For over 100 years, the word regeneración has been a critical part of the political lexicon of Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Chicanxs in Los Angeles. The term regeneración was first coined by Mexican anarchists Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón, and was later rekindled as the name of a Chicana/o feminist journal in the 1970s and also by an experimental art space based out of Highland Park in the 1990s. The Vincent Price Art Museum of East Los Angeles College’s current exhibit, “Regeneración: Three Generations of Revolutionary Ideology,” (on view until February 16, 2019) highlights the political ideas and art emanating from these instances of political and artistic exploration within the historical moments they were responding to: the Mexican Revolution (1910-1940), the Chicana/o Movement (1960s-1970s) and the 1994 Zapatista Uprising in Chiapas, Mexico.
In sharp contrast to the common narratives of Mexican assimilation into U.S. political life, these three eras of Regeneración rejected U.S. hegemony and blind loyalty to the Mexican state. Instead, they proposed critical interventions on the impact of capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy and racism on the city’s Mexican-descended communities and promoted social revolution rather than political reform. Though these movements occurred at different times and circumstances, the VPAM exhibit masterfully weaves these moments of revolutionary thought and practice into one tradition united by a shared interest in radical social transformation.
The first incarnation of Regeneración came in the form of the printed word. Founded in Mexico City by the Flores Magón brothers in 1900, Regeneración was the first publication to call for the overthrow of the three-decade dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. It also opposed the destructive consequences of foreign capitalist exploitation on the Mexican peasantry and working class. Fleeing persecution by Mexican and U.S. agents, the Flores Magón brothers reestablished Regeneración in Los Angeles in 1910 and called on Mexicans both at home and in the United States to reclaim their country under the banner of “tierra y libertad,” or “land and liberty.” In public speeches made at the kiosk of Plaza Olvera, at dance fundraisers held in the neighboring Italian Hall or when read aloud to attentive workers on the job, Regeneración was disseminated to Los Angeles’s various immigrant and working class communities. Such inter-ethnic solidarity culminated in the 1911 Baja California uprising, where Mexican, Black, Asian, European and Anglo-American revolutionaries joined forces to initiate an anarchist social revolution in Mexico. Though unsuccessful, it demonstrated how the dissemination of art and ideas through Regeneración could inspire people to re-imagine the society in which they lived in.
The ideas promoted in Regeneración spread far beyond Los Angeles and well after its editorial board was imprisoned and its press was permanently suppressed in 1918. Published in Spanish with English, Italian and Portuguese translations, the paper’s radical critiques of capital, the state, patriarchy and racism were republished throughout the world. Chilean workers were known to sing songs published in Regeneración during their strikes, including an anarchist version of the Mexican national anthem rewritten by Enrique Flores Magón. Argentine anarchists regularly corresponded with María Talavera, Ricardo Flores Magón’s partner and a longtime contributor to the periodical, and frequently republished her writings and other articles that originally appeared in Regeneración.
There were also four international publications named after the Flores Magón brothers’ Regeneración periodical. Across the Atlantic, Spanish and Scottish revolutionaries revived Regeneración in an effort to galvanize support for the republican struggle against fascism during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The two periodicals, one printed in Spanish and the other in English, educated readers outside of Spain of the war’s ongoing developments. In the 1940s, another Regeneración emerged in Mexico City as the official periodical of the Mexican Anarchist Federation. Mexico City’s hydraulic dam workers also rekindled the name in the 1970s, publishing their own Regeneración newspaper to disseminate radical politics to their coworkers.
It was in Los Angeles, however, that a new generation of Mexican-descended radicals reinterpreted Regeneración’s legacy. Just as the Flores Magón brothers mixed politics and art to galvanize working-class communities to revolution, Chicanx activists and organizers reclaimed the name in the wake of the civil rights movement and the 1970 Chicano Moratorium. In the 1970s, a new political journal entitled Regeneración was founded by the long-time Chicana feminist organizer Francisca Flores and was later maintained under the editorship of the Asco (Nausea) collective.
In objection to the assimilation of Mexican-Americans into U.S. society and politics, the Asco collective railed against police brutality and the Vietnam War, while also calling for a critical race analysis within the second wave feminist movement. They challenged their Chicanx contemporaries on the role of cultural nationalism and gender hierarchies, opening new forms of political analysis sometimes absent or underdeveloped in the first incarnation of Regeneración. Through their invocation of the anarchist periodical of the early twentieth century, Asco connected their avant-garde artistic projects to the longer tradition of Mexican radical politics in Los Angeles. Just as the Flores Magón brothers’ internationalist ideals challenged the Mexican liberal establishment during the Mexican Revolution, Asco’s political and artistic interventions were an affront to conventional views of Chicanx identity and culture.
Such legacies of defiance were critical to yet another generation’s response to the changing political climate of the 1990s. Co-founded by Rage Against the Machine vocalist Zach de la Rocha and Rudy Ramírez of Aztlan Underground, the Regeneración Public Resource Center was established in Highland Park. Memorializing the legacy of the two eras of Regeneración before it, the Center focused its energies on fomenting the political consciousness of L.A.’s Chicanx and Latinx youth. Inspired by the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, the Center became a critical site of activism, art, and music. Cultural workers such as Patricia Valencia blended art with public demonstrations against U.S. neoliberal policies and paramilitary violence towards the indigenous peoples of Mexico. In the same vein as their predecessors, the cultural workers of the Regeneración Public Resource Center also organized around local issues, as seen in the Center’s many projects against a series of anti-immigrant and anti-Latinx ballot initiatives that emerged throughout the 1990s.
In all of its manifestations, Regeneración called participants to revolution rather than reform. Whether in the vitriolic prose of the Flores Magón brothers, the radical public performances of Asco, or the demonstrations of artists and organizers affiliated with the Regeneración Public Resource Center, the word has been a call to arms for Los Angeles’s Mexican, Mexican American, and Chicanx communities. It has embodied a defiance to forces of power acting upon communities from above, but also the ongoing internal debates among the Mexican diaspora about its own social, cultural and political identity. The transnational legacy of Regeneración continues to live on to this day. In Mexico City, Regeneración Radio airs news coverage, commentary and music to promote “communication against power.” At UCLA, the academic journal Regeneración Tlacuilolli integrates politics, community engagement, art and poetry to examine new debates regarding contemporary issues of social justice. In Spain, the news website Regeneración provides regular articles on contemporary anarchist movements throughout the world. In short, regeneración has functioned and continues to function as a mirror for the communities that engage with it as an idea. The VPAM’s exhibit sheds light on three historical moments when regeneración has been used to reflect on the beauty and blemishes of the Mexican diaspora’s political aspirations. Rather than shun away from these truths, those that have invoked the word regeneración have used it to reflect on what the community could be as much as on what it was at any given moment. In this sense, the politics of regeneración continues to change with each generation. Never losing its initial form, it metamorphasizes to address the needs of the Mexican and Chicanx community at any given moment. The “Regeneración” exhibit at VPAM grants critical insights into these transformations over the past one hundred years, and highlights a political and artistic legacy for new generations of Mexican, Mexican American and Chicanx radicals to build upon.
Top Image: Legal Defense Bond issued by the Organizing junta of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, 1908. Courtesy of El Archivo Electrónico Ricardo Flores Magón.