An example of an American in Mexico
In order to provide an idea of the type of American businessmen that fit the ideas
of corporatism, order and technology, that have travel to Mexico and conform to the
pattern I want to study, I find it worth mentioning here the life of William O. Jenkins, born in Tennessee in 1878. Jenkins went to Mexico with no money in 1905 to make
At first, Jenkins worked for a company in Monterrey City. Three years later,
"as he told the Internal Revenue Service personnel,"
he moved to the city of Puebla--the heart of Mexico's conservatism--to open a small
textile plant that manufactured men's socks. He brought along an automatic weaving
machine--the most recent technology--that soon allowed him to control the stocking
market of the local textile industry. Even when the Mexican Revolution came in 1910,
he was able to continue to manufacture socks.
By 1916, paper money had devaluated and people lost their fortunes rather easily.
So he began investing in real estate in both urban and rural areas. Then he became
a pawn broker, which proved lucrative. He lent money, and when people were not able to pay him back, he took their land. Thus he became the owner of many farms and
haciendas around the state.
In 1919, he acquired the Atencingo sugar-cane mill and farm. Although it lost
money at first, by 1932 Jenkins was showing a healthy profit on the place. He had
transformed a family-owned mill into a modern corporation, owning 100 percent of
the shares to begin with. In doing so, he had opened the way for corporatism in an industry
dominated by family-run organizations.
Around that time, Jenkins and his wife, Mary Street Jenkins, pondered returning
to the States. With that purpose in mind, he bought large properties in Los Angeles
as well as in Washington state, and he started to report his financial statements
to the IRS. But he never made it back. By 1934, he had entered the movie business as
well, controlling 34 theaters in Mexico City and Puebla, through the corporation
Constructora y Operadora de Inmuebles S.A. Finally, Jenkins began buying local banks,
with the purpose of organizing his lending operations. This final venture culminated in
the building of the largest bank in Mexico, Bancomer, which today is one of the largest
banks in Latin America.
In 1926, Jenkins had begun to perform some philanthropic acts, mainly sustaining
orphan schools. It was not until 1954, on the advice of his young associate Manuel
Espinoza Yglesias, that he formally chartered a foundation for the benefit of the
Mexican people, specifically for Puebla, his adopted place. In his will he left very
little of his money to his family, endowing instead the Mary Street Jenkins Foundation.
By 1988, the foundation had provided more than $150 million for education, culture,
health, welfare and sports through more that 300 specific grants.
So we can trace how one man's life followed the traditional American ideology
of spreading order and progress in the world. In Jenkins' case, by dispersing these
qualities through education, the foundation has helped support the establishment
and maintenance of American schools with money, programs and organization. My own institution,
Universidad de las Americas-Puebla, has been one of the greatest recipients of the
From this example, we see the ideas of order and technology very much present in
his success as an individual, but also in the creation of Mexican corporations based
on American ideas of corporatism. The decision to create a corporation in Puebla
in the 1910s rather than keeping the business in the family must have been controversial,
and the Constructora y Operadora de Inmuebles S. A. in the 1930s again went against
common practice in Puebla. To this day the city's large textile industry is controlled
by many small family mills. The introduction of new technology--here it was the weaving
machine used in the 1910s--gave Jenkins the corporativist advantage he needed to
succeed in that market.
Jenkins represents only one example of an American abroad; American corporatism
spread in Mexico following the Mexican revolution. Modern corporations such as General
Motors, the Ford Motor Co., International Business Machines and General Electric
had established themselves in Mexico as early as 1910. The oil industry goes back even
further, to the 1890s. Subsidiaries of Standard Oil dominated the Mexican oil industry
from then until their nationalization in 1938. In many cases these corporations
brought in young American entrepreneurs who eventually settled in Mexico, transplanting
two concepts of American culture: the idea of working in a corporate or organizational
way, and that of doing so by implementing order and technology, order and progress.
The case of William O. Jenkins, and that of many other Americans in Mexico, is
subject to study from still another "new" perspective of American foreign-relations--Culture
and International History.
Culture in the study of international relations," states Akira Iriye, "may be defined
as the sharing and transmitting of consciousness within and across national boundaries,
and the cultural approach as a perspective that pays particular attention to this phenomenon. . . . Culture, in contrast, is the creation and communication of memory,
ideology, emotions, lifestyles, scholarly and artistic works, and other symbols.
From this perspective, as Americans succeeded in doing business and philanrophic
or missionary activities in Mexico, they have left a culture behind that supports
an American education. In a similar way, American philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon and John D. Rockefeller have fostered education in their own country.
In Mexico, the MSJF was a groundbreaking endowment, as it has spawned other foundations
throughout the country such as Fundacion Amparo, Fundacion Rafael Pastor, Fundacion Miguel Aleman and Fundacion Televisa; such institutions are organized in the same
fashion of American philanthropic organizations.
The work and deeds of American foundations such as the Ford Foundation, the
J.D. McArthur Foundation, the F&W Hewlett Foundation, the Tinker Foundation, as well
as other fundations also have been important in Mexico, and so to my study in terms
of their "dreams and aspirations" toward their nation, then the cross-national level toward
Mexico and finally the global one. In the cross-systemic approach that Iriye describes
he is concerned with studying "how individual Americans, mostly on private initiative, have reached across national boundaries to engage in [diverse] activities overseas.
. . . Going beyond individual encounters, it is important to consider how American
goods, ideas, and ways of life spread to and influence other societies."
Nevertheless, the Mary Street Jenkins Foundation remains highly interesting since
it represents a corporation chartered by an American abroad who, using American technology
and corporatism ideas, not only made his money but left it there for the benefit
of his adopted countrymen.
American foreign policy toward Mexico can be analyzed further in terms of the development
and maintenance of an American way of life in Mexico. The American community in
Mexico has become well organized and provides an example of the persistence of American culture abroad. Americans have had a major daily newspaper running for more
than fifty years: "The News" has national circulation and is well read, among other
things, for its items on garage sales and things for sale--very much part of the
"pots and pans" aspect of popular culture studied by social historians nowadays.
But the American community is most organized when it comes to education. American
schools at both grammar-and high-school level are recognized throughout the country
as well as outside its borders. There is at least one American school in every major city around the country, and, interestingly, these schools even have a national
association, ASOMEX (American Schools of Mexico A.C.). Furthermore, in 1940, American
educators Harry Cain and Paul Murray opened the Mexico City College as a junior college for Americans living in Mexico. Out of the success of that college grew the Universidad
de las Americas, a major private institution dedicated to international education.
It still is supported by the American community, as well as by some private Mexican sources.
Even though I have described the public life and some deeds of William Jenkins, I
see it only as one of the many examples I will find for my research, one of the many
dimensions (or layers) my work will have. My intention here is only to use it as
an example of first ( i.e. the individual ) levels of analysis that Thomas G. Paterson recomends
to study while developing research in American foreign relations.
Michael Hunt as well states the relevance of using biographical studies "to identify
commonalities or divergences within or between [individuals,] groups, even generations."
In order to understand "the fundamental notions policymakers [or people] carry in their heads. . . inseparable from the social setting broadly understood."
Iriye reminds us not to leave out the intrasystemic approach in which a "nation consists
of people with shared memories, dreams, attitudes and values. Even when their ideas
and aspirations are divided, their self-perception prescribes adherence to some 'ethico-mythical nucleus' that defines the boundaries within they exist."
This means spreading Americanization in Mexico through core values of order and