Greater Mexico refers both to the geographic region encompassing modern Mexico and its former territories in the United States, and to the Mexican cultural diaspora. Exhibitions of visual and material culture from greater Mexico have played an important role in articulating identities and affiliations that transcend limited definitions of citizenship. Following an introductory text by Jennifer Josten, five scholars offer firsthand insights into the intellectual, diplomatic, and logistical concerns underpinning key border-crossing exhibitions of the “NAFTA era.” Rubén Ortiz-Torres writes from his unique perspective as a Mexico City–based artist who began exhibiting in the United States in the late 1980s, and as a curator of recent exhibitions that highlight the existence of multiple Mexicos and Americas. Clara Bargellini reflects on a paradigm-shifting cross-border exhibition of the viceregal arts of the missions of northern New Spain. Kim N. Richter considers how the arts of ancient Mesoamerica and the Americas writ large figured within the Getty Foundation’s 2017 Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative. Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial offers insights into productive institutional collaborations with transnational Indigenous stakeholders, focusing on two recent Southern California exhibitions of the Oaxaca-based Tlacolulokos collective. Luis Vargas-Santiago discusses how Chicana/o/x art entered Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes in 2019 as a crucial component of an exhibition about how Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata’s image has migrated through visual culture. Together, these texts demonstrate how exhibitions can act in the service of advancing more nuanced understandings of cultural and political interactions across greater Mexico.

El Gran México se refiere tanto a la región geográfica que abarca el México moderno como a sus antiguos territorios que hoy forman parte de los Estados Unidos y la diáspora cultural mexicana. Las exposiciones de cultura visual y material del Gran México han jugado un papel importante en la articulación de identidades y pertenencias que abarcan más que nociones relativamente estrechas como la de ser ciudadano de un estado-nación. Tras un texto introductorio de Jennifer Josten, cinco académicos comparten sus experiencias personales acerca de las cuestiones intelectuales, diplomáticas y logísticas que había detrás de algunas importantes exposiciones transfronterizas de los llamados “años del TLC”. Rubén Ortiz-Torres escribe desde una perspectiva singular: como artista originario de la Ciudad de México que comenzó a exhibir en los Estados Unidos a finales de la década de 1980, y como curador de exposiciones recientes en las que se ha destacado la existencia de múltiples Méxicos y múltiples Estados Unidos. Clara Bargellini reflexiona sobre una exposición transfronteriza y rupturista de las artes virreinales de las misiones del norte de Nueva España. Kim N. Richter considera cómo las artes de la antigua Mesoamérica y de las Américas figuraron dentro de la iniciativa Pacific Standard Time: LA / LA de la Fundación Getty del año 2017. Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial ofrece una perspectiva acerca de colaboraciones exitosas entre instituciones y interlocutores indígenas transnacionales; examina específicamente dos muestras del colectivo oaxaqueño Tlacolulokos, realizadas recientemente en el sur de California. Luis Vargas-Santiago analiza cómo el arte Chicana/o/x ingresó al Palacio de Bellas Artes de la Ciudad de México en 2019 como un componente crucial de una exposición sobre las migraciones de la imagen del revolucionario mexicano Emiliano Zapata en la cultura visual. Juntos, estos textos demuestran que las exposiciones pueden servir para promover una comprensión más compleja de las interacciones culturales y políticas en el Gran México.

Grande México se refere tanto à região geográfica que abrange o México moderno e seus antigos territórios nos Estados Unidos, quanto à diáspora cultural mexicana. Exposições de cultura visual e material do Grande México há muito desempenham um papel importante na articulação de identidades e afiliações que transcendem definições limitadas de cidadania. Seguindo um texto introdutório de Jennifer Josten, cinco estudiosos oferecem sua perspectiva sobre as preocupações intelectuais, diplomáticas e logísticas por trás das mais influentes exposições transfronteiriças da “era do NAFTA”. Rubén Ortiz-Torres escreve de seu ponto de vista singular como artista originário da Cidade do México que começou a expor nos Estados Unidos no fim dos anos 1980, e como curador de exposições recentes que destacaram a existência de múltiplos Méxicos e Américas. Clara Bargellini reflete sobre uma exposição transfronteiriça transformadora focada na arte vice-real das missões do norte da Nova Espanha. Kim N. Richter considera como as artes da Mesoamérica antiga e das Américas em geral figuraram em grande escala na iniciativa Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA de 2017 da Fundação Getty. Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial oferece sua visão sobre colaborações institucionais produtivas entre interlocutores indígenas transnacionais, examinando específicamente duas exposições recentes do coletivo oaxaquenho Tlacolulokos no sul da Califórnia. Luis Vargas-Santiago discute como a arte chicana entrou no Palácio de Belas Artes da Cidade do México em 2019 como um componente crucial de uma exposição sobre as migrações da imagem do revolucionário mexicano Emiliano Zapata na cultura visual. Juntos, esses textos demonstram como exposições podem servir para avançar compreensões mais complexas de interações culturais e políticas através do Grande México.

On February 16, 2020, the exhibition Emiliano: Zapata después de Zapata (Zapata after Zapata), held at Mexico City’s Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes (Museum of the Palace of Fine Arts), came to an end.1 As the show’s lead curator, I explored how the image of Mexican agrarian leader and revolutionary figure Emiliano Zapata (1879–1919) gradually became a major icon of and in the Americas (fig. 1). The exhibit showcased 141 artworks from more than sixty collections that demonstrated the diversity and flexibility of representations of Zapata over time. These works also revealed how Zapata’s image has been used to address sometimes contradictory agendas on political, racial, ethnic, and gendered grounds, across periods and borders. Through four chronologically and thematically arranged sections, the project explored some of the most important political and artistic representations of the peasant leader that have circulated both in Mexico and the United States from 1910 to the present.

Figure 1.

Installation view, introduction to the exhibition Emiliano: Zapata después de Zapata, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, Nov. 27, 2019–Feb. 16, 2020 (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

Figure 1.

Installation view, introduction to the exhibition Emiliano: Zapata después de Zapata, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, Nov. 27, 2019–Feb. 16, 2020 (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

Going beyond Zapata’s biography, Emiliano focused on the “lives” of images: their travels and transformations, and especially their ability to detonate socially constructed responses. An essential aspect of this effort was to show how, beginning in the 1920s not long after Zapata was killed, the postrevolutionary state, as well as Mexican intellectual elites, assembled the image of an official Zapata as part of a new group of national heroes. Since then, the agrarian leader has embodied the masses, the Mexican people, and ideals pertaining to social justice. This first construction of Zapata’s posthumous image would later yield further changes and iterations that quickly contradicted the official image, thus creating new Zapatas.

The works included in the exhibition were meant to portray two concurrent processes which, I believe, are key to understanding narratives about modern Mexico beyond canonical postrevolutionary and nationalist discourses, within and beyond Mexican art history. The first process involves the development of popular devotional and religious responses that underlie the production of national images, imaginaries, and rhetoric; the second, the process by which more explicitly nationalist images from Mexico take on new valences when viewed from an international perspective. I point specifically to the cultural production of Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and Chicanxs in the United States, as well as the culturally dominant mass media from Hollywood and its derivations. This binational, culture-producing matrix confronts us with a direct dialog wherein images of icons such as Zapata are transformed, redefined, and influenced by the artistic and cultural production of two neighboring countries linked by common histories, conflicts, human interaction, commerce, diplomacy, immigration (on both sides), racial and ethnic tensions, and opportunities.

Emiliano was one of very few curatorial efforts to situate the art of Greater Mexico as a key player in the development of art and visuality in, from, and about Mexico, and the first exhibition in Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes to devote a section to Chicanx art.2 A key focus of the exhibition was portraying the importance of Zapata in the United States, a phenomenon that is little known or studied in Mexico. I sought to show how, beyond the already charged image of Zapata in postrevolutionary Mexico, new versions played a fundamental role in diverse media. These include US caricatures of revolutionary Mexico during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, artworks made for and exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and representations from postwar Hollywood, as well as Chicano murals and posters. Without these reworkings that originated in Greater Mexico, the Zapata my fellow Mexican citizens have grown accustomed to would surely not have been the same.3

Emiliano had a significant impact in terms of visitors throughout the sixty-six days it was on view. It turned out to be particularly successful both in terms of attendance and presence in the public sphere, partly due to the controversy generated by one of the works in the exhibit, Fabián Cháirez’s La Revolución (2014, fig. 2). In the manner of a pinup girl or a Zapatista Lady Godiva, this small painting, which was already widely recognized by the gay community in Mexico City, presents a male character whose face resembles that of Zapata. He is riding a white steed with a large erection. Almost naked, this feminized character wears only a pink sombrero, a tricolor ribbon, and heels in the shape of a revolver. Along with other works by queer artists such as Miguel Cano, Germán Venegas, and Julio Galán, this painting was part of a subsection of Emiliano named “Subverting Gender,” which aimed to deconstruct hegemonic and hypermasculine notions such as revolution, nationalism, and heroism, while generating a much needed critique of the prevalence of machismo, gender violence, and hate crimes in Mexico. Some farmer unions and fronts, as well as some of Zapata’s descendants and otherwise conservative segments of Mexican society, considered Cháirez’s work an insult to Zapata’s traditionally masculine and heroic image and attempted to both censor and close Emiliano.4 The controversy that Cháirez’s work ignited was enough for Los Angeles Times critic Carolina A. Miranda to label “the gay Zapata” an unforgettable art event of 2019.5

Figure 2.

Installation view of works in the exhibition subsection entitled “Subverting Gender,” including, from left: Fabián Cháirez, La Revolución, 2014, private collection; Miguel Cano, A usted bellísimo supremo, 2013, collection of the artist; Germán Venegas, La muerte de Zapata, 1984, Gobi Stromberg Collection; and Julio Galán MAR GARA, 2001, private collection (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

Figure 2.

Installation view of works in the exhibition subsection entitled “Subverting Gender,” including, from left: Fabián Cháirez, La Revolución, 2014, private collection; Miguel Cano, A usted bellísimo supremo, 2013, collection of the artist; Germán Venegas, La muerte de Zapata, 1984, Gobi Stromberg Collection; and Julio Galán MAR GARA, 2001, private collection (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

Approximately 130,931 people visited the exhibit (some 1,983 daily visitors) in a gallery measuring 8,600 square feet. These numbers take on particular significance now in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, when a single museum in Mexico (or Greater Mexico) is highly unlikely to gather so many people in one gallery for months or even years to come. One colleague declared that Emiliano was Mexico’s last blockbuster before lockdowns were imposed. Roughly a month after the exhibit ended, all Mexican museums closed for at least six months in what represents the worst economic, political, and cultural crisis in the history of museums in Mexico.

Visual Diaspora between Inner and Outer Mexico

Two key factors informed Emiliano from an exhibition policy standpoint. First, it was displayed at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the pinnacle of Mexico’s highly centralized federal museum system. Located in Mexico City’s historic center, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is the most emblematic state building for visual arts, theater, and dance in Mexico; only the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology), which focuses on Indigenous and pre-Columbian art, bears comparable symbolic importance.6 Second, Emiliano was linked to a growing interest in greater Mexico within national curatorial projects.7 For fifty years, Chicanx art remained, at best, an ancillary footnote in the Mexican historical narratives that Emiliano sought to reframe. Incredible though it may seem, the history of Mexicans in the United States or the Chicano civil rights movement is barely studied or known by most Mexicans, despite the political and cultural role that Chicanxs have played in building present-day Mexican communities on both sides of the border.8

What is the significance of the term Greater Mexico? For those of us who live in Mexico, it might seem more logical to label it México externo, or “Outer Mexico,” which leads to its corollary: México interno (Inner Mexico). This inside-outside metaphor is particularly useful for understanding the experiences, imagery, and imagination of Mexican diasporic communities both in Mexico and the United States, considering that their legacies are, like their identities, bicultural. “Inner/Outer Mexico” invokes a changing border where inside and outside expand or contract depending on the historical period under scrutiny. Such a border is prone to being historicized or reviewed according to shifting geopolitical discourses; it can also be mythologized, reimagined, or erased. This multiplicity was what Emiliano wanted visitors to experience. The exhibit urged them to conceive of Mexico as a binational space filled with images of Zapata, while revisiting nationalist symbols readily associated with the Mexican Revolution: land and communal space, racial discourses, social justice, and masculine heroism.9

Three of the four sections in the exhibition included works of art and visual culture that represented the experience of Greater Mexico. These included representations of Zapata circulating on US soil during key moments of the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s. They also included works of art and visual culture featuring his likeness from the Depression-era 1930s, Cold War American interventionism in Latin America during the 1950s, the Chicano civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s, and finally, recent artworks by Mexican American artists. The exhibition displayed different versions of greater Mexico by highlighting two characterizations of Zapatista imagery: (1) the continued exchange of images between Mexico and the United States by way of art exhibits, books, photographs, cinema, and tourism brochures; and (2) the literary and visual representations of a Mexican territory in transhistorical, transnational terms, whereby an imagery borderland held and sustained Chicanx nationalism.

Beginning in the 1930s, Zapata’s image traveled far beyond Mexico through what I have come to see as a visual diaspora that was produced as a result of displaced communities and longue durée historical processes. These include the colonization and recolonization of territories in the US Southwest during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They also include the significant waves of Mexican immigrants, who were driven by political and security concerns during the Mexican Revolution (1910–20), and later by the Bracero Program (1942–64), which addressed worker shortages during the postwar era in the United States, with a clear economic benefit for both nations. These immigration trends continue into the present for a variety of reasons, including social inequality in Mexico, neocolonial and neoliberal macroeconomic policies, and even forced displacement due to the ongoing violence stemming from drug trafficking. Of course, there is also the natural flux between communities and families that have lived in both countries for decades. The notion of visual diaspora is distinct from immigration because it represents the two-way travels of images between both nations. Unlike immigrants—especially those who move to the United States in search of economic opportunity and without documentation—the imagery, imagination, and culture of visual diaspora can and does cross borders freely, thus acquiring new layers of meaning across time. As this process unfolds, the social and cultural functions of these images are continuously updated and transformed. Zapata is a clear example of how an image can undergo transformation and cross-pollination as part of a diasporic cultural exchange. However, Zapata images and their corollaries in the United States were not generated spontaneously, nor do they represent isolated incidents. Instead, they belong to a larger set of imagery connected to Mexico that was already present north of the border by the nineteenth century—one that was historically conditioned by racial prejudice and segregation exercised by Anglo American settlers.

The first great dispersal of Zapata’s image in the United States came at the hands of Mexican muralists beginning in the 1920s.10 Zapata began to acquire prestige through the work of cultural impresarios who, consciously or unconsciously, projected onto the icon a set of social, gendered, and racialized values that had traction at the time. Diego Rivera played a central role in this process, constructing a communist repertoire in his commissioned public murals in Mexico that would soon become dominant in official visual culture at home and abroad. In murals for the Secretaría de Educación Pública, the Escuela Nacional de Agricultura in Chapingo, and the Palacio Nacional, Rivera converted Zapata into a martyr of the Revolution and the ultimate face of the Mexican people. In the 1930s, Rivera exported the imagery of the iconic Zapata to the United States, imagery that operated on multiple registers and confirmed distinct narratives of Mexico that were already rooted in the US imagination.

Rivera created his most emblematic image of Zapata—in which the revolutionary appears as an Indigenous campesino wearing white manta clothing—in 1931 as the central figure of his portable mural Agrarian Leader Zapata, produced for and shown in his solo exhibition at MoMA. Due to conservation issues, this work, which remains in MoMA’s collection, could not be displayed in Emiliano. Instead, we showed the original sketch for the portable mural (fig. 3). The importance of Rivera’s Agrarian Leader Zapata lies in the fact that it initiates the visual process of Zapata’s racialization as an Indigenous Mexican and the archetypal face of a “mestizophilia” that produced indigenist rhetoric and ideologies starting in the 1930s. Such visual rhetoric was highly successful in commercializing Mexican art in the United States, a process that began in the 1920s.11 Zapata’s Indigenous image contrasts with its subsequent mestizo representation, in which he wears a charro outfit or rides a horse (incidentally, this is the most prevalent image of Zapata in Mexico). Beyond Rivera, several artists including José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Miguel Covarrubias, and Alfredo Ramos Martínez likewise produced easel paintings, portable murals, and engravings of Zapata that targeted a US market eager to collect Mexican modern art.12 Zapata thus became internationally known and visible in US popular culture, promoting a naïve and exotic image of Mexico.

Figure 3.

Installation view of the exhibition subsection entitled “Fabricating the Nation’s Hero,” featuring, at right: Diego Rivera, Study for Agrarian Leader Zapata, 1931, private collection (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

Figure 3.

Installation view of the exhibition subsection entitled “Fabricating the Nation’s Hero,” featuring, at right: Diego Rivera, Study for Agrarian Leader Zapata, 1931, private collection (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

The third section of Emiliano explored a shift in US narratives about Mexico in the 1950s that served to consolidate forms of Anglo American exceptionalism—the political doctrine by which the United States is supposedly inherently different from other nations. After World War II, and with the termination of the Good Neighbor policy, which ensured US noninterventionism in Latin American affairs, the American government changed its relationship with Mexico and other countries in the region with the excuse of impeding the advance of communism during the Cold War and, more specifically, to avoid more cases such as the Cuban Revolution of 1959. In this context, images of Zapata and of Mexico were instrumental in building notions of alterity. Through stereotypical representations of their southern neighbors, Americans envisioned themselves as exceptional people on the continent, which helped strengthen an image of alleged superiority and justified engagement in a kind of civilizing mission toward the countries of the south. These images of Mexico and Latin America were soon consolidated by the culture industry across platforms provided by the arts, entertainment, design, architecture, cuisine, and tourism.

Titled “Imágenes migrantes” (Migrant Images), this section opened with a segment on 1950s Hollywood that included a clip from the 1952 feature film Viva Zapata!, directed by Elia Kazan and with a screenplay by John Steinbeck. The same monitor showed the first episode of the animated Warner Brothers cartoon Speedy Gonzales (1955, fig. 4). In both cases, Rivera’s Indigenous Zapata can be readily parsed, and the main characters are presented in the manner of Mexican Robin Hoods. In Viva Zapata!, a brown-faced Marlon Brando incarnates the Mexican hero for Cold War America, portraying him as a naïve, virile, and illiterate peasant leader of revolutionary Mexico. If not a direct iteration of Zapata, Speedy powerfully resonates with the banal attributes and racial and gender formations ascribed to Zapata-as-icon. In its mockery, the cartoon can be interpreted as a racist trivialization of both Brando’s performance and Rivera’s Zapata.

Figure 4.

Installation view of works in the exhibition subsection entitled “Migrant Images,” including, from left: Roberto Chávez, Emiliano Zapata, 1963, Collection Carlo Emiliano Delgadillo; Rubén Ortiz-Torres, Asesinato de Zapata con tiros verdaderos, 1993, Collection Leopoldo Villareal; Isadore “Friz” Freleng, Speedy Gonzales, 1955, Warner Brothers; and, Roberto Chávez, Self-Portrait with Speedy Gonzales, 1963, Smithsonian American Art Museum, museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

Figure 4.

Installation view of works in the exhibition subsection entitled “Migrant Images,” including, from left: Roberto Chávez, Emiliano Zapata, 1963, Collection Carlo Emiliano Delgadillo; Rubén Ortiz-Torres, Asesinato de Zapata con tiros verdaderos, 1993, Collection Leopoldo Villareal; Isadore “Friz” Freleng, Speedy Gonzales, 1955, Warner Brothers; and, Roberto Chávez, Self-Portrait with Speedy Gonzales, 1963, Smithsonian American Art Museum, museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

In both Viva Zapata! and Speedy, although Mexico is portrayed as a country guided by ideals of social justice and the equal distribution of riches, it is largely depicted as a rural, underdeveloped, and illiterate country, a place rife with poverty and corruption. Seen against the backdrop of these representations, the US mission to protect and defend the continent becomes more readily apparent. These ideas would justify US interventionism in Central and South America during and after the 1950s. Despite their stereotyped and racist portrayals of Mexico, Viva Zapata! and Speedy Gonzales were received ambivalently among Mexican American audiences, who saw in these characters a means of self-representation in the otherwise inaccessible and exclusionary mass media.

This was at least the case for Californian painter Roberto Chávez, a member of the first generation of professionally trained Mexican American artists. In his works of the early 1960s, before the advent of the Chicano Movement and its art, Chávez’s works provided critical reflections on Mexican American identity in relation to pervasively negative Hollywood portrayals. In 1963, Chávez created a modernist self-portrait in which he inserted the character of Speedy Gonzales as a way to sardonically inscribe his Mexican origins. Dressed in black and wearing a bowler hat, the figure of the artist slouches and gazes out bleakly. Behind him hangs what seems to be a cubist portrait of a man, with Speedy Gonzales’s signature piece of cheese standing in for the man’s head. A tiny Speedy appears on the surface of a transparent drinking glass on the right side of the painting. Decades later, several other artists continued to focus on Hollywood imagery, finding ways to subvert and politicize visual representations about Mexico and its peoples. It is not coincidental that Rubén Ortiz-Torres, an artist from Mexico City who has been based in California since the 1990s, has productively explored the relationship between Zapata and Speedy Gonzales in his artworks and essays (see Ortiz-Torres’s essay for this Dialogues).13 Emiliano included Ortiz-Torres’s painting Asesinato de Zapata con tiros verdaderos (Assassination of Zapata with Real Shots), in which Zapata and Speedy are the same character.

The exhibition segment devoted to Chicanx art included iconic engravings, paintings, photographs, and video art by Rupert García, Emmanuel Martínez, and Alfredo Arreguín. Through Zapata’s reworking in Mexican American contexts and within the land grant movement of New Mexico, the exhibit showed, pedagogically and succinctly, the history of the Chicano Movement in the United States, its demands and developments across the nation, and the legacy and centrality of leaders and activists including César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Reies López Tijerina, and Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. I was especially interested in introducing this topic in Mexico without downplaying the complexity and diversity of Chicanx organizations. The goal was to educate the audience on a subject widely unknown on this side of the border, but from an accessible, clear, and informative perspective. In this sense, while Emiliano threw into relief the many connections between these works and previous representations of Zapata in Mexico, special attention was paid to Chicanx art—including the development of a kind of muralism not directly funded by government support, unlike Diego Rivera’s after the Revolution. Links and solidarity between Chicanx and Mexican artists during the 1970s were also emphasized with great care.

Transnational and communal solidarity was further represented in Emiliano through a full-scale replica of the mural Los inmigrantes (The Immigrants), originally produced at a school for Mexican immigrants in Livingston, California, by the Mexico City artist collective Grupo 65 in 1971 (fig. 5).14 Inspired by political and civil rights movements such as the Black Panthers and the Chicano Movement itself, artists from Mexico City such as the members of Grupo 65 and Melecio Galván spent long periods in California and built significant networks of solidarity with Mexicans residing in Outer Mexico. When viewed from Inner Mexico, and specifically in the aftermath of the state-sponsored Tlatelolco massacre of October 2, 1968, the Chicano Movement seemed like a social utopia that spoke to community empowerment, a radical departure from the repression experienced by thousands of Mexican students and workers in the 1970s.

Figure 5.

Grupo 65 (Arnulfo Aquino, Crispín Alcázar Partida, Rebeca Hidalgo, Melecio Galván, and Jorge Novelo), Los inmigrantes, 1971 (replica made from digital file, 2018), Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

Figure 5.

Grupo 65 (Arnulfo Aquino, Crispín Alcázar Partida, Rebeca Hidalgo, Melecio Galván, and Jorge Novelo), Los inmigrantes, 1971 (replica made from digital file, 2018), Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

Using vivid colors and pop art techniques, and featuring synthetic, schematic forms, Los inmigrantes addressed themes and values that Mexican farmworkers wanted to instill in their children regarding the history of Mexico and immigration. From right to left, the mural depicts the different migration waves that have occurred throughout greater Mexico. The work begins with a scene from the Boturini Codex, also known as the Tira de la peregrinación de los Mexica (Tale of the Mexica Migration). This codex narrates the mythical movement of the Aztecs from their native Aztlán to Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City), the place where they founded their empire. Aztlan was supposedly located in northern Mexico or even in the southwestern United States. The pre-Columbian scene in the mural is complemented by references to the Spanish conquest and, ultimately, to contemporary migrations. In order to come full circle, present-day Mexicans move northward to reclaim what used to be Aztec territory. This land, depicted in red in the mural, comprises the states that now make up the southwestern US. The work also features iconography related to socialist revolutions and Black Power. The center of the mural displays Zapata, whose face is crossed four times like a folding mirror by lines resembling a border. Zapata’s image links the historical scenes on the left segment with the final panel on the right, which depicts present-day immigrants working in a vineyard under the scorching sun.

This mural’s narrative is a powerful icon of Chicanx nationalism as promoted by Corky Gonzales, a Chicano student leader and creator of the Plan Espiritual de Aztlán and the epic poem Yo soy Joaquín, both from 1969. The gallery where Emiliano was installed featured an audiovisual rendering of the poem by Luis Valdez. The museum space was thus flooded with audio verses from Yo soy Joaquín in English, Spanish, and Spanglish. These verses alluded both to historical indigenism and the refounding of a new Aztlán in a Chicanx nation, whose territory is recovered from Anglo Americans. My intention as curator was to stress how Zapata operates in Chicanx culture as an intersection of past and present struggles, representing a lasting attachment to the soil.

Soldaderas Rewriting History

The last artistic intervention related to greater Mexico that I will analyze concerns feminisms. Gender-based constructions and critiques were presented in Emiliano as critical devices for rewriting history and fighting inequality in traditionally patriarchal communities, such as among Mexicans or Mexican Americans. As a character that has embodied a heroic, masculinist view of the past, Zapata becomes a suitable ground on which to subvert and destroy images of gender domination. Mexican American artist Daniel Salazar’s work El mandilón (The Househusband, 1995) speaks precisely to this paradigm by presenting Zapata doing domestic chores. In this image, the charro hero is seen wearing an apron and holding a broom and cleaning detergent, which suggests that there exist equally important revolutions in realms that may be far less visible than the battlefield or government building.

Emiliano also deployed the tools of feminist art and art history to intervene in and radically revise history. The opening section of the exhibition, devoted to Zapata’s revolutionary years between 1910 and 1919, features a segment about women who participated in the troops under Zapata’s command. A selection of photographs and an engraving by José Guadalupe Posada, all included in the exhibition, made clear that women and LGBTQ+ individuals such as transgender colonel Amelio Robles played a major and active role in Zapata’s armies. Women worked as colonels (Rosa Bobadillo), spies (Felipa Castellanos, Carmen Serdán, Apolinaria Flores), messengers and envoys (Buenaventura García), traders (Vicenta Flores), smugglers (Mercedes Haro Hernández), troop agents, or simply allies, such as teachers Paulina Marabel and Dolores Jiménez y Muro. Despite their crucial roles, these individuals’ contributions to the Mexican Revolution have become obscured, and a dearth of archives limits our ability to recuperate that part of history.15 Faced with this important void in terms of patriarchal History, Mexican American artist Nao Bustamante makes her art a resource for historical rewriting by capitalizing on absent female bodies and making them occupy an entire gallery. Through an installation within the framework of “speculative recreation,” Bustamante’s Soldadera project (2015) reimagines women’s lives beyond the passive adelitas (female companions of male soldiers) or the ideals of a domesticized femininity (fig. 6). Bustamante’s inspiration was Leandra Becerra Lumbreras, a legendary supercentenarian soldadera of the Mexican Revolution, who was interviewed by the artist shortly before her death in 2015. A docu-fiction video places these soldaderas in the battlefield, where dominant historical narratives have made their presence invisible. They wear sturdy Kevlar garments made of heat-resistant synthetic fibers with bulletproof helmets and vests. Emiliano included five of these garments, displayed on mannequins, to signify both material proof of an imaginary battle and, importantly, the possibility of rewriting the past and imagining new futures.

Figure 6.

Installation view of the exhibition subsection entitled “Campesino Leader,” including, from left: Nao Bustamante, Kevlar Fighting Costumes (set of five), 2015, collection of the artist; and Jorge González Camarena, Ballad of Hope, n.d., Collection Academia de Artes, Mexico City (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

Figure 6.

Installation view of the exhibition subsection entitled “Campesino Leader,” including, from left: Nao Bustamante, Kevlar Fighting Costumes (set of five), 2015, collection of the artist; and Jorge González Camarena, Ballad of Hope, n.d., Collection Academia de Artes, Mexico City (photograph provided by Jair Antonio García Moctezuma)

Taking Bustamante’s Soldaderas as our model, I call on those of us in Inner Mexico to continue to take history by storm by developing narratives of greater Mexico from within. In the absence of “official” stories of Outer Mexico, we must find more opportunities to intervene in and write more complex narratives of the past. As they did in Emiliano through the lens of visual diaspora, these revisionist histories should feature prominently in Mexican public discourse, contributing to a more multifaceted and pluralistic understanding of the past, present, and future. Curatorial research and scholarship in, from, and about Outer Mexico must continue to grow in Mexican institutions, which have a duty to feature the images, lives, and stories of the more than 40 million Mexicans living north of the border.


I thank my colleagues Josué Martínez and Dafne Cruz Porchini, whose attentive readings and suggestions have helped reshape this article. My ongoing exchange of ideas with Jennifer Josten, the editor of this Dialogues, has helped me rethink Greater Mexico and the relationship between Mexican and American academic contexts.



Emiliano: Zapata después de Zapata opened at the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes on November 27, 2019. Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL), The exhibition catalog includes new academic studies on Zapata authored by a binational group of scholars including Salvador Rueda Smithers, Samuel Brunk, Robin A. Greeley, Anna Indych-López, Theresa Avila, Michael Cucher, Nicolás Pradilla, and Mariana Botey. Luis Vargas-Santiago, ed., Emiliano: Zapata después de Zapata (Mexico City: Secretaría de Cultura, INBAL, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Fundación Jenkins, 2019). For a review, see Uriel Vides Bautista, “Emiliano: Zapata después de Zapata,” Artelogie 15 (April 8, 2020), https:/


In March 2011, Cuban curator Gerardo Mosquera organized Crisisss. América Latina, Art and Confrontation. 1910–2010, an exhibit at the Palacio de Bellas Artes and Ex Teresa Arte Actual. The show dealt with art representing political, social, cultural, and gender confrontations in Latin America. Among the two hundred artists showcased were some belonging to Latinx diasporic communities in the United States, such as the Chicano group Asco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña. Gerardo Mosquera, ed., Crisisss: América Latina, arte y confrontación, 1910–2010 (Mexico City: Palacio de Bellas Artes, Ex Teresa Arte Actual, 2012). To my knowledge, Emiliano was the first exhibition at Bellas Artes since 1934 to include an entire section on US Latinx art. See “Lista completa de exposiciones-MPBA,” MPBA (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2012), 199–261.


In referring to Mexico, I seek to indicate the Mexican Republic, a geopolitical space bordered by the United States to the north and Guatemala and Belize to the south. In contrast, greater Mexico comprises a transnational cultural space that includes Mexico but also encompasses Greater Mexico, a region in the United States with significant current and historical Mexican populations. At present, greater Mexico includes some 120 million people in Mexico in addition to 40 million Mexican Americans or Mexican nationals living in the United States who share space with other Latin Americans and US Latinxs of diverse national and ethnic origins. From a contemporary lens, the notion of Greater Mexico may seem exclusionary of other Latinx identities, considering the long-term presence of Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican communities in the United States and significant waves of immigrants from Central American and other Latin American countries. According to 2017 US census numbers, Mexican communities represent 60 percent of today’s US Latinx population. Other Latinx diasporas have importantly redefined Latinx demographics and forms of latinidad in the United States while contesting the preeminence of Mexican American and Chicanx narratives in Latinx studies. “Hispanic or Latino Origin by Specific Origin: 2018 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates,” US Census Bureau, 2018,


Valentina Di Liscia, “Farmworker Unions and LGBTQ Activists Clash over Nude Portrait of Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata,” Hyperallergic, December 12, 2019, See also Luis Vargas-Santiago, “Zapata después del meme,” Medium, April 21, 2020,; Renato González Mello, “Lo que se ve no se juzga,” Nexos, May 21, 2020,


Carolina A. Miranda, “Essential Arts: The Most Unforgettable Cultural Events of 2019 and Art as Protest,” Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2019,


Ana Garduño, “Centralidad museal del Palacio de Bellas Artes: 1934–2014,” in El Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes (Mexico City: INBAL, 2014), 21–104.


Since the 1990s, some public museums in Mexico, including the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Carrillo Gil, Museo de Arte Moderno, Museo Tamayo, Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, and Ex Teresa Arte Actual, have sporadically included exhibitions on Chicanx art and Mexican American artists as part of their programming. Exhibitions of artists and groups such as Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Asco, and group exhibitions including Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement, have traveled to Mexico City in the past ten years. Following this recent trend, in 2019 the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Carrillo Gil presented a group show entirely focused on Chicanx artists from California. Curated by Julián Bermúdez, Construyendo puentes en época de muros. Arte chicano/mexicano de Los Ángeles a México was intended to travel to different cities of Mexico. Due to the pandemic, the exhibition moved to a digital format. See “Introduction,” Centro Cultural Tijuana,


For an overview of some of the lines of research prevailing in Mexican academia today on the history and culture of Chicanx and migrant populations of Mexicans in the United States, see the special issue “Realidades chicanas,” Nexos, October 1, 2018,


Pioneering research has been carried out on the image of Zapata in Chicanx culture in the United States by scholars Michael Cucher, Theresa Avila, and Samuel Brunk, all of whom contributed important essays to the Emiliano catalog. Also, in 2013 Julia Fernández curated Chican@s (re)Imagining Zapata, an exhibition on Zapata drawn entirely from the print collection of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center Library. “Library Exhibition Reception: ‘Chican@s (re)Imagining Zapata,’” UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center,


During the 1910s and the 1920s, some photographs of Zapata, as well as news about him, circulated in the US press. However, he remained far less relevant than Pancho Villa, who captured a place in the US imagination as the prototypical bandit that had invaded Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916. Luis Vargas-Santiago, “Uncontainable Zapata: Iconicity, Religiosity and Visual Diaspora” (PhD diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2015), 168.


A critical analysis of racial ideologies and eugenics in postrevolutionary Mexico can be found in Deborah Dorotinsky, “La vida de un archivo: México indigena y la fotografía etnográfica de los años cuarenta en México” (PhD diss., Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2003).


On this matter, see Anna Indych-López, “Hacer circular a Zapata,” in Vargas-Santiago, Emiliano, 197–214.


See especially the relationship between Zapata and Speedy in Rubén Ortiz-Torres, “Yepa, Yepa, Yepa!,” in Desmothernismo: Rubén Ortiz Torres: A Survey of Work from 1990 to 1998 = Una selección de obra realizada entre 1990 y 1998 (Santa Monica, CA: Smart Art Press, 1998), 46–59.


Grupo 65 was an intermittent collective and work group operating from 1965 to 1971 whose membership consisted of a class of students from Mexico City’s Academia de San Carlos and the UNAM’s National School of Plastic Arts (Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas or ENAP). Their members included Arnulfo Aquino, Rebeca Hidalgo, Crispín Alcázar Partida, Arturo Pastrana, Alberto Antuna, Sebastián, Hersúa, and others. Grupo 65 was the precursor to Grupo Mira, a particularly important art collective during the 1970s and 1980s in Mexico. On this group, see 68 + 50 (Mexico City: Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, UNAM; RM Verlag, 2018), 116–17.


On female participation in Zapata’s armies, see the excellent recuperative work by historian Gabriela Cano, particularly “Gertrude Duby y la historia de las mujeres zapatistas de la Revolución Mexicana,” Estudios sociológicos 28, no. 83 (May–August 2010): 579–97; Gabriela Cano, “Inocultables realidades del deseo. Amelio Robles, masculinidad (transgénero) en La Revolución mexicana,” in Género, poder y política en el México postrevolucionario, ed. Gabriela Cano, Jocelyn Olcott, and Mary Kay Vaughan (Mexico City: FCE, 2009), 61–90.