UCLA historian Kelly Lytle Hernández has been awarded the 2023 Bancroft Prize for her book “Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire and Revolution in the Borderlands,” which tells the story of the band of Mexican rebels, led by journalist and dissident Ricardo Flores Magón, that helped spark the 1910 Mexican Revolution.
The prize, awarded annually by the trustees of Columbia University, is considered one of the most prestigious honors for writing on American history and diplomacy. Lytle Hernández, UCLA’s Thomas E. Lifka Professor of History and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, is one of three authors to receive the award this year.
“Bad Mexicans” focuses on how Flores Magón and his magonistas — intellectuals, poor workers, dispossessed rural dwellers and other marginalized groups — waged a campaign to overthrow U.S.–backed Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, both within Mexico and, later, from north of the border. Drawing on archives in both Mexico and the U.S., the book explores how this cross-national movement threatened not only Díaz, who would eventually be deposed, but Mexican elites and powerful American capitalist interests that benefitted from Díaz’s economic policies.
In announcing the award, the Bancroft Prize jury praised Lytle Hernández’s “riveting story of revolution and counterrevolution,” which “gives us a history of the Mexican Revolution that is fundamentally, and indispensably, binational.” The book, the jury continued, “helps shift the boundaries of what constitutes American history.”
Lytle Hernández, who was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2019, is also the author of “Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol” and “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles.”
“It’s exciting to see this legendary history of Mexican revolutionaries in the borderlands finally reach new audiences in the United States,” she said of the Bancroft award.
“Bad Mexicans” was named one of the New Yorker magazine's best of 2022 in November.
The Bancroft Prizes in American History and Diplomacy, established in 1948, come with a $10,000 stipend for each winner. Sixteen previous honorees have also been recipients of the Pulitzer Prize for history.