Emiliano Zapata Was A Champion Of Indigenous Rights And He Knew How To Work A Look
As Mexico celebrates its independence from colonial Spain, many are reminded of the nation’s tumultuous yet rich history. From Mexico’s independence from Spain, to war with France and the US, to America’s only monarchy, Mexico has a long and varied history.
Perhaps no other period in Mexican history was as consequential as la revolución — or the Mexican Civil War. It transformed Mexican society and culture and, in the process, created many of Mexico’s greatest and most well-known icons and political figures.
Few are more well known and respected in Mexico than the revolutionary leader, Emilano Zapato. This mustachioed handsome general fought the revolution on behalf of Mexico’s farmers and working class as well as the Indigenous communities of the south, all of whom were all too often forgotten by leaders in the capital.
Zapata is an iconic Mexican figure who championed the struggles of both the peasant class and Mexico’s Indigenous communities.
Zapata, who was 39 when he died, arguably ranks just behind Che Guevara on the list of iconic Latin American revolutionaries.
As a young man, he worked on a ranch that belonged to the son-in-law of Mexico’s then-dictator, Porfirio Diaz, where he got an up-close look at the extreme inequality dividing the country.
Politically active from an early age, Zapata emerged as a key leader of Mexico’s farmers when the anti-Diaz revolution broke out.
Along with Pancho Villa, he was among the most radical of the revolutionaries, calling for the large-scale redistribution of land to the country’s poor and indigenous farmers.
His name was invoked in El Grito de Dolores, the country’s major celebration on Dia de la Independencia.
Early in the morning on September 16, 1810, it’s said that Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bell of his church and made the call to arms to rise up against colonial Spain, which started Mexico’s War of Independence.
Since 1812, nearly every Mexican leader has commemorated the historical moment by delivering their own version of “El Grito.” And this year, delivered by AMLO, Zapatista received his own chants of viva.
He also had one hell of a mustache and fashion sense...
Images of Zapata with a broad sombrero, thick mustache and bandoleer rival Che Guevara as icons of both romantic rebellion and capitalist entrepreneurialism. Zapata’s descendants recently applied to trademark his name and envisage earning royalties on merchandise ranging from T-shirts to tequila.
Although Zapata fought many battles in life, many say his legacy was cemented with his death.
They say Zapata never died that April 10th. That he lived and fled to the Arabian Peninsula and would return when most needed. They said something about his dead body wasn’t right. That a scar was different, that a mole was missing, that the body had all ten fingers, when the real Zapata was missing a finger.
“We all laughed when we saw the cadaver,” one of Zapata’s soldiers said decades later. “We elbowed each other because the jefe was smarter than the government.” They say Zapata knew about Guajardo’s impending trick and that Jesús Delgado — a spitting image of Zapata, who traveled with the general as a body double —was the man killed. Others say it was another man, Agustín Cortés, or Joaquín Cortés, or Jesús Capistrán, or, as Zapata’s son put it, “some pendejo…from Tepoztlán.” Whoever it was, the name didn’t even matter. The important thing was that, according to these stories, Zapata lived and would eventually return.
But in today’s Mexico, the country is divided on the revolutionary’s legacy.
Protests erupted Wednesday at commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, underlining how divisive the mustachioed peasant leader remains a century later.
He’s a figure that AMLO has tried to embrace, with varying degrees of success.
Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has expressed admiration for Zapata, pledged to revive Mexico’s rural economy, and declared 2019 the year of Emiliano Zapata.
But in the revolutionary leader’s home region of Morelos, a battle has broken out over his legacy, as López Obrador pushes for the completion of a power plant and pipeline that have faced strong opposition from the local community.
“It’s a mockery – declaring 2019 the year of Gen Emiliano Zapata and then commemorating it by handing over the water from farmers in his birthplace to multinationals,” Zapata González said.
Zapata, whether you see his picture as a young man or were among those who claimed to have seen him in old age, has come to symbolize whatever noble cause the Mexican Revolution stood for.
Today, a century after Zapata’s death, across Mexico and other parts of the world, the living—and perhaps even the dead—continue their fight inspired by Emiliano Zapata.