Anthropology Professor Claudio Lomnitz – DT002
Dean’s Table Podcast Episode
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About the Episode
Claudio Lomnitz is the Campbell Family Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. A historical anthropologist, his scholarship focuses on the history, politics, and culture of Mexico, and spans a wide variety of topics relevant to Mexican society, including revolution, nationalism, public intellectualism, death, popular culture, and the conception of the family. His books include Labyrinth: Culture and Ideology in Mexican National Space; Deep Mexico, Silent Mexico: An Anthology on Nationalism; Death and the Idea of Mexico; and a book about exile, ideology, and revolution titled The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón. A scholar both in English and Spanish, Professor Lomnitz contributes regular columns to the Mexican newspapers La Jornada and Nexos. He has also collaborated with his brother, theater director and playwright Alberto Lomnitz, to adapt his scholarship for the stage on two separate occasions. His most recent play, La Gran Familia, opened in 2018 with Mexico’s National Theater Company.
Professor Lomnitz joins Dean Harris to discuss the multiple migrations of his past; his views on the role of the public intellectual; the challenges of adapting scholarship to the creative arts; and the conflict-ridden relationship between Mexico and the United States.
Claudio W Lomnitz
Professor of Anthropology
Anthropology Professor Claudio Lomnitz – DT002
Theme intro music
Welcome to The Dean’s Table, a podcast featuring the scholarship, lives, and imaginations of social scientists at Columbia University in the City of New York. I’m your host Fredrick Harris, professor of Political Science and Dean of Social Science. Today we have with us Claudio Lomnitz, a historical anthropologist here at Columbia. Claudio is an expert on Mexican society, and is the author of the fascinating cultural history, Death and the Idea of Mexico, among many other books. But Claudio’s work also extends well beyond the walls of the university. He is a regular columnist for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada and Claudio has written not one but two plays that have been directed and staged by his brother in Mexico. Claudio, welcome to The Dean’s Table. We’re so glad to have you.
Claudio Lomnitz: Thanks very much Fred. I’m delighted to be here.
Fred Harris: I discovered that you were born in Chile, grew up in Mexico,which means your family history has been shaped by migration. Can you share with us your family’s history of the movement across borders?
Claudio Lomnitz: I can, although it’ll take a while. I’ll try to be as brief as possible. I mean, I come from–from exiles from Europe, Jewish family on my mother’s side. My grandparents emigrated to Lima. They met in Peru and then they were kicked out of Peru because they were involved in leftist politics in their country in the 1920s. Emigrated around until they finally went to Chile–thanks to my parents marriage. My father emigrated to Chile from–from Belgium. They left Germany in ’33 and then they left Belgium to Chile in’ 38. So it’s a story of exile on both sides connected to the war, the interwar period. And the–I was born in Chile and then my dad was–was an academic. He was a scientist–geophysics.
Fred Harris: Oh, oh really?
Claudio Lomnitz: And so we traveled around a bit because of him and that’s why we arrived to Mexico. He was hired by the National University there.
Fred Harris: How old were you when you arrived in Mexico City?
Claudio Lomnitz: I was 11 and I arrived in ’68, June 68 which was right when the student movement started there so, haha. And since my father worked at the university, I do have, you know, memories.
Fred Harris: What are those memories by the way?
Claudio Lomnitz: Well I mean, I remember the dramatic things because–because I was too young to sort of know the real–understand the politics of it. But I do remember the army coming in, going into the National University. And then so at that point, my–and we, you know, there were–there were tanks and things like in the university. But we weren’t there for the, thankfully, for the 1968 student massacre which happened in October, in part because my father’s boss said, ‘you know, it’s better for you to clear out of the city, you don’t have anything to do with this and it’s getting ugly.’
Fred Harris: It’s a fascinating story. So, so how did you come to study Mexico from a disciplinary perspective of anthropology, right? Given your interests, particularly your creative writing, your fiction writing. You could easily have gone into literature, why anthropology?
Claudio Lomnitz: In part, it didn’t occur to me that I could have gone into literature. I think I wasn’t–I don’t think confident enough in that area. But in part, I was–I did have a real draw to history and anthropology from my high school days. And anthropology in Mexico, when I studied, it was a very prominent field. In part, you know, there is a National Museum of Anthropology, there’s very rich archaeology. I studied in Mexico City my undergraduate.
Fred Harris: So you were there but where did you do your graduate work in anthropology?
Claudio Lomnitz: I came to the US, I got a fellowship to go to Stanford and got my Ph.D. there. There was also a year in Paris at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes. And It was in California actually, that I started thinking about the possibility of not working in Mexico. At that time, it was before the Internet and all that, it was very hard for to sustain academic research in the social sciences in Mexico if you weren’t working in Mexico because they didn’t really have the library resources or anything like that.
Fred Harris: Did you define yourself then as a historical anthropologist?
Claudio Lomnitz: I began my–my introduction to history did happen at Stanford because, although I was in the anthropology department, I had one of the members of my committee was a historian named Richard Morris who was a very distinguished historian of Brazil. And Morris was interesting to me because he was–he was an American historian who worked on the intellectual history of Latin America and he was a rare, rare figure because he took Latin American intellectual history seriously and not only as a problem to solve. Which I think was very common among American scholars and European scholars too–seeing Latin America as a problem to solve rather than as a place that you can learn from. And Morris was of the latter kind and he interested me a lot in Latin American intellectual history more than I had been when I was in Mexico.
Fred Harris: And what is the tie to anthropology, and for our listeners, could you tell us what historical anthropology is? Some of us may be familiar with social anthropology, physical anthropology…historical anthropology?
Claudio Lomnitz: Yeah, I mean it’s what’s happened I think maybe since the 1970s, 80s it–is you started getting, on the one hand, a lot of historians getting influenced by anthropologists–figure like Clifford Goertz who was very instrumental in this. And you had a number of historians who were inspired in the work of anthropologists and started doing a kind of history that was much more culturally inflected. But likewise you started getting anthropologists who started realizing that their methods were…ethnographic method tended to be very presentist. And even the anthropologist who worked on social processes, which is something that was really important especially for those of us who were interested in politics, we tended to work in relatively shallow timeframe. And often there was the conceit among anthropologists of a much older generation that there were societies that anthropologist work with didn’t necessarily have histories in the sense that you couldn’t write them because there wasn’t the documentary record which was often actually false. Very often there was a documentary record we just weren’t very good at–get at– getting access to it. So historical anthropology is something that developed in that–in that space. And it developed both on the side of historians who started working with anthropologists and on the side of anthropologists who started working with historians.
Fred Harris: It’s fascinating. So I want to shift gears a bit and talk about the meaning of public engagement. So you are Mexican American who is politically engaged in the public life of Mexico. In the introduction to your book Deep Mexico, Silent Mexico you write the following: “In my years in the United States, I have often thought of my experience in relationship to those of Mexican migrant workers–to their ties to home villages and to the ways in which their lives are lived and justified in the United States.” Then you go on to say quote “I do not mean to make too much of this comparison, as I am not especially interested in Mexican American identity politics. Nor do I seek a new group to represent how– now that I have quote ‘abandoned’ unquote Mexico.” And I find this passage fascinating. You’ve written about exile. Do you feel like you have abandoned Mexico? Or that your home country has abandoned you? Or neither?
Claudio Lomnitz: Right now, I don’t feel that I’ve left it behind as much as I did when I wrote those lines. The truth is I think that when you have migratory experiences, the feelings that you can have, both to the place that you’ve left and to the place where you are living, a shift and the changed–change a bit. And I think also that technology has–has also appended some of that. But it is–it’s it’s much harder to actually get cut off from your hometown now than it was even 15 years ago.
Fred Harris: I see.
Claudio Lomnitz: So I write for the paper in Mexico, I’ve written for the people in Mexico for the past maybe seven or eight years–weekly or every other week. That means that my involvement is intense and then here at Columbia we have a center for Mexican studies where–that receives people from Mexico regularly. So I don’t feel as cut off as I had maybe earlier.
Fred Harris: That sense of being cut off, was it because it wasn’t easy to communicate with those across the border?
Claudio Lomnitz: I think that, I was–I was never really cut off maybe. But I was, I think, I was finding a little difficult to translate between my experience in the academy, in the university here, and what was going on there.
Fred Harris: I see.
Claudio Lomnitz: There was a time when in Mexico, and this time when it wasn’t very long ago it still is an issue, that Mexico had a lot of difficulty really assimilating the life of people from Mexico in the US.
Fred Harris: Mmhm.
Claudio Lomnitz: Including people from, like me, who was like I say in those paragraphs, I’m not a campenseno who came to the US to find work. I was–I was hired here by a university so I came in a very privileged position. But I think that in Mexico, because of its long history with the US, has tended to have, especially in the intelligentsia, kind of reactive connection to the US. And that has diminished a lot in the last maybe 20 years or so because the integration of the two countries has accelerated. I mean, I was surprised when one day I realized that I had been here 10 years and hadn’t read a history book on the US. And I think that if I had moved to any other country but the US, I would have read a book about it before going. So it’s kind of interesting to see that there is–ignorance is sometimes a cultivated thing and I think that there is a lot of ignorance in that cultivated sense — there was a lot of ignorance around the US. And I do feel strongly that that’s diminished. There’s much more openness than there used to be.
Fred Harris: Right. So let’s talk about your–your–your work on Mexico, your scholarship of Mexico. Tell us about the book The Death and Idea of Mexico. What was that about?
Claudio Lomnitz: That’s probably my biggest book, I think. It’s–it’s a sweeping 500 year history of the management of death, representations of dying and death in Mexico. And it started because in the year that I studied in Paris I was in the Center of Philippe Aries. Philippe Aries was a great historian who wrote–published actually the year that I was there ’81, this major history of death in the West. And I–I thought well, let’s…I’ll write a book that’s about how it–how it is that the relationship to death becomes a national sign in Mexico–which becomes in the 1920s. And then start working on that. My idea was to write a short book and that rarely has happened to me.
Fred Harris: Haha.
Claudio Lomnitz: I don’t know why I go for these long winded things, it’s terrible.
Fred Harris: You’re a historian.
Claudio Lomnitz: Haha. That’s right
Fred Harris: Not to say history is long winded but you get my point about a great deal of detail.
Claudio Lomnitz: Right. there is a kind of love of detail which could be a bit daunting to readers sometimes. I hope that the book is readable but – so I ended up writing a really…major work that accounts for the management of death in Mexico since the Holocaust of the 16th century. And it shows how it is that how it happened that death became dying. And not only death but also let’s say a sign of death. Like for example the skeleton, that’s not really death, it’s it’s a sign of death. How it is that that became so ubiquitous in Mexican popular culture because it even became in–by the 20th century becomes a sort of nationalist sign. And it’s odd because most places proximity to death, being close to death, is seen as a sign of savagery, right? And when you look at writers, let’s say the British in India or you know colonial writers, they often complain about societies that they see as being savage or barbaric because they’re too close to death. And here you have this national society, modernising society in the 1920s, 30s that embraces its proximity to death as a kind of national sign. And that was a little bit of a puzzle to me.
Mexico as a country had a–is a strange country because it was the most important. New Spain was the most important colony of Spain in the new world. The largest and most populated, the richest. And after Mexico is born as a republic, it has…what one could see as a nation as a kind of near death experience which was first, the war with the US in 1846 to ’48 and then the war, the French intervention of the 1860s. So you have a whole generation of people in Mexico, intellectuals, politicians, who aren’t sure whether Mexico is going to survive as a country. And I think that that gives…the connection of the nation to death a certain kind of inflection that you don’t find in most other countries.
Fred Harris: I want to shift gears a bit to talk about how your scholarship is connected to your creative fictional work. Why have you chosen to take your scholarship to the theater?
Claudio Lomnitz: Well in part, I did it because I could. I have say and the reason why I could is because I have a brother in Mexico City who is a theater director. And the thing about doing theater, I’ve learned, is…that one thing is to write it but it’s hard to actually get it staged. And you have to be able to do that and I would not have been able to do that on my own. I didn’t have the resources, the connections.
Fred Harris: So, so tell us about your most recent play. What is it about? Did it come from your scholarship?
Claudio Lomnitz: It did come from my scholarship.
It’s called La Gran Família which means the–the great family or the big family. And it’s based on a story that happened in 2014–four years ago. I was interested in the family and the community around the problem of the drug war. I was feeling and I was writing a bit in the paper that a lot of discussion of the drug war focused on the crisis of the state. But that there wasn’t very much on the pressure that community and family were facing. I was working on that, when in the summer of 2014, there was a, you know, scandal broke out in the press around the federal police raiding an orphanage known as La Gran Familia. And I went out like the day after. I did a couple of weeks of interviews and came back and thought, ‘this is, you know, this is an incredible story,’ because this was–this is an institution created by this woman who is about whom there was all–there were all kinds of stories. She’s like a legendary figure. And her name was Rosa Versuzco and she was known as Mama Rosa. And this lady; she had begun adopting like street kids and orphans and then, you know, juvenile delinquents that were taken to her since the 1960s. And she was 80 by the time the–the police raided. And by that time there were 600 kids in this institution.
Fred Harris: Wow. Six hundred.
Claudio Lomnitz: Six hundred. It was run like a family. She believed that they were all her kids as you were used to register them under her name. And it was a very, very odd kind of institution which was sort of…you know, very much outside of what the–what the government would have wanted. And – and it was a moment, I think, where there was a lot of tension for the Mexican state around control over the family, the future of children. There had just been President Obama, about a month before, had declared a crisis on the border of migrants and unaccompanied minors migrating across the border. So the Mexican government was, to some extent, reacting to political pressure by staging what they–this operation, which was very much a media operation. It was a big, big newspapers scandal. So I saw it and then I thought–and I–I did write a piece of scholarship on the thing. But as I was doing it I felt like the story was much bigger than allowed for public discussion of the issue of the connection between family and state, of the question of the family in regions like Michoacán which have been really torn by the drug war and also that have – Michoacán has like over 40 percent of its population lives in the US. And–and the case was better in terms of public debate presented as–in the theater than–than as an academic paper. And that was the origin of the play.
Fred Harris: And it’s a musical.
Claudio Lomnitz: It’s a musical. Yes.
Music from La Gran Familia
The thing about–the reason why I thought of it as a musical is because some of the development of the main character, Rosa Verduzco–Mama Rosa, has a legendary side to it and also a very…almost stereotypical side of it. Sort of like, almost like a virgin mother, you know, adopting kids and then–but at the same time, it explodes way beyond what it’s supposed to.
The paradigmatic social type is constantly, kind of, spinning out of control. And I thought the musical would be good for that because the musical on the one hand, the musical lends itself to…to working on stereotype. Like the little girl who wants to adopt a kid or the mother who’s alone who’s adopted–who has a number of children. So there are a number of, lets say, social types that are in there that lend themselves to Broadway like…treatment. While at the same time it’s political theater. And so there is constant tension between those…those songs and what’s actually happening.
Fred Harris: So, as you know Claudio, as social scientists, we aim to pursue value free and rigorous scholarship, right? So with that in mind, how do you see your work as a columnist and as a playwright? Do you see yourself as a public intellectual?
Claudio Lomnitz: Um I guess so. In Mexico I am. Here I’m not so much I think. I’m an academic here. But…I think that the thing is that, to my mind, scholarship…scientific scholarship…is really a tremendous value right now, of tremendous value. It’s scarcer than we realize very often. And I think it’s something truly and genuinely to be defended. Because it is it has been under attack and I don’t mean only in the US. I think, in fact, the US has preserved spaces for this better than lots of places. If you go to Latin America, the scholarship is…the social science scholarship is much more beleaguered and here in terms of budgets, in terms of the pressures that faculty are facing or students. So I think that the value of scholarship is precious but exactly because it is precious. It’s important for it to have some porousness with other genres that are not as value for–you can’t write a column without taking a position. It’s very hard. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t use scholarship. You–I do use scholarship routinely when I’m writing for the paper and I routinely write for the paper and have for years. But I use scholarship but at the same time I do create, let’s say, an identifiable voice and point of view. And that’s why people read my column…those who do. So in that sense, I think that it’s a little bit more partisan than the scholarship but hopefully…the presence of the scholarship makes a difference. I have to say that, I think that although social scientists tend sometimes to sort of envy the public intellectual kind of role, the more enviable role to me is the scholarship one.
Fred Harris: So in your scholarship, I noticed that family has been at the center of your research. In the production of your plays, you work in collaboration with your brother.
Fred Harris: Yes.
Claudio Lomnitz: Highly conflicted. Haha.
Fred Harris: Haha. I was going to get to that. How has it been working with him?
Claudio Lomnitz: So we’re pretty–no it’s–it’s been wonderful in part, these two plays have been my only experience–real experience with deep collaboration. I tend to work alone in my scholarship
And with the theater, it’s–it’s completely cooperative…genre. Because it’s not only the writing but the play–it involves the actors, it involves producers of different kinds. So it’s–it’s a big collaboration and that for me has been a tremendous learning experience and very exciting. And then the work was specifically with my brother which has been with the writing, had been good because…as you mentioned, I’m his older brother so I tend to want to boss him around. But, he is a theater director and there’s nothing bossier than in a theater director. Like you can’t believe it. It’s like being the captain of the ship. I mean, they are constantly in charge of everything. So–.
Fred Harris: Could you do that…what he’s doing.
Claudio Lomnitz: No, no. I could not. I can I definitely could not. I don’t have the attention to detail. Or maybe, I don’t know whether I could, but if I could it would take a lot of learning.
Fred Harris: Right. right.
Claudio Lomnitz: So there was, let’s say, a conflict in two principles of authority.
Fred Harris: Oh.
Claudio Lomnitz: The older brother vs the theater director.
Fred Harris: Haha.
Claudio Lomnitz: Haha. And I think it ended up being productive and we were able to write these plays.
Fred Harris: Right. So for those social scientists interested in the creative arts, what can you tell them about the challenges they face? What does it take to make this type of creative work?
Claudio Lomnitz: Well it does take a lot of time. And I think that…because there is significant effort, it’s a kind of decision that one should make judiciously. I can’t say I did that the first time. The first play I did, I had never written something like that. I didn’t know what involved and it was just sort of an experiment. But the second time. I was already more cognizant of this fact that it is–it is a commitment in terms of time. And one shouldn’t do it thinking that you’re going to be able to do everything else. There are–there are some costs. That’s the first thing. And the second is…I think that people who are trained in the US in American colleges have advantage–an advantage that I didn’t have and I think it’s an advantage that they can use.
Fred Harris: And what’s that?
Claudio Lomnitz: And that’s they have a liberal arts education which I do–I don’t have. Like I am constantly in awe of, let’s say, of our undergrads here at Columbia, you know? You know you mentioned John Locke and they know who you were talking about. And it’s quite fab–it’s fabulous. And they may be chemistry students and they know what you’re talking about. And whereas in Latin America, and I think in Europe too, the training is more specialized from early on. So there was a lot about the about the arts that I think a lot of American college students are more familiar with and they can take advantage of that. And I thought I had to learn a number of things that I think a lot of our college students do know that I didn’t.
Fred Harris: Yeah. OK. So Claudio you have to really give up the secret sauce.
Claudio Lomnitz: Haha.
Fred Harris: I’m going to–so what advice can you give me. So I have some ideas here. So how should I go about turning those journal articles and those university press books into plays and musicals? So right now I’m thinking of writing a play called The Dean and I–
Claudio Lomnitz: Haha.
Fred Harris: –take it not quite The King and I and I’m thinking big. You know, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber of the Cat’s fame. But seriously I think–.
Claudio Lomnitz: Lin Manuel Miranda.
Fred Harris: Haha.
Claudio Lomnitz: Would do a good job.
Fred Harris: But seriously, it seems like it takes a special type of skill to turn academic research into playwriting. Yeah how…
Claudio Lomnitz: I think so. I mean, I have not reflected, yet, very much. I do want to reflect more but here’s…let me give it a shot. First, and I know it’s stupid but for me it was still a surprise stupid or not. The first is that the playwriting, it’s all action. There is no description. So whereas, if you’re writing ethnography or if you’re writing history, you’re constantly describing and you’re constantly contextualizing. Here, it’s a much more bare bones thing. And action includes words of course but–but it’s all action and it’s very rigorous around sequence. So you have to think a little bit about…what the central conflict is and you have to think a little bit also about some of the key moments or images that you’re–that you’re going for. Because here can’t be anything in it that doesn’t have to be there, if you know what I mean. Exactly because of the rigor of time inside the play. In some ways it’s more like music than..than like social science writing in the sense that it really–everything is long–goes along, let’s say, this syntagmatic the–the this chain–the sequential chain. So that’s one thing…the other thing is I found it, and I don’t know whether this is true of the theater or just true of my very limited experience in it, which is that it’s more philosophical than history. By which I mean that, you have to polarize in actual characters and situations what you think is going on. Whereas in history you’re constantly contextualizing. It’s always like you’re going for the gray zone always. I mean here you’re constantly polarizing. You – what you want, if it’s The Dean and I and those are two sides of your own personality that–that you’re going for, then you have to actually pull them further apart than they probably are in fact, in order for each of those to have a voice–a clear voice. Whereas if you were writing about that conflict as a historian you might say, ‘well, you know, but yes but I have–I pulled in these two different directions. However, yesterday I wasn’t.’ You know, that you would leave out of the play.
Fred Harris: So I can’t end our conversation without hearing from you, your thoughts on Mexico-US relations. As someone who straddles both worlds, how do you feel about the prominence of Mexico in the news today on such issues as immigration, family separation at the border, the capture of the drug kingpin El Chapo, the caravan of immigrants coming from Central America to Mexico who are trying to cross the US-Mexico border? What do you think Mexico is so ever present in our politics?
Claudio Lomnitz: Yeah, I mean it’s It’s gotten very, very present and I think that right now American politics is very…conflict oriented. There’s–there is a lot of political capital that can be gained from conflict and from polarization as a lot of people have said that. I think it’s true. And what that means, I think, is that Mexico is useful because it’s a cheap conflict. Let’s say having a conflict with China is much more expensive or having conflict with Europe is more expensive. Having a conflict with Mexico, it’s expensive–more than sometimes people realize. But seems like it’s easily available. So there is a longer term issue to do with migration from..from Central America. No–no doubt. But I believe that there is political timing. That is, you know, there’s a mid-term election and, you know, these…all of a sudden there’s–there’s a crisis around caravan. I don’t mean to say that the midterm election created the caravan. I–not at all, that’s not the case. But I do think that – how shrill or how invisible the problem of migration becomes is to some extent cyclical and has to do often with electoral politics. And that’s a shame because there is a structural problem there. A real human issue that needs to be addressed beyond any sort of short term reaction. And to my mind, the politics around the wall…are problematic, for a number of reasons, but one of them is that a wall is–it’s huge pork barrel politics. And the problem with pork barrel politics is not just clientelism but it’s also what you’re investing in. And here you’re investing in something that really is useless. That is it’s–it’s a wall. It doesn’t do anything. It’s not a train. It’s not a road. It’s not the Internet. It’s not anything that is productive. And at the same time it’s hugely expensive. And some of that money could be better spent perhaps, I would hope, you know, in a politics of responsibility. Because the US is co-responsible, I don’t think it is responsible, but it is co-responsible…of what has happened in Central America. It has been involved in Central America. It has participated in that. And I think that there is some shared–some shared responsibility. The wall doesn’t exactly send a message of shared responsibility. What you’re saying is we don’t want these people here even though we’re part of the reason why they’re moving. And the US is part of the reason why people are moving because of the wars in Central America in the 70s and 80s that the US were involved in and because of the drug trade and because of the deportation.
Fred Harris: That’s not part of the conversation, it’s interesting…in mainstream news. It’s not enough of that history.
Claudio Lomnitz: Exactly. I think that that is an example of how scholarship could permeate more public discussion because the wall does cost a lot of money. Detention centers do cost a lot of money. All of this is investment and it’s unproductive investment. And it could be more socially responsible and show a sense of co-involvement, co-participation. I mean if you look at Mexican migration in this country, I mean it’s been so important for so much activity in the US. From farmers to care of the elders… elderly care, child care to, you know, kitchens, restaurants, factories etc, the work of Mexicans in the United States has been huge. Now Mexico has borne a lot of the cost of the reproduction of that labor force. And that–it seems to me that this whole image of the wall keeping out, keeping out… constantly denies the fact that these economies, especially Mexico much more than Central America, Mexico and the US are more deeply interconnected economically. The Economist a few years back, like about three years ago, wrote an article about this where they said Mexico and the US economies are more deeply interconnected than any two countries in the European Union. I mean, they’re more interconnected then let’s say Belgium and France or…you know, that’s huge.
Fred Harris: It is. Yeah, yeah. So…just want to ask you this question as well. Given that…what are your hopes for the future of US Mexico relations?
Claudio Lomnitz: I think that there is, let’s say, some hardwiring by now of like economic, social, cultural connection. Even when I mentioned, you know, the beginning of our conversation, how when I came here 30 years ago I hadn’t read a book about the US, I think that that has really changed. I can see it in Mexican newspapers. Mexican newspapers, the coverage of US News was shamefully bad. I mean, you think it’s bad here, it was at least as bad there. And that has really changed. I think that US coverage of Mexico has, you know, gotten much better. Much more serious. The US has information on Mexico and there are social ties. Americans–how many Americans haven’t been to Mexico in one way or another? And so…and then there’s–there’s the Americanization of Mexican things which is also huge in Mexico. Figures like Frida Kahlo, Frida Kahlo the painter, everybody knows who she is and part of that has to do with the appreciation of Mexican culture–.
Fred Harris: Right.
Claudio Lomnitz: –in the US. Or you know, guacamole here which is…an avocado now in the US has become ubiquitous. You can’t..
Fred Harris: Or tacos.
Claudio Lomnitz: Tacos. A whole lot of stuff.
Fred Harris: Burritos.
Claudio Lomnitz: Right. And you have now, you know, you also have significant players, let’s say, in Hollywood who are Mexican film directors. And academics, people like me, I don’t mean to say that I’m significant–
Fred Harris: No.
Claudio Lomnitz: –But I’m here.
Fred Harris: Yeah, yes.
Claudio Lomnitz: You know, I’m here and there are a number of people who are here. And…so I think there is, let’s say, a hard wired relationship that is much stronger than the political will of the, let’s say, the politics is sometimes…playing with some, let’s say, it has some leeway for heightening certain kinds of conflicts or ignoring other things. But at the same time the leeway is not as large as people think. So for instance, Donald Trump kept on, sort of, Grandstanding about against NAFTA but when push came to shove what he wanted was kind of NAFTA by another name. Why? Because it is too expensive to get rid of it.
Fred Harris: Right, right. So for my very last question, will we be seeing your play in New York sometime soon? So at the very least on this side of Broadway, perhaps on campus?
Claudio Lomnitz: I would love that. I would love that. I’m working a bit now to make some clips and some of the music and translate a little bit of it so that I can show it around a bit here at Columbia. And the hope that–that people might be interested. But it would be awesome. I hope that I can do it here because–and it would be also very interested to see if it travels well or doesn’t and people get it or it doesn’t. How universal is this?
Fred Harris: Seems like there would be an audience for it right here.
Claudio Lomnitz: think there could be. I think that it could be. You know, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful.
Fred Harris: Right, right. Well this is very exciting. And so I want to thank you so much for coming through. It’s been a joy to talk with you. And I’ll-I’ll see you on campus.
Claudio Lomnitz: Thanks Fred. Thank you very much for having me here.
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The Dean’s Table is produced by Destry Maria Sibley with production assistance from Jack Reilly. Our technical engineers are AJ Mangone and Airiayana Sullivan. Our lead researcher is Kala Deterville. Our logo is by Jessica Lilien. Our music is by Imperial. I’m Dean Harris.
Professor of Political Science & History Ira Katznelson – DT015
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