Year 2022: 30 Books

Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands by Kelly Lytle Hernandez

By Ruben Quesada

In her extraordinary work, Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands (Norton), Kelly Lytle Hernández offers a reexamination of the Mexican Revolution by studying the enmeshed history of American imperialism and the rise of Mexico’s dictator Porfirio Díaz. With nuance, she elucidates the complex interplay underpinning the U.S.-Mexican relationship, most notably the story of the magonistas, an anarchist group of rebels formed in 1905 by brothers Jesús and Ricardo Flores Magón as a political party to challenge Díaz’s dictatorship. The magonistas were a threat to U.S. capitalists. Without Díaz, investors like the Rockefellers, William Randolph Hearst, the Guggenheims, and others would no longer prosper in Mexico and from Mexican laborers. 

Lytle Hernández presents a rich and nuanced cross-border analysis of the Mexican resistance against longtime authoritarian president Porfirio Díaz, who was in office for almost 35 years. The author, a MacArthur fellow and professor of history and African American studies at UCLA, expertly details the political and social movements that emerged in response to Díaz’s oppressive regime. The book sheds light on the complex relationships between Mexico and the U.S., focusing on U.S. industrialism. Lytle Hernández illuminates how the events of the Mexican Revolution reshaped not only Mexico but also the United States, where the magonistas had headquarters in cities such as San Antonio, St. Louis, and Los Angeles. Bad Mexicans is a comprehensive historical analysis of a time before the dominant narratives of Pancho Villa and Emilio Zapata that led to a political uprising in Mexico and, as Lytle Hernández explains, “rattled the workshop for U.S. empire, challenged the global color line, threatened to unravel the industrialization of the American West and fueled the rise of policing in the United States,” fundamentally triggering a demographic revolution that gave birth to the largest non-white population growth in the U.S. 

A must-read for anyone interested in the colonial and imperialist history of Mexico and the U.S., Bad Mexicans is a triumph of historical research and storytelling.

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