Culture

As Mexicans Celebrate Día De La Revolución, Here Are 13 Facts You Need To Know About The Consequential War

Every year, November 20 marks the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, a historical event that has fascinated historians, artists, poets, filmmakers and everyday people for generations. The Mexican Revolution was in fact not a single military confrontation, but a multitude of fronts that made the period a very convoluted and complex network of alliances, intrigue and battlefronts. 

So brush up on your Mexican history and impress your abuelita with these facts that lay it all out con peras y manzanas. 

1. So who was fighting who and why?

Credit: Proyecto Puente

This historical event is also known as Mexican Civil War, as some historians argue that rather than a unified movement to overthrow the government it was in fact a series of local revolts against those in power. In 1910 Porfirio Diaz was reelected under dubious circumstances, extending his government even further after he had been in power for three decades. His opponent Francisco I. Madero, a wealthy man by all accounts, contested the results and assumed the presidency in 1911 after a year of conflict between two sectors of the Mexican elite. The middle-class and those in the lowest echelons of the social scale also despised Diaz and joined the fight. Among them was Pancho Villa, a wealthy man from Northern Mexico. 

2. So did peace reign once Madero was elected? Nah! He was killed in 1913. 

Credit: Revista Bicentenario

Not at all! The conflict extended for another decade, as conservatives opposed Madero and revolutionary fighters saw him as too conservative. Madero and his vice president Pino Suarez resigned in 1913 and were assassinated. Total chaos ensued as the vacuum in power made different factions seek control over the presidency. 

3. A succession of governments followed, deepening the civil war… bloodshed spread all over the country like a wild fire.

After Madero was killed, a counter revolutionary general, Victoriano Huerta, became president. But his mandate was ephemeral: he only stayed in power from February 2013 to June 2014. Huerta was a representative of the old regime and the business interests that wanted to keep the status quo. He was forced out by a series of regional uprisings that later developed into a generalised state of armed conflict that lasted roughly for six more years. He was succeeded by Venustiano Carranza, a wealthy landowner who fought Villa in the North and a legendary revolutionary in the South…

4. So where does Emiliano Zapata fit into this gran desmadre?

As far as icons go, Zapata is perhaps the most recognizable. The thick moustache, canana, rifle and manly disposition has become a true cultural phenomenon. Even Marlon Brando once famously played him in film. Well, Zapata opened the battlefront in the southern states and became a symbol of indigenous struggle against the elites. Zapata was assassinated in 1919 by Carranza’s forces. 

5. And were there really female soldiers? You betcha.

Known as soldaderas, a group of women performed vital roles among revolutionary forces. Some cared for the injured or made food, while many others took up arms and became legendary battle-tested combatants. They are also known as Adelitas.

6. Some historians now claim that the conflict ended in 1917.

Credit: All That Is Interesting

The fighting continued until 1920, but in political terms things came at a tense calm when the 1917 Constitution was brought into effect. However, Venustiano Carranza’s forces kept fighting the guerrilla efforts of Emiliano Zapata before and after his death. 

7.  So did the Mexican Revolution translate into a more equal country? Nope, not really.

Credit: All That Is Interesting

The Mexican Revolution started as a conflict among the elites. Figures like Madero, Huerta, Carranza and even Pancho Villa were all wealthy men trying to defend what was theirs, who worried that Porfirio Diaz was in fact a dictator after 31 years in power. The poor and vulnerable, however, did not benefit directly from the civil war. 

8. A guerrilla movement in the 1990s, and still alive Today, even took on the ideals championed by Emiliano Zapata.

Credit: Mexico News Daily

Chances are you have heard of the EZLN or Zapatista Army for National Liberation, a guerrilla movement that was born out of the forests of Chiapas in 1994. Well, the movement’s leaders have described it as a continuation of Zapata’s unfinished business in terms of reparation for indigenous communities. 

9. Casualties were enormous: up to 1.5 million people died.

Credit: The Toro Historical Review

The human cost of the conflict was massive, with casualties in the millions. Just imagine ten years of extended warfare and the gradual deterioration of infrastructure that led to more indirect deaths (hospitals were destroyed, so life expectancy dropped particularly in the poorest regions). There was also a vast migration to the United States, which some place around 200,000 displaced individuals and families who looked for refuge in Los Esteits. 

10. Corridos, a troubadour-like musical genre, was born out of the war.

Credit: The Strachwitz Frontera Collection

As has happened with many armed conflicts, the Mexican Revolution generated new manifestations of popular culture. Among them were corridos, songs that tell the adventures and misfortunes of revolutionary icons. Today’s variant, narco-corridos, talk about cartel members. 

11. The Mexican Revolution gave birth to the institutions that structure political life in Mexico today.

Credit: Sec. De. Mexico

The governments that emerged from the ashes of the war established the institutional frameworks on which the Mexican government rests today, such as State Secretariats and the elimination of the vice-presidential figure. 

12. The revolution also gave birth to a political party that ruled Mexico for 71 years and some have called the perfect dictatorship.

Plutarco Elias Calles founded the Partido Nacional Revolucionario in 1929. This party emblazoned the ideals of the revolution… at least on paper. The name changed throughout the years to finally become the PRI (Revolutionary Institutional Party, a contradiction even in its name!) in 1946. The party ruled Mexico for 71 years and some agree with Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, who once called it the perfect dictatorship.  

13. One of the most recognizable monuments in Mexico City was built to commemorate the Mexican Revolution.

Credit: AmMejia / Giphy

El Monumento a la Revolucion is one of the most recognizable icons of Mexico City, and it has a very interesting history. The structure was built during the Porfiriato and was due to become thew Federal Legislative Palace. However, due to the war it was never finished, so the half-built structure came to signify a change and the birth of a new government based on revolutionary ideals. 

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Coronavirus Sparks History Lesson In Mexico As Citizens Learn About Cocoliztli

Things That Matter

Coronavirus Sparks History Lesson In Mexico As Citizens Learn About Cocoliztli

latinamericanstudies.org

Mexico is struggling to combat the effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic. So far, the country has almost 25,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, with the worst still expected to come. With the country confronting one pandemic, it’s been forced to look back into history at another pandemic of epic proportions some 500 years ago.

We all know that the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas brought disease and famine that left millions of Native Americans dead. However, one epidemic in particular has always mystified both modern-day scientists and Indigenous cultures that survive to this day.

During the 16th century, Mexico suffered a demographic catastrophe with few parallels in world’s history. In 1519, the year of the arrival of the Spaniards, the population in Mexico was estimated to be between 15 and 30 million inhabitants. Eighty-one years later, in 1600, only two million remained.

Cocolitzli was a massive epidemic that killed millions of Indigenous Mexicans – particularly the Azteca – shortly after the arrival of the Spanish.

From 1545 to 1550, Aztecs in what is today southern Mexico experienced a deadly outbreak. Anywhere from five to 15 million people died. Locally, it was known as cocoliztli, but the exact cause or causes has been a mystery for the past 500 years.

Based on the death toll, this outbreak is often referred to as the worst disease epidemic in the history of Mexico. Subsequent outbreaks continued to baffle both Spanish and native doctors, with little consensus among modern researchers on the cause.

It’s long been accepted that Europeans brought with them smallpox and other contagious diseases that wiped out Native populations. In fact, before the cocolitzli outbreak, smallpox killed an estimated eight million Indigenous Mexicans in just over a year.

What did this cocolitzli outbreak look like across the country?

The outbreak started in 1545 when disaster struck the Aztec nation. The disease had a very short course, lasting three to five days. It started abruptly with high fever, vertigo, severe headache, insatiable thirst, red eyes and weak pulse. Patients became intensely jaundiced, very anxious, and restless. Subsequently, hard painful nodules appeared behind one or both ears, sometimes so large that they occupied the entire neck and half of the face. 

Within five years as many as 15 million people – an estimated 80% of the population – were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named “cocoliztli”. The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years.

Scientists have tried to identify the cause of the epidemic and it turns out it might have been from a common type of bacteria.

Credit: Christina Warriner / YUCUNDAA ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT

According to study author Åshild Vågene from the Max Planck Institute, the strain is a bacterial infection that causes a type of enteric fever nearly identical to typhoid. While that specific strain of salmonella is much rarer today, Vågene says it would have spread similarly. Any food or water contaminated with the strain would have turned deadly once ingested.

Salmonella enterica—subset Paratyphi C to be exact—was present in the DNA of ten different individuals buried at the only known burial site, Teposcolula-Yucundaa, associated with cocoliztli.

Historians and archaeologists have long suspected that a blood-borne illness was responsible for cocoliztliDepictions by both Spanish and indigenous artists show the infected with nose bleeds and coughing up blood.

“This is one of the diseases that doesn’t leave any visible clues on the skeleton,” Vågene told National Geographic, adding that very few diseases do.

The epidemic has many worried about Covid-19’s effects on today’s Indigenous communities.

It’s difficult to say why the cocoliztli was so deadly for the Indigenous community, but they may also have been suffering from malnourishment as a result of a great drought that afflicted the region at the time.

If the bug wasn’t present in the Americas before European arrival, the locals may have lacked a strong natural immune response to the disease and made them more susceptible. Whatever the pathogen, it swept through the region like a storm. At the time, historian Fray Juan de Torquemada wrote, “In the year 1576, a great mortality and pestilence that lasted for more than a year overcame the Indians … the place we know as New Spain was left almost empty.”

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Many Mexicans Are Calling Out Fragile Masculinity As Some Continue To Protest A Controversial Zapata Painting

Culture

Many Mexicans Are Calling Out Fragile Masculinity As Some Continue To Protest A Controversial Zapata Painting

Jorge Rivera-Pineda / Mexico Broadcasters

It is no secret that Mexican society is often affected by displays of homophobia. Even though there have been great advances such as the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states, the largely Catholic country is home of opinion leaders who are conservative and whose masculinity seems to be constantly threatened by anything that doesn’t spell out “straight.”

Added to this, Mexican political discourse is anchored in a solemn approach to institutions and the myths of the wars of Independence and Revolution, the two historical moments that have defined Mexican political life and foundational narratives for the past 200 years. So a recent painting hosted at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, perhaps the most iconic building dedicated to the arts in the Latin American country, made conservatives poner el grito en el cielo, as it dares to reimagine one of Mexico’s revolutionary leaders as a queer character.

For many, Zapata is akin to a deity and the image of heroic masculinity. The painting is, however, incendiary for exactly that reason, because it challenges notions of sex and gender in a day and age were some parts of Mexico are progressive while others remain under the dark clouds of discrimination and segregation of LGBTQ communities.

So this is the 2014 painting “The Revolution” by Fabian Chairez. 

The painting depicts a male figure who resembles the revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, a cornerstone of Mexico’s Revolutionary War. Zapata was beloved by indigenous populations and gente de campo who believed that other revolutionaries were forgetting the most marginalised sectors of society.

But there is a twist: here, Zapata is naked, wearing heels and being totally gender-non-conforming as he rides a voluptuous horse. Chairez told Reuters: “I use these elements like the sombrero and horse and create a proposal that shows other realities, other ways of representing masculinity.”

Definitely not your usual depiction of the times, but surely a piece that is confronting in the best possible way. The painting was chosen as part of an exhibition on the revolutionary hero, but things got nasty. 

Zapata’s grandchildren have spoken out against the painting in the most homophic way, and things got bloody.

Zapata’s family demanded that the painting be taken off the exhibition because it allegedly “tainted” the public image of their grandfather. Let’s take a minute here and think about this: it is actually the worst possible kind of homophobia, as it implies that being queer is wrong and that it would be a blemish on Zapata’s legacy.

There were protests inside Bellas Artes and university students defending the work and freedom of expression actually got into a fistfight with farmers who stormed Bellas Artes chanting homophobic slurs and threatening to burn the painting in a gross display of toxic masculinity and an Inquisitorial outlook on life and art.

As reported by CE Noticias Financieras, Federico Ovalle, leader of the Independent Central Of Agricultural and Peasant Workers, said: “The picture denigrates the personality and trajectory of the general and it seems to us that presenting this figure is grotesque, of contempt and contempt of the peasants of the country.”

Luis Vargas Santiago, curator of the exhibit ‘Emiliano Zapata after Zapata’, told Reuters: “Of course it’s fine if they don’t like the painting, they can criticize the exhibition, but to seek to censor freedom of expression, that’s different.” 

The painting can stay, but it is being censored anyway.

As reported by Agence France Presse, the authorities decided that the painting can stay, but with a caveat: “But the Mexican Revolutionary hero’s family will be allowed to place a text beside it stating their strong objections to the work, which shows Zapata draped suggestively over a white horse with a giant erection.”

And the image will also be sort of hidden from public view (which, to be honest, might only increase the influx of visitors to the exhibition).

As AFP continues: “Under the deal, brokered by the Mexican culture ministry, the painting by artist Fabian Chairez will also be removed from promotional materials for the exhibition, “Emiliano. Zapata After Zapata,” which opened last month at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.”

Even Mexican president AMLO, who has declared his admiration for the revolutionary hero, got involved, ordering his culture minister to get involved. 

So was Emiliano Zapata a queer revolutionary hero? Perhaps, but that is not the point!

For years, historians have tried to get a glimpse into the man who was Emiliano Zapata. Some claim that his overt displays of macho masculinity were perhaps a way to silence any rumors regarding his sexuality. But the point is that it does not matter, or it should not matter, for any other reason that historical accuracy. And it isn’t anyone’s business, is it?

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