SUCCESSES AND FAILURES OF A PORFIRIAN PROJECT
By Rebeca Inclán Rubio
During the nineteenth century, Mexico went through a period of political and social turbulence that caused the stagnation of the economy. To counteract it, the different governments sought to promote the development of the country by attracting settlers and immigrants, in order to support the goals of liberalism: modernity, peace, and progress.
The ideologists who in the 19th century supported the arrival of foreigners to our country knew well the Mexican reality: the population was scarce and the land abundant, fertile and empty. These were the premises on which the need to attract foreign colonists culturally related to the population was based, such as the Belgians, Spaniards, French and Italians, with whom language or religion was shared.
Liberal governments promoted colonization projects regulated by different laws, such as those of 1824, 1875 and 1883, which would allow the demarcation, measurement, and division of vacant land owned by the nation, as well as modernizing the productive processes of the countryside in order to obtain necessary land. for the establishment of the colonies.
The first Italians
After the liberal triumph in the Revolution of Ayutla in 1855, the project of foreign colonization was resumed as the promoter of the economic development of the country. The Ministry of Development proposed the establishment of four colonies of Italians on the road between Xalapa and the port of Veracruz. The colonists arrived at Tecolutla in 1857, but the climate, malaria and the civil war for the Reform War wreaked havoc on the group. In 1862 the survivors were established in Christ, near Tecolutla.
With the promulgation of the law of May 31, 1875, the Executive Power was authorized to carry out colonization projects, which would be carried out through the signing of contracts with private companies. During the period 1878-1882, some were signed with Enrico Valentino Conti, Sociedad Rovatti y Cía., Francisco Rizzo and José A. Fulcheri, with the aim of establishing Italian settlers in Mexico.
The mission of the colonization projects was to build a Mexican agrarian class that would improve the conditions of the countryside from the introduction of innovations in crops. To achieve this end, the law established that the settlers emigrated with their work instruments, which would be exempt from the payment of the right of introduction.
The Italians who came to the agricultural colonies in Mexico would reproduce the way of life they had in their native country but in a less hostile environment. In addition, they could acquire properties following the conditions established by the government, which would help them improve their economic situation.
During the government of Manuel González (1880-1884), his secretary of Development, General Carlos Pacheco, considered the Italian colonization as his strong card to get the presidency. The arrival of two hundred thousand settlers was expected, but only a little over three thousand arrived, of which almost half emigrated to the United States or returned to Italy. On the other hand, between 1884 and 1888, those immigrants established in Christ were transferred to the town of Gutiérrez Zamora. Then, President Porfirio Díaz legalized his situation; They also gave them land and gave them property certificates.
Why did they emigrate?
Europe lived during the nineteenth century a period of mass migration and Italy was one of the main expulsing countries of its population. Various causes caused their departure, especially from those who were originally from the northern provinces of Veneto and Trentino: the crisis in the countryside during the 1870s, which was not resolved by the presence of traditional systems and caused the emigration of peasants and small owners; the floods caused by the Piave River in the Veneto region, as well as the change of economic and social structures that forced thousands of Italians to improve their living conditions.
The Italians who arrived in Mexico were small peasants from four different provinces: Lombardy, Piedmont, Trentino, and Veneto, who did not share a common culture, since only two decades had passed since the unification of their country (1861) and between their provinces and communes there were regional differences and a great variety of dialects, a situation that was reflected in the development of their colonies in Mexico.
The peasants of the Italian mountain fled the rural environment, although they were not among the poorest, but they were those hit by the crisis of previous years, which forced them to emigrate in search of work. In this sense, the propaganda that the Mexican authorities spread in Italy was definitive.
How did they arrive?
One of the means used to promote colonization programs was the press. Il Raccoglitore and La Voce Cattolica were newspapers from the Trentino region, mentioning the advantages of going abroad. This project had the support of the Italian government, public opinion, and the Church through local priests who insisted on the legal nature of that company. La Voce Cattolica of September 10, 1881, mentioned: “Two families composed of eleven members received from their pastor […] the blessing to leave tomorrow for Mexico in search of bread and work […] God grant them good travel and good fortune” .
In addition to working in the fields, the Italians knew other trades such as blacksmithing, carpentry, and bakery, which they had learned when they migrated temporarily to the cities and with those who met the needs of their community. These small owners sold their land, livestock and personal property to pay for their passage to Mexico.
Several groups of them finally embarked on a long journey. Sometimes they had to wait several weeks in an Italian port before the ship sailed. The trip lasted around 45 days and the conditions were complicated due to the overcrowding of passengers, which caused the spread of various diseases such as measles, typhus, and cholera. The researcher Celia Constantini Spezia explains various situations experienced by those who emigrated to Mexico:
“Arcángel Constantini and Rosa Apollonio when they left Italy had four small children: Hugo of 7 years, Silvia of 5 and the twins of 2, who were the ones who first got measles, who attacked strongly, and even though the doctor struggled to save them, one of them died […] Don Jacobo arrived with his parents and 66 other Italian families […] It was a 46-day trip, from an Italian port to Veracruz, where they had to wait 40 more days to be transferred to the old hacienda of San Bartolo Granillo, today Cholula. “
This great business of emigration brought into play the most varied interests and social actors: migration agents, shipowners, consuls, public officials, and the settlers themselves. The researcher José B. Zilli Manica mentions that, as a result of the contracts signed between the Italian companies and the representatives of the Mexican government, three groups of settlers emigrated from the port of Genoa. The ships that made the crossing were: the Atlantic with two trips, the Casus, and the Messico, which arrived in the country between October 1881 and September 1882.
This project was the one that managed to bring the largest group of settlers who were dedicated to agriculture, composed of 2,500 peasants, among whom were men, women, and children. The initiative aroused great expectations, especially the propaganda made by the federal government, supported by the press. The historian Moisés González Navarro wrote: “At last on October 19, 1881, the first group of 430 settlers from Veneto, Tyrol, and Lombardy arrived in Veracruz; the newspaper La Libertad received them enthusiastically: ‘Health to those who come in the name of work’. The Italians landed at the cry of ‘¡Viva México!’ “.
In a telegram of November 3, 1881, an authority of Huatusco (in Veracruz) informed the Secretary of Development, Carlos Pacheco, about the reception of the newcomers: “Great enthusiasm in the population to receive settlers, prepare music and Society of Mutual aid goes out to receive them with flags. All those who already have beasts of burden or chairs have left very early to find them. I leave at this time accompanied by numerous friends. “
How were they established?
The government established Italian families in communities where they would recreate the living conditions they had in their native country, in order to achieve the economic development imagined by nineteenth-century ideologues. Thus, the newcomers began to live in small communities that they called colonies, in which there were differences and coincidences with Mexicans.
The Italians who arrived between 1881 and 1882, as a result of contracts between private companies and the Mexican government, were established in the following colonies of the country: Manuel González, in Huatusco, Veracruz; Porfirio Díaz, in Tlaltizapán, Morelos; Carlos Pacheco, in Tlatlauquitepec, Puebla; Manuel Fernández Leal (now Chipilo), then in Cholula (today part of the municipality of San Gregorio Atzompa), Puebla; Díez Gutiérrez, in Ciudad del Maíz, San Luis Potosí, and Aldana in Azcapotzalco, Federal District ” CDMX“.
The contracts stipulated favorable economic conditions for Italians. Among the most important were: transfer and maintenance of the settlers by the government for two years; establishment of the colonies in fertile lands and populations close to Mexico City, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, and Veracruz; sale of land payable to ten years; exemption from military service and payment of contributions, as well as the payment of protection premium for the introduction of new crops or industries.
What were your problems?
In spite of the above, the conditions stipulated in the contracts were not always met, since there was a choice of unhealthy districts and speculation with the chosen lands, as well as deficient work by the officials in charge of following the establishment and development of the colonies. In addition, the settlers found themselves with a warm climate, different from that of their regions of origin, which sometimes caused them illnesses and even death. Mrs. Marica Zanella de Schievennini, whose parents and in-laws arrived in Veracruz on the Atlantic ship in 1882, commented: “Some settlers died on the way from Veracruz to the assigned colony.”
Most Italians defected from the first colonies and their places were occupied by recent immigrants or Mexicans. Although the disintegration of these settlements was not total, in just two years there were only a little more than a thousand of its residents, of the 2 500 who had arrived initially. Due to this, several colonies disappeared and their inhabitants emigrated to other places inside and outside the country.
In 1896 the official colonization project was abandoned because it was very expensive and its results were less effective than those of private companies. The main objectives of this Porfirian company were not as expected. The modernization of the activities in the countryside, as well as the impulse to the small property that the government wanted the Italians to carry out, was only partial and localized. In addition, the agricultural colonies did not manage to modify the agrarian structure of the country and there was not a deep miscegenation either.
Several factors impeded achieving the long-awaited modernization through the colonization project; among them: the predominance of large estates throughout the Republic, the high costs for the realization of the company, the insufficient number of settlers. Besides, the ideology that linked Europeans to modernity and granted them superiority over nationals began to lose its validity because it did not correspond with reality.