** Originally published in Domus México No. 4. No direct link. This is the original draft submitted to the magazine for translation to Spanish.
MEXICO CITY – In the photograph, Enrique Flores Magon is seated at a table facing a bank of angled mirrors. His white, wavy hair is tousled upwards wildly, as if he had been submitted to a rain of static. His expression is morose. Flores Magon is reflected in the mirrors four times, and so at the top of the print, a winking caption is written in cursive ink, in Spanish: "Mis cinco cuates."
And below, in English: "Who said that a haircut was needed?"
When I first saw this photo – in the personal archive of Enrique Flores Magon, which is being revived by his great-grandson – it filled me with wonder and amusement.
For anyone familiar with Mexican Revolutionary history, the dominant image of those called its "intellectual authors," brothers Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magon, is that of stalwart, driven journalists who challenged the regime of Gen. Porfirio Díaz and sought justice for the working classes through the power of the printed press. Of course, the lives of any historical figures are in truth far more complex than the heroic legacies that they leave behind.
How did the Flores Magons interact with the world around them on a day-to-day basis? What were their domestic concerns and challenges? In their interior lives, how did they respond to the growing pressures and persecutions of the Mexican and United States governments that led to their repeated imprisonments?
The photograph of Enrique and his "cinco cuates" – modeled on a 1917 Duchamp self-portrait photograph using the same effect – is among one thousand photographs that exist in his personal archive. As an image, it offers a window in the dissident writer's sense of humor and sense of self. It is undated. The exact location of where it was taken is not known either, although Enrique’s great-grandson, historian and writer Diego Flores Magon Bustamante, believes that it was probably taken in Los Angeles around 1923, when the brothers were in exile north of the border and raising revolutionary trouble there as well.
Diego is spearheading an ambitious project that will permit all of his great-grandfather’s materials, including some 15,000 documents, to be available for viewing to the general public in the form of a digital archive. It is perhaps one of the most significant archival projects undertaken in Mexico in recent years.
The digital archive will be housed at the restored building at Calle Républica de Colombia 42 in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City where the Flores Magon brothers and a committed group of lawyers, artists, and writers – including Daniel Cabrera, Jesús Martínez Carrión, and Juan Sarabia – published an opposition newspaper to the Dáiz regime, El Hijo del Ahuizote.
The project is being funded by a mix of support from the Fidecomiso del Centro Histórico, CONACULTA, and private foundation grants. Diego, now 32, explains he is a fervent believer that the archive that his father passed to his care should be available to a viewing public that is as wide as possible. The idea is that with new readings of the materials that Flores Magon left behind, fresh interpretations and applications of the brothers' ideas could emerge.
The historical value of the archive is immense. Ricardo Flores Magon, the more historically prominent of the two, died at a U.S. prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1922, facing espionage charges for publishing pacifist materials in the U.S. version of Regeneración, the brothers' second newspaper. Any known archive belonging to him, Diego believes, was lost in Ensenada, Baja California, in the 1940s.
"Ricardo no tuvo una vida que le permitiera coleccionar nada," Diego says. "Llevo una vida de martir y de perseguido y de fugitivo. No tenía nada."
Enrique returned to Mexico in 1923, surviving for more than three decades more than his brother until his death in 1954. During that time, his archive kept growing, reflecting a keen interest on the spreading of socialist and anarchist ideas all over the Western Hemisphere as the tumult of the Mexican Revolution gave way to the establishment of the post-Revolutionary state.
"Hay cartas, manuscritos, sobre todo correspondencia, impresos, muchos libros, una coleccion preciosa de tres mil libros, algunos muy interesantes y otros poco intersantes," Diego explains. "Publicaciones anarchistas de Sudamérica de los años 20, cosas raras, ediciones dibujdas, literatura socialista del periodo de la carcel federal en Leavenworth."
I met Diego Flores Magon in 2007, about the same time he and his father Daniel founded a civil organization to preserve Enrique’s archive and bring it to the public. Shortly thereafter, through research, Flores Magon was able to identify the building where El Hijo del Ahuizote was published, the same place where the brothers and their collaborators posed for a well-known 1903 photograph before a long banner hung over the terrace, reading, "La Constitución Ha Muerto."
Over the past five years, Flores Magon has sought and acquired funding first to catalogue and organize the materials with a team of staff, then to transfer the materials to a digital format. Meanwhile, an arduous series of negotiations had to take place with the informal vendors who had occupied the building at Colombia 42 since 2008. The city, which officially owns the property, was able to negotiate a deal where the vendors could keep selling on the bottom-floor patio of the building while the renovation and construction project began on the narrow street-front structure of three stories.
The building, dated around 1890, had to be retrofitted and secured for use, an effort undertaken by the industrial engineer Ariel Rojo. Designers plan a first floor to house a consulting module where visitors – with no pre-approved appointment, waiting list, or required credentials – could browse through the digital archive. The designer of this exhibition module is Giacomo Castagnola. On the second floor there is a gallery space, where Diego plans to invite guest curators to organize exhibitions related to the archive. The building's terrace has been remodeled, and features and bar, kitchen, and space for social events.
Diego also hopes to set up a residency where independent scholars, academics, writers, and artists could use Colombia 42 as a base to produce work based on the Flores Magon legacy and ideas of transnationalism. An accompanying experimental publication is also planned, which I will help edit.
The transnational theme is crucial to the new Casa de El Hijo del Ahuizote, as the project has been dubbed. In exile in the United States, the Flores Magon brothers did not abandon their mission. They revived Regeneración briefly in Texas in 1904 and later in California in 1910, which kept reporting on the then-growing conflict in Mexico.
They were not deterred when U.S. interests with ties to Díaz also sought to suppress them and their rights as members of the press. Their newspaper featured a back-page "English Section," a friendly gesture to the segment of the Southern California population that did not speak Spanish in what had been Mexican territory just a generation earlier. In the heated political moment at the turn of the 20th Century, intellectual allies of any origin were golden, often life-saving connections.
Can that same spirit be revived?
The Flores Magon brothers, after all, are icons weighed down in some respects by their ubiquitious representations and recyclings. To this day, their bespectacled faces and the names of the brothers' newspapers adorn the logos and slogans of some the most solemn revolutionary groups and political organizations currently active in Mexico. Many activists and writers regard the Flores Magon brothers as inspirations. It is true in equal fashion for energized student socialists at the big universities as for mainstream politicians such as Andres Manuel López Obrador.
Diego Flores Magon says he feels that the standard pillars of liberalism in Mexico – political parties, university activist organizations, leftist newspapers and publications – have in some ways overused magonismo as a reference, model, or source of repetition. The Enrique Flores Magon archive, in theory, would seek to diffuse the historical baggage hanging on the late brothers and also freshen the ways in which magonismo can be read today.
"[Magonismo] esta suspendido en el formol de la historiagrafía marxista," Diego says. "La literatura es vieja ya, y necesitamos nuevas imaginaciones y nuevas sensibilidades y nuevas ideas. Y espero que este proyecto lo promueva, lo fomente."
La Casa del Hijo del Ahuizote will soon open an inaugural exhibit at the Colombia 42 near the anniversary of "La Constitucion Ha Muerto." The exhibit will be curated by Columbia University historian Claudio Lomnitz and will focus on the brothers’ return to Mexico.
"Así esta el magonismo, y yo quiero que viva, porque en el archivo hay mucha vida, mucho movimiento, mucha inquietud en los archivos, y esa vida esta neutralizada y es necesario reanimarla," Diego says.
* Gracias a Mario Ballesteros y la banda de Domus México por la colaboración. - D.H. *** See more on Issue 4 of Domus México here.