The Latin American Library at Tulane University has acquired the Gen. Rafael E. Melgar Collection, which includes a plethora of rare materials that paint a picture of four decades in the extraordinary life of a man who used his political influence to improve the lives of his poorest constituents.
Rare materials in the Latin American Library portray Gen. Rafael Melgar, who used his political influence to improve the lives of his poorest constituents. (Photo from the Gen. Rafael E. Melgar Collection, Tulane Latin American Library)
Orphaned as a child, Melgar’s formal education stopped at primary school. But after rising to the rank of general in the Mexican Revolution, he became a political powerhouse who helped elect three Mexican presidents and implemented key reforms inspired by the revolution such as redistributing land to peasants and championing labor unions.
Melgar died in 1959, but his impact on Mexico is illuminated in thousands of letters, reports, official documents and photographs that will be available to the public for the first time this week.
“He was a pivotal figure during one of the most tumultuous and important periods in Mexican history,” says Hortensia Calvo, director of the Latin American Library.
Meticulously recorded are the details of Melgar’s nationalist campaign that helped lift Mexico out of the Great Depression. This patriotism touched every sector of Mexican society: labor, commerce, military, arts and media. These details make the collection invaluable not only to historians and political scientists but also arts and humanities researchers.
A reception and exhibit celebrating the public opening of the collection will be held at the Latin American Library at 4 p.m. on Friday (April 12). The noted historian of the Mexican Revolution and president of El Colegio de México, Javier Garcíadiego, will give the keynote address.
The acquisition of the Melgar collection strengthens the university’s Latin American studies program, says Ludovico Feoli, director of the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane, which is cosponsoring the event with the Latin American Library.
“These documents reach out from the past,” Feoli says. “They present a great opportunity to understand part of the origins of modern-day Mexico.”
Mary Sparacello is a writer in the Office of Development.