by Travis Johnson
The definition of the Latin American identity in the framework of the universal
culture instituted a dominant motive in the work of the philosopher, lawyer, writer,
politician, historian, and educator, José Vasconcelos. Born on February 27, 1882, in
Oaxaca, Mexico, he is considered as one of the greater influences in the formation of
Vasconcelos spent most of his childhood on the border while doing his initial
studies in the frontier community of Eagle Pass, Texas. He soent most of his life
on behalf of the causes that he considered just. In 1907, he became a
lawyer of the National School of Jurisprudence. Vasconcelos was an extraordinary and
compulsive reader. As founder of the Literary Society of the Youth, he initiated his work
as an educator that would carry him to the Director of the National Prep School twice,
first during the presidency of Francisco I. Madero
, and later with Venustiano Carranza, to whom
certainly he criticized severely, Principal of the National University (1920-21), Public
Secretary of Education with Obregón (1921-24), and Director of the National Library
(1941-47). As head of the National University and of the Public Department of
Instruction, he had a very clear concept of what the organizations' main guidelines for
national education should be. The motto of the University was "By my race he will speak
the spirit." Vasconcelos endowed the University with their present shield showing the
Mexican eagle and the Andean condor
Vasconcelos was a great supporter of the general education. He organized the
education of the natives, diffused the knowledge, carried out a great editorial work, promoted
the technical teaching, created an extensive network of libraries, and instituted school
breakfasts. He also directed the magazine, The Teacher, and founded the periodical, The
Torch. In the Literary Society under his administration, he built the Mexican Popular
University (1912-20), with the social mission to educate by means of conferences and
concerts to the adults, but mainly to the laborers.
Vasconcelos was chosen as a candidate to the government of the State of Oaxaca in
1924, but lost. In 1929, he was chosen as a candidate by the National Party Antireeleccionista
for the Presidency of the Republic. He gained the popular sympathy, especially supports
from students at the Nsational University. Nevertheless, the triumph went for the
official candidate in December of that year.
After suffering another defeat during the presidential elections of 1929, Vasconcelos
abandoned Mexico and moved to the United States. While in the states, he began the editing
of his best-known work, the autobiographical chronicle in four composed volumes: Ulysses
Native, The Storm, The Disaster, and The Proconsulado.
After his return to Mexico, Vasconcelos was appointed as Director of the National
Library in 1940.
Vasconcelos participated actively in the movement of the Mexican Revolution.
Together with Félix F. Palavicini directed the newspaper The Antirreleccionista. José
Vasconcelos was secretary and replacement of the confidential agent of Madero in
Washington. In 1920, he offered his support of the Plan of Agua Prieta.
Vasconcelos organized the first campaign against the illiteracy that has memory in
Mexico, and established the cultural missions and opened libraries. He supported noticeable artists and promoted the mural painting of Mexico through
contracts with painters like Diego Rivera, José Clements Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and
Vasconcelos died at the age of 77, June 30, 1959.