“Exercising the Cosmic Race: Mexican Sporting Culture and Mestizo Citizens”
Using research from interviews and 18 archival collections, I argue that, opposed to sports culture under dictator-president Pofirio Diaz that stratified society, revolutionary cultural, science, and military leaders collaborated in the development of incorporative physical education programs meant to biologically and culturally engineer ideal modern citizens. Idealistic officials, in fact, widely believed that body sculpting, discipline, and scientific hygienic education was capable of transforming the country’s highly indigenous and ‘backwards’ population into fit crusaders of science, health, and morality, based on a neo-Lamarckian (or soft, “positive”) eugenic logic. Experts from different fields had varying visions of the revolution and what the new revolutionary citizen should embody. The differing physical fitness training programs of each group reflected this reality. But experts agreed that practicing sports would ultimately aid the rise of a disciplined, fit, and loyal patriotic workforce that would usher in an age of economic prosperity and general happiness. Nevertheless, these “positive” programs rested upon assumptions of white superiority and men and women received differential physical training that rearticulated traditional gender roles under a new scientific and revolutionary authority.
As urban populations swelled after World War II, officials looked to sport as a way to monitor an increasingly unruly generation of youth with parents more and more leaving the home for the factory. Authorities channeled children into amateur programs like Little League and other organizations that strictly complied with International Olympic Committee rules. They also moved to host regional tournaments under the banner of Pan-Americanism, taking advantage of its own position as a peaceful ‘third-way’ Cold War nation with a booming economy to satisfy a dual quest to gain international prestige and speed economic development. The 1955 Pan-American Games and the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games represented the culmination of this effort.
While all science-directed cultural programs in the revolution faced oppositions to some degree, sporting programs were perhaps more widely embraced in many rural communities than any other aspect of the government’s cultural missions, communities seeing them as rare fun pastimes. Participating in state-sponsored tournaments and incorporating in the government sports funnel also often brought real material benefits to communities and provided them a direct channel to important government posts. Indeed, communities used sports to achieve subsidized infrastructure projects for plumbing and electricity and to settle local land and political disputes, in addition to the games themselves which were celebrated (often leaving to the side the scientific and political messages attached).
This project tells a story about the most idealistic generation of revolutionaries who dreamed that physical exercise and sport could help rid the country of its most visceral problems concerning health, security, and education under three competing but often complementary visions (military, pedagogical, and medical). It also elucidates how global and national discourses on race, gender, science, public health, and development worked together to shape expectations for modern and ideal mixed-race citizenship from the revolution through the Cold War.