In This Review

Stories That Make History: Mexico Through Elena Poniatowska’s Crónicas
Stories That Make History: Mexico Through Elena Poniatowska’s Crónicas
By Lynn Stephen
Duke University Press, 2021, 328 pp

Through her powerful crónicas—long-form works of narrative journalism featuring emotive oral accounts of major historical events—the 89-year-old Elena Poniatowska has crafted a stark vision of Mexico that pits a corrupt, inept political elite against a long-suffering repressed majority. Stephen, an anthropologist, assesses Poniatowska’s vibrant retelling of the tragic 1968 massacre in Mexico City of protesting students (in the form of a book that sold half a million copies), the heroic relief efforts of civil society groups that responded spontaneously to the devastating 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, the dramatic 1994 Zapatista indigenous uprising, the 2006 mass sit-in protesting alleged electoral fraud, and the mysterious disappearance in 2014 of 43 students from the town of Ayotzinapa. Stephen enriches each chapter with extensive interviews with Poniatowska (whom she describes as a good friend) and the writer’s close associates. As a highly visible public intellectual, Poniatowska hasn’t shied away from mixing journalism with political activism, most recently by ardently campaigning for Mexico’s populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Setting aside the skepticism characteristic of postmodern social science, Stephen wholeheartedly embraces Poniatowska’s engaged and immersive style of reporting and its contributions to building a “strategic emotional political community” of social justice advocates who identify with the victims of Mexican history.