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Mexico: Past and Present

Filmmaker Natalia Almada speaks with three of Mexico's leading intellectuals about the landscape of Mexican history and how it has shaped the present.

El General: Mexico Past and Present Participants

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In these videos and transcripts, Carmen Boullosa, Cuauhtémoc Medina and Jean Meyer reflect upon quotations by Mark Twain, Hannah Arendt, Octavio Paz, Chris Marker and Plutarco Elías Calles. These quotations provide a lens through which they look at Mexico's history and how it is reflected in the present.

El General: Mark TwainHistory does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
— Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835–1910) was an American writer and humorist who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain. He is best known for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
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El General: Hannah ArendtThe aim of revolution was, and always has been, freedom.
— Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) was a German Jewish philosopher and theorist whose work centered around the concepts of power, freedom, totalitarianism and revolution. In 1963, she published On Revolution, a study of the American and French Revolutions.
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El General: PazAfter centuries of failures, the only thing Mexicans believe in are the Virgin of Guadelupe and the national lottery.
— Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz Lozano (1914-1998) was a Mexican writer, poet and diplomat. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990. His essays often dealt with Mexican politics and economics. The Labyrinth of Solitude, originally published in 1950, is a collection of essays dealing with the idea that solitude influences the Mexican perspective on rituals and identity.
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I do not know how those who do not film remember.
— Chris Marker

Chris Marker (b. 1921) is a French writer, photographer, and filmmaker. He is best known for La Jetée, A Grin Without a Cat and Sans Soleil, a meditation on the nature of memory and how the inability to recall context and nuance affect the way we perceive history.
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El General: CallesHistory's judgment is always harsh and unjust because the circumstances of the moment are ignored or forgotten.
— Plutarco Elías Calles, 1928

Plutarco Elías Calles (1877-1945) was the president of Mexico from 1924-1928, but was the de facto ruler who controlled puppet presidents until his exile in 1936.
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It isn’t the way it used to be when, for instance, the secretary of government, Jesús Reyes Heroles, said to me with a smile, 'I have the results of the elections in Oaxaca. What percent of the population do you think voted?' I wasn’t sure ... so I timidly guessed 92 percent. And he said to me, 'No, 101 percent!' Well, that doesn’t happen anymore. But the deeper problem still exists.”

— Jean Meyer,
Historian