Review of "The City of Mexico in the Age of Diaz"

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The Great Divide

University of California-Berkley geographer and author Michael Johns argues in his novel, The City of Mexico in the Age of Diaz, that the central Zocalo of Mexico City does more than geographically segregate the East from the West, but Mexico's national mentality as well. During the years of Diaz's democratic façade, the upper classes thrived upon plantation exports, feudalist economics and the iron fist of Diaz's rurales while struggling to maintain European social likeness. East of the Zocalo, shantytowns housed thousands of poor pelados that served as societal blemishes of a suburbanite's experience. In Johns's work, the penniless and indigenous serve as the scapegoats for the priviledged and their obsession with grooming Mexico City to be a little Europe.

A growing affluent class called upon the Diaz regime and imported architects to construct buildings in the Zocalo to reflect a "proper" image that drew on influences from Europe and the United States. Johns recognizes the architectural dependence of the influential Mexicans constructing Mexico City when he states, "Mexican architecture, on the other hand, was an expression of a city run by a people who were looking to create their own culture while entirely dependent on the industry and ideas of Europe and America" (22). The same construction that the elite felt was a celebration of a newfound dignity in the Mexican people was criticized, by visitors and locals alike, as grandiose and a futile effort to shield the native roots of a circle of imposters. Johns's argues that the "Mexicans knew little of their adopted European tradition, had acquired even less of its taste, and enjoyed none of its tranquility" (23). While the influence on the Westside led to development, the squalor and lack of authority of the peasants on the Eastside created mesones, or as Johns described them, "…a little more than ‘a bare spot to lie down in, a grass mat, company with (the) vermin that...
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