Today I wish to pass along yet another anecdote relating to my hero, Lázaro Cárdenas, one of the youngest generals to fight in the Revolution of 1910 and President of Mexico from 1934 to 1940. The source of this anecdote is another great man, Cossío del Pomar. Cossío del Pomar, a Peruvian painter, writer, and historian, lived in San Miguel during the thirties and forties while in political exile from Peru. I know not why he was exiled from Peru, but he probably deserved his exile for getting mixed up in Latin American politics in the first place. He was probably lucky that he was not shot.
How do I know that Cossío del Pomar was a great man? I have his memoir that he wrote about his days in San Miguel de Allende and have read it. It says in this book that he was a great man–not in so many words, but that is the conclusion to which one is ineluctably drawn by the man’s own memoir. I certainly am in no position to argue with him. He is dead for one thing. His memoir was translated by a Texas lady named Maline Gilbert McCalla. Ms. McCalla is herself a great lady. I have that on the authority of a short biography of her published on the flap of the dust cover of this book, a biography that she herself obviously wrote. Who better to assess greatness, I ask you, than those closest to it? And how much closer can one get to greatness than by inhabiting it?
There is no doubt that Cossío del Pomar played a critical role in the renaissance of the city of San Miguel de Allende. He founded the art school at Belles Artes here. He played a central part in many other worthy endeavors, also, not the least of which was the renovation of Plaza de Toros Oriente, my favorite place in town. The subject of this blog entry is Lázaro Cárdenas, however, not Cossío del Pomar or Maline Gilbert McCalla.
Fray Juan de San Miguel Succoring an Indian
This statue of Fray Juan de San Miguel sits uptown next to the Parroquia across the street from General Allende’s house. It was commissioned, completed, and then placed in 1942 as part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city by Fray Juan. Cossío del Pomar tells me that he pressed for its placement in the park, Parque Benito Juárez. I agree that would have been a better location for it.
Before the statue was completed, Lázaro Cárdenas paid a visit to the studio of the sculptor, an artist named Ignacio Asúnsolo. During this visit he was shown a model of the statue. Here is what happened in the words of Cossío del Pomar as translated by Maline Gilbert McCalla:
Cárdenas always showed special interest in anything that had to do with the Indians. So in the sculptor’s studio, after having admired various works of Asúnsolo’s [sic], all demonstrating the sculptor’s talent and his training in the classical tradition, the general stopped in front of the model of the Friar, who, with a compassionate expression on his face, was leaning towards an Indian kneeling in front of him.
Cárdenas studied the sculpture, evidently concerned. His eyebrows drew together, one of his well-known characteristics. Thoughtfully he studied the model and began speaking politely, praising the artist’s mastery and ending up with a question that seemed like an order. “Why not have this Indian standing up?” he asked. It sounded like a protest right out of the heart of the Revolution. No more Indians on their knees! “It’s a shame,” he reflected aloud, “the little that has been done to lift up the Indian. In monuments, just like in the rural life of today, the Indian is still kneeling.”
The Indian is clearly squatting, not kneeling. In pointing that out I am not quibbling with Maline Gilbert McCalla or her translation or with Cossío del Pomar even if he did indeed use the words todavía se está arrodillando or the like and certainly not with Lázaro Cárdenas even if . . . . Enough.
To my knowledge Lázaro Cárdenas never wrote one word explaining for the benefit of others why he himself was a great man.