Stephen D. Allen, "A History of Boxing in Mexico: Masculinity, Modernity, and Nationalism" (U New Mexico Press, 2017)

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Today we are joined by Stephen Allen, Associate Professor of History at California State University, Bakersfield, and the author of A History of Boxing in Mexico: Masculinity, Modernity and Nationalism (University of New Mexico Press, 2017). In our conversation, we discussed the origins of boxing in Mexico, the local and transnational logics of its development, and the racial dynamics underpinning Mexican nationalism.

In A History of Boxing in Mexico, Allen investigates the rise of Mexican boxing through the lives of five of its greatest champions: Rodolfo Casanova, Raul “Raton” Macias, Vincente Saldivar, Rubén Olivares, and José Nápoles. Through these five case studies, Allen raises questions about the nature of Mexican masculinity, pushing past stereotypes of machismo to address changes in both its performative and affective qualities over time.

Allen’s work deftly engages with the historiography of boxing, anthropology, and ethnography in order to recapture the local, familial, and sporting environment that these five boxers inhabited. He shows how Mexican elites, including politicians in the governing PRI Party, sought to use boxing to modernize working class men. Each of these five examples, however, used the state’s investment in the sport in their own ways, becoming at times successful and at times failed avatars of masculinity.

In addressing what he calls the first two golden ages of Mexican boxing, Allen moves from the hyper-local, focusing on Tepito, a neighborhood in Mexico City, to the national, and finally to the transnational, drawing in the Chicano community in Los Angeles. He demonstrates the important role that new media, notably film and television, played as boxers reshaped their image for new times and audiences. His athletes performed their masculinity in the context of changing international conversations about race and gender, particularly during the 68 Olympics, the Civil Rights Movement and the Sexual Revolution, but also in the context of the success and failure of the Mexican economy from the 1940s until the 1970s.

Allen’s work provides a model for a connected sports history; readers interested in transnational Latin American identities, masculinity and boxing will be particularly interested in reading it.

Keith Rathbone is a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history. His manuscript, entitled Sport and physical culture in Occupied France: Authoritarianism, agency, and everyday life, examines physical education and sports in order to better understand civic life under the dual authoritarian systems of the German Occupation and the Vichy Regime. It will come out with Manchester University Press in 2022. If you have a title to suggest for this podcast, please contact him at keith.rathbone@mq.edu.au.

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