The next author in our series of Fall 2014 Q&As is Megan Threlkeld. Her new book is Pan American Women: U.S. Internationalists and Revolutionary Mexico. In the years following World War I, women activists in the United States and Europe saw themselves as leaders of a globalizing movement to promote women's rights and international peace. In hopes of advancing alliances, U.S. internationalists such as Jane Addams, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Doris Stevens reached across the border to their colleagues in Mexico, including educator Margarita Robles de Mendoza and feminist Hermila Galindo. They established new organizations, sponsored conferences, and rallied for peaceful relations between the two countries. But diplomatic tensions and the ongoing Mexican Revolution complicated their efforts.
(Previous Q&As: Cathy Lisa Schneider, Police Power and Race Riots; Jennifer Curtis, Human Rights as War by Other Means; Matt Cohen and Edlie Wong, The Killers: A Narrative of Real Life in Philadelphia; Jacqueline Bhabha, Human Rights and Adolescence; Rebecca Cook, Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies.)
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Penn Press: The divide between U.S. women and Mexican women on the topic of nationalism is an interesting conflict. Could you go into more detail on why Mexican women felt it was so vital to embrace national identity, and why it took priority for them over global feminist cooperation?
Megan Threlkeld: Many Mexican women believed in the basic ideals of the Mexican Revolution. They wanted ordinary people to have greater power and autonomy in their daily lives. They distrusted Porfirio Diaz, a man who had cultivated what many Mexicans saw as a corrupt and exploitative relationship with the United States. They also distrusted U.S. women who did not criticize their own government for its policies in Mexico, even when Mexican women asked them to do so. By the 1930s, when Lázaro Cárdenas revitalized the Revolution and seemed ready to extend women’s rights, it made much more sense for Mexican women to hitch their wagons to “Cardenismo” rather than to a U.S.-dominated international feminist movement.
Had the Mexican Revolution not taken place, would U.S. feminists have succeeded in bridging the gap between U.S. and Latin American feminism? Or was the Revolution what gave the women of Mexico the power to have their voices be heard at all?
That’s a hard question to answer, but my guess is no—U.S. feminists would not have succeeded. The Revolution was a key element in the politicization of Mexican feminists, but there’s no guarantee that without the Revolution U.S. women would have listened any more carefully to what Mexican women wanted from them.