Monday, March 23, 2015

John Tutino: "We need Mexico as an other. We can't deal with it as an us."

Slowly but surely the transcripts from my Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project are going on-line. Now available: 

#13 “Looking at Mexico in New Ways: An Interview with John Tutino."

John Tutino: "We need Mexico as an other. We can't deal with it as an us." But his whole point is that, in fact, US and Mexico are inseparable. It's a knock-your-huaraches-off interview.

> Listen in to the podcast.



C.M. Mayo: Welcome to Marfa Mondays. I’m your host, C.M. Mayo and this is Podcast 13 of a projected 24 podcasts exploring Marfa and the wider Big Bend region, apropos of my book-in-progress about Far West Texas. So far in the series I’ve interviewed people in and around Marfa and also reported on my visits to some very remote and intriguing places in the Big Bend, most recently, interviews with Dallas Baxter, founder of Cenizo Journal; and with luthier and cowboy poet singing some cowboy songs, Michael Stevens; and a visit to Swan House, Simone Swan’s adobe teaching house, inspired by the legacy of Egypt’s greatest architect, Hassan Fathy. I invite you to listen to these podcasts and all the others anytime at my website,, and through the website, send in your comments. I’m always delighted to hear from listeners. 


Now in this podcast I take a big step back to get some perspective— big perspective. Bigger than Texas perspective. Those of you who know Far West Texas know how close Mexico is in every sense. Look at a map and you’ll see, from Marfa it’s only a little more than an hour’s drive to Presidio, which sits on the Rio Grande; cross over and there you are: Mexico. That’s what we’re going to hear about in this interview with John Tutino. 

John Tutino teaches the history of Mexico and the Americas in the History Department and School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He’s the author of Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America, which was published by Duke University Press in 2011. Tutino is also the editor of a collection of essays by various historians with the title Mexico and Mexicans in the Making of the United States, and that is available from University of Texas Press. This interview was recorded in his office at Georgetown University. 


C.M. Mayo: We have Making a New World and the related anthology Mexico and the Mexicans in the Making of the United States. These are closely related, and they are both nuclear bombs! 

John Tutino: Thank you!

C.M. Mayo: They’re huge paradigm-busting... across from the beginning when we had the expansion of New Spain in the 1500s to modern day immigration. My head is reeling with all this stuff that’s in these two books!

John Tutino: And I will say, you're right, they evolved together. They were a long time coming, decades in the rumination and a decade plus in the focused production. And yeah, I got to the point where I said, “The whole basic big picture of where we thought Mexico fit in the world is somewhere between wrong and mythical. And you can’t change that by chipping away at the edges and saying, look at this little piece.” 

And so I ended up writing Making a New World to just try to say, “New Spain, which is the root of Mexico, was absolutely an pivotal place to the origins of the modern world, modern capitalism, and equally absolutely pivotal to the origins of the United States.” And I was working on one when I figured out the other. 

C.M. Mayo: My sense is that in Anglo-American culture, we’ve always had this idea that, here is American history over here, and here is Mexican history over here, and yes, there was war and there was this and there was that, but you could like put a little bell jar on top of each subject, and what you're saying, and I know is true, is that, no, you have to look at them together. 

John Tutino: Yeah. I will tell you a story. I, years ago, put together a NEH [National Endowment for the Humanties] Summer Seminar for school teachers on the interrelated histories of Mexico and the United States. NEH, the grant proposal group, approved it. They wanted to fund it, but the staff at NEH refused my title, which was “Inseparable Histories: Mexico and the United States.” They said I could teach the seminar— this was in the early ‘90s— not having the primary title “Inseparable Histories,”  and I tactically said, “Well, I want to do the seminar. I’ll negotiate the title.” But that’s the extent that this goes there. 

But I will also add that particularly the argument that New Spain was fundamental to the origins of modern capitalism and that it was, particularly in its north, one of the earliest, most dynamic capitalist places on Earth, is equally challenging a lot of Mexican scholars. 

C.M. Mayo: Oh, yes.

John Tutino: They have sort of bought into a notion, they have been trained in a notion, that Mexico had its base in great Pre-hispanic societies that were destroyed by Spanish colonialism for three centuries, and then there has been a struggle to reconstitute something positive. And boy, there were destructions in early 16th century, though I argue they’re more disease driven than anything any human could impose. And yes, there have been struggles, but people have... I don’t fully understand, why not glory in the... You know, it’s a typical history, it’s a history of enormous economic dynamism and thus enormous conflict, change, human greatness, human exploitation, human difficulty, but it sort of puts New Spain and Mexico, I believe, at the absolute mainstream of modern history. 

C.M. Mayo: So, in other words is as you call “this enduring presumption” was that capitalism started with England. 

John Tutino: With England. 

C.M. Mayo: And North America, and this is what we’ve been told in school and Adam Smith, and...

John Tutino: It has been the Anglo American gift to the world. 

C.M. Mayo: Would you say gift or plague?

John Tutino: Well, either way. If you ask Anglo Americans, it’s their gift to the world. If you ask people who’ve experienced it without prosperity... And this is part of what I try to do. I think too often we argue that capitalism is easily the most positive thing the world has ever seen or it’s the most dastardly thing the world has ever seen, and I just see capitalism as a dominant historical reality with enormous creativities, positives, productive gains and, linked to it, changing rounds of difficulties, conflicts, human difficulties, exploitations, and we’ve got to quit arguing one against the other. We’ve got to figure out how to maximize one, minimize the other, but as a historian I just want to understand it. 

In terms of that I should emphasize, in terms of taking Anglocentrism away from the study of global capitalism, I have jumped on a bandwagon there. It really came out of Asianists. One part, Andre Gunder Frank who started writing on Latin America years ago, then went to China and wrote a book called ReOrient, and Kenneth Pomeranz, who wrote a book called The Great Divergence, and I will say Gunder Frank was more the cage-rattling ideologue and Pomeranz was more the careful historian. He’s currently, it took 10 years after the book, but he’s now president of the American Historical Association. But the two of them together right around the year 2000 said, in 1600 China was the dominant economy in the world, Western Europe was a minor player and they contended for three centuries, and before 1800 nothing made it certain that Europe was going to rise to dominance and Asia was going to fade. It was a historical give and take, and then some particular things happened around 1800 that shift this. They were debating this and they were all recognizing that silver was pivotal to this world economy.

C.M. Mayo: Right. So China was demanding it—

John Tutino: Was the place demanding...the silver that went to Europe ended up in China.

C.M. Mayo: So this is the silver from Peru and from Mexico. 

John Tutino: Mexico. Scholars show for most of three centuries two-thirds of it passed east to Europe, but ended up passing through the Middle East, South Asia, and ends up in China. A third of it goes directly to Manila and ends up in China.

C.M. Mayo: Through Acapulco on the Nao de China... [Manila Galleon]

John Tutino: Acapulco to Manila. And people always ask, “Why is Manila part of the Spanish empire?” It was a city of Chinese merchants under Spanish sovereignty who traded goods not just from China but from India, Indonesia, and sent them back. Have you ever been to what is now the Museo del Virreinato in Tepotzotlan on the road?

C.M. Mayo: Yes, just north of Mexico City.

John Tutino: North of Mexico City. There are two rooms there of Chinese-Christian-Asian art that were all brought back by the Jesuits because that was their colonial... It is the best way to see the wealth of China that was brought to New Spain by that silver, is to just go through those rooms in Tepotzotlan. 

C.M. Mayo: And this doesn’t fit with the image of Mexico in Anglo-American cultural history or our modern media at all. 

John Tutino: As a backward, exploited, crushed environment that Spanish colonialism just ground to nothing! And one of the ironies is... and we have a hard time thinking about it. So New Spain, I argue, was probably one of the three core regions of early modern capitalism, while Spain, its mother country, was in decline. And we’ve just got to learn to get over the presumption that Spain could be in decline as a European power but New Spain could be just flourishing. 

C.M. Mayo: What I loved about the opening of your book, Making a New World, was you start talking illustrate your points, the individual biographies of several people in the very important city of Querétaro. And as a bit of digression I want to say, I’m an American and I’ve been living in Mexico all these years, and I come back and forth frequently, and it is very rare that anybody in the U.S. has even heard of Querétaro, and yet Querétaro plays a central role in the development of the Mexican economy from almost the very beginning. 

John Tutino: I will note it’s also coming back. It may be the single most dynamic place under the current NAFTA-driven economic revival. And Querétaro really became probably my favorite place in Mexico in the process of writing this book. 

I had been introduced to Mexico as a 17-year-old kid going to San Miguel de Allende and I’d lived for a full year in Mexico City, lots of time in other central Mexico places, most of all in Mexico City, but when I started doing this and started spending between two weeks to a month every year in Querétaro, and the mix of its colonial heritage and its modern dynamism just made it. It isn’t a museum like San Miguel. My apologies to the San Miguel tourist bureau. [Laughs] It’s a real dynamic city but with a wonderful historic arc. 

The argument is that this dynamism is there and that it is charging north.

C.M. Mayo: Well, can we come back just for a minute to those individual biographies in and around Querétaro, part of the Bajío, which includes San Miguel de Allende.

John Tutino: Guanajuato. 

C.M. Mayo: León, Celaya. 

John Tutino: Yes. 

C.M. Mayo: It’s a group of cities north of Mexico City, kind of in the very heart of Mexico. 

John Tutino: It is absolutely the richest agricultural land in Mexico. Historically the richest mines in Mexico were in Guanajuato, and with the mix of those two, Querétaro was the richest trade and industrial city in Querétaro.

C.M. Mayo: Oh, and Zacatecas.

John Tutino: Zacatecas isn’t quite Bajío in Mexican parlance because it’s north, it’s dry, but the Bajío fed it because, precisely, Zacatecas is mining wealth in dry uplands. Where did Zacatecas get its food? So the Bajío is also in a sense sustaining places like Zacatecas.

C.M. Mayo: So when we look at the beginnings of Querétaro and this economic engine that’s going to feed the northward expansion of New Spain, one of the biographies that you talked about was José Sánchez Espinosa. There was another little one in there about an Italian count...

John Tutino: Yes, Colombini. And later in the book there’s huge excerpts from a poem he wrote in honor of Our Lady of Pueblito, the local Otomí virgin who historically and still in many ways centers popular devotions in Querétaro, the way Guadalupe has historically around Mexico City. 

Let me quickly go through my favorite vignette. The first one is Connín. Connín is an Otomí trader, frontiersman. He had traded across the frontier into the land of the Chichimecas. When Spaniards came he claimed to have been a lord; we don’t know if he really was but he was able to mobilize followers with a little bit of army, a little bit of settlement, and he, an Otomí trader or lord with somewhere between dozens and a few hundred Otomí friends, relatives, villagers recruited only a couple of Spanish Franciscan friars, and while literally Spaniards are still trying to conquer Mexico City, they go north and found Querétaro. And so Querétaro is actually an Otomí foundation with Catholic Franciscan sanction under Spanish rule. And for the first 30 years Querétaro is an Otomí city. Other than a priest or two there’s nobody else there. They build the irrigation. They build grist mills. They built the town. They distribute the land. And Connín and his pals take large landed estates for themselves, but they make sure their followers all have these incredibly rich irrigated gardens at the core of the city, and of course, he very quickly... he can’t remain Connín, he’s baptized and he becomes Don Fernando de Tapia. 

C.M. Mayo: And what amazed me about Don Fernando de Tapia is, you give the little biography and one reads along, da-da, da-da, da-da, he did this, he did that, his daughter...

John Tutino: And you think he’s got to be a Spanish conquerer.

C.M. Mayo: He’s got to be a Spanish conquerer and it turns out, no! He’s an Otomí trader who used to be called Connín!

John Tutino: And it is the perfect example of how indigenous people weren’t always broken. They saw opportunity.

C.M. Mayo: It’s a more complex story than what we’re told at a public level. [CONTINUE READING THIS TRANSCRIPT]

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