Massacre in Mexico
Massacre in Mexico
Massacre in Mexico
by Elena Poniatowska
THE LITERARY WORK
A testimonial account of the student movement in Mexico City from July 22 to October 31, 1968; published in Spanish (as La noche de Tiatelolco) in 1971, in English in 1975,
The testimonies of students, teachers, housewives, soldiers, and politicians, as well as fragments of newspaper articles, documentary photos, and slogans, are woven together to create a literary montage attesting to events surrounding the massacre of students at the Plaza of the Three Cultures in Tlatelolco, a Mexico City neighborhood, on the evening of October 2, 1968.
Elena Poniatowska Amor was born in Paris, France, in 1932, the daughter of Paulette Amor Iturbe, an aristocratic Mexican nationalist, and Jean Evremont Poniatowski Sperry, a French citizen of royal Polish ancestry, descended from King Stanislaus II, the last king of Poland. Elena and her younger sister were raised in France, where they began their primary education. In 1942 their mother took her children to Mexico, where Poniatowska has lived ever since. She began her literary career as a journalist for the Mexican daily Excelsior. After a year she joined the newspaper Novedades, where she continued writing about social and cultural events, and honed her skills at what would become her preferred genre: the interview. Poniatowska first achieved literary renown with the publication in 1969 of Hasta no verte Jesús Mío (Until We Meet Again), a testimonial novel based on the life of Jesusa Palancares, a poor Mexican woman who recounts her role as a soldadera (soldier’s female companion) in the Mexican Revolution from the perspective of a slum on the outskirts of Mexico City. For this work Poniatowska received the Mazatlán Prize, a Mexican national book award, in 1970. Massacre in Mexico, one of the first and most widely read accounts of the student uprisings that culminated tragically at the Plaza of the Three Cultures in Tlatelolco, was published the following year. It has sold more than 250,000 copies and has been translated into Polish, Czech, and English. For this work she was awarded the coveted Xavier Villaurrutia literary prize, which she refused, asking the president of Mexico: “Who is going to award a prize to those who fell at Tlatelolco in 1968?” (personal communication by the author).
Although essentially a domestic conflict, the events documented in Massacre in Mexico were profoundly influenced by world affairs of the late 1960s. The assassination of United States civil rights leader Martin Luther King in April 1968, as well as that of presidential candidate Robert Kennedy in June of the same year, galvanized Mexico along with the rest of the international community. The U.S. civil rights movements of the 1960s, whose goals included guaranteeing the vote to blacks, also touched the hearts of people in Mexico, where social and economic oppression had victimized people too. Mexicans watched their television screens in horror as riots broke out in many U.S. cities, and peaceful demonstrations were met with guns and billy clubs across the southern United States.
The ebb and flow of the era’s communist movements also affected Mexicans. First there was the influence of Cuba’s 1959 revolution, whose champions, Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, quickly became symbols of anti-imperialist movements that swept universities from Mexico to Argentina, culminating in massive demonstrations that repudiated the United States’ foreign policy, particularly in terms of its political, economic, and military intervention in Latin America and other developing nations.
The philosophies of Karl Marx and Herbert Marcuse were highly influential in international and Mexican ideological circles; Marcuse’s theory of “the great refusal” discouraged the individual from accepting the existing social order and encouraged the masses to rise up against repression and the status quo without necessarily waiting for a revolution. Demonstrations of such philosophies frequently met with strong government repression, as in the killing of four students on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio in 1970. The student protest at Kent State resembled others that erupted in the 1960s, not only in the United States but in countries such as France as well. Through widespread access to mass communications, Mexicans were made aware of the May 1968 demonstrations by French students, who took to the streets of Paris in droves and were violently confronted by governmental forces.
Given this global ferment, when faced with the first student outbursts in the summer of 1968, the Mexican ruling party (known as the PRI, or the Institutional Revolutionary Party) attempted to depict the disturbances as the work of foreign infiltrators, particularly veterans of the May insurrection in Paris.
To that end, several young foreign tourists were snatched by the police as they walked through the streets. Mexicans with foreign-sounding last names were featured prominently in press releases on the arrests, and the police went so far as to record Mexican names like Emilio, Antonio, or Maria Antonieta as Emile, Antoine, and Marie Antoinette, with duly gallicized [French sounding] last names.
(Hellman, p. 176)
During the early months of student unrest in Mexico, it was also purported that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, members of the Communist Party, Cuban revolutionaries, and even enemies of Mexico’s president Gustavo Diaz Ordaz were responsible for manipulating students. The students, however, emphatically denied that they were being guided by foreign agitators and foreign ideologies. They made a point of associating themselves and their cause with such domestic heroes as Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, and Benito Juárez. “Clearly expressing the position of the movement was the slogan, ‘We are not the agitators. Hunger and misery are the agitators’” (Hellman, p. 178). In the view of the students, there were fundamental problems that their government, run by “various power figures” who were “accustomed to wheeling and dealing … behind the scenes,” had not managed to solve (Paz in Poniatowska, p. ix). They essentially wanted to democratize their republic—and thus sought a dialogue with Mexico’s power brokers.
In 1964 the PRI had selected as its presidential candidate Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, who was considered by some to be the most conservative, if not reactionary, candidate in the history of the ruling party. He had served as Secretary of the Interior in the previous presidential cabinet and was “badly tinged with policy decisions reform-minded groups could not stomach. It had been he who applied the laws of ‘social dissolution’ against David Alfaro Siqueiros and other radicals” (Meyer and Sherman, p. 664). Siqueiros was one of the “big three” Mexican muralists who, along with José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, had covered thousands of square feet of Mexico’s public buildings with revolutionary images taken from the country’s violent past.
Upon inheriting the presidency from his predecessor, Adolfo López Mateos, Díaz Ordaz appointed Carlos Madrazo, a liberal-minded member of the party, as president of the PRI. Quickly Madrazo initiated substantial changes within the ruling party. These changes promoted the internal democratization of the PRI, which increased general civilian participation, and brought more women into government positions, while reducing the historically unlimited power of local political bosses, or caciques (Meyer and Sherman, p. 664). Not surprisingly Madrazo met with an enormous wave of disapproval from those whose traditional powers and privileges were being questioned. Also not surprisingly members of Mexico’s elite demanded his dismissal. Diaz Ordaz quickly fired the reform-minded politician and, among other anti-democratic gestures, annulled elections in states where opposition parties had, he claimed, won because of unspecified “irregularities” in the election process.
The 1968 Olympic games
The fact that student uprisings reached a critical point in the year that the Olympics were to be held in Mexico City is not coincidental. Since it was the first time that the Olympic games would be held in a developing country, the PRI was anxious that the country present itself to the rest of the world as a nation on the rise. To that end, it invested millions of pesos in the construction of athletic facilities, housing for foreign visitors, and a modern subway system modeled after that of Paris. Workers labored around the clock and, to the surprise of many, all was ready by October 12, when the games were scheduled to begin. The eyes of the world would be focused on the nation’s capital for a period of three weeks, and the administration was intent on creating an image of progress and stability to impress the world community. However, not everyone was so easily persuaded. To some, the cost of staging the games—between $150 and $200 million—seemed far too high for a developing nation to bear. The student movement seized the opportunity to point out the disparity between the government’s carefully controlled image of Mexico and reality.
[T]he repressive measures applied by the Mexican government to assure that the games would be staged without disruption, provided immediate focus for the [student] movement. The movement’s symbols and slogans centered on the Olympiad and highlighted the irony of claiming 1968 as the “Year of Peace” in Mexico… . The signs underscored the brutality of the regime that was playing host to the world’s athletes: “Mexico will win the gold medal for repression”—“Welcome to Mexico, site of the Olympic Butchery, 1968.” Others depicted the Olympic dove of peace with a knife in its breast, the five-ring Olympic symbol as five smoking grenades, and a riot policeman racing along with his club held aloft like a flaming Olympic torch.
(Hellman, pp. 178-79)
The Mexico City student movement
The student movement in Mexico City was born on July 22, 1968. Student groups from two rival Mexico City high schools, or preparatorias, clashed in the first conflict of a movement that would be brutally crushed less than four months later. Although the exact motives of this outbreak remain unclear, it is rumored that it resulted from tension between two neighborhood gangs: “The Spiders” and “The Ciudadelans” (inhabitants of Cidadela neighborhood). Receiving a call for help from one of the high school’s principals, the mayor of Mexico City, General Alfonso Corona del Rosal, immediately dispatched the locally feared and hated granaderos, a paramilitary squadron used to disperse rioters. The granaderos broke up the crowd and stopped the confrontation, their actions politicizing much of Mexico’s student population against the government (Meyer and Sherman, p. 667).
“LETTER FROM A MOTHER TO HER SON IN THE RIOT SQUAD”
… You have no idea how terrified I was when I read the papers; I realized the grave dangers you had been exposed to, all for love of [President] Diaz Ordaz. The big hard heads of those savage students might have damaged your nice rifle. I’ve heard that some of them are such brutes that they might even go so far as to smash their faces against that billy club of yours that you take such loving care of…
Hoping that you will continue to kill students and teachers with the same furious passion,
“La Poquianchis Mayor,”
Women’s house of detention
Santa Marta Acatitla
[An ironic] leaflet collected at the August 27, 7963, student demonstration and read in the Manuel M. Ponce Auditorium on September 6, 1968, during the lecture series “Storytells Meet the Public,” sponsored by the INBA [National Institute of Fine Arts]
(Massacre in Mexico, pp. 58-59)
Four days later, on July 26, students supporting Fidel Castro gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the Cuban Revolution at the Benito Juárez monument in downtown Mexico City. The granaderos were again dispatched, and a full scale riot ensued. Eyewitnesses noted that the litter containers along the street were curiously filled with stones, “right there at hand should some charitable soul wish to make use of them. Since when have the residents of Mexico City been in the habit of throwing stones into litter containers?” (Poniatowska, Massacre in Mexico, p. 326). During the following weeks, many similar incidents occurred between students and granaderos, and barricades and heavy artillery appeared in the center of the city. During one particularly violent confrontation, the granaderos demonstrated their authority and their ignorance of history by blowing up the seventeenth-century baroque doors of the school of San Ildefonso in an attempt to capture students who were hiding inside.
The beginning of the end
Massive student demonstrations escalated as the city’s government officials worked around the clock to finish up the myriad of preparations for the Olympics, which were scheduled to begin in October. Among the most forceful demonstrations were those held on the campuses of the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) and the National Autonomous University (UNAM). On Sunday, July 28, student delegates from the UNAM and IPN met at the IPN School of Economics to discuss the idea of organizing a strike, scheduled to take place unless the following six demands were met:
1) The dissolution of rightist student groups supported by the government and its ruling party, the PRI;
2) The expulsion of students who were members of these groups as well as of the ruling party (PRI);
3) Indemnities paid to families of the dead and those wounded in skirmishes with the granaderos;
4) Immediate release of all jailed students;
5) The disbanding of the granaderos and other repressive police units;
6) The derogation of Article 145 of the Penal Code, which allowed for imprisonment based on the crime of “social dissolution.”
As Judith Hellman points out, “these demands were neither radical nor revolutionary… . The student movement was essentially calling for the recognition of constitutional guarantees and the protection of civil liberties provided by the constitution” (Hellman, p. 180). In other words, the students recognized that Mexico was not ready for a revolutionary alternative and—at least in terms of their demands—stayed well within the boundaries of the country’s political establishment, essentially respecting its overriding authority.
The Secretary of the Interior (and Mexico’s future president), Luis Echeverría, agreed to debate with student leaders, but the talks broke down when the latter demanded that the dialogue be broadcast on public radio and television, a longtime time bastion of unconditional PRI support.
On August 27 the National Student Strike Committee held a demonstration in the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square, which attracted an estimated 500,000 participants and constituted the most massive antigovernment demonstration in Mexico’s history. The demonstration lasted into the night, and, when the granaderos were sent into the square with heavy artillery, the first verified student death in the student movement occurred (Meyer and Sherman, p. 668).
President Diaz Ordaz’s State of the Union Address on September 1, 1968, was not a typical speech full of heady rhetoric and golden predictions of Mexico’s economic future. In light of the impending Olympic Games, he was obliged to directly address the issues at hand. He stated that the students did not act alone in their clashes with the government, and claimed that Article 145 of the Penal Code could not, as the students demanded, be abolished, because this was beyond the power of the President. Not surprisingly, the president’s analysis of current events in Mexico on the eve of the Olympic Games was far from positive:
We have caused Mexico to appear in the eyes of the world as a country in which the most reprehensible events may take place; for the unfair and almost forgotten image of the Mexican as a violent, irascible gunman to be revived; and for slander to be mixed with painful truth in the same news reports.
(Diaz Ordaz in Meyer and Sherman, p. 669)
The students regarded the President’s statement as just another governmental ploy to postpone any confrontation—or any conciliation—until after the Olympic Games, when, of course, the students would no longer have the benefit of world attention directed towards their country and, it was hoped, their cause. In the middle of September, the President sent in 10,000 troops to occupy the UNAM. They arrested approximately 500 demonstrators. The recently appointed rector of the university, Javier Barrios Sierra, resigned in protest at the blatant undermining of his institution’s autonomy. In the weeks that followed, bands of discontented students demonstrated in the streets, painting slogans on walls, and occasionally burning public buses in protest against the government’s unilateral actions.
The night of Tlatelolco
On the afternoon of October 2, 1968, members of the National Student Strike Committee organized another meeting. This time, it was held at the Plaza of the Three Cultures, an archaeological site-cum-residential neighborhood, that owes its name to the three cultures that it represents. The site preserves the ruins of a pre-Hispanic settlement and a Franciscan colonial monastery (which was also the first college in Mexico). These remains are juxtaposed with a series of ultramodern high-rises designed by celebrated local architects. Involving from 5,000-10,000 people, the meeting was not as massive as those that had preceded it. The student leaders assembled themselves on a balcony of the Chihuahua apartment building and began their speeches. Although the harangues were emotional, the demonstration itself was orderly and peaceful.
FRAGMENT OF THE POEM “IN MEMORY OF TLATELOLCO” BY ROSARIO CASTELLANOS
An accomplished poet, novelist, and dramatist, Rosario Castellanos (1925-74) distinguished herself as one of Mexico’s foremost writers of the 20th century. She died tragically in an accident with an electrical appliance while serving as Mexico’s ambassador to Israel, six years after the events commemorated in her poem on Tlatelolco:
Darkness breeds violence
and violence seeks darkness
to carry out its bloody deeds.
That is why on October 2 they waited for nightfall
so that no one would see the hand
that held the gun, only its sudden lightning flash.
Don’t search for something there are no signs of now:
traces of blood, dead bodies,
because it was all an offering to a goddess,
the Eater of Excrement.
(Castellanos in Poniatowska, p. 171)
At approximately 6:10 in the evening, under a light rainfall, several green flares were spotted in the air. As bystanders and participants looked up at the sky, granaderos and other representatives of authority, heavily armed with tanks, bazookas, cannons, and other heavy artillery moved in on the demonstrators trapped in the Plaza.
There are many versions of the violent events that ensued. The government version, which appeared in local newspapers the following day, claimed that terrorists in the surrounding apartment buildings began firing on the police. Many participants and bystanders, however, insisted that the police opened fire without being provoked, and only at that point did snipers begin to shoot from the buildings. Whatever the truth may be, thousands of innocent people were caught in the crossfire as the government moved in on the plaza in a pincher formation. In the mayhem that followed, many soldiers were killed or injured as well, including one of the commanding officers, General Hernández Toledo. Official government statistics initially claimed that only 8, then 18, and finally 43 deaths had occurred, but other sources place the death count at at least 400, while some 2,000 were jailed. Sócrates Campus Lemus, an arrested student leader who was accused by many members of the student organizations of being co-opted by the government, claimed that the killings had been carefully orchestrated by ambitious opposition politicians, including one of Mexico’s most respected economists, Victor Urquidi, in the interest of bringing down the government for personal gain (Meyer and Sherman, p. 671).
Massacre in Mexico is divided into two sections that are separated by a photo layout of captioned images. Generally speaking, Section 1, “Taking to the Streets,” reflects the students’ euphoria before the events of October 2, while Section 2, “The Night of Tlatelolco,” explores the aftermath of the confrontation between government forces and student demonstrators. The former is constructed through a selection of quotes from interviews with professors, students, parents, and political activists, complemented by slogans taken from student banners, chants, and street posters. In one particular instance, a father shares his approbation of the protest: “If the one thing the Student Movement has accomplished is to strip the Mexican Revolution bare, to show that it was a filthy, corrupt old whore, that alone is enough to justify it” (Massacre in Mexico, p. 147). Comprising the second section are testimonies from parents of the dead and wounded as well as survivors, along with newspaper clippings that detail the events that transpired. The testimonies consist not only of descriptions but also of snippets of conversation at the demonstration. At one point, for example, a sister panics by the side of her fallen sibling: “Little brother, speak to me… . Please, somebody get him a stretcher! I’m right here, Julio … a stretcher!” (Massacre in Mexico, p. 225).
Cumulatively the book achieves its effect through its compilation of the different impressions, chants, dialogue, news stories, banners, poems attributed to various teachers, students, prisoners, parents, politicians, and bystanders:
WE DON’T WANT OLYMPIC GAMES! WE WANT A REVOLUTION!
—Chant by students at a number of meetings
We try not to let our political differences affect our daily life here in prison.
—Luis González Sánchez, member of the Communist Youth, prisoner in Lecumberri
We have been so tolerant that we have been criticized for our excessive leniency, but there is a limit to everything, and the irremediable violations of law and order that have occurred recently before the very eyes of the entire nation cannot be allowed to continue.
—Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Fourth Annual
Presidential Message to the National Congress, September 1, 1968
TO THE PEOPLE OF MEXICO:
You can see that we’re not vandals or rebels without a cause—the label that’s constantly been pinned on us. Our silence proves it.
—Handbill at the September 13 demonstration [a silent march]
Tlatelolco? I hear it’s always been a place where human sacrifices were offered [by the ancient Aztecs].
—Francisca Ávila de Contreras, eighty-year-old resident of the Calle de Neptuno, near the Nonoalco-Tlatelolco Bridge
The dead bodies were lying there on the pavement, waiting to be taken away. I counted lots and lots of them from the window, about seventy-eight in all. They were piling them up there in the rain.… I remember that Carlitos, my son, had been wearing a green corduroy jacket, and I thought I recognized his dead body every time they dragged another one up. …
—Margarita Nolasco, anthropologist (Massacre in Mexico, pp. 12, 44, 45, 55,124, 210)
Social unrest in Mexico
At a demonstration on August 13, 1968, students chanted “Vallejo, Vallejo, Vallejo, Freedom!”; they also chanted “Che-Che-Che-Guevara” (Massacre in Mexico, p. 150). Why chant these names, the first belonging to a Mexican railway worker, the second to a doctor-guerrilla leader who helped Fidel Castro take over Cuba?
In 1958 the workers of Mexico’s national railways organized a series of strikes that were violently broken by government forces. These strikes are generally held to be symbolically tied to the student uprisings ten years later, and perhaps to constitute their most tangible stimulus. The long-term incarceration of two of the union’s most conspicuous leaders, Demetrio Vallejo (12 years) and Valentin Campa (11 years) gave the students something specific to fight for. However, as Octavio Paz is quick to point out, the students “failed to see the difference in objectives and tactics and above all the different class structures involved in the two movements, and hence did not appreciate the entirely different significance of these two episodes” (Paz in Poniatowska, p. ix).
Nevertheless, the students identified with Vallejo’s victimization by Mexico’s power mongers. Similarly they took inspiration from the memory of Che Guevara. After helping Fidel Castro overthrow Cuba’s dictatorship in 1959, Guevara had gone on in the 1960s to stage agrarian insurrections that fired the imagination of protestors everywhere. “We chose Che as our symbol of demonstrations from the very first. Che was our link with student movements all over the world!” (Massacre in Mexico, p. 32). Not yet 40, Guevara died tragically on October 8, 1967, in guerrilla warfare in Bolivia, after which youth everywhere turned the rebel into an icon. “Young men all over Mexico wanted to be like him. He was … the symbol of the new man, the pure and incorruptible hero” (Krauze, p. 692). Mexican youth plastered his face on the walls of Mexico’s National Palace, regarding him as champion of the downtrodden and an agent of light; opposing him were agents of darkness—the exploiters who wielded power in business and government and the U.S. imperialists. Mexico’s student movement, however, did not include only such absolute views; it also encompassed the views of more moderate activists who agreed with the students that change in Mexico was imperative: “The teachers were the most moderate group in the entire Movement… . They supported the students, but also did their best to keep them from acting on impulse” (Massacre in Mexico, p. 94). The presence of such mature activists underscored the legitimacy of the student’s demands and also foreshadowed the riveting impact that the massacre was to have on Mexican writers of the era.
Sources and literary context
Writers responded to the massacre with a spate of novels, plays, short stories, poems, and essays. Carlos Fuentes (see The Death of Artemio Cruz , also covered in Latin Ameñcan Literature and Its Times) referred to the
PAZ ON MASSACRE IN MEXICO
Referring to the tone as well as the material in Poniatowska’s book, poet and essayist Octavio Paz (see The Labyrinth of Solitude , also covered in Latin American Literature and its Times) describes its contents:
The mood at the beginning is one of joyous enthusiasm and euphoria: on taking to the streets, the students discover the meaning of collective action, direct democracy, and fraternity. Armed with these weapons alone, they fight repression and in a very short time win the support and the loyalties of the people, Up until this point, Elena Poniatowska’s account is the story of the civic awakening of an entire generation of young people. This story of buoyant collective fever soon takes on darker overtones, however: the wave of hope and generous idealism represented by these youngsters breaks against the wall of sheer power, and the government unleashes its murderous forces of violence; the story ends in a bloodbath.
(Paz in Poniatowska, p. viii)
deadly event in his drama All Cats Are Gray in the Night (1968), and so did Octavio Paz in his essay Posdata (1970). “In the extensive and powerful literary response to Tlatelolco,” observes one literary historian, “is captured not only historical data but also the intense and often anguished psychological reality underneath the facts and statistics” (Foster, p. 273). Within this outpouring, Poniatowska’s Massacre in Mexico has achieved singular renown for its portrayal of the massacre: “The distinction of having written the most dramatic, most widely read, and most unusual account of the event belongs to Elena Poniatowska [and] … her unique La noche de Tlatelolco” (Foster, p. 330). Authors would continue to invoke the event in later works (Gustavo Sainz in Brother Wolf, 1978; Poniatowska herself in Silence IsStrong, 1980; and Fuentes in Christopher Unborn, 1987). In fact, the massacre is said to have rechan-neled Mexican literature away from experiments in “time and space and point of view” toward a direct focus on the nature of power in Mexico the massacre brought a sobering end to the “illusion of democracy” in the nation, and writers responded accordingly (Foster, p. 245).
Traditionally, Poniatowska’s work has been described as “testimonial literature,” a genre that demonstrates “an explicit commitment to denounce repression and abuse of authority, raise the consciousness of its readers about situations of political, economic, and cultural terror, and offer an alternative view to official, hegemonic history” (Jörgensen, p. 68). Testimonial literature is often considered a hybrid genre, because it incorporates both historical and literary qualities, straddling the areas of fiction and nonfiction.
In an interview Poniatowska has described how she was informed about the events that transpired in Tlateloco by several “hysterical” women who came to her home on the night of the tragedy. Moved by their horrible tales of murder and destruction, she visited the Plaza of the Three Cultures on the following day:
I went on October 3 to see Tlatelolco. It shocked me to see the piles of empty shoes, to see the tanks there and the traces of machine gun fire all over the place. Then I said to myself, what happened here? (Because when the women came to tell me on the night of October 2, I thought they were hysterical.) I even saw blood on the wall, bloody handprints, and all the windows broken out. I saw that there had been a real battle there. After that I kept track of the testimonies of the people who told me their experiences, and that’s how I put together the book.
(Poniatowska in Jörgensen, p. 77)
The testimony is a tricky genre to define, because the question of authority is always a point of great debate. Who actually is the author of Massacre in Mexicol Elena Poniatowska, who orchestrated many voices in her polyphonic narrative, or the informants, without whose testimonies the work would not exist? Whatever the case may be, the undeniably literary characteristics of the work stem precisely from its very humanity and mystery:
As with all historical events, the story of what took place in 1968 in Mexico is a tangled web of ambiguous facts and enigmatic meanings. These events really happened, but their reality does not have the same texture as everyday reality. Nor does it have the fantastic self-consistency of an imaginary reality such as we find in works of fiction.
(Paz in Poniatowska, p. viii)
In a book-length interview with Esteban Ascencio, Elena Poniatowska recalls the almost nonexistent reaction to the publication of her work in 1971:
The only review that was published about the book when it came out was by José Emilio [Pacheco]. It was as if it didn’t exist. Its promotion—if it could be called that—was from mouth to mouth, which is the best of all. I especially recall Don Tomás Espresate [founder of Ediciones ERA, the company that published the book]…. They threatened to put a bomb in the offices of his publishing house and he responded that he had been in the Spanish Civil war until 1939 and that he was afraid neither of bombs nor of anonymous threats.
(Ascensio, p. 44; trans. M. Schuessler)
In a review published on March 31, 1971, in the news magazine Siempre! José Emilio Pacheco—the highly respected author and literary critic who had helped to edit the book—denounced the government’s actions and underscored the transcendence of Poniatowska’s work: “No other publication has expressed the atrocious enormity of the crime in all of its dimensions as does this multiple narration of its survivors” (Pacheco, p. x; trans. M. Schuessler). At the end of his review, Pacheco demands that the government clarify the many mysteries surrounding the tragedy: “Elena Poniatowska’s book, which is also the book of those who are imprisoned and of the mothers who lost their children in one of the worst killings in a history as violent and sad as ours, provides the opportunity to demand that the government publicly investigate and punish those responsible—whoever they may be” (Pacheco, p. xi trans. M. Schuessler).
Ascensio, Esteban. Me lo dijo Elena Poniatowska.México, D.F.: Ediciones del Milenio, 1997.
Foster, David William, ed. Mexican Literature: A History. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
Garcia Pinto, Magdalena. Women Writers of Latin America: Intimate Histoñes. Trans. Trudy Balch and Magdalena García Pinto. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.
Hellman, Judith Adler. Mexico in Crisis. 2nd ed. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1983.
Jörgensen, Beth E. The Writing of Elena Poniatowska: Engaging Dialogues. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power. Trans. Hank Heifetz. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.
Meyer, Michael C, and William L. Sherman. The Course of Mexican History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Pacheco, José Emilio. “Tlatelolco Dos de Octubre.” Siempre, March 31, 1971, x-xi.
Poniatowska, Elena. Massacre in Mexico. Trans. Helen R. Lane. New York: The Viking Press, 1975.