In May 1970,
when the United States bombed Cambodia, students at
the University of Wisconsin went wild with angry frustration. At a huge
meeting on the terrace of the student union, dozens proposed different
measures we might take after years of fruitless protest. One compañera
rose to her feet and announced that the students of Northwestern Uni-
versity had announced their secession from the Union and declared their
campus a free republic. That night at home, I asked myself, “How could
this be? Was there no good, no hope in human history?” An idea came
to me, very small in relation to the problem but vital to me. I recalled
a life-giving historical movement I had studied. That was the crusade
for education and art launched from Mexico City by José Vasconcelos
in 1921 in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution. I decided to write
my dissertation on that movement. I was naive, of course. Vasconcelos’s
crusade was as full of contradictions as any other historical event. But
it was constructive, not violent, and there began my personal quest to
understand the puzzle of Mexican culture. As I have moved from Mexico
City, where I studied the educational and arts policies of the 1920s, to
Puebla and Sonora, where I sought to understand the implementation of
educational policy as a negotiated community experience in the 1930s,
back to the capital to explore the learning experience of an individual
who participated in the youth rebellions of the 1960s, I have discovered
ever new layers of multitextured, historically sedimented cultures that
differ from region to region across classes and ethnicities and that move
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