In Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late Twentieth-Century Mexico (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), Sandra C. Mendiola García analyzes independent union activism among street vendors facing state repression and the displacing forces of neoliberalism. Set in Puebla, Mexico’s fourth largest city, Street Democracy traces how these informal workers were politicized in the 1960s and 1970s and collaborated with working-class, leftwing student activists. After forming the Unión Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes in 1973, the vendors maintained their independence from the ruling party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional. Mendiola documents the UPVA’s varied strategies of resistance and democratic practices as well as the forms of state violence inflicted upon the rank-and-file members and leadership. She shows that Mexico’s Dirty War was waged not only on dissident students, guerrilla organizations, and peasant groups, but also on these mobilized street vendors who paid a high price for their refusal to collaborate with the ruling party. Street Democracy is also a history of the right to public space in the neoliberalizing city. Mendiola reveals how historical preservation efforts spearheaded by Puebla’s elites served to displace the city’s poor- and working-class citizens from the urban center, making way for transnational capital to move into the most commercially viable zones. As street vendors were pushed toward the city’s margins, the UPVA nevertheless has managed to adapt and survive to the present. Drawing from varied sources, including municipal records, secret police documents, and oral histories, Mendiola’s Street Democracy encourages readers to rethink what we know about labor organizing in twentieth-century Mexico and makes important contributions to the histories of student activism, democracy, and urban development.
Rachel Grace Newman has a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University. Her dissertation was titled “Transnational Ambitions: Student Migrants and the Making of a National Future in Twentieth-Century Mexico.” She is also the author of a book on a binational program for migrant children whose families divided their time between Michoacán, Mexico and Watsonville, California. She is on Twitter (@rachelgnew).
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