Posted by Jason Ahlenius – Ph.D. student in Spanish and
Portuguese at NYU
I have begun to see a pattern in my “explorations” of Mexico’s archives: I arrive at the archive, and spend several days figuring out how to gain access to the archive, or searching through the catalog, only to have someone tell me that they have digitalized most of their collection, and that I could have done this work without leaving NYC. I leave disheartened that I was denied the chance to do the “sexy” work of digging through a physical archive with my latex gloves and a mask. This was more or less my experience at my first visit to the Archivo Fotográfico Manuel Toussaint, located in the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas (IIE) of the UNAM in Mexico City.
began, rather idealistically, with an idea of archival research similar to that
of a treasure map: I have a more or less clear idea of what I am looking for,
and I follow a series of instructions to arrive at the “X” on the map, where my
archive is hidden. My actual experience is often more akin to being dropped in
the middle of a forest, not knowing exactly what I will find, while I am trying
to make a map of my surroundings as I am trying to arrive at a city of whose
whereabouts I am oblivious.
Posted by Alejandra Vela- PhD Student at Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures, NYU
Mexican Miracle was the name given to the years that extend from 1940 to 1970 in Mexican recent history. Years of development, industry and a strong economy, Mexico was in a moment of unprecedented growth. Within this growth and restructuring of the country, the role of women was gradually modified: she went from being the selfless mother, housewife, concentrated in domestic work, to, as early as the early seventies, the working woman, the informed student, reader of feminist texts that came from France, the United States, or Spain. In the middle of this story there are many key moments. In the late forties the University City was inaugurated, which would allow a greater number of students (among them many women) to get in the country’s “máxima casa de estudios”; in 1955, Mexican women exercised the right to vote for the first time, and in the 1960s the contraceptive pill began to be commercialized. The journals, specifically addressed to women, published throughout these decades constitute a great barometer for measuring these changes.
Precisely because these are limited editorial and textual spaces (a literary genre dedicated to a specific gender), they allow us to delve into the ways in which not only the publishers, but also the subjects who consumed these cultural products were negotiating their presence and permanence in the public domain. This was the scenario before which I decided to embark on the search for these magazines, rarely preserved by their fragility and tendency to disappear, but also largely ignored for being considered frivolous, banal, “cursis”, women’s things that have no literary or academic value.
To write a story of the yareta is to start from its partial absence in the Chilean altiplano. It’s a hard thing to do. The yareta demands attention; it grows “like a tortoise—big and green”, a plant with almost animate qualities despite its resolute grounding in the Andean volcanic belt. Thriving at altitudes of twelve to fifteen-thousand feet above sea level, the yareta is more than a single cushion shrub. Hundreds of tightly wound, waxy succulent leaves make up the flat surface area of its circular outcroppings—bulbous growths that take on the appearance of carpet moss from far away. At eye level, a heavy resin (yaretawaqa or “tears” of the yareta) smudges its bright green surface, while dried yellow flowers collect in small pockets where the slopes of the yareta rise and fall.
The yareta, photo taken by author.
This summer I’ve set out to learn of and from the history of the yareta (its abundant growth, extraction and decline) in the Norte Grande of Chile. From stories of the “king” of the yareta (a Bolivian entrepreneur who led commercial exploitation of the species during the mid-twentieth century Chilean mining boom) to its representation in the writings of award-winning poet Miguel Urrelo Valdivia, I have explored the ways in which the yareta exists beyond its material presence (as a poetic imaginary, an heirloom, a divine resource and finally, a warning call).
In this series of blog posts I will highlight a few of these stories. First stop: the library at the National Service for Geology and Mining and the National Archive of Chile. Continue reading →