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A short but trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind, obedient, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent history

17 July 2012
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Whenever a crime is horrific enough to make headlines north of the border, there is an inevitable mention of narcotics activity in the area.  What narcotics traffickers had to do with attacking and raping girls on a camping trip isn’t clear to me, but the reports also mentioned that the girls were from a “religious group” without giving any details. Fox News unhelpfully referred to the group “Chains of the Holy Trinity.”

The worst possible way to learn about something is through a crime.  But, having written the violence that religious disputes have caused in this country, when I run across mention of crimes that might be rooted in religion, I try to at least identify the denomination.  It’s not the best way to get into history, but one Mexican news story mentioned that the victims were with the Movimiento de Juventudes Cristianas which was easy enough to track down… north of the border they would have been called what they were… “Girl Scouts.”

But, being Mexico, just identifying a group as “Girl Scouts” opens up a whole slice of Mexican history I didn’t know… or rather, one I should have expected.  The history of Mexican Scouting, like so much else in modern Mexico it seems, is one of  a foreign social movement co-opted by the revolution, adapted (by the Catholic Church) to reactionary forces and managing to emerge as a mainstream, if quirky, Mexican institution.

Although the British social ideas had a following in early 20th century Mexico, the first Scout group in Mexico were attempts to set up a  German Pfadfinder group, which went in more for war gaming than Lord Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts — which only makes sense, the first scout group being organized at the German High School (Colegio Alemán) in Mexico City in 1913. In 1914, a second scouting group was formed in Merída, this one closer to Baden-Powell’s own vision.   General Salvador Alvarado — seeking to destroy the “Divina Casta” of rich landowners  and wipe out what he called “fanaticism” — certainly had a different idea of what boys needed to become productive citizens than the imperialist titled British gentleman, and the Cuerpo de Boy Scouts de Yucatán (note they used the English name).  The Cuerpo was in some ways revolutionary, throwing together Mayan, mestizo and “divina casta” boys as equals and — much more like the Mexico City Pfadfinder group — instilling a sense of military values.

With the U.S. influenced Rotarians also starting to sponsor scouting groups, President Venustiano Carranza (always suspicious of the gringos) put all scouting groups under the direction of the German school teacher Federico Clarck, in the Asociación de Exploradores Mexicanos.   Carranza got a little carried away, trying to create a “Directorate for the militarization of youth”, apparently meant to develop some sort of junior special forces unit, which was quickly abandoned when Carranza was overthrown.  However, the idea of the project never really got off the ground, but under the Obregón and Calles administrations (both of whom had been school-teachers, and both of whom saw education as a means to consolidate the Revolution), scouting was viewed positively.  It was seen as a means to inculcating revolutionary discipline and ideals…  which in the 1920s,  meant creating a new model for the nation… a physical fit, hygienic, politically aware young Mexican.

Of course, the Catholic hierarchy, being no fools, and not at all adverse to using the tools of the Revolution to fight the Revolution.  Based on the U.S. Boy Scouts, and the Catholic Youth Organization (which had been formed to create an alternative to the Protestant led YMCA), Archbishop the various organizations were finally brought together in the early 1920s… just in time for the Catholic Church to decide that to fight the Revolution, they needed to use the tools of the Revolution.  Through the Knights of Columbus and Liga Nacional Defensora de la Libertad Religiosa, various quasi-military youth organizations were set up.  Both the K of C and the Liga were active in the Cristero War, so it wasn’t until the 1930s that the various youth groups were somewhat reluctantly allowed into the larger Scouting community.

There were scouting groups for young women, rather less organized (and, perhaps not surprisingly, given the odd situation in post-revolutionary Mexico it was often in conservative movements where women first emerged as leaders in their own right), mostly under Catholic Church auspices.  While all were eventually brought into the Asociación de Scouts de México A. C . it was a somewhat awkward fit between the militantly secular and militantly Catholic organizations.  In 1962, the Movimiento de Juventudes Cristianas went their own way.  They have maintained gender segregated groups… that “Chains of the Holy Trinity” being a rather clumsy translation of “Cadena” … the term used by the MJC for their girls’ groups.  In other words, it was Holy Trinity Girl Scout Troop that was attacked.  One difference between MJC and the other Scouting organizations is that MJC has no direct adult supervision, which may have factored in the recent tragedy.

Typically Mexican, every progressive act is going to annoy some traditionalist.  The Asociación Traditional de Scouts de México A. C  (in their logo, the “Traditional” is in gold lettering, and the “T” is a point size or two larger) was formed in 1981 in response to the decision by the Asociación de Scouts de México A. C . to do away with gender segregation.

But then too, what’s any movement in Mexico without an intellectual avant-garde?  The Agrupación Scout Mexican, A.C. might go in for camping and knot-tying and wearing uniforms too, but they have their own manual, one that borrows more from  John Dewey, María Montessori, Jean Piaget  and Paulo Freire than Lord Baden-Powell’s “Scouting For Boys”.

In other words, Mexican Scouting is just… Mexican:  Revolutionary in its roots, vaguely idealistic and egalitarian, diverse in tradition and expression.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 July 2012 10:13 pm

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