The Impacts of the Porfiriato (1876-1911) on the Mexican Lower Classes

Porfiriato is a period in Mexico that Porfirio Diaz’s government was in power. This period, between 1876 and 1911 saw the Mexican economy resume continued growth after decades of economic crumble and stagnation. Modernization and industrialization of the country were driven by the export boom and institutional reforms started by Porfirio Diaz (Kirkwood, pg 226). In contrast, the authoritarian regime of Diaz only benefited the privileged class. The social disparity was the mark of Porfiriato. Economic success created negative social consequences (Kirkwood, pg 121).

The Mexican lower classes at that time comprised the poor, the working class and the indigenous communities. Despite economic growth, the lives of the Mexican working class were not progressive. They were poorly remunerated, worked under harsh conditions, denied access to quality education and were even held in contempt by the middle and upper classes that benefited materially and financially from modernization and industrialization opportunities. Unemployment also increased steadily as mechanization dislodged artisans sooner than unskilled laborers could get placement into new productive ventures. Taking a cue from this scenario, foreign employers exploited industrial workers, miners, and other laborers. The peasants also found themselves in additional debt to the landlords than they could repay (Kirkwood, pg 241).

Attracted by the exponential industrial growth and prospects of better lives, the poor and peasant rural dwellers migrated to the city. However, many of them were not fortunate to secure factory jobs. This was predominant with unskilled women who alternatively took up work as live-in domestic servants. Those with children were restricted not to carry them to work for fear of relegating duties to attend to their children. Some of these children ended in orphanages since there were no extended families to look after them. To protect their parental rights, parents were obligated to contribute a monthly stipend failure to which their children were put up for adoption. These children later became domestic servants. Childhood period characterized by protection and economic reliance was thus a privilege of the middle and upper class (Kirkwood, pg 125).

During the Porfiriato, described as the lowest point for the Mexican indigenous people since the colonial era, the hacendados seized lands settled on by the indigenous communities and latter compelled peons into a cruel labor system that emulated slavery. They were subjected to corporal castigation and sometimes sold to labor in sugar cane and hemp plantations. Their culture and language faced extreme backlash after it was pronounced inferior and those that should be best forgotten (Kirkwood, pg 119).

Due to a lack of economic empowerment, society’s social evils were attributed to the lower classes. Such evils as alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases, and crime created a bigger social divide between the lower against the upper classes. Working-class men would regularly engage in amoral activities while demanding maximum respect from their wives, this leads to the development of the Macho during Porfiriato (Kirkwood, pg 133).

Evidently, during the reign of Porfiriato, the social and political elites pursued the standards of a globalized society while disregarding the very social class of indigenous, peasantry and working class. The resultant effect being unrepresentative, irregular and inconsistent modernity founded on the exclusion of Mexican lower classes to uphold development that profits the upper classes. The Diaz regime consequently did nothing to relieve the exploitation of the lower classes (Kirkwood, pg 130).

Work cited
Kirkwood, Burton. The history of Mexico. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.

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