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date: 03 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The 1968 Tlatelolco Student Massacre and the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake—two catastrophic, “watershed” events—are generally thought to have defined recent Mexican history in leading to great change, especially sociopolitical democratization. In the historiography of modern Mexico, 1968 and 1985 have become gigantic milestones in fomenting demands for social–political transformation. As recent scholarship has demonstrated, however, this interpretation neglects formative precursors of the struggles prior to 1968 and significant developments after 1985. Strikes and protests by railroad workers, doctors, and teachers in the cities as well as the resistance forces in the campo pointed to the underbelly of the Miracle long before 1968. And, after the sismo, it would take another long and contentious fifteen years to bring the PRI’s seventy-year rule to an end.Drawing on this scholarship, “disaster” is used as a guiding framework to chronicle the major sociopolitical changes in Mexican society without privileging a linear-progressive, teleological model. Instead, it offers an analysis centered on trauma and popular memory to gauge the transformative power of these disasters. The trauma produced by disaster—whether man-made or natural—can give rise to palpable contestations and negotiations in which people draw on memory to challenge official histories. Hence, 1968 and 1985 (and their consolidation into powerful discourses) can be understood as rallying points, rather than stand-alone dates in history. Framed by the narrative arc of disaster, the period spanning the end of the student movement and the start of urban grass-roots organizing proves crucial in contemporary Mexico because of the power of memory.

Keywords: 1968, Tlatelolco, student movements, earthquake, crisis, Mexico, 1960s–1970s

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