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Consulate Leaves a Parting Gift

October 11, 2002

Mary Ann Travis

mtravis@tulane.edu

When the Mexican consulate closed shop in the World Trade Center in New Orleans this summer, the city sang the blues as the consulate moved to Memphis, and New Orleans lost a longtime link to Latin America. But, as one door closes, another one opens.

The consulate closed, but not before the office of the Mexican consul general called and offered Guillermo Nanez Falcon, director of Tulane's Latin American Library, a collection of books, official government publications and journals that will open the minds of scholars to new insights about the government, trade and art of Mexico.

It took five trips and 90 boxes to move the 2,000 volumes and hundreds of journal issues to a closed-stack room in the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. The material is now unpacked and occupies eight sections of six shelves each as it awaits processing and cataloguing by Nanez and his assistants.

"This is all academic-level research material, so this is really quite the place for it to be," says Nanez. Scholars who rely on the Latin American Library as a resource center will find the library's holdings "refreshed" and expanded by the Mexican consulate donation, says Nanez.

Missing issues of journals will be filled in and dilapidated copies replaced. The donation also includes journals that are new to the library. Nanez also will share the donation with other institutions by offering duplicates of material to Mexican libraries through an existing exchange program. Expensive coffee tabletype books on Mexican art, archaeology and architecture are part of the donation.

Many of the academic books date from the 1930s to 1990s and were published through schools and institutes of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. The most valuable acquisitions from the donation are the government publications, says Nanez. These internal publications include a 98- volume series of treaties celebrated by Mexico between 1823 and 1999, a 24-volume compilation of presidential messages between 1821 and 1914, monthly presidential reports of the 1990s, and monographic studies of the Mexican states published in the 1990s.

These difficult-to-obtain primary materials will be especially useful to scholars who study Mexican politics and government, says Nanez. One scholar who's eager to peruse the material is Jimmy Huck, assistant director and graduate studies adviser for the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and visiting assistant professor of political science. Huck has been investigating the history of the Mexican consulate in New Orleans. Huck says Tulane's Latin American Library is a "natural home" for the collection.

"In my mind, it reflects the confidence by the Mexican government in Tulane's importance to Mexican and Latin American studies."

Huck expects the collection to shed new light for him on the central role the Mexican consulate in New Orleans played in consular activities around the United States in the 19th century. The Mexican government, newly independent from Spain, established the consulate in New Orleans in the 1820s. It was Mexico's first consulate in the United States and stayed in continuous operation in New Orleans for more than 175 years.

As a frontier outpost, the consulate managed the flow of U.S. colonists moving into the Texas territory when it was controlled by Mexico, issuing passports and visas to the Texas colonists, says Huck. Secret agents and political plotters figured in the story when the Mexican government funneled money through the New Orleans consulate to fight the U.S.Mexican War in 1846-1848. The importance of the Mexican consulate in New Orleans perhaps reached its zenith during 1840-60 when its consul general served for all Mexican consulates in the United States.

Population shifts during the last decade by Mexican nationals away from New Orleans to cities such as Houston, Miami and Memphis, along with dwindling commerce between New Orleans and Mexico, and general cost-cutting led the Mexican government to make the decision to shut down the New Orleans consulate this summer, says Huck.

The closing of the Mexican consulate in New Orleans is a significant loss to the city, Huck and Nanez agree. But, on the bright side, Nanez says, "We have the books."

Mary Ann Travis can be reached at mtravis@tulane.edu.

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