The Two Mexicos


EVERYTHING in Mexico seems to promise fair weather. General Obregón has been quietly elected, and will, if all goes well, be inaugurated on December the first. The last of the great bandits has surrendered, exclaiming dramatically, ‘ It is time for peace! ’ And Esteban Cantú has given up the northern district of Lower California without a struggle. Best of all, a new and better era in Mexico’s foreign relations has opened, with the promise that outstanding causes of friction are to be removed.

Most important of these is, of course, the oil question, especially as it affects the United States. But the question is a difficult one; and, if a real and lasting solution is to be reached, each side must first thoroughly understand the position of the other.

For the difference between them is not a question of fact to be ascertained, or a question of rates to be adjusted. There is really a fundamental difference of juridic theory; and until this is clearly seen by both parties to the dispute, we may have a compromise, but we cannot have an understanding.

The present vexed situation as regards the petroleum industry in Mexico, and especially in the Gulf region about Tampico and Tuxpam, practically arises from Section 27 in the new Mexican Constitution of 1917. This new Constitution, which was worked out and adopted at Querétaro by a convention containing able men from nearly every state and district in the Mexican Republic, is in many ways a highly interesting document. There is, of course, as there has been in all previous versions of the Mexican Constitution, the initial misnomer involved in calling the country ‘The United States of Mexico.’ In actual fact, no group of formerly separated states united to form the present republic. There is no analogy with the Thirteen Colonies, or with the Dominion of Canada, or with the Commonwealth of Australia, which are genuine federations, groups of states or colonies, formerly separate and now joined by a federal compact. Legally, the analogy is rather with the Union of South Africa, which was a unity before the division into states, or their equivalent, was made.

But let that pass. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 is in many ways a very able document. It is distinguished by a genuinely Latin lucidity, based upon a clear legal theory consistently applied. Briefly, this is the theory of eminent domain, pushed to its logical limit, and of paternalism, which is the same doctrine applied to the inhabitants.

It is exactly at this point that there is need for complete clarity, for a thorough understanding on both sides; for it is the extension of eminent domain in certain directions that has caused, and still causes, the difference of view that creates the oil question.

Article 27 asserts this doctrine of eminent domain. The ownership of the land is vested in the nation. The nation delegates this ownership to individuals. For Mexico, this is, of course, a quite consistent development of the original historical situation. When Hernando Cortez landed at Vera Cruz, on Good Friday, 1519, because of the day naming the place of his landing ‘True Cross,’ and proceeded to take possession of the country, he did not for a moment consider that the land he conquered belonged to himself, even though his expedition was unauthorized and practically a private adventure. He was quite clear in his own mind that all title was in fact vested in the Crown of Spain; and from the Crown of Spain he accepted his authority and honors.

Exactly the same thing is true of the Thirteen Colonies, founded about a century later; and names like Virginia, in honor of Queen Elizabeth, like Jamestown and New York, in honor of the Duke of York, afterwards James II, and like Georgia, are the legal fossils of that period.

One application of Crown ownership in Mexico is of particular interest at this point: the fact that the title to all precious metals was held to be inherent in the Crown, which leased the right to mine them on payment of ‘royalties,’ the very name of which expresses the legal theory.

Now, what has happened in Mexico is this: the old legal doctrine of the Crown’s title to all the land has been rephrased in Article 27, to meet modern republican conditions, as ownership by the nation; while the doctrine, held from the beginning in the case of the precious metals, has now been applied to other valuable products extracted from beneath the soil, including petroleum. The older constitutions had nothing to say about petroleum, no doctrine to apply to it, for the sufficient reason that, if it was known that petroleum existed in Mexico, no one thought of it as having any practical value; no one dreamed that it was one of Mexico’s greatest natural resources.

This brings us naturally to the American side of the vexed question. The story has been many times told, and well told; and ample justice has been done to the insight, energy, and high constructive ability of the Americans who, a generation ago, discovered signs of petroleum on the surface of waste lands near Tampico, and who, developing these lands, added so greatly to the wealth of Mexico, and of the world, besides adding to their own already large possessions. And the part of certain able Englishmen in the further production of Mexican petroleum has been likewise put on record.

It has also been pointed out —and, I believe, with entire justice — that, besides enriching the Treasury of Mexico, the oil-wells at Tampico, Tuxpam, and elsewhere have conferred great and very real benefit on large numbers of Mexican natives, and especially on those whom it is agreed to call ‘Indians,’ in pursuance of the original blunder of Christopher Columbus. Further, that hitherto latent qualities of energy, honesty, and practical ability have been drawn out in these Indians of Tampico, with the revelation that they have a considerable natural gift for mechanics, and can be trusted with the care of fairly complicated machinery.

All this I believe to be true. And there is a great deal to be said for the oil men; in fact, a great deal has already been said, with perfect justice.

The original developers of Mexican oil came from California. And here we have ready at hand a vivid illustration of the difference of juridical theory which underlies the Mexican oil question. The gold-miners of Mexico had, from the beginning, the theory that all the gold of Mexico belonged to the Spanish Crown; they paid royalties, the Crown’s share, on all the gold they mined. But the gold-miners of California, the ‘Forty-niners’ and their successors, had no such theory. The gold they mined was their own, to be held in absolute possession.

And Californians, coming to Mexico, have brought with them, whether consciously or unconsciously, their own juridical theory of wealth extracted from the ground, and, in their own minds, have applied it to Mexican oil. They are persuaded that what they extract is their own absolute property, to have and to hold. They do not realize the logical force, the historical ground, of the juridical theory native to Mexico.

As a nation, we can hardly ask Mexico to revise her historic view and to rewrite her Constitution to suit us. That would be the kind of mistake, the kind of failure in urbanity, which we are rather prone to make. We are too prone to assume that we and our theories are of necessity superior; too prone to forget the long past of Mexico, which had its fine cities and, among other things, its beautifully printed books, like the great Aztec-Spanish Dictionary, sixty or seventy years before the historic landing of the Pilgrims or the foundation of the colony at Jamestown. And this forgetfulness does harm.

A happy solution, fair to both sides, can be reached. And the first step toward reaching it is a clear recognition of the different points of view, the difference of legal theory underlying the dispute.


There is a second danger-point, a second possible bone of contention, in Lower California; although the danger here has been greatly reduced within the last few weeks by the prudent and well-advised abdication of Cantú, so long the autocrat of the northern district of the peninsula.

One may suggest the danger by recalling a name applied to this region by one of the writers best informed as to its character and history: ‘the Mother of California.’ This name has ample historical justification. From the peninsula came to what is now our California, not only the name, but also the great industries of our Golden West. To the first religious missionaries, the followers of Ignatius Loyola, of Dominic, of Francis of Assisi, who planted gardens of European fruits, grapes, oranges, and olives, by the mission wells and rivulets of the long peninsula, our California owes its fame as a fruit garden; while the large cattle-industry of the Pacific coast has its origin in the wisdom and selfless energy of a noble Jesuit, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, who carried out his work a century and a half earlier, between the years 1687 and 1711.

Not only a great religious movement, very beneficent in its operation, but the germs of a great commercial movement, fostered originally for the sake of the missions, spread from Lower to Upper California, recording itself in the names of saints, which extend from Santa Barbara to San Francisco. I wonder how many of the present dwellers by the Golden Gate remember that their patron is the marvelous religious genius of Assisi, the author of the Canticle of the Sun.

This close relation between the two Californias, together with the almost complete physical isolation of the peninsula from Mexico, is just the point of danger. For a long series of years, there has been at least the germ of a movement on the Pacific coast looking to the annexation of Lower California to the United States. The argument has been the close relation, historical and natural, between them: if Upper California belongs to us, why not Lower California also? If the ‘daughter’ is ours, why not the ‘mother’ also? And, for a while, this danger was concentrated in the person of Esteban Cantú, whose relations with many people of influence in Los Angeles and the Imperial Valley region were peculiarly close.

The immediate danger has now been removed; and it is more than likely that its recognition at Mexico City was one cause of the removal of the able governor of the northern district by the government of President de la Huerta.

But the ultimate danger remains. There are wonderfully rich and almost untouched natural resources in Lower California. It is not merely the wild and torrid cactus waste that we picture to ourselves. It already has flourishing towns and highly developed mines, with scores of known mining-sites, offering gold and silver and precious stones, copper, iron, and much more. But, further than that, I am convinced that it has a great agricultural development before it, when its present somewhat meagre water-supply is more fully conserved, and when artesian wells are systematically drilled. What irrigation can do in that marvelous soil and climate is already shown in the Imperial Valley. This veritable nature’s garden is supplied with water from the lower reaches of the Colorado River, which are diverted from a point in Mexican territory northward into our own California, where Mexicali on the Mexican side, and Calexico in the Golden State confront each other across the international boundary. It results that the northern half of the Imperial Valley, within our boundaries, is absolutely dependent on Mexico for its water-supply. And this is the kind of fact which supplies fuel to the annexationists.

But I am persuaded that even more wonderful results will be accomplished by artesian drilling. Anyone who has seen the artificial fountains of New Mexico, bringing splendid fertility to a region naturally a desert, knows what magical transformations artesian wells can bring about; and it takes no great, imagination to picture the same fertility extended to Sonora across the international frontier, to much of arid Northern Mexico, and to Lower California also. I commend the idea of irrigation on a large scale to the government of President Obregón.

Something has already been said of the large benefits brought to many thousands of ‘Indians’ about Tampico and Tuxpam by the oil-industry. The same thing, in another department, may be said of Lower California. At Santa Rosalia, about half-way down the coast of the Gulf of Pearls, you will find a modern French city, equipped with electric lights and telephones, with wharves and warehouses, with well-laidout streets and enlightened civic methods, which has grown up with the great group of copper mines known as El Boleo. The natives of the district, and many who have crossed the Gulf from Sonora, have greatly profited by this modern industry, just as in the oil districts, though the source of Santa Rosalia’s culture is French, not American.

There is, then, the temptation to annex Lower California, which has existed more or less since the days of Filibuster Walker, who tried it in 1854. But any such temptation we should resolutely reject in the name of our national honor. We should make it clear to the Mexican government that we do not covet this Naboth’s Vineyard; that the spoliation of Mexico by the United States, as they regard it, is a closed chapter of history.


So far, we have been concerned with only one of the Two Mexicos: the Mexico of the ruling class, with Spanish as its legal speech. There remains the other Mexico: the Mexico of the many aboriginal races and tongues, whose wide diversity in character and gifts we conceal under the general name of Indians — a name which is completely misleading as regards their ethnical affinities.

But it happens that, for my present purpose, the name Indian, with its suggestion of India, carries two thoughts on which I wish to dwell.

The first of these refers to their government. And the principle which I should like to see practically applied to them is the principle which, in India, has been successful to a degree never seen before in the world’s history.

To begin with the question of language. The government of India officially recognizes nearly a hundred different languages, among which English itself stands about thirtieth as regards the number who speak it. And this recognition is not a formal thing: it is exceedingly practical. The members of the Covenanted Civil Service, as soon as they have passed their first examination and are assigned to the different provinces, are forthwith set to study the more important languages of these provinces, such as Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Uriya, Tamil, and Telugu. Many take up, as an additional study, one of the classical tongues, Sanskrit, Arabic, or Persian.

And it is not a question of a superficial knowledge, like an English schoolboy’s knowledge of French. It is a question of reading, writing, and speaking the modern tongues, with a considerable degree of fluency and accuracy. And, after reaching India, the same process is continued. There are periodical examinations in both the spoken and the older tongues, and promotion depends on passing these examinations. Nor is one set merely to read printed books in Bengali or Telugu or Hindi: the examination is based rather on actual documents which have come up in the ordinary business of government, on petitions and contracts and so forth. And the oral examination is practical in the highest degree. I well remember, on a sultry day of the hot season, being confronted with a somewhat perturbed peasant of one of the villages of Murshidabad, and being invited by the native judge who was conducting the examination to ‘talk to him about his family.’ It happened that at that early date I knew only the book words for son and daughter, so the conversation did not flow. But the point was brought home.

I should like to see the same thoroughness applied to the ten or twelve millions in Mexico who know no Spanish, and will, in all likelihood, never know any Spanish. Their languages are difficult — let us grant that; but so are Burmese and Malayalam. Yet the men who are charged with administrative work in the regions where these are spoken, can read and write and talk Malayalam and Burmese in a way to bring them into intimate touch with the natives, and intimate understanding of them.

And now I come to my second point. The foundation of the study of Sanskrit was laid by members of the Indian Civil Service, men holding just such positions as I have described. Think for a moment what it has meant to the science of Language, to the study of Comparative Religion, to Philosophy, that the secrets of that splendid tongue, with its superb literature, have been revealed.

There may not be, among the aborigines of Mexico, anything to compare with the Upanishads, with the life of Prince Siddhartha; nevertheless, there is much that strongly suggests them. In an earlier article, I said something about the Popol Vuh, the ancient Scripture of the Guatemalans, which, at least in its earlier chapters, so strongly suggests the Puranas of India. But it happens that, in another part of Mexico, namely in the high Sierras which form the backbone of Western Mexico, there is something which has an even closer analogy with the hymns of the Rig Veda.

Karl Lumholtz, the Norwegian explorer, who has a knowledge of some of the less-known parts of Mexico which is without rival, and who has a real genius for throwing himself into the life of these remote peoples and gaining their sympathy, has put on record, in one of his wonderful books, a series of hymns addressed to the very deities of the Rig Veda—the Sun-God, the RainGod, Father Heaven and Mother Earth, — which cannot fail to recall to anyone who is familiar with them the earlier Vedic hymns. So we have, in the mountains of Western Mexico, in the twentieth century, what is to all intents and purposes the Vedic religion, with its hymns and ceremonial, still in active operation. Surely there is interest in that. It is still possible to learn, from the priests of this archaic ceremonial, hymns strongly resembling those that our Aryan kinsmen chanted among the tributaries of the Upper Indus, heaven only knows how many millenniums ago.

I have spoken before of the great Aztec-Spanish Dictionary, finely printed in Mexico City about the year of Shakespeare’s birth. But this is only one among many records of the early Mexican languages which is easily accessible to-day. The text of the Popol Vuh is another, this time in the Quiché tongue. Speaking generally, we owe these linguistic monuments to the zeal and scholarship of missionaries and members of the religious orders; for while zealots of one type destroyed much, equally zealous men of a better type preserved much. And the result is that we have in Mexico the records of a religious culture of high interest and value.

As regards Mexico, we have in the front of our minds the ghastly picture of human sacrifices, as they were celebrated by the priest of the Aztecs; and I think that what we know of them gives ample moral justification for the conquest by Cortez. But these sacrifices had been in existence only a few generations, and as the ritual of a conquering race. They are not characteristic of all Mexico, nor of any long period. Behind them, in the background, and especially in the region of the Mayas and Quichés, one finds many traces of a far more spiritual religion; and the deeply interesting fact is, that this older and perhaps primeval worship seems still to survive among the remoter tribes; to survive with a spirit and a ceremonial which vividly suggest the Rig Veda.

And this earlier religion seems to have cherished very genuine virtues, which the religious orders, Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans, bear eloquent testimony to. They found a very real fervor and devotion, and they found, as one can find in the remoter regions to-day, veneration of Father Heaven, Mother Earth, and the Morning Star regarded as the Divine Son, these three deities being represented by three crosses, which are still set up before the houses of many aboriginal Mexicans in the mountains. They found also a rite of baptism, with veneration of ‘holy water.’

All of which brings me to my practical point. Here are ten or twelve millions, of widely differing races and tongues. Would it not be wise to apply to them principles of government that have not yet been tried there, though they have been splendidly successful elsewhere? Begin by setting the administrators really to study their tongues — gaining, not the smattering which one finds, for example, in Oklahoma, in the so-called interpreters on whom we depend in talking to the older men among, let us say, the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahoes; but gaining a real mastery, such as makes it possible to enter into the heart and feelings, the aspirations and sympathies, the intimate nature of these neglected children of the Father. From understanding and sympathy, more of justice would follow; and they have, hitherto, had but scant justice.

The traders of the East India Company began by studying the languages of India, purely for commercial ends. When destiny forced them into administrative relations with the peoples of India, they went deeper, and set themselves really to master the Indian tongues. As a result, they stumbled on the splendid Sanskrit literature, which is still, after more than a century, enriching the world.

Once a beginning is made in Mexico, like secrets may be disclosed, for our common enriching; civilizations may be uncovered that will fill blank pages in history; race-affinities may come to light that will solve many ethnic enigmas; light may be shed on many dark places in the history of religions. But, best of all, by advancing along the path of genuine understanding, more of justice, more of compassion may be brought into the lives of these lowly races who have had scant compassion and practically no justice at all.

Here, then, it seems to me, we have the problems of the Two Mexicos. In each case, the key is sympathy, insight, a truer understanding, more of that charity which seeketh not its own.