apocryphal radio voice of a Japanese American woman taunting and seducing US soldiers in the Pacific theater.2 Less well documented are the US government diplomacy campaigns targeting Latin American women with pro-US radio programming, largely through carefully calibrated and circumscribed images of female emancipation and consumer satisfaction. Under the auspices of the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA), frequently working in cooperation with US radio networks, this campaign used the ubiquity and transnational reach of radio to target Latin American female listeners. In disseminating a version of US womanhood that was both independent and self-sacrificing, these messages served a dual purpose of “selling” the US to (especially middle-class) Latin American women and modeling US–Latin American relations as a mutually satisfactory but still hierarchical “companionate marriage.” The history of OIAA women's radio propaganda thus pulls together distinct but interwoven threads of radio, gender, empire, and modernity in the mid-twentieth century. Scholarship on the OIAA's Radio Division has grown in recent years, but attention to women's programming and gendered dimensions of the agency's public diplomacy campaigns remains scant.3 By bringing women's voices and attention to female audiences to the center of our analysis, we arrive at a fuller appreciation of the gendered dimensions of US–Latin American relations during the era of the so-called Good Neighbor.4 We can also more fully discern the leveraging of a particular brand of Pan-American middle-class womanhood as a feminized Good Neighbor (the buena vecina) to forge an affective bridge between the United States and Latin America.5
The OIAA was a key cultural arm of the Good Neighbor; my interest here is in examining some of its gendered dimensions. The main source for this article is the archives of the Office of Inter-American Affairs, held at the US National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Formed in 1940 and directed by Nelson Rockefeller, during its relatively short lifespan the OIAA undertook an ambitious, multipronged effort to combat pro-Axis propaganda and improve the image of the United States in Latin America (and vice versa). The Radio Division was only one part of this effort, and radio programming aimed at women and women's concerns was only a portion of Radio Division activities and production. The end of World War II brought an end to the Good Neighbor era as well as many wartime agencies and initiatives. Not surprisingly, the nature of messages aimed at women prior to the OIAA's dissolution in 1946 began to reflect that changing paradigm. Specifically, surviving materials suggest a shift from pro–Pan American rhetoric aimed at fomenting positive feelings toward the United States to rhetoric aimed at mobilizing fear of unspecified “tyrants” at home and abroad.
RADIO, EMPIRE, AND GENDER IN THE AMERICAS
With a few exceptions, Latin American nations did not participate directly in World War II, but control over certain spaces such as the Panama Canal, as well as access to the region's vital raw materials such as rubber, petroleum, and basic foodstuffs, were vital to the Allies’ capacity to successfully prosecute this two-front war. Latin America has long been the most important part of the largely informal US empire; that informality meant that maintaining imperial ties during wartime presented distinct challenges. One of the strategies was the Good Neighbor policy, wherein the Roosevelt administration sought to recalibrate US–Latin American relations from the old “big stick” of hemispheric bullying and military intervention to policies based (at least in theory) on mutual respect and cooperation. Although it dates back to earlier in the decade, the Good Neighbor was an affirmative response to the understanding that Latin America's resources would be crucial to any US war effort. But it was also a response to extensive and effective Nazi and pro-Axis propaganda efforts in the region. Indeed, combating German propaganda, which was “able to draw on longstanding criticisms of yanqui arrogance and economic exploitation,” compelled the United States to adopt a different tack.6 The OIAA, according to Gisela Cramer and Ursula Prutsch, “was established to devise and coordinate policies that would diminish the influence of Nazi Germany and its allies in Latin America, deepen inter-American cooperation and secure Latin America's allegiance and assistance in the war effort and beyond.”7
Much of the “hearts and minds” campaign aimed at selling this Good Neighbor concept in both Latin America and the United States was undertaken and/or overseen by a US government agency created in 1940, the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (also known as the Office of Inter-American Affairs, henceforth OIAA). The OIAA was “established, essentially, to assist in the preparation and coordination of policies to stabilize the Latin American economies, to secure and deepen US influence in the region, and to combat Axis inroads into the hemisphere, particularly in the commercial and cultural spheres.”8 The agency grouped its work under two headings—economic defense and psychological defense—terms that shifted to economic warfare and psychological warfare once the United States entered World War II.9 A portion of that “psychological warfare” was carried out by the OIAA's Radio Division, an organization that, among its many duties, “cooperated with large networks and smaller educational stations to produce radio shows in Spanish and Portuguese.”10 The OIAA organized national coordinating committees in most Latin American countries, generally made up of “leading American citizens” (expatriates, employees of local branches of US companies, et cetera) who volunteered their time and were overseen by local US embassy staff who worked to monitor local circumstances and produce local programming.11 Placement of programming was all to be done on a more or less covert basis; the public was typically not meant to know they were listening to US government–produced content. The ability of these groups to generate programming of reasonable quality, and to pay for its placement on the airwaves, made their programs popular with broadcasters. The result was that “the OIAA, through rebroadcast arrangements and programs produced by the Coordinating Committees, came to supply a considerable volume of shows on local stations.”12
The OIAA worked to sustain the informal US empire in Latin America in ways that mirrored the dispersed, “soft power” character of the Good Neighbor. Mass media was a key component in these public diplomacy efforts. In addition to OIAA film and print media production and campaigns, the agency focused heavily on radio, which by the 1940s was an unevenly established medium in Latin America across geography and social class: widespread in countries like Mexico, Uruguay, and Argentina, especially among upper- and middle-class urban populations, and less well established in places like Paraguay, Bolivia, and Guatemala.13 As Cramer has documented, initial Radio Division efforts focused on broadcasts beamed into the region over the existing shortwave services of US-based commercial radio networks NBC and CBS, which had been broadcasting programming into Latin America since the late 1920s.14 But the relatively narrow demographic of shortwave listeners in the region (mostly wealthy, mostly male) meant that this programming was soon supplemented by local long-wave stations, which aired rebroadcasts of shortwave programming, transcribed programs shipped (on disc) to local OIAA coordinating committees, and locally produced and/or recorded shows.
As in the United States, Latin American broadcasting developed largely along the commercial model of privately owned outlets sustained by advertising and unevenly overseen by government regulations. This decentralized structure facilitated OIAA efforts, as it allowed for a variety of financial arrangements for placement of programming on the region's commercial airwaves. While the economics of these transactions were varied and a bit opaque, airtime was sometimes purchased directly via local committees or sympathetic commercial sponsors, while in some cases cooperative agreements between Latin American and US radio networks (NBC, CBS) included requirements to air certain OIAA programs free of charge.15 The initial (long-wave) strategy of the Radio Division was to furnish ideas and scripts and encourage coordinating committees to use them to produce programming using local people with local accents. Scripts were typically sent to local committees by microfilm, and the recipients were welcome to modify the scripts as needed. The issue of regional accent and dialect was one of the factors that made a more centralized production and recording of programming complicated: audiences did not want to hear shows that, to their ears, were in “accented” Spanish, and such voices would also undermine efforts to present these radio programs as locally generated and produced, rather than the creations of a US government agency. Other shows were developed as a transcription service—recorded in the United States and shipped via transcription disc for broadcast on Latin American long-wave stations.
Whether via script or transcription, this shift toward long-wave dissemination of OIAA programs allowed the agency to target audiences that were less elite and more female, with programming more focused on light entertainment and serial dramas than the news broadcasts that were the staple of earlier efforts. Women were a majority of radio listeners and perceived as central to the “hearts and minds” campaign US agencies were waging in the region during World War II. “As core propagators of values within the family,” Coral García writes, “women also became a key target for the spreading of US cultural influence” and helped “propagate US models of life and consumption.”16 Female radio audiences especially dominated during the daytime hours, and broadcast content was typically directed toward housewives, domestic servants, and children. In addition to the usual musical fare, there were serial melodramas (although, unlike the United States, they were not always confined to the daytime schedule) as well as educational and/or propaganda programs aimed at women. Thus the type of US government–produced programming that is the focus of this study would not have been entirely novel or out of place on much of Latin America's airwaves by the mid-1940s. Programs focused on the lives of women in the United States may have been more unusual, but broadcasts touting both the consumption patterns and greater personal autonomy of US women would be expected to find particular appeal among middle-class, radio-listening Latin American women.
To appreciate the positionality of the OIAA radio programs discussed below, it is also important to consider the nexus of middle classes, radio, and women in Latin America during this era.17 García notes that for Mexico City's midcentury middle classes, for example, radio was a symbol of “urbanism and modernity,” and that being modern meant, among other things, being “in touch with US role-models.”18 It was thought that these important media consumers would be particularly inclined toward a pro-US perspective, and thus Latin America's still-embryonic middle classes were an important target of pro-US propaganda efforts during the war years. One of the ways the OIAA worked to both reinforce a pro-US outlook among Latin American middle classes and promote the work of its Radio Division was through its support for the Spanish-language versions of two popular US magazines, Time and Reader's Digest, both of which began publishing in the early 1940s. As Lisa Ubelaker Andrade documents, Selecciones del Reader's Digest was “part of a larger public diplomacy project aimed at a Latin American middle class,” heavily influenced and subsidized by the OIAA and the US State Department.19 According to Radio Division reports, one mutually beneficial component of this support was that that Selecciones and similar publications were a favored place to advertise OIAA radio programs. An ad for the program Diálogos femeninos (Women's Dialogues, discussed in depth below), for example, was included in Radio Division materials as an example of an advertisement for programming “produced in the United States for placement on local radio stations.”20
While we lack good data about audiences (who listened to these programs, as well as how and where they listened), the middle-class packaging and direction of these materials (print and radio) suggests that the emphasis was on domestic, more private consumption of this media. Ubelaker Andrade states with regard to Selecciones del Reader's Digest, “In contrast to programming directed to more general audiences, in many cases distributed as free programs in public spaces with messages clearly linked to education and modernization, programs for the ‘middle classes’ were frequently distributed as serial productions (to be consumed at home) and combined images of modernity and commercial consumption with representations of international collaboration.”21 Domestic consumption did not necessarily mean individual consumption: magazines could be (and, according to Ubelaker Andrade, were) shared among readers and households, and multiple sets of ears may have gathered around a home's radio receiver.22 All of this applies, I would argue, to the OIAA radio programs discussed below. While female audiences may have listened collectively, middle-class listening was domestic listening, and it seems reasonable to assume that this was the main way in which OIAA imagined their ideal middle-class female audiences taking in the programming (perhaps with a copy of Selecciones sitting on a coffee table near the radio receiver).
The OIAA archives make clear that female radio listeners were taken very seriously and seen as an important priority in pro-US propaganda efforts. They also document that Pan-American women's organizations were eager to contribute to the organization's work to make sure women's experiences and female audiences were part of the OIAA campaign. US feminists and women's organizations were also a part of this initiative. Groups like the Inter-American Commission of Women, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the American Association of University Women did build networks of communication and solidarity among women of the American republics, but they frequently did so while maintaining a benevolent but nonetheless firm dominance on the part of the US representatives.23 Thus it should come as no surprise that at least some of the impetus for the OIAA Radio Division's women's programming emerged from these inter-American women's networks. Discussions about producing women's radio programs began in 1941, and the initial impetus, it seems, was from the Chilean poet and (at that time) diplomat Gabriela Mistral, whose suggestions for pro-Allied women's radio programming were relayed via US feminists. In April 1941 Rockefeller's office received a letter from Heloise Brainerd, president of the Americas Committee of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Brainerd relayed her discussion with Mistral and her ideas for Spanish-language women's radio programming that would seek to bring about “a deeper understanding between them and our American women.”24 Mistral apparently suggested a number of programs, ranging from accomplished US women to US religious music. The response to this letter came not from Rockefeller but from Mary Winslow, a leading member of the Inter-American Commission of Women, who was serving at this time as an advisor to Rockefeller's office (in 1943 Winslow was specifically identified as chief of the Protection and Training Section, Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs).25 Winslow told Brainerd that she too had spoken to Mistral about her radio ideas during a recent trip to Brazil and that many of them were already being implemented.26
In contrast to Mistral's “soft diplomacy” programming, at least some in the agency initially sought to engage Latin American female listeners (or, as the OIAA referred to them, women of the “other American republics”) with more overtly political programming directly related to war realities. In the later months of 1942, a proposal circulated for a thirteen-part shortwave series to be hosted by pioneering Spanish diplomat, feminist, and anti-fascist Isabel de Palencia that would “help Latin American women find their stand in this war.”27 The coordinator of the project was another Spanish woman, Gertrudis Feliu, a literature professor at Bennington College in Vermont.28 Feliu would go on to be involved in several of the OIAA women's radio programs described below, but plans for the Palencia series were halted when in early 1943 the US State Department rejected the proposal based on the rather vague assessment that the choice of Palencia as host would be “unwise at this time.”29 It seems likely that the agency was spooked by Palencia's socialist, feminist, and republican credentials. For much of the rest of the war, OIAA women's programming stuck mostly with light cultural fare and stories focused on the experiences of US women on the home front, as opposed to the harsher realities of war in the European theater.
The earliest OIAA women's programs, it seems, were produced and broadcast mostly on the local level under the supervision of national OIAA coordinating committees. The first of these regional women's programs went on the air in Mexico, where Women's Chat (Charlas femeninas), the “women's magazine on the air,” appears to have begun broadcasting sometime in early 1942. Darlene Sadlier notes that Women's Chat was “one of the first [OIAA] radio programs broadcast in Mexico.”30 The fact that the official project authorization for this program was dated June 1943 supports that idea, and suggests that this program had already been on the air for some time before a more formal funding request was made. This project authorization was part of a wider Mexican coordinating committee pitch for funding to support three radio programs: a women's show broadcast in the morning, a midday news program, and an evening news program. The project authorization states that funding for the three would “be made available through contract with National Bank of New York or other financial agency”:
The morning program would deal with subjects of interest to women, with interwoven sketches describing the work of US women in defense, women who have fought for freedom, wives of Mexican consuls in the US and similar material relating to unity and defense, but directly of interest to Mexican women, whose support is regarded by the Committee as essential to the acceptance of our ideas.31
The ten-minute-long program, broadcast daily at 9:30 a.m., aired in 1942 and 1943 on major Mexico City stations XEW and XEQ, as well as numerous stations in the Mexican interior.32 The show's host, Carmen de Alba, was described as having “a cosmopolitan academic formation and a voice that is kind, thoughtful, strict but cordial.”33 Alba discussed matters related to fashion and health, but also featured interviews with US diplomats and their wives, with a focus on providing Mexican women with a better understanding of the war. “Another objective,” José Luis Ortíz Garza notes, “was to convince them that home life under a democratic system was far superior to that under the Axis.”34 Women's radio programming would maintain this domestic emphasis to quietly echo a Pan-American feminist message: that a US model offering women greater personal autonomy was preferable to a fascist model equated with patriarchal authority and abuse.
The Mexican committee's “women's magazine” became the model that many other local coordinating committees sought to emulate (if not outright copy). In June 1942, for example, in one of the group's first meetings, the secretary of the Uruguayan committee “described to the Committee the project for the establishment of a radio program directed towards women, patterned after the program now being carried by the local committee for Mexico.”35 Later that year the local Chilean committee sought funds to make the exact same program (the program description is identical; they simply replaced “Mexican” with “Chilean” in the appropriate places), which appears to have been approved to air in early 1943.36
Despite using Mexico's Women's Chat as a template, most local committees seem to have experimented with their own formats. In November 1943 the Ecuador committee introduced its own variation of the “women's page of the air” with the inauguration of Women's Forum (La tribuna femenina), which aired Monday through Friday from 6:15 to 6:30 p.m. on Radio Comercial in Quito. It was described as “a 15 minute original program based on letters written by a young Ecuadorian girl traveling in the US to her two girl friends at home. The letters relate the traveler's impressions of the US at war, and more particularly the role played by US women in the war effort.”37 The host was listed as a “Sra. Aurora de Estrada.” This was no doubt Aurora Estrada de Ayala de Ramírez Pérez, a leading poet, journalist, and feminist in Ecuador during this time. Starting in 1944, listeners in San José, Costa Rica, could tune into The Woman's Hour (La hora femenina), which aired Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 4:15 to 4:45 p.m. on Radio Para Ti. In this program, which was reported to be “still drawing maximum listener interest” a year after it went on the air, each episode was “built upon a particular topic relating to the part [US] women have played in the war, with flash notes on child care, fashion and, occasionally, Hollywood news.”38 As in the United States, radio program popularity was typically assessed based on listener letters. This was a more difficult measure in a place such as Costa Rica, where the mail system was poor and literacy rates uneven. One Ecuadoran program for children mentions having received 361 letters during one two-week period in January 1945, which was a “record for any program in Ecuador” but would have been exceedingly small even for local programs in the United States.39
The Ecuadorian committee was not alone in contracting leading female intellectuals to host programs. In the Uruguayan case, initial declarations of intent to launch a women's program were not realized until March 1943, when Today's American Woman (La mujer de hoy en América) began airing on leading Montevideo station Radio Carve; it would last for two years. The host was the Uruguayan committee's most important female propagandist, Laura de Arce. A member of the Uruguayan branch of the American Association of University Women, Arce received an AAUW scholarship in the late 1930s to undertake graduate studies in criminology at Indiana University.40 Her studies also took her to other universities, including the University of Kentucky, where in January 1939 the student newspaper reported that a “Miss Laura de Arce of Uruguay” had spoken on the “Pan-American situation” at an international relations event aimed at foreign-born students.41 Thus Arce was already interested in, and speaking publicly on, Pan-American issues prior to the beginning of World War II and her work with the OIAA radio project. At some point in the intervening years, Arce returned to Uruguay and became involved in both radio and the OIAA. It is worth noting that this was not volunteer labor on Arce's part: records show her on the payroll of the coordinating committee from as early as April 1943, continuing through at least October 1945.42 The date of the first payment seems to have coincided with the beginning of her radio program, mentioned above. A committee report from April 1943 reported on the initial success of the program, which had received some fan mail and congratulations.43 Arce and her program, characterized as one that “speaks to us of the concerns, problems, and celebration of the American woman, who is playing her part in forging a happy world,” were also featured in a September 1944 issue of the Uruguayan entertainment magazine Cine, Radio, Actualidad.44 While direct evidence is lacking, it seems likely that these and other magazine articles praising Arce and her radio programs were part of the propaganda efforts of the OIAA and its coordinating committees.
Shortly after the Cine, Radio, Actualidad piece ran, Arce returned to the United States. A December 1944 report from Chicago Natural History Museum identified her as the director of the radio program Women of the Americas (Mujeres de América), part of a group of “newspaper women from Latin American countries” who visited the museum in October of that year (along with Aurora Estrada, the Ecuadorian radio host mentioned above, and a number of other important women journalists from the region).45 This tour, which was organized under the auspices of the OIAA and the National Press Club, was a follow-up, it seems, to a tour for Latin American newspapermen earlier that year. Back in Uruguay, Arce appeared on the cover of an April 1945 issue of Cine, Radio, Actualidad, and inside was a report on her recent trip to the United States.46 An article later that month in the same publication proclaimed that Arce was “until now the only Uruguayan woman” to receive an official government invitation to visit the United States. Having returned from her tour, Arce again took to the microphones of Radio Carve, this time with a program titled An Uruguayan Woman Visits the United States (Una mujer uruguaya visita los Estados Unidos).47
In May 1945, as the war was coming to an end, the Uruguay committee reported that Today's American Woman was being taken off the air after nearly two years of broadcasting. Arce would now begin hosting a program entitled A Point of View (Un punto de vista), which aired Mondays and Thursdays from 7:15 to 7:30 p.m. on Radio Carve and was described as having “immense listener appeal.”48 Arce's commentary was typical of the era, in that it incorporated many aspects of a feminist agenda while distancing itself from the idea of feminism. “Miss Arce particularly upholds North American womanhood,” the report explained, “which she cites as the ideal balance between femininity and usefulness outside the home towards which all the women of the Americas are striving.”49 This combination of “femininity and usefulness” succinctly sums up the OIAA's US-branded modern womanhood pitched to female audiences in Latin America.
Arce also had another 1945 program, entitled Laura de Arce Comments (Laura de Arce comenta), which may have been a reworking of the program mentioned above. Arce's notes state that the program, scheduled to air on Radio Carve on Monday and Thursday evenings, was aimed at a female listening audience and dealt with a wide range of topics. “We take the woman as a human being, before we consider her as a sexual individual,” Arce noted. The program outline covered a range of themes, including women and the home (“domestic slavery and practical and spiritual emancipation”); women and politics (comparing “totalitarian” and “democratic” regimes); women and work (“egalitarian vs. compensation feminism”); and the “active intervention of women in making a better world.” The notes explain that these were organizing themes, but that individual broadcasts would be framed around a relevant current event or individual, to develop one or two of the program themes in a “light, friendly, and simple” tone.50 Coming as it did at the end of the war, this program seemed to gesture toward a shift from wartime to postwar and Cold War programming, a theme I will return to below. In the meantime, the OIAA was developing a less didactic, more entertainment-based approach to winning over female audiences in the region.
EL IDEAL DE LIDIA MORALES AND DIÁLOGOS FEMENINOS
Around 1944, perhaps because of a perceived need to make more sophisticated programs and/or exercise better control over content, production of women's programs shifted to shows written and recorded in the United States for distribution throughout Latin America. Plans for this seem to date to the early months of 1943, when discussions began about the format, location, and storyline of such a show. Initial consideration was given to producing this show as a “script service” (meaning that local committees would record it using local actors and dialects), but this was rejected due to fears about how the North American characters might be portrayed. It was decided that more quality control could be maintained via a transcribed program (programs recorded in the US and sent on transcription discs to national coordinating committees for placement on local stations). One major advantage to the researcher here is that full scripts and more complete information regarding content is extant and accessible, as opposed to the broadcasts produced by local committees, where in most cases nothing remains other than summary descriptions and overviews. While some of these region-wide programs differed little from the locally produced shows, others moved into new format areas, experimenting especially with the radionovela (serial melodrama) format. As “one of the most successful genres in Latin American radio,” especially among female audiences, the radionovela was a natural fit for OIAA propaganda targeting women in the region.51 Like the Ecuadorian women's program described above, some of these programs sought to marry the radionovela genre with what might best be described as a women's travel account.52
The Ideal of Lidia Morales (El ideal de Lidia Morales) was a dramatic radio serial that aired in Mexico, Colombia, and other parts of Latin America during the later war years. A Mexican committee report described it as “a typical Latin American tearjerker, but well-done,” and predicted that “Mexican housewives will devour this program.”53 It first aired in Mexico in 1943 in the daytime hours; when it returned for a second season in 1944 it aired in the evening (an indication of its popularity) on a number of radio stations around the country, including powerhouse XEW.54 The program's eponymous protagonist is a young, aspiring singer who comes to New York from Mexico looking to make a name for herself. There, she falls in love with a handsome North American man (Albert), who is promptly drafted to fight in the war. In Ortíz Garza's words, Lidia Morales embodied the “Pan American ideal,” particularly because of her romance with Albert, “this blond, svelte North American, the love of her life, a love that knows no borders, a love before which all differences of race, language, and skin color inevitably collapse.”55 Taking the gender politics of this allegory into account, however, reminds us that this was not a partnership of equals. The United States in this representation is masculine, strong, and heroic, whereas Latin America is a passionate, artistic female whose loyalty and sacrifice will be ultimately rewarded via protection and support. This is a romance where the parties are mutually devoted, but not on equal terms. The Ideal of Lidia Morales was popular enough that, once again, other countries in the region were eager to air it. Rather than as scripts on microfilm, it was distributed to local coordinating committees as prerecorded, ready-to-air transcription discs.
A January 1944 report from the Uruguayan committee acknowledged (delayed) receipt of The Ideal of Lidia Morales: “The first shipment consists of 32 fifteen minute programs, or enough for 10 ½ weeks. … It is a beautifully produced series, and we expect to place one set immediately with Radio Ariel, and another with an as yet undetermined station in the interior.”56 A report from later that same month noted that The Ideal of Lidia Morales had begun airing on Radio Ariel and Radio Cultural in the interior Uruguayan city of Salto.57 The OIAA archives contain what are likely episode synopses of the same series received by the Uruguayan committee. At this point in the narrative (meaning, as of January 1944), Lidia is an established singer performing regularly on a radio station (and indeed, the show's listeners would have heard Lidia sing many times as part of the storyline). The first episode finds Lidia in Buffalo, New York, where she is finishing up a singing tour. She receives a package from a secret admirer: flowers and a fabulous piece of jewelry studded with precious stones. The mysterious jewelry becomes central to the episodes that follow, as it seems to cast a spell on Lidia as well as others who come in contact with it. Eerie apparitions leave Lidia “nervous” and afraid. A somewhat sketchy Egyptologist provides information about the jewels (which he, by the way, pronounces as being of “Kashmiri” origin, the provenance of a race of people with hypnotic green eyes, just like the ones in the “face of an exotic woman” constructed with precious stones in the jewelry). It bears noting that a primary facet of this and other similar programs involves men who are either absent, subject to being absent (via the draft), or otherwise unreliable, providing both melodramatic tension and a fantasy of female autonomy to a Latin American audience.
Continuing with both the travel-account radionovela format and a theme of female autonomy, Diálogos femeninos (Women's Dialogues, fig. 1) was an OIAA program that apparently attempted to follow up on the success of The Ideal of Lidia Morales, also in the form of a prerecorded transcription service. In early 1944 a pilot episode was recorded, and the transcription was sent to OIAA coordinating committees around the region, which replied regarding their respective degree of interest in it. While many noted that Diálogos femeninos seemed to lack the excitement of The Ideal of Lidia Morales, and countries with existing local women's programs (like Costa Rica and Chile) worried that this new program would become unnecessary competition with what they already had, others (from Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Cuba, and Peru) expressed interest in receiving and airing Diálogos femeninos locally.58
The OIAA archives contain full scripts of this program, which was recorded during the (northern) summer of 1944. The main story line focuses on the romantic lives of two Latin American women living in New York, both of whom fall in love with US GIs. As propaganda, the program focuses on two primary themes: the hardships and deprivation of life in the United States in wartime, particularly the impact on women; and the greater freedom of US women, maintained with no sacrifice of their femininity. The main characters in the show are Angélica, a Uruguayan who has been living in New York for some time, and Olga, a recent arrival from Venezuela. This pairing is an interesting device, in which the older and wiser Angélica functions as a kind of sister-chaperone (señora maestra, according to Bob, Olga's suitor) to the young and beautiful Olga, who breaks hearts all over town. It allows for the titillation of a beautiful, single Latin American woman unescorted in la gran manzana, with just enough oversight that we do not perceive her honor as threatened. The story acknowledges that aspects of Olga and Angélica's lifestyle in New York exceed the boundaries of acceptable female behavior back home. “Tradition” in this case is represented in the specter of Olga's Tía Rosa (Aunt Rose) in Caracas, who is unhappy about Olga's trip to New York. Angélica, in a tone of gentle mockery, reminds Olga on various occasions what Tía Rosa would think about this or that thing she has done. In addition to being the voice of reason and restraint, Angélica also functions as the show's translator. As the new arrival, Olga is like the listeners, who know very little about New York and the United States except what they have gleaned indirectly via radio, movies, and rumor. Angélica has spent enough time in New York to know how things work and, importantly, how to compare and contrast US life with life in Latin America. It is Angélica who explains, for example, that Coney Island is like Pocitos in Montevideo or Macuto in Venezuela, only “fifty times bigger and with a hundred times more people.”59
The story takes listeners on a virtual tour of New York in wartime (Radio City, Fifth and Madison, the Battery, et cetera) while the thematics touch on both serious subjects, like women's participation in the war effort, and more superficial topics, like how to prepare iced coffee. Listeners are introduced to many of the ways US women are participating in the war effort: as nurses, volunteers, radio entertainers, soldiers’ wives. Olga asks Angélica about these women factory workers she had heard so much about in Venezuela. Angélica explains that New York is not much of an industrial city, but that women factory workers are elsewhere in the country (perhaps conveniently and deliberately avoiding an encounter with Rosie the Riveter?). The focus here is on women volunteers and clerical workers, who (we are constantly told) maintain their feminine elegance despite shortages and their hectic work schedules. This is also in keeping with the overt class bias of the program, which was clearly aimed at more middle-class or affluent listeners. We never, ever cross paths with anyone poor or working class during the course of the show; Olga at one point laments the lack of domestic servants during wartime, and the length of time it takes to get laundry done. There are also no children. There is some discussion about childcare facilities for working women, and the various women characters speak about how they want to and plan to be mothers someday, but none of the main characters are themselves mothers (perhaps to keep the story uncomplicated). Working mothers of young children remain an abstract concept. Lastly, and not surprisingly, there are no African Americans in the show, nor any real discussion of race or racial inequality, other than a reference to those same day-care facilities, which are said to be “open to all races, creeds, and professions.”60
One of the show's primary themes is revealing to Latin American women (through Angélica's and especially Olga's perspectives) the hardships suffered and sacrifices made by US women during wartime. Much emphasis is placed on the resourcefulness of US women, who learn to remake new clothing out of old cloth and host progressive dinners (where different courses of a meal are eaten at participants’ homes) as a strategy to pool rationing cards. We also learn how the fashion and beauty industries are striving to help women maintain their “elegance” and femininity via low-cost designer dresses and beauty schools. The show also reiterates that if Latin American women found themselves at war, they would do the same. This aspect is interesting, not only due to its centrality, but because it was clearly the object of some discussion while the show was in development. An October 1943 letter (written by an OIAA official to an NBC executive) raised concerns: “The show plays up the trivial side of North American life and tends to confirm the opinions of many in Latin America that the women of the US live in an atmosphere of luxury and unreality.”61 While some of these issues may have been remedied as the scripts were being prepared, some of that “luxury and unreality” still comes through in the final version. The scarcity of heavy cream for desserts, or grocery deliverymen, does not seem like such a terrible hardship, especially for two women who don't seem to have much to do.
The overall idea of the show was to portray the United States and US Americans in a highly favorable light—to instill sympathy for their wartime sacrifices and admiration for their solidarity. A number of North American characters in the show, both male and female, conveniently speak Spanish because they, for instance, grew up in Texas or spent time in Latin America. Script directions indicate how much or how little of an accent the US characters are meant to have. Real celebrities with Spanish-language skills were recruited and acted in this show, such as the then-famous model Pat Powers. This part of the script seems especially contrived, and was clearly meant to create an impression that many more US citizens were Spanish speakers than was in fact the case. But the device does allow US Americans to come across as honorable men and women proudly serving their country and respectful and knowledgeable about Latin America: the perfect Good Neighbors.
By and large, the script refrained from overt speechmaking and direct propagandizing. But it did allow for the occasional outburst, as in certain moments when one of the (mostly US) characters makes a strong statement about the war and (more obliquely) the enemy, then apologizes and changes the subject. One of Olga's suitors, for example, states at one point: “And we believe that our way of life is worth fighting for. We want to make a world where we can all live in peace, free and working toward mutual understanding and friendship.”62 But he then apologizes for the remark. This same device—whereby direct propaganda is inserted yet simultaneously acknowledged to be inappropriate—takes place in the course of a discussion about Pan-American relations between the two women and their Spanish-speaking US friends. One of the US friends explains to the listener that the United States wants to extend the model of Western Hemisphere relations, where all nations respect and help each other, to the rest of the world, and that this in essence is what the war is about.63 But then the script directions instruct the actor to switch to a “lighter tone” and change the subject to the topic of the night sky. It is not hard to see why Diálogos femeninos received mixed reviews; its quotidian tales of daily life and romance were no match for the mystery, danger, and melodrama of The Ideal of Lidia Morales. But what it did offer was a more realistic view of life in the United States. New York is an exciting, glamorous locale, but it gets much more emphasis as a place where everyday people go about their lives.
GOOD NEIGHBORS NO MORE?
Despite the melodrama, both Diálogos femeninos and The Ideal of Lidia Morales relied on what we might call light or positive propaganda: feel-good images of the United States and especially US women. But some other programs assumed a very different tone, which could be quite menacing and frightening. One of the more interesting of these, which aired toward the end of the war, was Women of the Americas (Mujeres de América). Plans for a program of this type go back to early 1942, when Mary Winslow and the OIAA began discussions about a Latin American version of the popular US radio series Gallant American Women.64 It is also possible that a final decision to move ahead with Women of the Americas was motivated by a similar “famous woman” program that had begun airing in Argentina in late 1943, hosted by a not-yet-famous propagandist for the nationalist (and anti-US) military regime that had seized power earlier that year, Eva Duarte (the future Eva Duarte de Perón, aka Evita).65 Recorded mostly in May and June 1945 at CBS studios in New York, the scripts suggest that Women of the Americas was trying to do double duty, juxtaposing light inspirational stories with more assertive propaganda aimed at inspiring women to speak out against “tyranny” at home.
At the core of the series were individual episodes focused on important Latin American women writers such as Juana de Ibarbourou (Uruguay), Delmira Agustini (Uruguay), and Gabriela Mistral (Chile). These biographical programs are engaging, albeit somewhat light and superficial, overviews of their lives and work. More compelling are the programs that opened and closed the series: “Women Soldiers” (Las Soldaderas) and “Memorandum to Women.”66 Although quite different, they had in common a departure from light propaganda in favor of more aggressive and overt messaging. They also point toward a shift (more subtle in the first program, more obvious in the last) between the rhetoric of World War II and the rhetoric of the postwar era (anti-communist, but also anti-Peronist). Clearly the goal was to shape a particular vision of female citizenship—as defenders of democracy against tyranny and oppression, and therefore sympathetic to the United States. In other words, if the goal of the more positive programming was to neutralize women to a pro-US viewpoint, these broadcasts were meant to mobilize women against a new enemy.
“Women Soldiers” profiles several real Mexican women who fought in the Mexican Revolution against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz in the early twentieth century, whose bravery and valor put men to shame. Díaz is never named, however; he is referred to as tirano (tyrant), a title conveniently vague such that it could be applied broadly across nations and eras. The program's refrain was, “You, tyrant, remember the women soldiers.”67 In case anyone failed to grasp the metaphor, we are told that “the women soldiers are everywhere”—in England, France, China.68 Finally, as this was part of the OIAA's shortwave programming, the origins and aims of Women of the Americas were more overt than some of the transcription programs, signing off with, “For Liberty and Continental Solidarity, the Americas Chain, Columbia Broadcasting System, broadcasters of the US.”69 In contrast to other OIAA programs that aired in Latin America, listeners to this one were informed as to its origins and policy aims.
In the last program in this series, “Memorandum to Women,” the shift toward the new threats of the postwar era was clear; it spoke not of the current war, but of the “next war.” Whereas “Women Soldiers” sought to engage women by praising heroic sacrifices of women past and present, “Memorandum to Women” aimed to frighten them with an Orwellian view of the future. Rather than laudatory and heroic, the tone is castigating and threatening. Again the enemy is an unnamed “tyrant.” But given the geopolitical landscape, the “enemy” of the future is a series of new threats to US hegemony in the region. As the global conflict was winding down, this certainly included the USSR. But in 1945, the immediate threat to US-dominated Pan-Americanism was the nationalist military regime in Argentina, where the ascending political figure was military colonel and future president Juan Perón. As Ernesto Semán notes, the first official cracks in the Good Neighbor policy came in February 1945 via a US State Department report that “focused on the new kind of danger that Argentine politics represented to hemispheric security.”70 It seems noteworthy that the aggressive “Memorandum to Women” was recorded shortly after anti-Perón US ambassador to Argentina Spruille Braden assumed his post.
At the beginning of “Memorandum to Women” we are led to believe we are still dealing with the current war (that is, World War II) when a man in uniform arrives at a family home to inform the residents that their son has been killed—a scene familiar to North Americans during this time, but not to many Latin Americans. But this is just the beginning of several scenarios providing a glimpse of an imagined nightmarish future, a “next war.” As the title implies, women are addressed directly (although it is unclear if the narrator is male or female) and are told that, unlike the current war, the future war will be fought on Latin American soil and present a direct threat to Latin Americans’ homes and families. As in “Women Soldiers,” women are told that they can no longer afford to be passive and apolitical. “Are you prepared to be an accomplice in your son's death?” the script admonishes. “That's what you will be if you allow another war to break out.”71 This is a dystopic future, where the state threatens the very fabric and sanctity of the home; a son declares that his mother cannot punish him for disobeying because “we belong to the state and only obey the state.”72
The class aspect is also clear when bombs begin falling on the family home. The fact that the señora of the house is apparently killed but the maid survives is an interesting device to underscore—without directly stating—that it is the affluent who are most threatened by this “future war.” In another scene, a solider again comes to the door, but this time to detain the husband. “Your husband has been named as an enemy of the state,” the soldier explains to the wife. “He was heard criticizing the way in which our caudillo deals with traitors.”73 The anguished wife is told she may never see her husband again. Whereas “Women Soldiers” praised women's actions, “Memorandum to Women” suggests that the housewife's passivity will result in her losing all that is dear to her. A far cry from romantic Pan-Americanism, it portends another turn in US–Latin American relations, one where the Good Neighbor is once again superseded by interventionism and a Cold War version of the “big stick.” No longer is the United States cast as a gentlemanly suitor bearing consumer goods; these postwar programs mobilize fear against an unnamed masculinized tyrant who threatens not only the husbands and sons but the class position of middle-class female listeners. The new message seeks to empower women to defend themselves, but the notion that only the United States can truly keep (middle-class) women, their families, and their property safe represents a continuity with the softer propaganda of the earlier years.
CONCLUSION: RADIO AND GENDERING THE GOOD NEIGHBOR
By the 1940s, the radio was a fixture in many Latin American homes, although its distribution was still quite uneven across geography and social class. Certainly for much of the region's urban middle classes, radio had become an important link to similarly situated imagined communities in Latin America and the United States. Women represented a significant portion (if not a majority) of the Latin American listening audience, and became an increasingly important target of the OIAA Radio Division's propaganda and public diplomacy campaign during World War II. While we lack good data on exactly who listened to these programs and how, it seems clear that these tales of travel, romance, adventure, and consumerism, all with a pro-US message, were particularly aimed at middle-class women. The narratives, which promoted a gendered (and thus still unequal) romantic pairing between a masculinized United States and a feminized Latin America, provide perhaps the clearest understanding of the gendered configurations of the Good Neighbor policy. This material also reveals the participation of feminists and other women activists in the development of OIAA Radio Division programs, a participation that mirrored similarly unequal relations of Pan-American women's networks.
Although they remained a minority of Radio Division programming, these shows should be understood as an acknowledgment of women's “soft power” in family and society, key to winning the “hearts and minds” of especially the region's middle classes. These narratives invited Latin American women outside of their homes to explore the world and gain insight into the wartime experiences of women in combatant countries. Because of the association of fascism with traditional gender roles, wartime programs mobilized a curated feminism focused on individual liberty and ambition, educational and professional attainment, and of course consumption.
The end of the war, along with growing challenges to US hegemony coming from places like Argentina, brought about a rapid erosion of the Good Neighbor policy and the soft diplomacy that accompanied it. As elsewhere, it also brought a retreat from even the circumscribed women's autonomy narratives of the earlier years. Especially in “Women Soldiers” and “Memorandum to Women,” romantic narratives gave way to frightful tales of male brutality threatening the very core of the middle-class housewives’ existence. As opposed to, say, travel narratives, these programs called on women to defend their homes and families against a tyranny practically right outside the door, not in some land far away. Perón was no communist, but the US response to the Argentine challenge to its hegemony in the region left deep cracks in the Good Neighbor; soon it would be shattered altogether in places like Guatemala and Cuba. I have argued here that these correlations were not coincidental. As threats to US hegemony in the region returned to being more internal than external, the charming suitor of the Good Neighbor era was once again replaced by the brute force of the “big stick.”