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The Mexican Revolution

Ten Years That Forged a Nation


The Mexican Revolution

Pancho Villa with his troops

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Women in the Mexican Revolution

Before the Mexican Revolution, Mexican women were relegated to a traditional existence, working in the home and in fields with their men and wielding little political, economic or social clout. With the strife of revolution came an opportunity for participation and many women joined up, serving as writers, politicians and even soldiers. Zapata's army, in particular, was known for the number of female soldiers or “soldaderas” among the ranks and even serving as officers. Women who participated in the revolution were reluctant to return to their quiet lifestyle after the dust settled, and the revolution marks an important milestone in Mexican women's rights.

Importance of the Mexican Revolution

In 1910, Mexico still had a largely feudal-style social and economic base: rich landowners ruled like medieval Dukes on large estates, keeping their workers impoverished, deep in debt and with barely enough basic necessities to survive. There were some factories, but the basis of the economy was still mostly in agriculture and mining. Porfirio Díaz had modernized much of Mexico, including laying train tracks and encouraging development, but the fruits of all of this modernization went exclusively to the rich. A drastic change was obviously necessary for Mexico to catch up with other nations, which were developing industrially and socially.

Because of this, some historians feel that the Mexican Revolution was necessary “growing pains” for the backward nation. This is true to an extent, but this view tends to gloss over the sheer destruction wrought by ten years of war and mayhem. Díaz may have played favorites with the wealthy, but much of the good that he did – railways, telegraph lines, oil wells, buildings – were destroyed in a classic case of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” By the time Mexico was once again stable, hundreds of thousands had died, development had been set back by decades and the economy was in ruins.

Mexico is a nation with tremendous resources, including oil, minerals, agriculture and hard-working people, and its recovery from the revolution was bound to be relatively speedy. The biggest obstacle to recovery was corruption, and the 1934 election of the honest Lázaro Cárdenas gave the nation a chance to get back on its feet. Today, there are few scars left from the revolution itself, and Mexican schoolchildren may not even recognize the names of minor players in the conflict such as Felipe Angeles or Genovevo de la O.

The lasting effects of the revolution have all been cultural. The PRI, the party that was born in the revolution, held onto power for decades. Emiliano Zapata, the symbol of land reform and proud ideological purity, has become an international icon for just rebellion against a corrupt system. In 1994, a rebellion broke out in Southern Mexico: its protagonists called themselves the Zapatistas and declared that Zapata's revolution was still in progress and would be until Mexico adopted true land reform. Mexico loves a man with personality, and the charismatic Pancho Villa lives on in art, literature and legend, while the dour Venustiano Carranza has been all but forgotten.

The revolution has proven to be a deep well for inspiration for Mexico's artists and writers. The muralists, including Diego Rivera, remembered the revolution and painted about it often. More modern writers such as Carlos Fuentes have set novels and stories in this turbulent era, and films such as Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate take place against the revolutionary backdrop of violence, passion and change. These artists have romanticized the gory revolution in many ways, but always in the name of the inner search for national identity that continues in Mexico today.

Source: McLynn, Frank. Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2000.

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