Charles A. Weeks
The embodiment of a myth—Benito Juarez
Like many capitals the city of Mexico is a place of monuments-large monuments, small, ancient monuments, and new, representational monuments, and allegorical monuments—each bearing a message from the past. Among them is the Hemiciclo. It stands in a spacious, old, beautiful park, the Alameda Central, where the young and old of the city still promenade on Sundays and holidays as people do in the plazas throughout the country and, indeed, as people do in many parts of the world. Amid green trees and a great variety of flowers and shrubs and flanked by a semicircle of twelve doric columns of white Carrara marble stands the central pedestal of the Hemiciclo supporting the statues of three figures. One statue represents a former president of the republic, Benito Juarez, who appears solemn and grim as a Roman proconsul administering justice. Juarez the Lawgiver is seated, and surrounding him are two allegorical figures, also of marble, one representing Glory, who is placing a crown on Juarez’s head, and the other, the Republic, who stands behind, resting her sword on the ground to signify the end of a gigantic struggle. The letters of the pedestal read: “Al Benemerito Benito Juarez. La Patria.” Many years have passed since 1910, when the Mexican government built and dedicated the Hemiciclo after a design by the architect Guillermo Heredia.
Like many other such monuments it is the embodiment of a myth. In life Juarez offered little to the mythologizers-he was never able to boast a military career, he often impressed people as reserved or even impassive. he stood a little over five feet; with small hands and feet and dark staring eyes, a coppery complexion that helped disguise a large scar across his face, of Zapotec Indian parentage, he was no striking figure. He did, however, lead Mexican liberals in the I 850s and 1860s in their titanic struggle against formidable opposition, both foreign and domestic, and in the years since his death his worshipers have gathered at the Hemiciclo, at his tomb, or in many other places in Mexico sacred to his memory, usually on anniversaries of his birth or death. For them Juarez is, in agreement with the golden inscription on the central pedestal of the Hemiciclo, “Benemerito de la Patria” or even “Benemerito de las Americas.”
Development of a Juarez myth has had all the classic characteristics of myths and mythmaking, especially the subjective view or image of a reality, whether it be of an historical figure, as in the case of Juarez, an event, an institution, or even a geographical region. Image or meaning ascribed to what is assumed to be a reality constitutes one of the main elements of myth and when manipulated to promote a cause assumes a reality of its own. The apotheosis of Juarez projected a subjective view or image of the historical reality. In all myths, to be sure, the assumed reality is a feature useful to an individual or a group.