Americans in the Treasure House

[ American Studies ]

Americans in the Treasure House

Travel to Porfirian Mexico and the Cultural Politics of Empire

By Jason Ruiz

Through extensive engagement with archival sources, this book traces the history of travel to Mexico during the Porfiriato and the Revolution, exploring how travelers’ representations created an image of Mexico as a country requiring foreign intervention to reach its full potential.

January 2014


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6 x 9 | 293 pp. | 32 b&w photos

ISBN: 978-0-292-75383-9

When railroads connected the United States and Mexico in 1884 and overland travel between the two countries became easier and cheaper, Americans developed an intense curiosity about Mexico, its people, and its opportunities for business and pleasure. Indeed, so many Americans visited Mexico during the Porfiriato (the long dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911) that observers on both sides of the border called the hordes of tourists and business speculators a “foreign invasion,” an apt phrase for a historical moment when the United States was expanding its territory and influence.

Americans in the Treasure House examines travel to Mexico during the Porfiriato, concentrating on the role of travelers in shaping ideas of Mexico as a logical place for Americans to extend their economic and cultural influence in the hemisphere. Analyzing a wealth of evidence ranging from travelogues and literary representations to picture postcards and snapshots, Jason Ruiz demonstrates that American travelers constructed Mexico as a nation at the cusp of modernity, but one requiring foreign intervention to reach its full potential. He shows how they rationalized this supposed need for intervention in a variety of ways, including by representing Mexico as a nation that deviated too dramatically from American ideals of progress, whiteness, and sexual self-control to become a modern “sister republic” on its own. Most importantly, Ruiz relates the rapid rise in travel and travel discourse to complex questions about national identity, state power, and economic relations across the U.S.–Mexico border.

List of Illustrations


Notes on Usage

Introduction: Keep Close to a Kicking Horse

One. Desire among the Ruins: Constructing Mexico in American Travel Discourse

Two. “The Greatest and Wisest Despot of Modern Times”: Porfirio Díaz, American Travelers, and the Politics of Logical Paternalism

Three. American Travel Writing and the Problem of Indian Difference

Four. “The Most Promising Element in Mexican Society”: Idealized Mestizaje and the Eradication of Indian Difference

Five. Reversals of Fortune: Revolutionary Veracruz and Porfirian Nostalgia





Janson Ruiz is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Faculty Fellow of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

“In this accessible and engaging book, Jason Ruiz argues that U.S. travelers and business people and their stories of nineteenth-century Mexico helped shape U.S. perceptions of the ‘primitive’ economy and people south of the border. Long before there was ‘spring break’ culture, travelers were producing a racialized, sexualized, gendered account of Mexico for U.S. audiences. Ruiz persuasively argues that we need to understand these ideas about Mexico to understand the Marines’ invasion of Veracruz, or to see why U.S. foreign policy treated the Mexican Revolution as such a threat.”
—Laura Briggs, Chair, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts


Ruiz: Americans in the Treasure House

Interview with Jason Ruiz from
Series: UT Press Audio

Author: | Date: Wednesday, 20 August 2014 | Duration: 57:44