Monumento a la Patria

The Monumento a la Patria (Monument to the Homeland) ranks among the most recognizable symbols of Mérida, and marks the end of Mérida’s signature boulevard, Paseo de Montejo.  Construction of the monument began on 7 March, 1945; it was inaugurated over 11 years later on 23 April, 1956.  The Monument’s bas reliefs, carved from locally quarried stone, feature more than three hundred hand-carved figures and trace the history of México from the founding of Tenochtitlán to notable events the first half of the 20th century. The circular monument, carved in a neo-Mayan indigenous deco architectural style, occupies the center of a traffic roundabout where the Centro of Mérida meets Colonia Itzimná.  El Pueblo sits at the opposite end of Paseo de Montejo. 

From the top of the ramps that lead up the Monumento a visitor can see some of the trees in El Pueblo’s back yard.  The Monumento also serves as a lovely marker for morning walks from El Pueblo: a moderately paced stroll along the tree-lined Paseo and back takes about 45 minutes. Linger at the monument a little longer to learn about México’s long and colorful history. If you need a bit of a breather, there are several sidewalk cafés nearby.

Ironically, the sculptor commissioned to create a visual tribute to the Mexican Homeland was himself an immigrant: Rómulo Rozo, born in Colombia on 13 January 1899.  

Rozo moved to México in 1931, and would remain in his adopted country for the rest of his life.  Financial success eluded the sculptor, but he is commemorated in the name of Avenida Rómulo Rozo, one of the streets which radiate from the glorieta which circulates around his masterwork, and also in the loose rendering of the Monument used as an emblem by the Ayuntamiento of Mérida, which can be seen stamped into sidewalks in several locations throughout town.

IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS

Rozo was lucky to be granted the commission, which amounted to something of a “second chance” for him: earlier in his career he inadvertently created one of the most reviled stereotypes that mexicanos have been working to overcome ever since its unveiling.  

In 1932 Romo held his first major exhibition at the National Library of Mexico, where he exhibited, among other works, El Pensamiento (Thought). The sculpture, just 60 centimeters (two feet) high, depicts a man in sandals, serape and sombrero seated on the ground, deep in thought and/or repose.  Rómulo Rozo intended the work, a Mexican variation on Rodin’s Thinker, to celebrate and heroize the hard-working campesino.  Sadly, a journalist placed a bottle of tequila in front of the sculpture when it was on display, and this thoughtless prank forever distorted the work as a representation of a lazy, drunken Mexican – one that would go on to live in infamy as a cheap ornament in countless suburban lawns, not unlike the pickaninny horse jockeys at the entrance to former plantation houses in the American South.  The poor Pensamiento, despite the ennobling intent behind it, was plagiarized, vulgarized and marketed ad nauseam in trinket shops all over North America and its hapless, well-meaning creator was powerless to do anything about it. 

Such is the power of the Pensamiento’s perceived derogation of the Mexican spirit that a recent advertisement for Corona beer (of all things) depicts the figure being shattered from within by famed mixed martial artist Alexa Grasso, with narration that recruits the viewer to destroy a stereotype that never should have existed in the first place. 

Luckily, we have the glorious work of the Monumento a la Patria to redeem the reputation of both Rozo and México.  

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