Porfirian Mexico through
Finerty's Irish Eyes
State University Bakersfield)
Finerty, who left Ireland at the age of eighteen in 1863,
visited Mexico in 1877 and in 1879 as a journalist for the
Chicago Times. During the latter trip, Finerty accompanied
an American business delegation which was there as part of
Porfirio Díaz's policy of inviting in foreign business and
expertise. The visit was two months long, and he sent back
regular lengthy reports (usually several finely-printed
columns) to the Times. His numerous articles included a
report of what was later claimed to be the first "American"
interview with Porfirio Díaz. After a few weeks with the
delegation, he left his American companions and continued to
travel throughout Mexico. His articles, sent back to the
Chicago Times every few days or so, commented on daily
Mexican life, the characters he met, and the history he knew
about the country. Despite his eloquence, there was some
criticism of his coverage and some negative reaction from
the Mexican press. Little attention has been given to
Finerty's Mexican articles, unlike the attention he has
received for his work as a correspondent on the American
Indian Wars. Some attention, though not in depth, has been
given to his extensive Irish nationalist activities and his
time as a US congressman. However, there are two studies
which do draw attention to his Mexican experience. John F.
Finerty Reports Porfirian Mexico, 1879 (Texas Western
Press, 1974) is an edited compilation of Finerty's articles
by historian of Mexico Wilbert H. Timmons. It has a brief
introduction and a few footnotes whose purpose are mainly to
explain some Mexican historical events, people and places.
There is also an interesting MA thesis by Jason Denzin which
analyzes Ignacio Manuel Altamirano's novel El Zarco in a
comparative context with the portrayals of Porfirian Mexico
by certain travel writers, including Finerty.
Nevertheless, both these works have almost no commentary or
analysis (the latter none) on Finerty's Irishness or on his
efforts at Irish contextualism of his Mexican experience.
My talk will examine Finerty's Mexican
writings not as yet another travelogue on late nineteenth
century Mexico, but from the perspective of him looking at
Mexico through Irish eyes. He assessed the people he met
(some Irish), the monuments, the terrain, and the current
and historical events in relation to those he knew about
back in Ireland. References to Irish history, politics,
poetry, literature, and song thread their way through his
articles giving his perception of Mexico a unique slant,
which must have made them particularly meaningful to his
Irish readers back in Chicago.