Deco Body Deco City Female Spectacle and Modernity in Mexico City 1900 1939

by Ageeth Sluis

Deco Body Deco City Female Spectacle and Modernity in Mexico City 1900 1939 In the turbulent decades following the Mexican Revolution Mexico City saw a drastic influx of female migrants seeking escape and protection from the ravages of war in the countryside While some settled in slums and tenements where the informal economy often provided the only means of survival the revolution in the absence of men also prompted women to take up traditionally male roles created new jobs in the public sphere open to women and carved out new social spaces in which women could

Publisher : University of Nebraska Press

Author : Ageeth Sluis

ISBN : 9780803293823

Year : 2016

Language: en

File Size : 38.48 MB

Category : Gay Lesbian

deco body, deco city

the mexican experience
William H. Beezley, series editor

Deco body,
deco City
Female Spectacle and Modernity
in Mexico City, 1900–1939

ag e e t h slu i s

University of Nebraska Press
Lincoln and London

© 2016 by the Board of Regents of the University
of Nebraska
Portions of chapters 2 and 5 were previously published as “Bataclanismo! Or, How Deco Bodies Transformed Postrevolutionary Mexico City,” The Americas
66, no. 4 (2010): 469–99. Portions of chapters 3 and 4
were previously published as “Projecting Pornography and Mapping Modernity in Mexico City,” Journal
of Urban History 38, no. 3 (May 2012): 467–87.
All rights reserved. Manufactured in the United States
of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sluis, Ageeth, 1964–
Deco body, deco city: female spectacle and
modernity in Mexico City, 1900–1939 / Ageeth Sluis.
pages cm. — (The Mexican experience)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 978- 0-8032-9382-3 (paperback: alk. paper)
isbn 978- 0-8032-9390-8 (epub)
isbn 978- 0-8032-9391-5 (mobi)
isbn 978- 0-8032-9392-2 (pdf)
1. Women’s studies—Mexico—Mexico City.
2. Feminism—Mexico—Mexico City.
3. Transgenderism—Mexico—Mexico City.
4. Mexico City (Mexico)—History—20th century.
I. Title.
hq1181.m6s58 2015 305.420972'53— dc23
Set in Sabon Next Pro by L. Auten.

List of Illustrations




Introduction: City, Modernity, Spectacle


1. Performance: A City of Spectacles


2. Bataclanismo: From Divas to Deco Bodies


3. Camposcape: Naturalizing Nudity


4. Promis- ciudad: Projecting Pornography
and Mapping Modernity


5. Planning the Deco City: Urban Reform


6. Mercado Abelardo Rodríguez


7. Palacio de Bellas Artes


Conclusion: Deco Bodies, Camposcape,
and Recurrence









Teatro Esperanza Iris
María Conesa publicity photo
Esperanza Iris publicity photo
Ernesto García Cabral cover for Revista de Revistas, 1925
Ernesto García Cabral, En el ba-ta- clan, Jueves de Excélsior, 1925
Ernesto García Cabral cover for Revista de Revistas, 1926
“Para conservar la línea,” Universal Ilustrado, 1931
Claudio Linati, Jeune femme de Tehuantepec
A. K. Preta, Indígena con flores, 1937
Charles Waite, Selling Gorditas at Guadalupe, Mex., ca. 1900
Diego Rivera, The Liberated Earth with the Natural Forces
Controlled by Man, 1926
Vea: Semanario Moderno, November 2, 1934
Vea: Semanario Moderno, August 9, 1935
César, “Arte plástico,” Vea: Semanario Moderno, 1937
Manuel Álvarez-Bravo, Parábola óptica, 1931
Ernesto García Cabral, Conflicto en el tráfico, Revista
de Revistas, 1925
Statue, Parque México, colonia Condesa
Teatro Lindbergh stage detail
Map of colonia Condesa, ca. 1930s
Mercado Abelardo Rodríguez, 1934
Detectives, October 17, 1932
Ángel Bracho, Los mercados mural painting
Cover, Universal Ilustrado, 1934
Palacio de Bellas Artes, detail
Deco indigenismo, interior detail of the Palacio
de Bellas Artes



acknowled gments
Writing a book is a long and often arduous journey. From dissertation
to manuscript, the writing of Deco Body, Deco City was complicated
by long hiatuses due to heavy loads of pre-tenure teaching and service
commonplace at a small university, big life changes, and—well, life
in general. It also benefited from spurts of new energy and ideas,
the infusion of new research collected on summer trips, inspiration
from new secondary sources and theoretical works, and helpful critiques collected on the conference circuit. And, various experiences
sparked ideas and influenced how I engaged with the project—those
moments of stasis in motion or motion in stasis experienced while
sitting on a bus, seeing the landscape go by, and making connections.
This made the journey much more interesting, richer, and deeper,
and all the more worthwhile undertaking. Though frustrating at
times, these periods of starts, stops, spurts, and “stalling” ultimately
enriched the book.
Needless to say, although I undertook the journey as one person, I
was never really alone. I owe enormous debts of gratitude for those fellow travelers who were extremely generous with their time and insights.
This book would have not been possible without the help and support
of many mentors, colleagues, and friends. Deco Body, Deco City began
as a dissertation completed at the University of Arizona, and many of
the ideas that form its bedrock were inspired by courses and discussions with faculty and fellow graduate students. I am indebted to Kevin
Gosner for calm yet engaged criticism. Bert Barickman’s enthusiastic,
at times bewildering, but always stimulating comments and inquiry

sustained me throughout my studies. From the very beginning, as an
undergraduate in the 1990s, when I first wandered into their classrooms,
they fostered my interest in and helped me understand this place called
Latin America. I was very fortunate to work with Stacy Widdifield,
who deepened my fascination with Mexico City and photography;
Karen Anderson, who set me on a lifelong path to learning about the
politics of gender; and Donna Guy, who made sure I asked the right
questions. I am especially grateful to my adviser, Bill Beezley, for his
infectious enthusiasm, patience, support, eagle- eye editorial skills, and
never- ending quest to eliminate jargon. A very special thanks goes to
the irreplaceable Adrian Bantjes.
I also owe an enormous debt to my cohort at the University of Arizona, whose insights, criticism, and stimulus enriched this project and
my life. Throughout my graduate career at the University of Arizona
I was surrounded by a group of amazing individuals with whom I
was lucky to share course work, passionate debate, and camaraderie. I
want to thank Tracy Alexander, Glenn Avent, Michelle Berry, Celeste
González de Bustamante, Rachel Kram-Villareal, Amanda Lopez, Michael Matthews, Gretchen Pierce, Monica Rankin, and especially my
compañeras—Lean Sweeney, Melissa Guy, and Tracy Goode—for our
ongoing conversations and friendship. Thank you.
In Mexico City, I need to thank the staff at the Archivo General de
la Nación, Fideicomiso Plutarco Elías Calles y Fernando Torreblanca,
and especially the Archivo Histórico del Distrito Federal. Guillermo
Palacios at Colegio de México graciously offered his support, library,
and contacts. I owe a very special thanks to Carmen Nava at uam–
Xochimilco, whose kind hospitality, intellectual generosity, and vast
knowledge of Mexican history never ceased to amaze me. I had the
good fortune to attend the Oaxaca Summer Institute for Mexican History, which greatly benefited my project. I am grateful to the faculty,
staff, and students who provided the fertile ground upon which this
project grew and offered helpful suggestions, feedback, and criticism.
I especially want to thank Ann Blum, Katherine Bliss, Diane Davis,
John Hart, Gil Joseph, Alan Knight, Pablo Piccato, Debra Poole, and
Gabriela Soto-Laveaga, as well as all 2001, 2003, and 2009 fellows, espeviii

ac k n owl ed gm ent s

cially Rob Alegre, Jeff Banister, Sarah Beckhart, Robert Jordan, Aurea
Toxqui, and Eddie Wright-Rios. I owe a very special thanks to comadre
María Muñoz for her relentless criticism and unqualified friendship,
and Bill French for the suggestion of the book’s much improved
title. My time in Mexico would have not been the same without two
very remarkable women and scholars, Anne Rubenstein and Eileen
Ford, who in realms professional and personal became my mentors,
counselors, champions, and, in one case, a dissertation committee
member. Mil gracias.
During many years of drafts and revisions, the book has benefited
tremendously from the critical eye of many amazing scholars. I want
to thank Melissa Guy, Michael Matthews, Anne Rubenstein, Kristin
Swenson, and especially Tracy Goode for their invaluable advice, edits,
and suggestions. A big thanks also to Pamela Voekel, Elliott Young,
Reiko Hillyer, and all at the Tepotzlán Institute for Transnational History of the Americas for their stimulating work and discussions. At
Butler University, I would like to thank the Butler Awards Committee,
whose generous funding supported additional research in Mexico,
Brazil, and the United States, and my colleagues in the History and
Anthropology Department and the Gender, Women, and Sexuality
Studies program. I especially thank the participants of several writing
groups that sustained me and prodded me forward. The book would
have not have been completed if not for the opportunity afforded me
by the School for Advanced Research, where I had the great fortune of
working during my sabbatical. Thanks to the wonderful community of
fellows, artists, researchers, and staff, Nicole Taylor, James Brooke, John
Kantner, and Nancy Owens in particular. I also want to acknowledge
my anonymous reviewers for their helpful insights, comments, and
questions, as well as Bridget Barry at the University of Nebraska Press.
Needless to say, any remaining errors are my own.
Lastly, I want to express my everlasting gratitude to family: my
mother, Marry Dijksman, who supported me and helped me in ways
too many to enumerate; my sister, Miriam Sluis, whose intelligence
and enduring attraction to realms unknown and spaces unexplored has
inspired me from childhood; and sweet Aidan-Xenon, whose amazing
ack n owled gmen ts


imagination, boundless creativity, endless curiosity about the world,
and patience with the completion of “that book” have been a constant
inspiration. I do not have enough words to express my gratitude to
Elise, not only for her keen insights, sharp critique, and sustained help
with this project, but also—and more importantly—for her continual
support, near impossible optimism, infectious enthusiasm, and undying friendship and love. I dedicate this work to all of you.


ac kn ow l ed gm ent s

deco body, deco city

city, modernity, spectacle
During and after the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910–20),
which claimed over one million lives and displaced many more, Mexico
City experienced a drastic influx of female migrants. Some hoped to
escape the ravages of war in the countryside, while others sought refuge after losing male protection due to the death of their husbands,
fathers, and brothers. Poor female migrants generally settled in crowded
vecindades (slums) or in viviendas (tenements) in the city center. For
these disadvantaged women new to the capital, the informal economy
of street vending, domestic service, and prostitution often provided
the only means of survival. Destitute, vulnerable, and sexualized as
mujeres callejeras (women of the street), they were seen by upper- and
middle- class residents as shameful spectacles of poverty and a powerful reminder of revolutionary upheaval in the heart of the capital city.
The revolution, however, also carved out new social spaces in which
women could exercise agency, propelled women to take up traditionally male roles in the absence of men, and created new jobs in the
public sphere that were open to women. High levels of urbanization
only added new opportunities for women. Swept up in the revolution,
whether by force or choice, women became part of a transnational
movement connecting them to both revolutionary politics and nascent
consumerism. Like other early-twentieth- century burgeoning cities,
Mexico City experienced the influx of a heterogeneous population
that allowed for a rise in new activities that facilitated female mobility. By moving through new physical places and social territories,
these women— especially lower- class women of rural origin—were

exposed to novel ways of thinking, living, and expressing themselves.
Entertainment, especially theatergoing, exposed them to actresses
performing new roles of female comportment, while new publications on fashion, sports, and leisure changed the way they visualized
the capital. In short, the revolution had the unintended consequence
of urbanizing women, forcing them into public spaces and making
them more cosmopolitan.
These gendered effects of the revolution would lead the new government officials to reinvigorate and “civilize” Mexico City through
a series of urban reforms and public works. From the 1920s to the
1940s the country experienced the “institutionalized revolution,” an
intense period of state-led social reforms aimed at overhauling cultural
norms and modernizing the citizenry. Concern over women in public
places resonated strongly throughout this period as political leaders
linked nation building with family reform. State anxieties over “free
women” and the impending disintegration of society mounted during the 1920s and 1930s with the arrival of “New Women,” such as the
flapper, and a proliferation in women’s activism. Governmental elites
reacted to changes in female identities and accompanying activism
by attempting to regulate women’s bodies and sexuality. They feared
the spectacle of “public women,” including prostitutes, actresses, chicas
modernas (modern girls), and working- class women. These figures, as
women and archetypes, all occupied visible positions in social movements of the day and were seen as undermining revolutionary efforts
to strengthen nuclear families and socialize women to embrace their
“proper roles” as mothers and wives.
Revolutionary leaders promoted urban reform to create a healthy,
safe, and, above all, modern urban utopia to reflect revolutionary reform based on a gendered view of the city’s social and spatial geography.
Fearing the spectacle of “public women,” they created spaces of containment within the public sphere such as indoor markets, theaters, and
the zonas libres (prostitution districts; literally, “free zones”) set aside for
legalized prostitution. These feminized containment areas contrasted
sharply with other burgeoning sites of urban development, such as
stadiums, schools, and monuments intended to memorialize the revolu2 i n t ro d uct ion

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