Mexican Revolution, Yesterday and Today
By Jade Arroyo
“All of them fight over the chair//which brings lots of money//at the North Pancho Villa fights//and at the South Viva Zapata!”
La Cucaracha, popular song
The Mexican Revolution took place in turbulent times, when Mexican society was fragmented by social inequality. The rage and hunger of many was kept under the mask of the regime, a prosperous and conservatives oligarchy.
Carlos Fuentes, writer about the Mexican identity, said that Mexico is a country made by its wounds. Without rubbing off either the triumphs or the painful side, without memory, there is no history.
The Mexican Revolution was an armed conflict that began in Mexico on November 20, 1910. Historically, it is referred to as the most important twentieth century event in Mexico, politically and socially. There is no specific date for when the revolutionary process ended, but it is mostly placed in 1917, with the proclamation of the Constitution, although other sources mark it in 1920 under the presidency of Huerta, or in 1924 with Plutarco Elias Calles. November 20 officially kicks off the celebrations for the 105th commemoration of its beginning.
Social, economic and political background
The background of the conflict was the situation in Mexico under Porfirio Díaz. Since 1876 General Porfirio Díaz held dictatorial power in the country. The situation lasted for 34 years, during which Mexico experienced a remarkable economic growth and political stability. These achievements were paid off in high economic and social costs, paid by the disadvantaged strata of society and political opposition to the regime.
Diaz is considered responsible for the development of Mexican capitalism. His government was supported by the Mexican aristocracy and capital of foreign companies (e.g., mining in Guanajuato was run by foreign companies). These alliances boosted his unpopular policies.
When the mestizo majority began to demand greater participation in decision-making, the revolutionary movement took greater force.
The country was in the hands of the landed aristocracy; mines, commerce, banks, and industries were concessions to mainly foreign capital (particularly the US). Thus, the Porfiriato was a political result of a social pact between landowners and foreign capital, as it was in the rest of Latin America.
Repression and pre-Revolution slavery
According to the book Barbarian Mexico, by John Kenneth Turner, an important contribution to the description of the social conditions existed in pre-revolutionary Mexico, mostly experienced in the large states in southern Mexico. Here the slave state was home to most of the indigenous and mestizo population in the twentieth century states. “Worker-slaves” were subjected to physical abuse, long working hours without rest, poor housing conditions, and poor nutrition that usually led to death in the short term. This came from the deception to be “hired-hostages,” with unpayable debts at the company stores and abuses of power by the same government to steal their ejido lands.
Outbreak, phases, and characters
Francisco I. Madero was the candidate of the opposition, possessing great popularity. Madero was captured days before the election, and Porfirio Diaz won. After his release, Madero took refuge in the United States and enacted the Plan of San Luis, calling the Mexican people to take up arms against the government of Porfirio Díaz.
This would lead many armed uprisings in different regions of Mexico, led by Pascual Orozco, Francisco Villa, and Emiliano Zapata, whose military victories would force the resignation and exile of Porfirio Diaz to France and the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. Francisco I. Madera would be elected president of Mexico in new elections in 1911.
Women in the Revolution
Although the performance of women during the armed struggle was not as widespread as that of men, their participation was not only antagonistic, and many times responsibility in the war fell on them with the same importance. Women were influential in the intellectual field, as journalists and broadcasters of liberal ideas in the field. Some took up arms through their own will and others by necessity. Theirs was a constant struggle for recognition of gender equity. Thus, we find the image of the soldadera, icon of this period of the Mexican rebel woman, popularly recognized as a courageous woman.
A Little history: Life in Guanajuato
The sanmiguelense historian Alejandro Luna shared facts about what life was like in Guanajuato and San Miguel. The Revolution brought economic, political, and social benefits, but those were reflected much later, since the system needed to be cleansed. Those were hard times. The identity, cultural, and artistic loss San Miguel experienced when the outbreak took place completely wore out people. It was hard to recover. During the Porfiriato, San Miguel was a forgotten town, totally neglected: salaries for police officers did not even arrive. Work was mostly agricultural, and Fábrica La Aurora was just developing. At the outbreak of the Revolution, people had no assets or jobs, which led them to join the rebels and the army—“irse a la bola” (join the ball) as the saying goes, looking for a way to survive and escape poverty and marginalization. As historian Luna wrote “The haciendas and ranches were completely destroyed and abandoned, and people dug cellars where girls and young women hid along with the silver and grains, while men hid the cattle on the hill, trying to conceal their daughters and their property from looting by the rebels or the army.” Madero became the first presidential candidate to conduct an election tour of the country, which earned him great popularity. During the Porfiriana stage, the state had been more conservative because of the benefits (for example, the architecture of Guanajuato’s capital is representative of the period), considering that the nineteenth century was very liberal. Also, the railroad played an important role, connecting northern San Luis Potosí to the south—Celaya, Salamanca, Irapuato—and soon the railroad took out everything that was produced for sale abroad. It was a way not only of transportation, but of trade and survival for the state. Blood banks and hospitals were housed inside trains during the Revolution. “It was a long period of anarchy and political instability. The Revolution must be understood in a series of stages,” concluded Luna.
Although San Miguel de Allende was not directly involved in this movement as it had been with the Independence, the city joins the national celebration with a traditional parade in which children and students exhibit their sports and gymnastic skills and dress as revolutionaries and Adelitas. It is one of the city’s most colorful parades, comparable only to the September 16 celebration. Gustavo Vidargas, director of culture and traditions spoke about the evolution and the importance of the parade: “The parade is the commemoration. This civic act has evolved to become more of a sports event. It is a very long and colorful parade in which all schools, universities, the local sports commission (COMUDE) and the Guanajuato Institute for the Youth, (INJUVE) participate. Over time, with political and social changes, the presence of the army was removed to make way for youth. Leaders said the triumph of the revolution had made a better Mexico, and Mexico was young. So, one way to overcome was through sports: what we now have is sports and physical-mental practice.
Practically, the martial mood and sobriety was turned into something much more festive and sporty. In the evening, the selection of the Reina Universitaria (University Queen) will take place at 8pm on the esplanade of the Jardín, with live music accompanying.
In an interview, the director of COMUDE, José Alfredo Orduña Rodriguez, said there will be a commemorative race on Sunday November 22. Starting from Atotonilco at Km 19 at 9am, the contingent will arrive at the esplanade of the Jardin around 10:30am. The race is category free. Registration includes a commemorative medal, a t-shirt, and a hydrating beverage. The value of prizes is estimated to be from 58-60 thousand pesos.
Apart from political parties and ideologies, seven out of ten people (according to a Bicentennial survey) believe that there is much to celebrate in the achievements after the Mexican Revolution. When we entered the twentieth century, Mexico was an illiterate society in which the vast majority lacked the minimum education, and life expectancy was barely above thirty. It was a country where freedom of expression and association did not exist, where effective suffrage was a dream, a nation doomed to authoritarianism, and the product of endless re-election of authorities lacking any legitimacy. Mexicans are still struggling 105 years later to really receive all of the precepts embodied in the 1917 constitution, but certainly we have much to celebrate.
Has the Mexican Revolution finished? What happened to it? How long did it last? When did it finish? And if it’s over, what remains as a goal—flag waving and speeches from political parties and groups? Did it achieve its purpose? For a country educated for more than a century to idolize the Revolution, it is difficult to answer many of these questions. The Mexican Revolution is partly a sort of collective taboo. To question and to review it, despite the alternation of the party in control of the country, remains, in a sense, something politically incorrect.
It is clear that we have two revolutions: A revolution as the fact, the event, the phenomenon itself; and the other, very clear, the revolution as narrative, as story, as myth, as an ideological construction, and propaganda.