Friday, November 18, 2016

men on horseback

Happy Mexican Revolution Day.

Well, happy Mexican Revolution Day parades --that are being held two days before the actual holiday.

I am usually out on the street with my camera for these events shooting children dressed up as little Pancho Villas, Francisco Maderos, and ladies of the hacienda. There are also plenty of
faux campesinos with bloody machetes. But I was off on my long walk this morning, and missed the festivities.

The best I can provide is a shot of a group of horsemen and young girls on foot dressed as peasants. It is a little bit like watching passion play actors sauntering home to reality.

Yesterday, I was drafting a short story (that will be published elsewhere under a pseudonym) at my favorite beachside restaurant. The conversation with the three waiters on the floor turned to the Mexican Revolution.

I love asking history questions. Now and then, I even know the answer.

My question was simple: "What happened on this day that is going to be celebrated on Monday -- and what year did it happen?" They already knew 20 November was the target.

All of them knew it had something to do with the Mexican Revolution. But none knew the year.

That was understandable. All three of them lived in The States when they were children. They do not have a single day of Mexican history between them.

Taking up my challenge, they called out the kitchen staff -- all of whom attended school in Mexico. The combined answer was interesting. "Revolution Day is when Hidalgo and Zapata raised a cry to defeat the French." In one sentence they managed to combine the events of the War of Independence (Hidalgo and 1810) with a tragic hero of the Revolution (Zapata) and the Battle of Puebla (the French).

To be fair, if I had asked the kitchen staff in an American restaurant or even an American college student (according to recent surveys) about what military event precipitated the American Civil War, let alone the Mexican Revolution, I am positive I would receive answers equally amusing.

What I really wanted to know was what happened on 20 November 1910? Why is that the day Mexicans now use to celebrate their Revolution? After all, the Revolution itself is unquestionably the defining historical event in modern Mexican history. More important than the War of Independence.

It is an interesting story. And, because it is a Mexican story, it is filled with more layers than a grilled onion.

Porfirio Diaz had served almost thirty years as president of Mexico by the time the 1910 elections rolled around. Even though he came to power as an opponent of allowing Benito Juarez to be re-elected president, he soon became convinced that no one could rule Mexico as well as he could.

Under his presidency, the economy boomed, agriculture became far more efficient, and there was peace after almost seventy years of Mexicans fighting one another following Mexico's independence from Spain. But Porfirio Diaz was also a very nasty piece of work. There was no political liberty. New leaders were frozen out of the system.

A northerner, Francisco Madero, decided in 1910 enough was enough. He would run against Porfirio Diaz for the presidency. Madero was no revolutionary. He was a true Liberal in the Mexican sense of that party, and the scion of a very wealthy family.

In his campaign through the country, he preached the gospel of liberty and the evil of re-election. Porfirio Diaz's re-election in particular. But the danger of re-election to any political office in Mexico. He would have been a fan of Cyril Northcote Parkinson -- had he lived that long.

Instead of letting Madero's campaign run its course, Porfirio Diaz jailed Madero in San Luis Potosi. While in prison, Porfirio Diaz was re-elected in what is believed to be a rigged election.

Madero's father exercised his influence to let his son ride daily outside the prison walls -- accompanied by four guards on horseback. In an early precedent for El Chapo, they just let him ride off.

Like all good revolutionaries, he fled his country to organize what would be the Mexican Revolution from his refuge in San Antonio, Texas. He had a plan. The Plan de San Luis.

The plan called for all Mexicans to rise up against The Dictator
en masse at 6:00 PM on 20 November 1910. (Madero was a bit obsessive about such matters.) Fully expecting he would be met by hundreds of armed men on the Mexican side of the border, Madero crossed over the Rio Bravo with ten men and 100 rifles at the appointed time.

To find only another 10 men on the other side. He returned to Texas hoping for a reset -- as another administration might say.

Eventually, the Revolution gained strength. Six months later Porfirio Diaz was no longer president, having fled to exile in Spain -- dying in Paris in 1915 during another great war.

Almost all of the Revolutionary leaders -- including Madero -- died before the war ran its course. Usually, killed by another Revolutionary leader. And one million Mexicans would die while the Revolution raged. (A number the PRI used for decades to justify its own dictatorial control for another 80 years.)

But the rest of that story is for another day. Monday celebrates the day when it all started -- or almost didn't start at all when the participants first failed to show up for the scheduled party.

It is now a different world for Mexico.

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