August 25, 2022
Headlines from History
Benito Juárez: The Nature of Heroism in Complicated Times
Visitors Center Theater
Thursday, August 25
7:00pm – 8:00pm CDT
Free in-person program
Can’t attend in-person? Register on Cantigny.org to watch this lecture virtually!
Benito Juárez was Mexico´s contested President from 1858 until his death in 1872. From the late 19th century to the present, he has occupied an important place in Mexico´s national pantheon as a liberal hero, as the stateman who created Mexico´s liberal laws, as the successful commander of Mexico´s defense against the French invasion that supported a Habsburg emperor in Mexico (Maximilian), and as a stern example of humble origins and upper social mobility. And yet, his heroism has never been uncontested in Mexico, though, as late, the current President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, once again has made of Juárez not only a hero of the past, but of the present –López Obrador considers his presidency the continuation of Juárez´ reform. In fact, Juárez was made a hero by his former officer, and later enemy, the dictator Porfirio Díaz, and his anti-clerical stands are at the core of a strong, popular, and lasting anti-Juarista tendency. On the other hand, being a Zapoteco Indian, historians have often highlighted, as it were, Juárez´ unique “Mexicanness.” In fact, he is one of the most cosmopolitan characters in the history of the Americas, both because of his own personality and because of the difficult times he experienced. As a former seminarian, as an educated liberal lawyer, he spoke Latin, in addition to his native Zapoteco, Spanish, and French. And his life and actions cannot be separated –as history shows—from the global context of the U.S. Civil War and the conflicts among European empires. The talk will try to show not Juárez as the Mexican Lincoln, but Juárez as Lincoln´s allied in difficult times for both countries, and Juárez as contested leader whose heroism was made possible by long-lasting debates that, on the one hand, isolate him from his global times and, on the other, keep changing the nature of his heroism.