Theses Doctoral

Transnational Ambitions: Student Migrants and the Making of a National Future in Twentieth-Century Mexico

Newman, Rachel Grace

This dissertation explores how the Mexican state came to embrace study abroad as a key piece of national education policy. The study begins with the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) and traces the changing politics and institutional pathways of student migration through 1982. During this period, hundreds and then thousands of Mexican students hailing from the country’s middle- and upper classes chose to finish their education in the United States. The dissertation’s central argument is that this student migration shaped the process of Mexican state formation in the wake of the Revolution. Even as scholarship programs responded to the impetus to modernize, achieve development, or foment science by importing foreign knowledge, youth demand for the chance to study abroad was a key yet unrecognized factor that explains why the state supports students’ transnational ambitions. By harnessing narratives of nationalism and modernization, Mexican youth pushed the state to develop institutions that granted international scholarships. Students aspiring to go abroad pioneered the political rationales that undergirded international education policy, which was then designed and implemented by foreign-trained Mexicans. As privileged youth, students shaped the state not by organizing but by leveraging their social and cultural capital as individuals. This dissertation points out that migration was a strategy that appealed not only to Mexico’s working-classes, but also to its “best and brightest” who sought to improve their prospects with a sojourn abroad.
The dissertation’s first chapter examines how study abroad, a long-standing practice of the Mexican elite, became politicized after the Revolution. It traces debates in the press to show how a lack of state discourse about student migration gave other voices the opportunity to define the stakes of study abroad. Chapter two analyzes revolutionary-era scholarship granting practices, showing that paternalism persisted from the Porfiriato to the post-Revolution. However, the chapter reveals that Mexican students introduced revolutionary ideas into their petitions for scholarships, reframing their studies as an act of patriotism. The third chapter examines three major scholarship programs in the mid-twentieth century. It looks at both selection practices and the demographic profile of those who were chosen. These programs favored an already-privileged sector of young Mexicans, its university graduates. Chapter four, also set in the mid-twentieth century, explores the lived experiences and understandings of identity of Mexican students in the United States. This chapter argues that they pursued an ideal of middle-class mexicanidad during their sojourn abroad but found that this status was one of fragile prestige. The last chapter, covering 1960 to 1982, considers the genesis and early years of Mexico’s most important, and still extant, international scholarship granting institution, the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología. This scholarship program served as a kind of social policy for young, upwardly-mobile Mexicans even as it obeyed the logic of development and science policy. The dissertation includes tables with statistical information on the Mexican students in the United States, with more detailed data for students in scholarship programs run by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Banco de México.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Newman_columbia_0054D_15250.pdf Newman_columbia_0054D_15250.pdf application/pdf 2.6 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Piccato, Pablo A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 3, 2019