Know what holiday we´re celebrating on Monday? (OK, actually Sunday . . . always on the 20th.)
It´s the commemoration of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution!
Now, if you´re from the US like me, we tend to use the words for Independence and Revolution interchangeably. We talk about the American Revolution when we talk about the US´s independence movement. However, strictly speaking, the US´s independence movement wasn´t really a revolution. Revolutions are more commonly classified when the peasants rise up and revolt against the powers that be. In the US´s example, wealthy landowners rose up against the king. Which was a big, fat, hairy deal.
But not a revolution, per se.
However, Mexico´s revolution was a revolution. At the same time, part of it was wealthy landowners were throwing off the yoke of a dictator. Also, a big, fat, hairy deal. But not precisely a revolution. But as those wealthy landowners threw out the dictator, the peasants also rose up, demanding basic human rights, land, and dignified treatment as citizens. It was messy. It was complicated. That was a revolution. As it all happened at the same time, with certain sides working together, then working against each other, then together again, and–what the heck–it was really each man for his own, we just call the whole mess the Mexican Revolution.
And I guarantee, I will oversimply the story here.
Since this blog centers on Saltillo, the capital of the state of Coahuila, it makes sense to attempt to explain the Mexican Revolution by using by using Coahuila´s two most famous people as bookends. To oversimplify: Francisco I. Madero started the revolution and Venustiano Carranza ended it.
Throughout the end of the 19th century, Mexico´s president was Porfirio Díaz. He was president for 30 years. Suffice it to say, lots of people were sick of him being president. Lots of journalists started agitating for a change in leadership. However, under a dictatorship, that kind of talk doesn´t go real far.
Leading up to the 1910 presidential election, Francisco I. Madero threw in his bid for the presidency. He was jailed for it (and his popularity), escaped and fled to Texas. Finally, all the unrest surrounding this election caused Porfirio Díaz to resign, and Madero won the first free elections in decades.
Unfortunately, a little over a year later, Madero and his vice-president were assassinated in a coup. Therefore, to this day, Madero is one of Mexico´s few non-controversial historical figures. He´s one of Mexico´s best-known martyrs. Everyone loves him.
This is where Venustiano Carranza comes in. General Huerta was the guy who staged the coup and killed Madero. In contrast to Madero, Huerta is Mexico´s undisputed villan–everyone still hates him. So Carranza formed an opposition government to Huerta´s “official” government.
We could just say that Carranza´s forces fought Huerta´s forces for nearly 10 years, and that´s the end of the story. But that´s too much of an oversimplification for even this short summary.
During this time period, much of Mexico´s land was owned by a few very wealthy families. Their large tracts of land were organized into haciendas. They were rather like the Mexican equivalent of the plantations of the US antebellum south. While slavery in Mexico was abolished when the country won independence from Spain, the majority of people who worked on these haciendas were essentially slaves. While they technically had legal rights, they had no way of excersizing those rights. There wasn´t much of a middle class. The majority of the country´s wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few very rich families. There were very, very many people who had next to nothing. They were desperate. They were angry.
That makes for a very dangerous combination.
So while Madero and Carranza were busy turning Mexico´s political situation on its head, leaders like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata led armies seeking significant social and economic changes (like breaking up those large haciendas and redistributing the land).
To be honest, there are so many ins and outs, intrigues, alliances and alliance-breaking among the many armies that took part in the Mexican Revolution, that I get a bit lost following the story. Ánd, since I live in Coahuila, and Saltillo´s Revolution Museum focuses mainly on Coahuila´s heroes (Madero and Carranza), so I don´t know much about Villa, as both he and Zapata were staunchly against him.
To make a long story short, after 10 years of fighting, everybody was sick of it and eventually the revolution came to and end. But, let´s be honest and admit that Carranza had a pretty heavy hand in squashing Zapata´s and Villa´s armies.
What lasting effects did the Revolution have?
- The current constitution was adopted in 1917. (This coming 5th of February will be its 100th anniversary.
- The haciendas were, by and large, broken up.
- Mexico has not had a dictator since Porfirio Díaz. (The 70 years that the PRI was in undisputed power is a different story. But, despite all that, no president has been in power for more than one term since the revolution.)
Want to learn more about the Mexican Revolution?
Visit the Mexican Revolution Museum on Hidalgo, in downtown Saltillo. (Go up Hidalgo, past the cathedral, past the Casino, past a gorgeous house, and the museum will be the next building.)
If anyone is interested, but would need translation, throw me an email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: yes, I left out about a billion crucial points. Feel free to add in those important pieces of history that I omitted in the comments section.