Mexico City assumed its current character around the turn of the twentieth century, during the dictatorship of Porfirio Daz (1876-1911). In those years, wealthy Mexicans moved away from the Zcalo, the city's traditional center, to western suburbs where they sought to imitate European and American ways of life. At the same time, poorer Mexicans, many of whom were peasants, crowded into eastern suburbs that lacked such basic amenities as schools, potable water, and adequate sewerage. These slums looked and felt more like rural villages than city neighborhoods. A centuryand some twenty million more inhabitantslater, Mexico City retains its divided, robust, and almost labyrinthine character.
In this provocative and beautifully written book, Michael Johns proposes to fathom the character of Mexico City and, through it, the Mexican national character that shaped and was shaped by the capital city. Drawing on sources from government documents to newspapers to literary works, he looks at such things as work, taste, violence, architecture, and political power during the formative Daz era. From this portrait of daily life in Mexico City, he shows us the qualities that make a Mexican a Mexican and have created a culture in which, as the Mexican saying goes, everything changes so that everything remains the same.