Throughout recorded history, epidemics have touched every aspect of life, including commerce, travel, agriculture, religious ritual, education, and political campaigns. In the tropical region of Yucatán, Mexico, which hosted a plethora of diseases, the violent resistance of various Mayan groups to state exploitation created one of the least understood but most significant threats to Mexican rule since the Conquest. As protection of one's own health--as well as control over individual and collective bodies--came to be ingrained in the imagined community that elites sought to construct, public health campaigns became symbols of modernization and an extension of the state's efforts to remake "clean" citizens out of what some perceived as the filthy, the disorderly, and the rebellious. Their medical plans and legislation, however, often ran counter to long-practiced rituals of burial, mourning, food preparation, and sick care in the region.
This study examines the politics of postcolonial state-building through the lens of disease and public health policy in order to trace how indigenous groups on the periphery of power and geography helped shape the political practices and institutions of modern Mexico. Placing Yucatán at the center of an international labor force, global economics (due to the henequen boom), and a modernizing medical establishment, Heather McCrea incorporates the region into a larger discussion about socioeconomic change and the pervasive role that health care, or lack thereof, plays in human society.