Fondo Casasola. Mexico, July of 1913.

The 20th of November is the date on which Mexico celebrates the Revolution of 1910, the beginning of the armed struggle which went on for many years and gave birth to modern Mexico.

Porfirio Díaz was President of Mexico for seven terms, ruling the country for over 30 years and rigging elections to give a semblance of democracy. But, although discontent was bought off or repressed, it continued to grow. Land was taken from the peasants and sold to international interests; the workers were exploited and did not share in the fruits of their labor; and the rising middle class was discontented with the lack of political opportunity. As Díaz aged -we must remember he was 80 in 1910- he became less adept at juggling his political opponents and was strongly influenced, if not dominated, by José Limantour, his Minister of Finance, who balanced the budget and helped his friends become richer, but did not improve the lot of the common man. Even Diáz' longstanding friends suggested he name a successor, but he refused.

In 1908, Díaz gave an interview to United States reporter James Creelman. In order to win approval abroad, Díaz said that the time had come for Mexico to advance toward democracy and offered to help an opposition party. Various political factions within the country took these declarations to mean that he was ready to step down, and began to campaign actively. General Bernardo Reyes was the main opposition leader. He disagreed with the "scientific" or Positivist policies of Limantour and others; he had even approved a workmen's compensation law in the state of Nuevo León, where he was governor. Díaz sent him on a diplomatic mission to Europe to get rid of him.

The other main opposition leader was Francisco I. Madero. He came from one of the richest families in the country and was an enlightened entrepreneur. He was concerned with the condition of the common man, and politics seemed the best way to make a difference. Madero, who studied in the United States and France, became convinced that the prolonged dictatorship was the main cause of Mexico's problems. He wrote a book on the Presidential Succession, which was a call for greater democracy.


Emiliano Zapata

Díaz granted him an interview in 1910, but, when Madero told him of his ambition to be Vice President, Díaz praised his civic spirit and flatly refused him as running mate. Madero was horrified at how aged and distant from the nation's problems he found the dictator. After discussing the situation, the Anti-Reelectionist party decided to make him their candidate for President.

On June 14, Díaz had Madero jailed so that he could carry out his electoral fraud. Madero was released on bail shortly after the election results were ratified by Congress. He fled to San Antonio, Texas, where he immediately published his San Luis Potosí Plan, proclaiming the principles of "effective suffrage, no reelection", and declaring Díaz' presidency illegal. Madero called upon the citizens to rise up against the government on November 20th, 1910, at six o'clock in the afternoon. This is probably the only revolution in history that had such a specific start.

Madero was very disappointed to find only a handful of poorly armed men at the rendezvous, and returned to the United States. He was tempted to give up, but Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa began to defeat the Federalist forces in the north. Madero's revolution broadened into a many-faceted struggle. Emiliano Zapata took up arms in Morelos for "Land and Liberty", which became the battle cry of the agrarian revolution. Villa and Zapata have become inseparable images of the Revolution, among the best-loved and most controversial of national figures.

On February 14, 1911, Madero returned to take his place at the head of the revolutionary forces. In an attempt to halt the fighting which was gaining ground in many states, Díaz made changes in his cabinet, and even offered agrarian reforms and to ban reelection. But the Revolution continued to win many important victories such as that of Ciudad Juárez over Federal commander Navarro. Porfirio Díaz resigned on May 25th and retired to France to die a natural death.

Don Francisco I. Madero rode into Mexico City on June 7th, 1911, the victorious "Apostle of Freedom". One of his first acts, as promised, was to hold elections. In October, Madero was elected President. He immediately set to work enacting reforms: granting freedom to the press and labor unions, but he was slow to act on distributing land to the peasants, wanting this to be confirmed by congress. Zapata, distrustful and not seeing immediate results, took up arms again. Bernardo Reyes attempted to raise an army and was arrested. On the other hand, the law Madero did pass limiting property extension irked landowners, such as the Terrazas family. Pascual Orozco renewed fighting. Victoriano Huerta defeated him, but was demoted by Madero for drinking and not accounting for the monies entrusted to him.


Pancho Villa

Indeed, Madero, who generally believed the best of people, was not very effective at purging and reforming the government. His labor and land reforms, and the new oil tax conflicted with foreign interests. The United States Ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson, decided Madero must go. He sent home exaggerated reports of the dissatisfaction in the country. Madero waited, hoping Woodrow Wilson would deal with this Ambassador, who was so obviously out of line, even after he was informed of Lane Wilson's conspiring with Bernardo Reyes. Felix Díaz, nephew of Don Porfirio, began a revolution in Veracruz, was arrested, and would have been shot, but Madero intervened and also imprisoned him in Mexico City.

Bernardo Reyes and Felix Díaz were freed from prison by Miguel Mondragón's forces, and began an uprising. This started what become known as the Decena Trágica or Tragic Ten Days, in February of 1913. Reyes was killed in the initial assault on the National Palace, and Díaz occupied the Ciudadela. Victoriano Huerta, again in charge of Madero's troops, challenged Díaz to an artillery duel and shells rained on the city killing many civilians. In fact, hardly any hit their targets. On February 17th, Díaz and Huerta signed the Ciudadela Plan, calling for Madero's resignation -at the United States Embassy with the scheming Henry Lane Wilson.

Huerta forced Congress at bayonet-point to accept Madero's resignation and his presidency. On February 22nd, Madero was assassinated. Venustiano Carranza, Alvaro Obregón, Pancho Villa, and Pablo González took up arms against the illegitimate government. Huerta killed and jailed members of Congress, and generally acted outrageously.

Woodrow Wilson was indignant at the news of Huerta's behavior and sent arms to Carranza. In April of 1914, he ordered marines to occupy Veracruz rather than allow German arms to reach Huerta. This intervention backfired, however, when Huerta's men withdrew and the people of Veracruz rose up against the foreign invaders. International arbitration was called in, and Wilson withdrew his ships.

Obregón and Villa converged on the capital, and Huerta, his pockets filled with the national treasury, fled to the United States on July 15th, 1914. The army was dissolved by the Treaties of Teoloyucan.

Carranza held up one of Villa's trains so that he would not reach the capital first. This so incensed Villa, that he declared war on Carranza. The rivalry between these two revolutionary leaders and the lack of a constitution, brought chaos to the country. Villa, who once said he was "not educated enough to be President of Mexico", went so far as to suggest they both commit suicide for the good of the country. The Aguascalientes Convention was called to seek a solution, and decided to make Eulalio Gutiérrez interim president. Carranza refused to recognize the Convention and went to Veracruz, where he was later joined by Obregón. This marks the end of the Revolution proper and the beginning of a civil war between the supporters of Carranza and Villa. Carranza lobbied in the United States and obtained Wilson's support. Villa felt betrayed by the US, and attacked Columbus, New Mexico. In yet another ill-fated intervention, Woodrow Wilson sent a punitive expedition, which won neither battles, nor the support of the people on both sides of the border, who attacked him for meddling. Carranza lost face for allowing the intervention, and Pancho Villa became an even greater popular hero. However, he was defeated. Carranza was elected President in 1917, and called for a constitutional congress to be held in Querétaro to draw up a document embodying the ideals of the Revolution. The Constitution of 1917 proved more radical than Carranza's proposals. It was based on the democratic principles of Juárez' constitution of 1857, but Obregón and others added two very significant new articles: Article 27 says that the use of land and natural resources can be regulated by the nation. This opened the door for confiscation of foreign-owned lands and oil companies. And Article 123 grants workers a series of rights and benefits, which also interfered with the plans of industrialists, local and foreign, to exploit the workers. Article 3 called for lay education for everyone, paving the way for José Vasconcelos to found the modern educational system in Mexico.

In 1920, at the end of his term, Carranza tried to appoint his own successor. This led Obregón to take up arms again. Carranza fled from Mexico City and was killed. Obregón was elected in November of the same year.

Mexico had been through a harrowing experience. The Revolution spread all across the land and dragged on for ten long years. The population actually decreased by about one million people. But during that time, Mexico discovered many of the elements of its own identity. The many plans published during the period to define what each one believed and was fighting for, set the tone of political discourse in Mexico. Madero's slogan of "effective suffrage, no reelection" still graces the bottom of government documents, lest the lesson be forgotten. And the resulting Constitution of 1917 is one of the most progressive of its time and well beyond.

The Revolution was not only expressed in violence and politics, but set imaginations aflame and ignited a passionate sense of identity. All of Mexican art has been profoundly influenced by the events of those bloody and idealistic years. According to Octavio Paz in his Laberinto de la Soledad (Labyrinth of Solitude) (1950), "… the cultural and artistic fertility of the Revolution depends on the depth with which its heroes, its myths and its villains have forever marked the sensibility and the imagination of all Mexicans. The Revolution is a sudden immersion of Mexico in its own self." Let us mention just a few examples of this cultural explosion.

The literary references to the Revolution are far too numerous to include here; in fact "Revolutionary" is considered a separate genre in Mexico. One of many early examples is Los de Abajo (The Underdogs) (1915), by Mariano Azuela; and Carlos Fuentes' Gringo Viejo (Old Gringo) looks back from 1985 to tell of Ambrose Bierce's experiences with Villa.

Diego Rivera - Germination, Revolution; The Burial (detail), 1927. Escuela Nacional de Agricultura, Chapingo, México. Copyright © 1990. Dover Publications, Inc.

From the 20s to the 50s, the three great Mexican muralists, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfredo Siquieros, developed a powerful visual style representing the conquest and the revolution. This vision continues to live with us on the walls of many of our public buildings.

"La Cucaracha", one of the most popular songs during the Revolution, is perhaps the best known Mexican music outside our borders. It and the broad brimmed hats and crossed ammunition belts these men wore have become not only part of our national self-image, but a stereotype abroad. While "Adelita", a love song to one of the brave women who took care of the Revolutionary soldiers and fought alongside them, remains a national favorite.

Photography flourished during the Revolution, both in stills and motion pictures. Indeed, the archives of the Toscano family and the Casasola collection are world famous. Fernando de Fuentes, one of our greatest film directors, paid homage to the Revolution with two classic movies during the 30s: "Vámonos con Pancho Villa" and "El Compadre Mendoza".

This November 20th, Mexico will celebrate the Revolution of 1910 with a national holiday and a parade. But it is also an occasion to rejoice in the wealth of cultural expressions it has inspired.