By Michael K. Schuessler Original Print Publication: March, 2008
Frances Toor (1890-1956) came to Mexico City in 1922 to study anthropology at the National University’s “escuela de verano” (summer school). Like other North Americans, she was attracted by the political and cultural effervescence that defined the country in general, and the capital in particular, in the years immediately following the violence of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). In the words of Patricia Albers, Tina Modotti’s biographer:
Image:Photo courtesy of the author
Mexico City teemed with fanatics, bohemians, idealists, radicals, and visionaries. Intellectuals who had once looked to Europe for cultural revelation now turned their backs upon the old continent, embracing instead the genius of peasants and indigenous peoples whose inclusion in the Mexican community promised to bring forth the ‘regeneration and exaltation of the national spirit.’”
Toor became interested in Mexico’s indigenous cultures while writing her Master’s thesis, and traveled to Mexico shortly after completing her degree. Three years after her arrival in Mexico City, Toor founded the bilingual cultural magazine Mexican Folkways (1925- 1937), the first publication of its kind in Mexico. In a 1932 issue, she explains the nature of her enterprise and the importance of its bilingual format:
I did not take existing folk-lore magazines for models. As I wanted Mexican Folkways to express the Mexico that interested me so keenly, it has not only described customs, but has touched upon art, music, archaeology, and the Indian himself as part of the new social trends, thus presenting him as a complete human being. And in order that the magazine might mean something to the Mexicans as well as to outsiders, everything has been published in both English and Spanish… Because of my own joy in the discovery of an art and civilization different from any I had previously known, I thought it would interest others as well. Thus I conceived the idea of the magazine.
From 1925 to 1927, the magazine was published bimonthly, and then every three months from 1928 to 1933 (with a pause in 1932). During its last four years, only three issues were published, but they were dedicated to such masters as José Guadalupe Posada and Diego Rivera (Rivera was listed on the masthead as the magazine’s artistic director and he designed most of the covers). While it is true that the magazine lasted longer and published more issues than other similar publications like Vida Mexicana (1922-1923), Nuestro México (1932), and Mexican Art and Life (1938-1939), Toor and her periodical were always on the verge of bankruptcy. In a 1926 issue, she states that if she “personally didn’t carry out all the labors from distributor to editor, only for the pleasure of seeing that the magazine continues publication, it wouldn’t exist.” Toor’s persistence was recognized when President Calles said of Mexican Folkways: “…besides being a very original publication, it gives us and others knowledge about the real spirit of our aboriginal races and the expressive sentiment of our people in general, rich in beautiful traditions.”