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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 modern Mexico.
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 Roberto Montenegro.
Vasconcelos died at the age of 77, June 30, 1959.