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Efraín Huerta and Diego Rivera: the reunion of two Mexican communists thanks to the discovery of a school assignment

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When Verónica Loera y Chávez was arranging the books in her library after moving from Mexico City to Oaxaca, she came across a surprise that dazzled her. Stored in the middle of the pages of the first edition of absolute love, the first collection of poems by Mexican poet Efraín Huerta (died 1982), was a typewritten and illustrated notebook also signed by Huerta. Loera leafed through the pages of the document and his astonishment increased: it was a monograph written by the writer about Diego Rivera’s murals, dated 1931, when Huerta was barely 17 years old. It was, he would later find out, delving into the history of the bard, a task that Huerta had prepared as a student at the then National Preparatory School of San Ildefonso for the subject of Art History. Loera understood that she had in her hands the oldest text of the famous Mexican poet and journalist. How had that manuscript survived the passage of time?

A copy of the monograph ‘The social tendencies of Diego Rivera’ by Efraín Huerta.San Ildefonso School

This story begins in 1930. The teenager Efraín Huerta was passionate about drawing and aspired to enter the famous Academy of San Carlos as a student, founded in 1781 by order of the King of Spain Carlos III and which was the first of its kind built in American continent. Huerta then lived in Querétaro, but traveled to the capital to take the entrance exams for the institution. His plans were to become a professional artist and live in the capital, where his brothers had already settled. But San Carlos turned its back on him, “it hits him,” in the words of Emiliano Delgadillo, an expert on Huerta’s literary work. “He was disappointed and doesn’t know what to do with his life. He returned to Querétaro and began writing advertising verses to earn a living,” says Delgadillo. His brothers encouraged him to return to the capital to study a professional career and Huerta applied to enter the National Preparatory School of San Ildefonso, also of great prestige in Mexico at the beginning of the last century. The authorities accepted him and Huerta entered the institution in January 1931.

In this way, the young man gained access to a cultured world that fascinates him. The school was bustling with modern ideas, with passionate students eager to transform the art, science, and literature of Mexico. “Huerta was dazzled by art subjects,” says Delgadillo, and very soon he became an enthusiastic follower of the classes of maestro Agustín Loera y Chávez, a famous intellectual and severe professor. During those student days, Huerta became friends with Rafael Solana, 16 years old, with whom he would prepare the monographic work at hand: the future poet wrote The social trends of Diego Riverawith illustrations by Solana, for the Art History class of the first year of Baccalaureate in Philosophy and Letters.

The facade of the Academia de San Carlos, in the Historic Center of Mexico City, in 1890.
The facade of the Academia de San Carlos, in the Historic Center of Mexico City, in 1890.UNAM Jurists

That was the manuscript that Verónica Loera y Chávez found in the early 2000s when she was arranging the books in her library after her move from Mexico City to Oaxaca. Part of that library was inherited from her uncle, Agustín, who had lovingly guarded the school work of whom he would become a loved and admired student. The so-called “typewriting” has now seen the light of day for the first time, in a beautiful limited edition prepared by the Henestrosa Library and the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation, of Oaxaca. The book contains the original text without changes, with the corrections that Huerta made with a pen after writing it with a borrowed machine, in addition to the almost childish drawings of Losano, his friend. The work was presented this week at the headquarters of the Colegio de San Ildefonso, one of the most beautiful colonial buildings in the old heart of Mexico City, built in 1583 by the Company of Jesus, within the educational plans of the Jesuits in the so-called The new World. During the presentation, Eduardo Vázquez Martín, director of the school, joked with the audience by saying that that night the ghosts of Huerta, Losano and possibly his teacher Agustín were gathered on the premises. The book is a birthday gift for the 110th anniversary of the Mexican poet’s birth.

Verónica Loera y Chávez says that years after the discovery she presented the manuscript to Huerta’s son, the poet David Huerta, winner of the 2019 Literature Prize in Romance Languages ​​awarded by the Guadalajara International Book Fair. Huerta Jr. was moved by the text, and thus began a long path so that a work that in the words of Emiliano Delgadillo “overcame the vicissitudes of oblivion” could reach the public. The lack of resources prevailed on several occasions and the book was published after David’s death, which occurred in October 2022. His heirs continued with the company under the leadership of Verónica Loera y Chávez, editor.

Emiliano Delgadillo, Verónica Loera and Eduardo Vázquez Martín talk during the presentation of the monograph 'The social tendencies of Diego Rivera' by Efraín Huerta.  Behind them, a photograph of the poet and his family.
Emiliano Delgadillo, Verónica Loera and Eduardo Vázquez Martín talk during the presentation of the monograph ‘The social tendencies of Diego Rivera’ by Efraín Huerta. Behind them, a photograph of the poet and his family.San Ildefonso School

The monographic work – in which Efraín Huerta invested a lot of money at the time because he did it on fine paper, which was used for watercolors – is, according to Delgadillo, “a somewhat naive, but critical vision” of Rivera’s work. At that age, Huerta did not have the background to be able to analyze in depth the creation of someone who was already one of the greatest contemporary artists in Mexico and many of his opinions now sound naïve. Huerta focuses on analyzing Rivera’s social work, the pieces that demonstrate his political commitment. In the manuscript, for example, he criticizes the artist’s view of the cleric during the colony. “There is a marked tendency in Diego Rivera to ridiculously expose clerical characters in his frescoes. Every time the occasion arises, the painter mocks and mocks religion, representing in deplorable attitudes friars, laymen, bishops, priests and other clerics who come in handy to exhibit… The painter’s attitude seems to us in this case excessive , exaggerated, since, if we study well, we find that the position of the clergy at the time of the conquest was not what Diego tries to represent, but, on the contrary, and from a bird’s eye view, the religious managed to do something in the land of consolation and protection.”

The young Huerta’s criticism would eventually turn into true admiration for the great Mexican muralist. And that admiration would be reciprocal. Eduardo Vázquez Martín, director of San Ildefonso, says that Rivera painted Huerta in a mobile mural that had been commissioned in 1952 by the National Institute of Fine Arts and that was to be part of an exhibition on peace. The mural caused blisters at the institute and gave its director, Carlos Chávez, an attack of anger, who was surprised to see that Rivera’s work showed Mao and Stalin, and a dove of peace came out of the latter’s hands. . “They classified it as communist propaganda,” says Vázquez Martín, who remembers that Rivera’s admiration for Huerta had begun when the painter read the poem. Today I gave my signature for peacein which Huerta sings: Today I have given my signature for Peace. / Under the tall trees of the Alameda / and a young woman with eyes of hope. / Along with her other young women asked for more signatures / and that hour was like a lit homeland / of love for love, of grace for grace, / from one light to another light. Rivera’s mural had a tragic end. Vázquez Martín takes up one of the most credible versions of the final version of him: that he traveled to China, where he died in the flames of Mao’s very fanatical cultural revolution.

Diego Rivera National Palace
Visitors observe a mural by Diego Rivera in the National Palace, in Mexico City. Jeff Greenberg (Getty Images)

Painter and poet were openly communists, although both prayed to different gods: Rivera was a Trotskyist and Huerta was a Stalinist. “Rivera embraced the critical vision of the Soviet Union, while Huerta saw Stalin as a wise old man,” says Vázquez Martín. Over time, both men would moderate their positions, although Rivera’s critics claim that the painter “only sympathized with himself.” The “religion of the hammer and sickle”, communism, found and confronted both artists, both suffered expulsions from the Communist Party and were also later rehabilitated, but art united them since the young student of the Colegio de San Ildefonso He dedicated his monographic work, at only 17 years old, to the muralist he would admire his entire life. Admiration that would be recorded for the history of literature in the typewritten sheets that a teacher would lovingly keep in his library.

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