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A few stray threads in la raza cosmica

23 July 2007

Sean-Paul Kelle, who normally writes on economics for The Agonist, is in Taxco looking up his Anglo-Italio-Mexican family:

Shortly after the 1870 abandonment of Rome by the French Italy unified. The Nibbis–my mother’s Italian family–were ordered to leave the country. Dr. Orembello G. Nibbi and his English wife, Henrietta Parker-Nibbi (daughter of minor Midlands nobility) fled their Tuscan home for Mexico City. I don’t know much about their son except that he had a son who built a hotel here in Taxco-in the meantime the Nibbi family became entangled somehow with the Buckley family. Yes, that self-same Buckley family which derived a great deal of its wealth from oil interests in Mexico. Until the Mexicans took it back from them–for good reason if you ask me.

But back to my story. At some point in the early part of the twentieth century Carlos–the family knew him as “Gran Charlie”–built a hotel in Taxco–the family also had some extensive land holdings in the area and in Cuernavaca. In 1983 the only parcel of land still in the family was a pig farm outside of Taxco owned by Dario Nibbi’s wife (Dario died a few years before) and her children Carlos and Laura. No, I don’t know her name, neither does my mother for some strange reason–I wish I did.

There have been English (though most not from minor Midlands nobility) in Mexico since Colonial times. H.G. Ward, the first English Ambassador to Mexico, in Mexico in 1826, his report on investment opportunities in the new Republic, reports two important discoveries from his trip to Pachuca: baby bottles (he was traveling with a sixteen year old secretary, his wife, a baby and a nanny. The Mexican nanny bottle-fed the baby, something unknown — at least to Ward — in Britain) and TURNIPS.

Ward was rhapsodic over the fact that the climate in Pachuca permitted the English miners living there to “enjoy” turnips and rutabagas. And, as everyone knows, the Mexican pastie was the eventual result of turning British fare — the English pasty — into something edible. After 1828, when the Mexicans foolishly expelled Spaniards from the country, the English took over the mining industry, and were important in commercial activities. There is a famous legend about a Mexico City jeweler who makes a ring for his fiance, who dies but her ghost returns for the ring. What gives the story its piquancy is that the heart-broken jeweler returns to his cold island homeland.

Within Mexico city, there was a Church of England cathedral (in, what is now — logically — el barrio chino!) and at least one chapel in the late 19th century. The former cathedral is being restored as an Anglo-Mexican museum, and the chapel (next to the American military cemetery in Tacuba) is a cultural center now. The Iglesia Anglicana de México is a national church originally started as a mission by the U.S. Episcopal Church, which does cater to more recent English immigrants, as well as Roman Catholic converts. Once in a while you still run across an English, or hispanicized English, family name, but most come from West Indian or U.S. immigrants.

And, of course, British pirates and oil men were up and down the Veracruz coast. The pirates who didn’t were hanged, beheaded, or — if they could get away with it, burned at the stake as heretical Protestants. The ones that stayed went into other enterprises (though with what legality it’s best not to speculate). The British Navy depended on Mexico oil in World War I (Mexican oil provided up to 90% of their fuel, which is why the Germans took such an interest in the Mexican Revolution). And there was the remarkable Mrs. King — whose Cuernavaca hotel was occupied by both Huerta and Emiliano Zapata during the Revolution.

Italians have been around since Cortés. Bernardo Diaz, like many of the Conquistadors compared Tenotichtlan to Venice, a city they knew from previous military campaigns. Spain — or rather Castille — had Italian territories at the time, and a few of the soldiers were Italians. Italian officers, artisans and even a viceroy or two served in Nuevo Espagna.

Those Conquistadors may have thought of Venice, but a Venetians came in numbers in the late 1800s. On a website dedicated to all things Venetian, I found this from May 2004:

…[I]n 1882, the President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, sought European immigrants to colonize parts of the country so as to import new methods and ideas in agriculture and industry and to lift the living standards of the indigenous people. As a part of the recruitment effort, Mexican emissaries traveled to the countryside just outside of Venice. They managed to persuade around 500 or so residents of towns like Belluno, Segusino, and Feltre to relocate to a remote Mexican village called Chipilo, about 100 miles outside Mexico City, about as far from the land of sun-dried tomatoes and macchiati as you can get.

They had their reasons to uproot. The Piave river was running dry in those days. Agriculture was tough. The general economic conditions were dodgy in Northern Italy, overall. The Mexican envoys appealed to the people’s desperation and sense of adventure. It worked.

Things were tough at first, but ultimately the community flourished, mainly via agriculture and ranching. Chipolo also is famed for Segusino pine furniture, wonderful antique Mexican reproductions, said to be inspired by furniture found washed up on a beach by an emigree.

In the late 19th century, the Italy depended on remittances even more than Mexico depends on them today. And, the Italian government encouraged emigrants, assisting in sending mass immigrations to everywhere from Canada to Argentina (where Spanish is spoken with an Italian accent as a result). Surprisingly, most of the Italians who emigrated to Mexico came from the North (like the Venetians), rather than formerly Spanish-ruled regions like Naples and Sicily. Maybe they wanted a change of climate. They already had edible food.

A sizable Lombard community in Michoacán, centered around the avocado-growing center of Nueva Italia, was financed by Italian landowners. Some became hacienderos in their own right, like the Lomardo Toledano family, the scion of which, Vicente Lombardo Toledano turned his back on his class, to become an important Marxist theorist and Mexico’s best known labor leader of the post-Revolutionary era.

And, somewhere along the way, some minor English nobility and an Italian hotelier met and … down the labyrinthine ways of the raza cosmica produced gringo economists with Irish names.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 19 August 2008 3:10 am

    que padre bloga! I’m so happy i found it

  2. 28 July 2009 11:26 am

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  3. Hoxatrola permalink
    20 August 2009 9:31 pm

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    I spent tons of hours looking for a forum relevant to my hobby.
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  4. Fabdrorry permalink
    1 December 2009 10:01 am

    Can somebody tell me how difficult to qualify for a Pell Grant?

    I’ve heard this apparently an easy scholarship. Anyone know anything about it or had any success with it?


  5. rosae permalink
    16 January 2014 8:26 pm

    Hola que tal,

    Me llamo Maria, pero todos me conocen la Serrano.

    Me he visto obligada a registrarme despues de leer este post:

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    Un beso.

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