American tourism in Mexico increased significantly during the Good Neighbor era. By creating tourist maps, cartographers on both sides of the border participated in an intentional, ideological process of reshaping these tourists’ views of Mexico. They sought to transform Americans’ perceptions not only of Mexicans and their history but also of the physical environment. Their Mexico was a place of contrast, suspended in the romantic past and engaged in modernity. Although cartographers constructed a new Mexico through their maps, they did not challenge perceptions of an asymmetrical power dynamic that had defined U.S.-Mexico relations and the tourism industry at large. Instead, their maps reinforced, reproduced, and contributed to it. Cartographers, like the maps they created, were not passive or inconsequential actors. Analyzing the ideas, relationships, and myths embedded in their maps expands our understanding of transnational tourism, environmental change, selective history, and imagined communities in the twentieth century.

Caroline Bartlett Crane was known throughout the United States as “America’s Housekeeper” during the Progressive Era. The sanitation reformer was a former journalist, Unitarian minister, and suffragist who traveled widely to push her platforms. As an older woman, the Michigander traveled to Mexico as part of a Seminar on Cultural Relations in Latin America in 1930.1 Upon her return, Crane wrote a letter of complaint to The Rotarian, criticizing the magazine for using a Mercator projection in its maps. This projection makes places closer to the equator appear smaller than they are. She argued that the projection “belittled” Mexico, “our next door neighbor to the south.”2 In other words, the map shrunk both the geographic size of Mexico and, on a symbolic level, the nation’s significance. The projection enlarged the size of places farther from the equator, such as Greenland and Canada. Thus, in Crane’s mind, the projection was “of no aid to cordial international relations unless our aim is friendly intercourse with polar bears.”3 Instead, the map’s distortions detracted from Americans’ efforts to strengthen political, cultural, and economic ties with Latin America, especially Mexico. She remarked, “We are friends with Canada. We want likewise to be friends with Mexico…It might take a deal of grace and that justly famed Spanish courtesy for Mexico to be friends with us after all we bereft her of the greater part of her original territory. Nevertheless, do we realize how great Mexico still is?”4

Crane’s commentary speaks to three phenomena of the Good Neighbor era (1928–1945): the rise of tourism as a tool for cultural diplomacy, the unequal power dynamic between the United States and Mexico, and the importance of maps in conveying a nation’s identity. The period marked a turning point in the rise of the Mexican tourism industry. As a result of public and private promotional efforts, the number of tourists (primarily American) entering Mexico increased from 13,892 in 1929 to 156,550 in 1945.5 Cartographers on both sides of the border created maps to guide tourists’ planning and travel. This article examines how cartographers interpreted Mexico’s history, people, transportation, and environments in a representative sample of maps published between 1930 and 1945 for American tourists.6 These maps show that cartographers embraced their role as authorities on what Mexico was and what tourists should see. Through an intentional and ideological process, cartographers forged and disseminated a unified image of a nation rooted in contrast and contradiction. They constructed a romantic, modernizing Mexico that appealed to American tourists seeking a foreign yet familiar destination. In doing so, cartographers replicated and contributed to perceptions of an unequal power dynamic that defined U.S.-Mexico relations and modern tourism within and beyond North America.7

Cartographers’ presentation of history provides a first look at the ways in which they used maps to accentuate and conceal elements of Mexico’s identity. In particular, cartographers focused on illustrating a nation straddling the fifteenth and twentieth centuries in its culture, economy, and built environment. They often showcased the colonial and indigenous periods of history but hid the legacy of more recent events, such as the anti-Imperialist Revolution, that disturbed potential American tourists. At the same time, cartographers and travel guide writers did not erase recent history entirely; they subtly hinted at aspects of modernization, including telephone lines and oil derricks. Their emphasis remained, however, on indigenous and colonial history. This focus reflected a broader negotiation of what defined lo típico—popular, typical, and regionally centered Mexicaness—during the 1930s. As scholar Jennifer Jolly explains, Mexican architects and artists told a selective history through lo típico that not only appealed to American tourists but also enhanced Mexican state-building and regional identity. The narrative of lo típico allowed Mexicans to “couch radical change in familiar terms and promote national integration.”8 Thus, American and Mexican cartographers engaged in a larger process of state-building and identity formation by depicting, and consequently formulating, lo típico.

For instance, one of the era’s early tourist maps focuses almost exclusively on an enchanting, picturesque Mexico still defined by indigenous and colonial culture. Miguel Gómez Medina created “Valley of Mexico” in 1930. Gómez was a Mexican painter who flourished during the peak period of pictorial mapmaking (1920–1960). Eugenio Fischgrund, owner of a Mexico City publishing and printing company, produced this map, along with several of Gómez’s other works. Many of these maps and images became postcards or souvenirs. Gómez’s portrayal of the valley, which includes Mexico City, exemplifies a typical pictorial map for tourists during the period. As a pictorial map, it functions less as a navigational tool and more as a way of capturing lo típico. Gómez chose to emphasize elements from the distant past. The cartouche (a decorative element) in the map’s corner describes a place of “picturesque villages” where “detailed constructions of remote epochs still exist.”9 Gómez decorated this text with Aztec symbols and Spanish coats of arms. He also included portraits of Spanish and indigenous leaders whom American audiences might recognize, including Bartolomé de las Casas and Cuauhtémoc. Other images also frame the map. They depict Mexicans selling tamales, riding donkeys, gathering in markets, and celebrating holidays. Any sign of twentieth-century life is missing. Similarly, the map itself emphasizes artifacts of the past and cultures steeped in old tradition. Temples and churches dominate the skyline. Again, people only appear on donkeys, in front of churches, or engaging in traditional crafts. Mexico City is a small village with no skyline, similar to the quaint, historic villages surrounding it.10

This contrast suggests that Gómez’s map targeted tourists interested in escaping urban life; many Americans thought that Mexico offered an authentic antidote to industrial cities. They were particularly interested in places that offered “primitive” experiences; whether in wilderness or indigenous communities, both inside and outside the United States. As scholar Dean MacCannell argues, those engaged in modernization wanted to experience authenticity, which they associated with purportedly primitive, historical, or foreign places. This pursuit of otherness defined modern tourism. Yet, middle- and upper-class Americans relied on new forms of transportation, especially cars, to access these places, and in the process, often introduced the very developments they sought to escape. In a similar vein, Gómez hinted at the comforts awaiting tourists, despite their interest in indigenous and colonial sites. While locals do not interact with symbols of modernity in this map, trains, planes, and cars with loaded luggage racks dot that landscape. Mexicans and their communities exist for the consumption of American tourists. This juxtaposition relates the artificial nature of Gómez’s map. It also conveys the extent to which maps’ selective histories promulgated the racialized hierarchies entangled in American tourism in Mexico. In other words, these maps reinforced the perception that, in large part, the comforts of modern leisure remained the domain of privileged white Americans in Mexico.11

Anita Brenner, author of the popular 1932 guide Your Mexican Holiday, also explored the contradictions that defined tourist images of Mexico. She summarized her view, saying, “modern Mexico is a cinema of human history seen backwards or forwards.”12 Brenner’s personal experiences in Mexico and her training as an anthropologist informed her approach to history. She was born in Mexico and later returned to Aguascalientes where she ran a farm. A student of Franz Boas, Brenner received a Ph.D. in anthropology in 1934. Her research focused on Aztec art. One of Brenner’s well-known works, Idols behind Altars, was one of the first books to examine the history of Mexican art from the precontact period through the 1920s. She argued that an indigenous culture had persisted and continued to shape Mexico, despite the dominance of the Catholic Church; these indigenous roots were reemerging more visibly in the Mexican Renaissance. Brenner’s focus on indigeneity appealed to American tourists who believed that Mexicans lived in a more authentic, preindustrial culture. This perception informed Brenner’s collaboration with an illustrator who was part of the Renaissance, Carlos Mérida, to create the maps for her guide. Originally from Guatemala, Mérida shared Brenner’s fascination with indigenous art. After studying art in Europe, Mérida moved to Mexico in 1919, where he specialized in painting murals. His artwork explored the uniqueness of New World culture and identity.13

Thus, it is not surprising that, like Gómez, Brenner emphasized Mexico’s history before and immediately after Spanish colonization. She set the tone in the book’s first map, “Route of Cortes.” Besides depicting Hernán Cortés’s path from the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico City, she included cities with indigenous names, both on and off the path in the broader region. Brenner and Mérida organized the book’s maps by time period and theme, mirroring the book’s chapter structure. For instance, “Mexico City, Colonial” focuses on the churches and structures remaining from the colonial era. The map does not name or clearly depict streets; instead, it is a pictorial map, more useful in seeing where buildings are in relation to each other than for navigating. Mérida drew miniature versions of each colonial building, filling them with dark ink for emphasis. By comparison, newer structures are for the most part nondescript, identical two-story buildings. Brenner insists that the guides’ maps and accompanying text function as an extensive “menu” of the “unmapped variety of pleasures in Mexico,” but she chose only to focus on precontact and colonial sites.14 This decision reflected the importance of tourist desire in dictating which sites were noteworthy. It also points to the role of art and tourism in the postrevolutionary secularization of religious sites; artists pushed the historical and aesthetic appeal of these places, rather than their religious significance, as part of a broader effort to forge a new national identity. Brenner and Mérida did not exclude modern changes from the guide entirely. Whereas Gómez placed subtle hints at modernity in his map, Mérida and Brenner included separate maps that show telephone lines with international connections and power lines. Like the maps focusing on colonial history, these maps are not suited for navigation and instead tell the reader a story. Their creators used them to craft and promulgate an image of a nation at once defined by the past and engaged in modernization. Brenner and Mérida emphasized that these two identities existed simultaneously and separately; they reiterated this idea visually by separating maps focused on historic and modern Mexico.15

The tension between a timeless and modern Mexico persisted in the 1930s. Like many early boosters, Mexico Power and Light, in partnership with the Mexico Tramways Commission, produced a pictorial map of Mexico City in 1932. The companies wanted to highlight the city’s up-to-date, electrified amenities while also illuminating its indigenous origins. Emily Edwards, an American artist living in Mexico, followed this approach. She created a map that echoed earlier interpretations of history and travel. Edwards was part of a growing group of U.S. intellectuals and artists who began traveling and living in Mexico during the Good Neighbor era. Edwards’s work was informed by her own belief that Mexicans’ contemporary adversity paralleled the struggle of the conquest. Thus, the period of conquest and colonization held particular relevance. She also developed her artistic style under the guidance of famed muralist Diego Rivera. Like Rivera, Edwards integrated indigenous motifs, colors, and styles into public murals and tourist cartography.16

Edwards created a map revolving around Aztec imagery (shown at She framed the map with Aztec symbols and words, interspersed with coats of arms belonging to Spanish conquistadors. The city grid, mapped in the center, creates the outline of a man costumed as an Aztec eagle, which represented the last Aztec emperor, Cuauhtémoc. As scholar Delia Cosentino argues, Edwards used this imagery to express support for the broader postrevolutionary promotion of indigenous culture at the national level. In other words, Edwards did not simply elevate the Aztec past; rather, by including it, she made an ideological claim about the appropriate relationship between history and modernization in a city with a fluctuating identity. She dramatized the eagle image by shading one area of the map, Colonia Obrera, to resemble an eagle’s feather. Whereas older parts of the city are colorful and identified, newer neighborhoods, such as Colonia Obrera, are less noticeable or disappear within the eagle image. Although the scale and detail of Edwards’s map made it impractical for navigation, it still conveyed a message. Like other creators of pictorial maps in the early 1930s, Edwards pushed tourists to see Mexico through the lens of its Aztec and colonial history. This imagery complemented some Americans’ growing interest in indigenous culture, both inside and outside the United States. For example, a hospitality chain in the American Southwest, the Fred Harvey Company, worked with the Santa Fe Railroad to sell popular Indian handicrafts. For tourists, both Indians and their crafts were objects of consumption and authenticity, representing a supposedly lost American past. As historian Dennis Merrill argues, though, Americans often found Mexican indigeneity, as embodied in Edwards’s work, even more intriguing because it represented an “amalgam of old and new” and “beckoned as a safe house for authentic Indian folkways” across the border.17

The creators of the 1935 Rotarians’ guide to Mexico also elevated Mexico’s indigenous and colonial legacies, and like earlier works, juxtaposed the past with modern tourist conveniences. Founded in the United States in 1905, Rotary International expanded its influence in Mexico during the 1930s and 1940s, “spreading the gospel of hard work and civic involvement.”18 Many Rotarians traveled to Mexico as part of the club’s planned excursions. These tourists were representative of the growing number of upper- and middle-class Americans traveling to Mexico. Rotary International created a guide for these tourists; its text and maps were meant to convince Americans that Mexico resembled European cities. It offered new amenities and beautiful suburbs, as well as a favorable business climate. In other words, Rotarians wanted tourists to invest in the nation. This blended focus on leisure and business differentiated the Rotarians’ work from that of Brenner and Gómez, whose work was influenced less by the American business world and more by cultural trends within Mexico.19

The Rotarian cartographers rearticulated their business motive through their maps. They placed symbols of industry—factories, mines, and new bridges—alongside ox carts, colonial churches, and rural villages. At the same time, the authors implied that these facets of old Mexico existed apart from the new Mexico attracting investment. This separation of tourism and industrialization echoed the images that Gómez and Mérida crafted. The Rotarians also emphasized Americans’ ability to use modern transportation to step back in time to a Mexico suspended in history. A seemingly inaccessible past became accessible through an expanding roadway network. Recommended side trips from Mexico City fanned out into the countryside, taking tourists to the shrine at Guadalupe, Temple of Quetzalcóatl, or the convent at San Agustín de Acolman. Through narrative text accompanying these mapped excursions, the authors pushed the idea of car travel to the past. They drew attention to “drives which take you back thousands of years…which transport you to charming Indian settlements where life flows on much the same as it was before Columbus” in a romantic place “just awakened from the middle ages” where “real Indians” live.20 These creators placed a twist on the contemporary fascination within indigeneity in Mexico by commercializing this past and displaying it for American tourists seeking authentic living. By painting Mexico as a timeless place intended for American consumption, cartographers reinforced American notions of superiority.

Ruth Poyo’s Touring Mexico also captures the complexity of an imagined Mexico. Poyo created this guide for the growing number of Americans driving to Mexico for vacation. An American who moved to Mexico in the 1930s, Poyo expressed an interest in indigeneity and Spanish colonization in her maps. Like Gómez, she published her work with Eugenio Fischgrund, whose company specialized in indigenous prints. In the text accompanying her maps, Poyo describes the exceptional intellect of the indigenous peoples of Mexico at the time of conquest and deems their defeat as “adventurous and romantic.”21 This interpretation foreshadows the biases, silences, and historical imagination that surfaced in her maps. Like the Rotarians, Brenner, and Gómez, she hints at modern industry, including factories and oil derricks in her maps, even though her narrative does not mention them. In her pictorial maps, however, she focused primarily on narrating a particular image of Mexico. For example, Poyo used the decorative cartouche of one map to tell the history of the nation, beginning with the founding of Mexico City and ending in 1931. The map’s timeline skips the period from 1810 to 1931, a time of modernization, violence, and political reform. The map reenacts the same narrative arc present in earlier maps, which allowed Poyo to keep the distant past easily accessible yet erase more recent events that drew attention to conflict and instability. In other words, maps helped boosters gloss over past violence and craft an invented history that somehow skipped from the supposedly storybook days of Spanish colonization to Mexico’s twentieth-century ties to modernizing technology and by extension, the United States. Historical events only mattered if they bolstered American tourists’ interest in Mexico. Travel writer Carveth Wells later summarized the logic of this approach, claiming that Mexico’s “romantic and tragic history” would override Mexicans’ reputation as “troublesome neighbors.”22

The maps that Leone Moats and Alice-Leone Moats included in their guidebook, Off to Mexico, show the extent to which cartographers and guide writers continued to balance the romanticized past with modern convenience. The Moatses were a mother-daughter team who developed the guide after living in Mexico. They came from affluent New York society; Leone Moats’s husband worked in the lumber industry in Mexico. She recorded her experiences living in Mexico before and during the Revolution in her memoir, Thunder in Their Veins, published eight years before her co-authored travel guide. Thus, the Moatses approached the subject of Mexican tourism from their own privileged, American background. They contracted with noted Mexican caricaturist Matías Santoyo to make the maps for their guide.23

One of the guide’s maps, “City of Mexico and Environs,” covers the same area as older history-centered maps. Santoyo reiterated the Moatses’ planned itineraries, creating thematic tours identified by different colored routes. These include the blue line, which leads to churches, the red line that focuses on “museums, old houses, paintings, murals, [and] ruins,” and the purple line to the Sanctuary of Los Remedios.24 The guide’s creators, however, did not shy away from including evidence of recent development. Like other cartographers, Santoyo juxtaposed recent modernization projects with indigenous and colonial sites. For example, the “Historic Map of Mexico City” overlays the contemporary street grid and buildings over the Zócalo at the time of European contact. Santoyo not only translated the built environment into the landscape that Mexican and American travelers would have recognized in the 1930s, but he also made place names familiar. For instance, the map explains the function of different sites in modern times, such as “Great Teocali (Temple)” and “religious college (nunnery).”25 In this sense, Santoyo blended twentieth-century concepts with fifteenth-century places and practices. The map “Chalco to San Jerómino” depicts the expected historic sites, including Cuiluilco Pyramid and Carmen Convent, but also identifies a new aqueduct near Aztec sites. In a similar vein, another map in the text portrays Calixtlahuaca Pyramid as the largest feature but places power lines next to it.26

These examples point to the continuity in perceptions and interpretations of Mexico’s past in tourist maps made for Americans. Specifically, they promote the idea (outlined in the Mexican Tourist Association’s 1939 guide) that contrast was “Mexico’s keynote,” particularly the “fusion of fifteenth and twentieth-century civilizations.”27 Cartographers drew readers’ attention to a romantic indigenous and colonial past through symbolism, itineraries, and erasure. Yet, they hinted at modern comfort and economic promise; Santoyo’s decision to sketch aqueducts and power lines offers a more recent example of this pattern. By retelling history to match the interests of American tourists, cartographers supported outsiders’ power in shaping lo típico.

The ways in which cartographers manipulated images of Mexicans and Americans mirrored their depictions of history. They continued to mold the idea that Mexico straddled the worlds of colonial romance and modern comfort. Cartographers promulgated this contrast in maps’ juxtaposition of modern American tourists with picturesque Mexican workers. They articulated both the hierarchy characteristic of tourist economies as well as the skewed power dynamic between the United States and Mexico. While many Americans traveled south of the border, few Mexicans visited the United States as tourists. Cartographers in both countries captured the unevenness of this relationship, but they typically did so without critiquing the middle- and upper-class Americans consuming their maps. Instead, they further entrenched the racial and class-based dichotomy that defined American tourism in Mexico: the leisure of privileged, white tourists and the labor of poor and working-class people of color. The erasure of capitalist labor enhanced this contrast. It reinforced Americans’ sense of superiority over their supposedly premodern neighbors. At the same time, it affirmed the idea that vacations were supposed to be an escape from the very elements that defined notions of American superiority, particularly capitalist labor, industrial economies, and urban life.28

Miguel Gómez Medina, who created several pictorial maps for Eugenio Fischgrund during the 1930s, expressed the boundaries between those at work and those at play in his 1931 pictorial map of Mexico (shown at The Hotel Geneve, where many Americans stayed in Mexico City, distributed free copies of this map to patrons. The brightly colored map had no navigational function; instead it attempted to capture the economic and cultural diversity of Mexico. Gómez emphasized the extractive nature of Mexico’s economy, painting an array of regional products, including seafood, corn, cotton, bananas, and pearls. He also included oil derricks and small factories along the U.S.-Mexico border and in Mexico City. Mexicans dressed in regional clothing are interspersed among the nation’s products but do no interact with them. This contrast echoes the separation between economic growth and traditional culture that other maps presented. Rather, Mexicans and their culture, like the commodities surrounding them, are on display for American consumers. They embody some of the nuance of Mexico’s regions, but that nuance is limited to lo típico, or a particular type of Mexicaness that did not challenge white Americans’ sense of their own superiority. Gómez stressed this point by choosing to include Americans in his map. Unlike the Mexicans in his work, American tourists appear in moments of leisure, dressed in twentieth-century clothing. A white, blond haired woman in a bikini rests on the beach while other tourists enjoy sailing along the coast. Cartographers would reproduce this motif of white, modern leisure in later guides.29

Ruth Poyo included some of the same imagery in her guide’s maps. Her work expressed a fascination with an imagined, indigenous past immune from the contamination of modern life. Poyo believed that Mexico’s indigenous cultures made the nation distinctive, and thus, appealing to tourists. She was not alone in this belief. The Mexican government actively promoted the exploration of indigenous history and culture, both as a means of bolstering tourism and forging a new national identity after the Revolution. Poyo summarized this logic, saying “Much of the charm, individuality, and strength of the present Mexican nation lies in the fact that her roots are buried deep in ancient and glorious Indian civilizations.”30 As a result, Poyo placed particular emphasis on indigeneity in her guide’s maps. She included a map of the nation’s indigenous people, indicating the percentage living in each state. Poyo only depicted Mexicans wearing indigenous or regional attire. They sleep under trees, fish, work on artisan crafts, and carry fruit on their heads. While Poyo’s work drew attention to the rich cultures and livelihoods of Mexico’s indigenous communities, it also essentialized these groups by depicting relative uniformity across Mexico. Although these Mexicans wear different clothing, they are not dynamic. Their work, or perhaps more accurately, their activities are not representative of the labor that most Mexicans performed, whether in business, agriculture, or government sectors. In this case, lo típico affirmed the uneven power dynamic between the United States and Mexico.31

Santoyo also repeated images of a static, picturesque populace in the Moatses’ 1940 guide. He highlighted the divide between Mexican labor and American leisure, just as Gómez had done. In “Cuernavaca-Acapulco,” Santoyo portrays a Mexican in a recreational space but clearly delineates the difference between him and the white hunter in the same scene. While the hunter looks for wildlife, the Mexican man, donning a sombrero, crouches in the canoe and paddles, suggesting he works as a guide in the tourist industry. Again, this work implies that from the American viewpoint, Mexicans’ proper role in recreation was work rather than play. Santoyo illustrated an even stronger contrast between American tourists and Mexican workers in another map in the same book. While a white couple dressed in formal attire dances under the title “Night Life” in one corner of the map, in another, a man wearing a headdress and shaking a maraca dances with a woman in a floral gown. In this instance, American tourists engage in a modern dance while Mexicans perform the traditional “Dance of the Conquest.” In the American imagination, nationality determined how people danced; Mexicans reserved the trappings of twentieth-century style for Americans but also performed artifacts of a picturesque culture for the tourist gaze. Like Poyo, Santoyo both highlighted and essentialized Mexicans’ lives through lo típico.32

The limited range of Mexican images in tourist maps had not changed by the end of the Good Neighbor era. Sydney Clark’s 1945 guide, Mexico: Magnetic Southland, illustrates this persistent trend. A professional American travel writer, Clark began writing about budget-friendly tourism in the 1930s. His daughter, Jacqueline Clark Jacobsen, provided the illustrations for many of his books, including the maps in Magnetic Southland. She presented Mexicans emblematic of lo típico in the book’s primary map. These include Clark Jacobsen’s sketches of a matador luring a bull, a woman balancing a pot on her head, and a sombrero-wearing man guiding a donkey laden with bottles. This artistic choice reinforced broader perceptions of Mexico’s supposedly static culture and essentialized people. In particular, Clark Jacobsen concealed the diverse ways in which Mexicans worked inside and outside the tourism industry, especially in cities. Historian Helen Delpar explains part of this strategy, saying tourists sought the “peasant culture” linked to isolated or indigenous communities because it exemplified the cultural distinctiveness of the Americas and embodied an antidote to the issues of industrialization.33

The Mexican workers that Americans did see depicted in their maps are engaged in pre-capitalist labor. Wages, supervisors, and markets are absent in the world of the matador and muleteer. Portraying Mexicans working in comparable capitalist industries would undermine Americans’ idea that their economic power set them apart from their southern neighbor. The absence of capitalist labor also allowed Americans to maintain the notion that vacation was an escape from their own capitalist work at home. Many Americans believed that leisure was connected to capitalism because it was a product of and antidote to capitalist labor. They ignored, however, that tourism was a key part of capitalist economies in the twentieth century. Cartographers promoted that misperception by rearticulating the false dichotomies between labor and leisure as well as Mexicans and Americans.

Cartographers, such as Jacobsen, responded to American expectations in refashioning Mexicans. Bellhops, waiters, and travel agents did belong on the tourist stage because their labor did not contribute to a uniquely Mexican narrative for Americans’ consumption. Hiding the labor of leisure—a core element of modern tourist economies—was at the heart of promoting the romance of leisure. This practice not only concealed the less glamorous elements of tourism, such as cleaning, but also placed tourists at the center of their travel experience, hiding much of the Mexican labor and expertise that went into catching the perfect fish, riding to an isolated waterfall, or enjoying a “secret” picnic spot. Acknowledging Mexicans’ powerful role within the tourist experience would potentially undermine Americans’ sense of superiority. Instead, the muted depiction of Mexican labor suggested that Americans were the true experts and explorers, only relying on Mexicans as assistants in their tourist adventures. Cartographers reproduced many Americans’ perception that Mexicans were a picturesque and primitive people incapable of running highly modern tourism businesses. In this way, mapmakers intensified the fracture lines of race and class that divided labor and leisure on the ground and in the American imagination.

Mapmakers’ depictions of travel routes, whether by land, road, or air, further illustrate the tension between romance and modernity. Beginning in 1925, the Mexican government launched a tremendous road-building campaign intended not only to support broader economic growth but also to generate new tourist dollars. These modernization efforts focused on four highways and were particularly effective in creating a more cohesive road system around Mexico City. The Pan-American Highway was one key project. The 766-mile road stretching from the border town of Laredo, Texas, to Mexico City was completed in 1936 and enabled more Americans to travel into the heart of Mexico by car. In fact, building projects in Mexico paralleled an expansion in car ownership in the United States. Between 1935 and 1937, border crossings from Laredo to Nuevo Laredo increased by more than 50 percent. As Mexico’s infrastructure expanded, cartographers added new forms of transportation and communities farther off the beaten track to their maps. For this reason, depictions of transportation underwent the greatest change over the course of the Good Neighbor era. The core interpretations, motivations, and attitudes underlying these representations, however, persisted. Specifically, cartographers included and excluded transportation options based on tourists’ desire for an adventurous yet comfortable trip. By limiting the routes that tourists knew and traveled, cartographers limited the Mexico that many Americans saw. This approach allowed cartographers to contribute to a larger effort—on the part of officials, writers, and business boosters—of crafting a romantic and modern Mexico for American tourists.34

Anita Brenner’s Your Mexican Holiday provides an early example of the ways in which cartographers mapped transportation. The guide includes large-scale maps of the nation’s air, ship, and railway routes but only segmented views of its road system. The book’s cartographer, Carlos Mérida, segmented the roads at the request of the National Highway Commission, which did not want to publicize unfinished roads to tourists. Mérida included some unsurfaced roads in his maps but focused primarily on the surfaced stretch from Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City. Mérida’s compliance with the government agency’s request speaks to the collaboration between public and private entities during this period. Mérida further supported the agency’s plan by only including sites in the immediate vicinity of roads. Each road map consists of a singular line (representing the road) and dots indicating towns along its path. This style was typical of other maps during the period and demonstrated a desire to streamline tourist travel. Not only did promoters and officials want to keep visitors on the main byways, which offered the up-to-date amenities that Americans expected, they also wanted to build Mexico’s reputation as a destination around its rapidly developing road system and nationalized oil industry. Even though places off the main roads offered the blend of romance and modernity that tourists sought, their distance from updated roads meant mapmakers erased them from travel guides and consequently, from tourist agendas.35

Mérida also took the location of roads and railways into consideration when mapping some of Mexico’s more remote and adventurous destinations. Just as other cartographers often juxtaposed artifacts of the past with modern routes of transit, Mérida conveyed the importance of roads and railways in expanding access to a romantic, wild Mexico. Brenner confirmed this perspective, saying she did not want to completely erase the “tantalizing myth of Mexican dangers,” including “bandits, hostile Indians, and germs” because she wanted American tourists to know that an “ordinary tour in Mexico is an adventure and a story.”36 In other words, she wanted Americans to have daring experiences informed by their own myth-based expectations, but to do so within the confines of a safe environment with limited risk. Mérida’s artistic representations supported Brenner’s goal. He included rivers for rafting and peaks for hiking, but only in places surrounded by railroads or roads. This approach was both practical and strategic. American tourists needed a relatively easy way to travel to recreation destinations, but they also wanted to engage in calculated adventure. They could “conquer” nature, and by extension, enact their own feelings of superiority over the country they were touring. For these reasons, Mérida saw and articulated Mexico’s landscape through the lenses of road and rail. Mountains and rivers that were not visible from or close to transit lines disappear in his renderings. Thus, his maps depict the extent to which notions of “romantic adventure” evolved in tandem with modern transportation.37

This narrowed vision of Mexico was not exclusive to rail and road; it also permeated cruise ship tourism. One of the companies on Mexico’s West Coast, Grace Line, spread this vision through Jo Mora’s guides. Mora was a native of Uruguay who moved to the United States as a child. He trained as an illustrator and later moved to California, where he specialized in a large range of artistic mediums, including mapmaking. After traveling along the West Coast of Mexico and the United States, Mora penned “A Log of the Spanish Main,” which he intended for tourists on cruises. The 1934 guide included maps, narrative, and many pages for readers to record their own experiences. His section on Mexico focuses on Mazatlán. The accompanying map shows a limited number of sites; Mora highlights places where the tour service, Soto’s, took visitors. He drew Soto’s boats and cars taking tourists to these sites: an old Spanish fort, hotel, fishing village, brewery, and “picnics, amusements, and whoopee.”38 Excited guides wait on shore with their arms outstretched, greeting tourists. In short, Mazatlán appears to be a tourist playground with little proof that anyone actually lives or works in the town, with the exception of guides. Mora’s interpretation reflects both the practicalities of cruise travel and the American vision of Mexico. Certainly, cruise passengers had a limited amount of time on shore, so streamlining their options made sense. In this way, Mora filtered his interpretation of Mazatlán through the constraints and exigencies of cruise travel. Tourists using this map often gained their initial impression of the town—a “place of mañanas,” as Mora describes it—through this map.39 Mora, like Mérida before him, translated and pushed romantic imagery through the experience of twentieth-century travel. In Mora’s view, Mazatlán existed so that American tourists could escape to a pre-capitalist world; modernity was limited to the cruise ship and those who travel on it. By painting the town and its people in picturesque ways, Mora reinforced the uneven power dynamic between Mexican workers and American tourists.

When British writer Graham Greene published his guide, Another Mexico, in 1939, the balance between romantic landscapes and modern transportation was still dominant. Greene experienced this balance during his own trip to Mexico, which involved travel by donkey, car, and plane. He based Another Mexico on this trip. Greene often expressed criticism of Mexican politics, particularly anticlericalism, but he also demonstrated an interest in Mexican modernization, as evident in his depiction of the country’s road system. Specifically, he emphasized the familiarity, order, and predictability of Mexico’s roads. Greene did this by making all of the roads straight lines that stretched from Mexico City to U.S. urban centers, such as Denver and San Francisco. The map translates all distances into miles, likening Mexican roads to those in the United States. In smoothing out Mexican roads and imposing the mileage system on maps, Greene countered the image of a chaotic and disorderly Mexico and replaced it with the controlled and predictable environment that Americans associated with modernity. Although the map’s subject is Mexico, the American tourist is its defining feature.40

At the same time, Greene ventured beyond the standard travel routes that Miguel Gómez Medina and Jo Mora mapped. He found Mexico’s indigenous cultures fascinating and more authentic. His interest in indigeneity led him to remote communities throughout southern Mexico, which he mapped in his guide. Symbols indicate Greene’s mode of transportation for each leg of his trip. First, he flew over the mountains to Salta de Agua and took a detour via donkey to Palenque before catching a plane to Las Casas. He then took a car, shown with luggage piled on top, to Tuxtla before boarding a plane. In this case, donkey and plane travel allowed Greene to access locations without navigable roads and therefore allowed him to experience picturesque, rural landscapes and communities. In Greene’s mind, blending transportation methods gave tourists the opportunity to be adventurous and to see a place “left behind by time” without sacrificing too many modern comforts.41 He claimed that this type of travel enabled visitors to experience the excitement of sightseeing in moderation. In this way, he reiterated the concept of careful adventure that Anita Brenner articulated, although Greene expanded the boundaries of Americans’ “playground” to include roadless areas.42

For Americans without Greene’s disposable income and resources, Power’s Guide to Mexico offered an alternative guide. This book targeted Americans eager to see Mexico by car. Whereas Mérida and Mora reimagined Mexico through the constraints of transportation, the guide’s author, Thomas Power, reimagined transportation itself. The guide’s origins shed light on this approach. The Pan American Tourist Bureau, based in Laredo, Texas, published the touring book in 1940. The organization consisted of boosters hoping to promote and profit from the new Pan-American Highway, which traveled through Laredo. Thus, the bureau’s guide downplayed and discouraged travel outside the highway’s immediate vicinity. The guide stressed the fact that this highway was the only updated, comfortable route into Mexico, prefacing one map with the disclaimer, “At present there is BUT ONE ALL WEATHER ROAD from the American border into the heart of Mexico i.e. CAMINO NACIONAL NO 1, known as the Pan American Highway, Laredo, Texas, to Mexico City and Tehuacán.”43 Undoubtedly, the roads from Nogales, El Paso, and Brownsville lacked the improvements of the Pan-American Highway; yet, in comparison to other guides, Power’s reflected an overt attempt to narrow tourists’ vision of Mexico. Its mapmakers excluded rail, boat, and air travel. When the cartographers included roads off the highway, especially in western Mexico, the accompanying map keys stressed unpleasant road conditions, categorized as “dirt good, dirt bad, easy to lose road, gravel.44 In other words, cartographers envisioned the western routes as the antithesis to the rejuvenated, trans-America spirit of Mexico. Those routes could lead to communities that did not fit lo típico, undermining the image of Mexico that cartographers wanted to broadcast to American tourists. Moreover, difficult road conditions could complicate American tourists’ confidence in their perceived mastery of the road and of Mexico at large.

Mapmakers attempted to do more than downplay business competitors and promote the Pan-American Highway; their maps also imparted a desire to improve Americans’ impression of Mexico. They placed less emphasis on Mexico’s romantic appeal, which appeared in earlier maps, and instead sought to put concerns over modern amenities and safety to rest. For instance, a map of the Laredo-Nuevo Laredo border shows the American Automobile Association (AAA) on the border, Ford Motor Company, garages, machine shops, and motor courts that supported the bureau. The symbols for the AAA and Ford mimic their signature brand lettering, which highlights the mapmakers’ attempt to Americanize border travel through recognizable businesses. In several instances, the mapmakers for Power’s Guide gave sites with automobile assistance as much importance as those with historical or cultural attractions. The “Log Laredo to Monterrey” exemplifies this trend. It indicates Ciénega de Flores in large, bold lettering even though it was a “small place” with “nothing to offer, except gas and oils.”45 These cartographic decisions, in part, reflect the map’s purpose. Created by a business-minded agency for American tourists, its makers intended to highlight pro-American businesses and to provide much needed, practical information for the growing number of Americans visiting Mexico independently in their cars. At the same time, the maps represent a response to the recent expropriation of the oil industry by Mexico’s president, Lázaro Cárdenas, in 1938. This move had generated negative press in the United States and called into question Mexico’s progress since the Revolution in the minds of some Americans. In emphasizing the reliability of oil resources and other travel resources, cartographers pushed Americans to renew their trust in their southern neighbor. Their amplification of symbols of modernity, such as abundant refueling locations, proved just as important as traditional points of interest in drawing American tourists to Mexico and in countering the nation’s association with danger and instability.46

Cartographers employed by Mexico’s national oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), defined and promoted the modernity of Mexican roads even more distinctly. The maps in Pemex guides show once again the extent to which cartographers and publishers influenced maps’ underlying messages. Pemex emerged as a consequence of the nationalization of oil in Mexico. The company had a vested interest in increasing tourist travel and consumption on the nation’s roads. Thus, it collaborated with other private and public entities in funding booster initiatives; Pemex even created its own magazine, Pemex Travel Club, with an American audience in mind. Reiterating anti-colonial rhetoric, authors and cartographers depicted modernization as an internally driven process that pivoted around Mexican institutions and cities. Yet they did not want to alienate American tourists. Thus, they emphasized both the distinctiveness and familiarity of Mexico.47 One guide from the early 1940s, titled “Mexico: Itineraries and Costs of a Motor Trip,” fit this pattern. It represented an expansion of the limited range of destinations (primarily along the Pan-American Highway) that had dominated earlier guides. At the same time, like earlier guides, it fits the landscape into a series of small, rectangular maps. Each map represents a portion of a road extending to or from Mexico City. These maps show a segmented country, strung together by roads and highways. In other words, Pemex cartographers defined the landscape around roadways. They also made Mexico City the centerpiece of travel by routing all itineraries through the city. This signified a shift from the Pan American Tourist Bureau’s focus on American entry points and the border. It also reinforced the idea that Pemex, along with other boosters, thought the modern style of Mexico City would appeal to American tourists, and consequently, improve the nation’s overall image.48

Pemex maps offer other clues about their creators’ motivations. For instance, the cartographers at Pemex paired each map with a mileage estimate. They explained at the guide’s beginning, though, that this estimate was intentionally inaccurate. To the cartographers, maps were more accurate if they took driving conditions and hazards into account, rather than recreating the physical landscape with mathematical precision. This technique reflected Pemex’s interest in supporting comfortable travel. It also revealed a desire to motivate tourists to buy more gasoline, oil, and supplies in anticipation of long journeys, and thus, contribute to Pemex’s business. Together, these examples point to the ways in which cartographers remade Mexico from the perspective of a car windshield. Just as earlier cartographers had filtered Mexican landscapes through the exigencies of travel and transit, Pemex boosters reproduced the same ways of knowing and seeing the land. They redrew Mexico’s roads so that American tourists could consume its landscapes and culture with ease. Despite the transformational nature of Pemex’s creation, the company’s maps did not bring about a significant shift in tourist rhetoric or a rejection of cross-border promotional tactics.49

Cartographers reimagined more than Mexico’s history, people, and transportation; they also transformed the nation’s physical environment to meet American tourists’ expectations. Environmental analysis brings a new perspective to larger discussions about the construction of Mexico’s cultural, economic, political, and social identity. Specifically, it reveals the ways in which cartographers created a Mexico that was at once romantic and modern. Cartographers emphasized the fact that Mexico was a place where tourists could experience wilderness and adventure but within the confines of a tamed environment. This represented a shift from nineteenth-century maps, in which cartographer-tourists depicted themselves as adventurers engaging in conquest and exploration in uncharted places. At the same time, both nineteenth- and twentieth-century cartographers reinforced Americans’ sense of superiority by showing that the Mexican environment was theirs to control.

Frances Toor’s Motorist Guide illustrated mapmaking’s new direction. An American, Toor first visited Mexico in 1922. She found Mexican folk arts fascinating and decided to stay in the country, where she founded a bilingual magazine, Mexican Folkways. The secretariat of public education subsidized the publication, which focused on Mexican folklore. Toor, like Brenner, was part of a group of “veteran admirers of Mexican culture” whose guides supplemented the broader initiatives of cultural diplomacy.50 Toor aimed to make Mexico both exciting and inviting for American tourists. She accomplished this, in part, through her guide, which portrayed a knowable and predictable landscape and was reprinted throughout the 1930s. For example, Toor only included rivers in her maps if they appeared under control. She mapped the Salinas, Sabinas, Salado, and Río Grande, but just at the points at which they intersected the Pan-American Highway. While this reflected the general road-centric perspective of contemporary maps, it also echoed the twentieth-century drive within and beyond Mexico to achieve modernization through harnessing nature. By constraining rivers on paper, mapmakers extended the idea of a tame, stable Mexico to the natural world. They rearticulated the language of colonization, or the idea that foreign lands (now exploited through tourism) were knowable and manageable.51

The endsheets map in George Seaton’s What to See and Do in Mexico provides one of the most telling examples of this trend (fig. 1). The American veteran had written extensively about travel abroad prior to penning his guide to Mexico in 1939. Seaton divided the country into eight “tourist zones.” He identified few sites north of San Luis Potosí and on the Yucatán with the exception of Chichén Itzá, a popular site for exploring the romanticized narrative of Mayan history. Seaton labeled these regions in general terms: “This is Mostly Desert” and “This is Mostly Jungle.”52 He hesitated to draw tourists to these environments not only because of the risks involved in jungle and desert travel, but also because these regions contradicted the image of moderate adventure that boosters disseminated. Yet, the fact that Seaton chose to include these sights, albeit in less navigable detail, signifies that the contrast between wild and tame still appealed to American tourists. The sites that did make the cut, such as Chichén Itzá, often fit within Mexico’s established storyline and offered inclusive tours or amenities that promised modern comfort. Seaton reproduced the same cartographic silences that had appeared in the work of other mapmakers, who eliminated or manipulated histories, people, and roads that contradicted Mexico’s tourist image.53

Figure 1.

George Seaton, “Tourist Zones in Mexico,” What to See and Do in Mexico (New York: Prentice Hall, 1939).

Figure 1.

George Seaton, “Tourist Zones in Mexico,” What to See and Do in Mexico (New York: Prentice Hall, 1939).

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Thomas Power also chose to highlight and conceal aspects of Mexico’s environment in his guide for the Pan American Tourist Bureau. The guide prepared drivers in two ways; it provided technical information on navigating Mexico’s mountains and directed them to see those mountains through certain cultural filters. Power urged American tourists to study diligently the “land of high mountains and tabletops.”54 To aid this, he paired maps with a chart that tracked elevation changes every thousand feet, easing drivers’ concerns over the strain of elevation gain on their vehicles. By making high altitude areas predictable and manageable, Power made independent travel, or “road adventure,” more feasible for anxiety-ridden tourists from the flatlands. In a similar vein, he tracked weather changes at different altitudes in “Taxco to Acapulco” and “Topographical Map of Mexico.” This strategy reflected the ways in which Toor constrained and remade rivers in her own maps; Power applied this technique to weather, creating a sense of control over its variability. Reducing weather patterns to the measured bounds of a map gave tourists the impression that Mexico was stable and predictable, and thus, modernizing.55

Power emphasized the mountains of Mexico, in part, because of their romantic connotation. He was not alone in comparing Mexican landscapes to the Alps, Pyrenees, and Rocky Mountains, all of which dominated and inspired Romanticism. In one instance, he drew attention to Saltillo, drawing a circle around the town to draw the viewer’s attention. The text and accompanying map recommend nearby Diamante Pass and claim that its 7,800-foot elevation guarantees an interesting view. The guide identifies Saltillo as the “Denver of Mexico.”56 Power, like many of his contemporaries, viewed his maps as guides to seeing Mexico in a particular way, not just navigating the country. He pushed Americans to experience sublime mountain landscapes, but at the same time, to do so within a familiar context. Transposing European and American environments on Mexico’s mountain ranges allowed cartographers to strike a balance between adventure and predictability. By translating Mexico’s distinctive features into something familiar and desired by American tourists, cartographers remade the nation to meet the tourist gaze.57

A 1941 guide to Puebla placed a different twist on this balance. Created by the Mexican Tourist Association (AMT), this booklet targeted tourists traveling by car and rail. It was part of a larger series of city guides that the AMT produced for distribution in the United States. Founded in 1938, the association was a private entity that received funding and support from government and business entities, including Mexicana Airlines, National Railways of Mexico, and the Hotel Geneve. It also collaborated with American organizations in creating brochures for American tourists. Throughout its promotional efforts, the AMT sought to create a neighborly, appealing image of Mexico for American tourists. Campaigns focused not only on attracting tourists to Mexico, but also on shaping a postrevolutionary identity rooted in indigeneity and modern change. At the time of the Puebla guide’s publication, Mexico’s tourism industry was having a banner year, complete with a well-publicized Presidential Tour for travel leaders. Like other publishers, the AMT portrayed Mexico as a place of contrast in between modern and colonial worlds.58

The AMT’s depiction of the local environment contributed to this image-making campaign. In one of the guide’s maps, the cartographer illustrated the roads and railroads lines between Mexico City and Puebla, as well as the communities and volcanoes between the two cities. The cities and villages appear incredibly small; only churches and cathedrals are distinguishable. There is little evidence that many people live in the region. The stretches of land between towns are empty with the exception of roads and tracks, and the map does not show any residential structures. On the surface, this map’s features do not seem to have an underlying message. They suggest that the cartographer simply intended to give the reader a sense of the distance between communities and their transportation options.59

When paired with the guide’s other illustrations and text, however, a subtler theme of conquest and wilderness becomes apparent. The authors advised, “If you are weary of the present and want to catch up with past, with leisure and graceful living, then the City of Angels is your destination.”60 In the outskirts of Puebla, tourists could retrace “[Hernán] Cortés’s epic trip. The discomforts, of course, are omitted.”61 The authors continued, emphasizing the fact that contemporary roads and rails mirrored Cortés’s route, meaning visitors could see the local landscape, unchanged since Cortés’s time. The boosters wrote, “This is the very land, so beautiful, so rich, spread out in all of its tantalizing variety that Cortés saw and loved…this is the challenge that drew him irresistibly through the uncharted wilderness…You too will know that impulse…on your own voyage of discovery and conquest.”62 With the context of this narrative, the silences and empty spaces in the AMT’s map make more sense. They replicate the imagined wilderness that Cortés encountered. The absence of people, residences, agriculture, or many signs of development all reinforce the idea that this supposed wilderness was open for consumption and conquest. The AMT appealed to tourists’ acceptance of this myth and to their own role as consumers of Mexico’s cultural, environmental, and economic resources. Moreover, the AMT visually and textually reiterated an idea that appeared in other guides: tourists could access a nation suspended in the past through modern tools of exploration and exploitation. Tourism was a new extractive industry that reproduced older patterns of foreign power in Mexico. The juxtaposition of a static, ancient landscape—embodied in volcanoes and untouched valleys—with roads and tracks accentuated this point.63

The creators of Pemex’s 1941 guide, Mexico’s Western Highways, also integrated practical and symbolic information in its maps. This book reflected the expansion of Mexico’s road tourism to the West Coast. It included more side roads, destinations, and communities than many earlier maps had illustrated. These new sites were not necessarily tourist centers. In fact, the places that Pemex’s cartographers chose to include suggest that the guide’s maps were more than navigational tools; they were also meant to influence tourists’ perceptions of the Mexican economy and state. Unlike the AMT’s timeless landscape, the local environment in Pemex’s guide appears dynamic and developed. No blank spaces exist on the map. Rather, the cartographer illustrated mountain topography, shorelines, rivers, roads, towns, and hot springs. The cartographer also highlighted the contemporary ways in which Mexicans were cultivating and shaping natural resources. Depictions of forest plantings and national parks drew attention to the government’s conservation efforts. Other points of interest included silver mines, sugar mills, and sawmills.64

Each example suggests a new take on the theme of modernity within tourist literature. Working Mexicans, not just traveling Americans, engaged with the environment in twentieth-century ways in these maps. That did not mean that cartographers excluded older picturesque visions of Mexico. These concepts still figured prominently in Pemex’s guide. Its cartographers probably did not intend for tourists to venture out to these work sites, but nonetheless, by seeing them on their maps, tourists had the chance to reconsider Mexico’s purported backwardness. Whereas earlier cartographers had shaped tourists’ expectations and experiences primarily through cartographic silences, Pemex’s cartographers sought to do the same through amplification. They still depicted human dominance over nature, but they did not hide Mexicans’ active and conscious role in harnessing nature to meet the tourist gaze. This interpretation aligned with the anti-colonial nature of Pemex—a state-owned petroleum company formed after the expropriation of foreign-owned oil—and contrasted the colonial undertones of contemporary American-made maps. In short, Pemex’s map offers a glimpse of how some cartographers began to challenge the popular portrayal of Mexican and American power in tourist maps during the 1940s.65

Cartographers’ portrayal of history, people, transportation, and the environment illustrates the power dynamics of tourism. Cartographers transformed the Mexican past, blending markers of lo típico and modernity to create a pre-capitalist escape for tourists. They made a clear distinction between picturesque Mexican workers and modern American tourists; this divide between labor and leisure was not unique to Mexico and became increasingly common in post-World War II tourist economies. Cartographers attempted to limit where and how Americans traveled through Mexico, too. In doing so, they remade the nation to meet the tourist gaze. Lastly, cartographers manipulated the nation’s physical environment to match American tourists’ expectations. Mexico’s landscapes were at once timeless and evolving, predictable and wild.

Maps allow historians to revisit the Mexico that cartographers and tourists envisioned, experienced, and transformed. Maps often appear supplementary—something created by an anonymous illustrator to enhance the author’s narrative guide. In reality, maps were tools. Cartographers approached the practice of mapmaking through the filters of their own motivations, experiences, and ideas, leveraging maps to construct a particular Mexico for tourists’ consumption. The medium of cartography allowed mapmakers to depict many Mexicos in a singular image simultaneously: a nation that was empowered and exploited, modern and picturesque, physical and imagined. For this reason, maps are a tangible manifestation of the ways in which material and cultural realities intersected in the twentieth-century tourist experience. As more Americans traveled independently to Mexico during the Good Neighbor era, cartographers conditioned their expectations and shaped their experiences. Cartographers did not simply spread preexisting ideas; instead, they participated in a larger process of forging new images grounded in the postrevolutionary idea that Mexicans could modernize their economy without erasing their cultural traditions. Recognizing cartographers’ power to visualize and promote a more equitable world, Caroline Bartlett Crane asked them to rethink their portrayal of Mexico and the United States in 1930. Yet, in the following fifteen years, cartographers ultimately intensified the asymmetrical relationship between the United States and Mexico and on a larger scale, between tourist and the “toured upon.”66

Thanks to Alan McPherson, David Flynt, Clarke Iakovakis, anonymous reviewers, the University of Oklahoma’s Department of History, and Historical Research Associates, Inc. for feedback and support.


Linda J. Rybrandt, “My Life with Caroline Bartlett Crane,” Michigan Sociological Review 14, (Fall 2000): 75–78.


Caroline Bartlett Crane, “Letter to the editor,” The Rotarian, January 1930, 40.






As American vacations accelerated after World War II, entry numbers to Mexico jumped once more (to 254,844 visitors in 1946). See Dina Berger, “Goodwill Ambassadors on Holiday: Tourism, Diplomacy, and Mexico-U.S. Relations,” in Holiday in Mexico: Critical Reflections on Tourism and Tourist Encounters, eds. Dina Berger and Andrew Grant Wood (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 122; Berger, The Development of Mexico’s Tourist Industry: Pyramids by Day, Martinis by Night (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), 11–13, Appendix A; Dennis Merrill, Negotiating Paradise: U.S. Tourism and Empire in Twentieth-Century Latin America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 11–12, 96–98.


Other scholars have explored art, material culture, and American tourism in Mexico. This study focuses on a narrower range of published maps that tourists encountered in books, brochures, and promotional materials for three reasons. Maps constituted a tangible way that tourists encountered, purchased, and consumed a new notion of Mexico. Consumption is an essential component of the power dynamic underlying tourism, and therefore, maps made for the tourist market offer an essential window onto the rise of mass tourism in Mexico. Secondly, maps place questions of space, place, and nature at the forefront, showing that the seemingly neutral depiction of Mexico’s environment (roads, mountains, etc.) had deeply ideological and conscious meanings. Finally, compared to ephemera, the provenance of published maps is more traceable, allowing scholars to contextualize cartographers’ intentionality and methods more extensively.


For works on mapping Mexico, see Amy Spellacy, “Mapping the Metaphor of the Good Neighbor: Geography, Globalism, and Pan-Americanism during the 1940s,” American Studies 7, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 40–57; Raymond B. Craib, Cartographic Mexico: A History of State Fixations and Fugitive Landscapes (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004); Magali Carrera, Traveling from New Spain to Mexico: Mapping Practices of Nineteenth Century Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011).


Merrill, Negotiating Paradise, 33; Jennifer Jolly, Creating Pátzcuaro: Art, Tourism, and Nation Building under Lázaro Cárdenas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018), 90, 99, 136.


Miguel Gómez Medina, cartographer, Valley of Mexico, Athaneum Fischgrund Publishing Company, 1930, David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries.




Gómez, Valley of Mexico; Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), 3; Helen Delpar, The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992), 62; Paul Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002), 14–16, 208–09.


Anita Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday: A Modern Guide (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1932), 5.


Delpar, The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican, 40–41, 62, 125; Anita Brenner, Idols Behind Altars: Modern Mexican Art and Its Cultural Roots (Minneola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2002), 231–34, 323. James Oles and Marta Ferragut argue that artists and writers, such as Anita Brenner, only depicted modern details when they were appealing to investors. James Oles and Marta Ferragut, South of the Border: Mexico in the American Imagination, 19141947 (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian, 1993), 77, 145, 173.


Carlos Mérida, cartographer, Route of Cortés, in Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday; Carlos Mérida, cartographer, Mexico City, Colonial, in Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday; “The Principal Cities of the U.S., Canada & Europe Have International Telephone Service in connection with the Empresa de Teléfonos de Ericsson,” in Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, 289; Mexico Light and Power Company, Power Lines in Valley of Mexico and Vicinity, in Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, 300; Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, x.


Jolly, Creating Pátzcuaro, Creating Mexico, 125–27; Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, 289, 300.


Cheryl Ganz and Margaret Stroebel, eds., Pots of Promise: Mexicans and Pottery at Hull-House, 19201940 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2004), 96; Delia Cosentino argues that one of Diego Rivera’s murals in Cortés Palace in Cuernavaca may have inspired the form and content of Emily Edwards’s map. She thinks that the fifteenth-century Codex Mendoza, popularized after the Revolution, may have influenced Edwards’s decision to include glyphs from the precontact era in the map’s frame. See Delia Cosentino, “Picturing American Cities in the Twentieth Century: Emily Edwards’s Maps of San Antonio and Mexico City,” Imago Mundo 65, no. 2 (2013): 294, 296.


Merrill, Negotiating Paradise, 48; Ganz and Stroebel, eds., Pots of Promise, 96; Emily Edwards, cartographer, Mapa de la Ciudad de Mexico y alrededores, hoy y ayer, The American Book and Printing Company, 1932, David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries; Cosentino, “Picturing American Cities in the Twentieth Century,” 293–94; Leah Dilworth, “Tourists and Indians in Fred Harvey’s Southwest,” in Seeing & Being Seen: Tourism in the American West, eds. David M. Wrobel and Patrick T. Long (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2001), 149–52; Merrill, Negotiating Paradise, 41.


John Mason Hart, Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico Since the Civil War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 426.


Mexico (Rotary International: 1935), 1–3; Merrill, Negotiating Paradise, 45–48.


“Side Trips from Mexico City,” in Mexico.


Ruth Poyo, Touring Mexico (Mexico City: Fischgrund Publishing, 1939), 4.


Poyo, Touring Mexico, 4–5, 7, 15, 25; Carveth Wells, Panamexico! (New York: Robert M. McBride and Company, 1937), 37–38.


“Alice-Leone Moats, 81, Journalist, Is Dead,” New York Times, May 16, 1989.


Matías Santoyo, cartographer, City of Mexico and Environs, in Leone Moats and Alice-Leone Moats, Off to Mexico (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1940).


Matías Santoyo, cartographer, Historic Map of Mexico City, in Moats and Moats, Off to Mexico.


Matías Santoyo, cartographer, Chalco-San Jerónimo, in Moats and Moats, Off to Mexico; Toluca-Chalma map, in Moats and Moats, Off to Mexico.


Mexican Tourist Association, Mexico—A Faraway Land Nearby (Mexico: 1939), 5.


Berger, The Development of Mexico’s Tourist Industry, 8; Hal Rothman, Devil’s Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West (Lawrence: Kansas University Press, 1998), 10–13, 17–23.


Miguel Gómez Medina, cartographer, Mexico Pictorial Map, Eugenio Fischgrund, 1931, David Rumsey Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries.


Merrill, Negotiating Paradise, 55; Poyo, Touring Mexico, 20.


Poyo, Touring Mexico, 21.


Matías Santoyo, cartographer, Cuernavaca-Acapulco, in Moats and Moatss, Off to Mexico; Matías Santoyo, cartographer, Puebla-Pachuca, in Moats and Moats, Off to Mexico; Ruth Hellier-Tincoco, Embodying Mexico: Tourism, Nationalism, and Performance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 45. Matías Santoyo captures the white, romantic tourist gaze that John Urry details. Tourists constructed Mexico, including traditional dances and attire, according to what they expected to see and what they wanted to see. See John Urry, The Tourist Gaze (London: SAGE Publications, 2011), 45–46.


“Sydney Clark, 84, A Travel Writer,” New York Times, April 21, 1975; Jacqueline Clark Jacobsen, “Magnetic Southland,” in Sydney Clark, Mexico: Magnetic Southland (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1945); Delpar, The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican, 68, 90.


Merrill, Negotiating Paradise, 54, 69; Berger, The Development of Mexico’s Tourist Industry, 45–47.


Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, 264–67; Carlos Mérida, cartographer, Mexico Laredo, in Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, 268; Carlos Mérida, cartographer, Mexico Cuatla, in Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, 280.


Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, x, 17.


Carlos Mérida, cartographer, Up the Popocatepetl, in Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, 252; Carlos Mérida, cartographer, Papaloapam River, in Brenner, Your Mexican Holiday, 254.


Stephen J. Hornsby, Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 28–31; Jo Mora, cartographer, Ciudad y Puerto de Mazatlan, in Jo Mora, A Log of the Spanish Main (San Francisco: Jo Mora, Jr., 1934), David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries.




Merrill, Negotiating Paradise, 82; “Untitled,” in Graham Greene, Another Mexico (New York: Viking Press, 1939).


Greene, Another Mexico; Douglas W. Veitch, Lawrence Greene and Lowry: The Fictional Landscape of Mexico (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1978), 58–60; Stephen Benz, “Taking Sides: Graham Greene and Latin America,” Journal of Modern Literature 2 (Winter 2003): 113–14.


Greene, Another Mexico.


“Mexico City and Its Environs, Figures Represent Miles,” in Thomas Power, Power’s Guide to Mexico (Laredo: Pan American Tourist Bureau, 1937), 41.


Ibid, 41, 59.


Ibid., 11, 13.


Berger, The Development of Mexico’s Tourist Industry, 64–67.


Ibid, 104–11.


Mexico City to Acapulco map, in Mexico: Itineraries and Costs of a Motor Trip (Mexico City: Pemex Travel Club, ca. 1940), 24–25; Morelia to Mexico City map, in Mexico, 28; Federal District map, in Mexico, 41.


Mexico: Itineraries and Costs of a Motor Trip (Mexico City: Pemex Travel Club, ca. 1940), 2–4, 12–14.


Delpar, The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican, 36, 62.


Carrera, Traveling from New Spain to Mexico, 94–108; San Antonio-Laredo-Mexico map, in Frances Toor, Frances Toor’s Motorist Guide to Mexico (Mexico City: Frances Toor Studios, 1938), 1. For discussion of the relationship between colonization and cartography, see Barbara E. Mundy, The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relacíones Geográficas (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996).


“George W. Seaton,” New York Times, August 29, 1944; “Tourist Zones in Mexico,” in George Seaton, What to See and Do in Mexico (New York: Prentice Hall, 1939).


Seaton, What to See and Do in Mexico.


Power, Power’s Guide to Mexico, 13.


Ibid, 46, 57.


Ibid, 21. For other examples, see William Pellowe, The Royal Road to Mexico (Detroit: Watergate Publishing Company, 1937), 44–45; Puebla-Pachuca map, Moats and Moats, Off to Mexico.


Power, Power’s Guide to Mexico, 21.


Merrill, Negotiating Conquest, 93; Berger, The Development of Mexico’s Tourist Industry, 86–88; Puebla (Mexico City: Asociación Mexicana de Turismo, 1941), 3.


Highway and Railway Connections from Mexico City to Puebla map, in Puebla (Mexico City: Asociación Mexicana de Turismo, 1941), 25.


Ibid, 24.


Ibid, 21–22.


Ibid, 22.


Ibid, 25.


Maps found in Mexico’s Western Highways (Mexico City: Pemex Travel Club, 1941), 10, 32, 38, 74.




The ideas of tourist and “toured upon” do not suggest that people living and working in tourism-centered communities were weaker or inferior to tourists. Rather, it points to the power of perception—shaped by both tourist and the “toured upon”—in tourist communities’ struggle to assert and define their own identities. See David M. Wrobel, “Introduction,” in Seeing & Being Seen: Tourism in the American West, eds. David M. Wrobel and Patrick T. Long (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2001), 18.