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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.