Gods, Gachupines and Gringos: A People’s History of Mexico

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The first complete history of Mexico for general readers in many years, and maybe the very first intentionally non-academic history of Mexico, Gods, Gachupines and Gringos is a solidly researched introduction to a surprisingly multi-cultural, multi-faceted nation. Gods, Gachupines and Gringos puts flesh and bones on the dusty figures of the past while shedding light on the common humanity of the uncommon humans who created this unique country and its unique culture…. More >>

Gods, Gachupines and Gringos: A People’s History of Mexico

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  1. Reader Views says:

    Reviewed By Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (11/08)

    Richard Grabman’s “Gods, Gachupines and Gringos” covers the history of Mexico’s multiculturalism going back to the mother country Spain and the pre-conquest days of Aztec and Mayan civilizations and the early migration of ancient peoples from Siberia moving through Alaska, spreading out through the Americas, and settling in the tropical mountains of Mexico.

    With the onset of Spain’s conquest for Aztec treasures and their hunger for gold, they soon established a pattern of oppression and abuse. They pillaged local villages, kidnapped leaders, enslaved rebels, and destroyed local gods in their temples.

    Grabman gives an excellent account of the competition of the Hapsburg and Bourbon families as they vied for power after the death of Carols II during the reign of Spain in early 1700. A century later during the “Age of Santa Ana” Mexico had a parade of colorful figures: De Iturbide, Guadalupe Victoria, Poinsett, and Alexander von Humboldt.

    I particularly appreciated Grabman’s objective approach in his coverage of the power exercised by the Catholic Church and their influence on the spiritual, economic, political, and military events from the time of the Inquisition, the impact of the Jesuits, and during the years of Hidalgo, the reform in 1857, and right on through to contemporary issues faced in the 21st century.

    Another aspect of Grabman’s writing that appealed to me was the way he captured the human frailties and virtues of the personalities of the key players in Mexico’s tumultuous development as a nation. He presented a very candid look at U. S. Military involvement during the complex years of the Mexican revolution during Wilson’s presidency.

    Detailed events of the years 1920 through 1946 include discussion of the educational and cultural development of Mexico, the economic crash of 1929, and the hardships of the depression years. He then went on to shed light on the new frontiers of the sixties, and concluded with a look into the country’s future.

    Catchy chapter titles are an evidence of Richard’s wit and humor. Some of my favorites include: Restless Knights, The Saints Come Marching In, Cops and Robbers, and the Fatal Glass of Beer.

    I enjoyed Grabman’s subtle humor as he championed Jose Maria Morelos as the leader of the first modern guerrilla movement. Morelos continued the revolt after Hidalgo was beheaded.

    The book is thoroughly researched and well documented with an all-inclusive bibliography and a complete index.

    Richard Grabman’s “Gods, Gachupines, and Gringos: A People’s History of Mexico” is highly readable, well articulated, and remarkably comprehensive.

    Rating: 5 / 5

  2. Reviewed by Alex Gesheva for the Guadalajara Reporter (11/08)

    Some historians burden students with a dreary list of facts and figures, and an unfortunate life-long allergy to the subject.

    Others, the rare and wonderful kind, make the past transcend numbers and coax students into wanting to learn more.

    Richard Grabman is not a historian, at least not in the academic sense. But his book, “Gods, Gachupines and Gringos: a people’s history of Mexico,” may inspire a slew of history-phobes to finally dip their toes into the subject.

    Once upon a time, Grabman was a technical writer – and it shows. His style is crisp, clean, and includes not a single paragraph-length sentence or invented word (shame on academics who unnecessarily torture the English language).

    Fortunately, aside from pristine grammar, there is nothing particularly technical about this book. Extremely complex events in Mexican history are made accessible to complete beginners in the subject with clarity, grace and wit. Short, eminently readable chapters with catchy titles go a long way towards easing deeply (and not so deeply) hidden adult fears of musty, dusty tomes.

    Best of all, as a non-academic writer for a general audience, Grabman unhesitatingly selects the most compelling details of Mexico’s long and convoluted history and uses them to turn a difficult story into a joyful, dynamic read. After all, self-professed serious readers still yearn to learn about dental care under Aztec rule, swashbuckling nuns, the Pastry War of 1838, Francisco Madero’s conversations with the ghost of his dead brother, and President Jose Lopez Portillo’s famous, ill-fated comment involving a dog.

    Grabman has written “Gods, Gachupines and Gringos” with a specific goal: to explore Mexico’s multi-faceted, multi-cultural past and to help foreigners become more familiar with a very ancient society. The quirky details, therefore, serve to smooth encounters with maddeningly complicated episodes of Mexican history that could otherwise alienate and befuddle uninitiated readers. In this case, the knowledge is also extremely relevant to understanding Mexico’s geopolitical present.

    “With Mexicans, `history is destiny,'” explains Grabman. “Unless we understand the history, and our own role in it, we will continue to be `distant neighbors.'”

    Yes, yes, the goal-oriented reader may say impatiently, but is it an accurate history? Absolutely … and to a point. Scholars will justifiably argue that no introductory history can exist without a fair amount of bias – in the choice of detail, in describing causality, in subtly courting the reader’s sympathies for a particular cause. Introductory histories are by necessity either mindlessly dull or at least subtly slanted, often in ways that slip by novice historians.

    “Gods, Gachupines and Gringos” is no different, and fortunately far from dull. Grabman’s interpretations may inspire some history specialists to write a scathing letter or two (particularly over the choice of where to skim and where to focus). But they may also inspire many other readers (who would otherwise never dream of picking up a history book) to venture deeper into the subject. The book’s well-crafted and accessible bibliography is a great start.

    And those who choose to stop here can at least walk away having enjoyed an eminently readable, quirky history that explains and explores Mexico’s past with sympathy and gentle humor.

    “Gods, Gachupines and Gringos” is a great read for all those who know or remember little to nothing about Mexican history and wish they did, and for all those who may need to be prodded into knowing by well-meaning friends. It may even surprise those who thought they knew it all.

    Rating: 5 / 5

  3. As a North American who has has enjoyed his visits to Mexico, I approached “Gods, Gachupines and Gringos” with a sense of anticipation. I love the color, vitality and sheer “differentness” of the nation to the south of the United States. But my Spanish is limited at best. And sometimes the sheer busyness of Mexico has caused me to experience a kind of sensory overload. This book has helped dispel some of that sense of disorientation. Grabman’s book begins at the beginning of what is known about the place that became Mexico. But he’s never dry and academic. His conversational style, wit and brief chapters make the book easily digestible. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the forces and individuals that have shaped modern-day Mexico.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  4. Richard Grabman’s new Gods, Gachupines and Gringos is one of the first “people’s history” volumes that I have enjoyed. Most such efforts are too superficial, polemic, or simply tourist trash. Dr. Grabman has used fact, metaphor and culture to illuminate a great deal of the culture of Mexico, not just the history.

    Understanding the circumstances which brought Mexico to its present position helps me understand my experiences as an occasional visitor to our neighbor to the South. The interaction of politics with Mexico’s northern neighbor is now much clearer, but so are the prejudices I knew growing up in south Texas. I was raised to think of Pancho Villa as a bandit. Grabman’s book brought back my memory of, at 10 years of age, visiting an old gentleman, a Texas border town merchant, recount tales of Villa bringing his officers across the border to purchase clothing, have a haircut and bath.

    Professional historians and serious advanced students will not find this to be their book. But for the rest of us, Dr. Grabman has provided a well-researched, cited, documented elucidation of Mexican history. It is not just informative, but fun and entertaining.

    Of course, as a loyal Son of Texas, I do take objection to his deconstructing some of the myths with which I was raised–even though, historically and factually, he may be right. I sometimes prefer the myth.

    In all seriousness, the United States is now in controversy about its relationship with Mexico and with the immigration of poor Mexicans. It is well to understand our historical contribution to the poverty which drives that relationship. Dr. Grabman’s book helps forward that understanding.

    This has been a marvelous and informative read. It would be required reading for anyone trying to make sense of the Mexico-US conundrum.

    Rating: 5 / 5

  5. P. Orozco says:

    I was able to fully dedicate myself to GGG during my recent cross-country flight, it was great travel reading; I have enjoyed it very much. It weaved the legends and stories that I was taught in elementary school in Mexico, the books in my parent’s library, and the more academic reviews I learned in my college history courses. It was not dry academic work, but something very lively that read like a novel at times. The gods theme also helped organize the flow of the story, and that was helpful keeping in mind how convoluted history gets in the wars of independence and revolution.

    I especially liked the highlighting of foreigners and their roles in history, as this is something that is greatly lacking in many “people’s history” that can be found in Mexico; often, nationalism and patriotic legend obscures the view of a country’s place in the world.
    Rating: 5 / 5

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