My grandparent’s, like thousands of other Mexican citizens, sought refuge in the United States from the political and social upheaval of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The civil war, which lasted nearly a decade, began an unprecedented increase of Mexican immigration into the United States. The Mexican Revolution marks the genesis of the story of my family in Colorado.
The period that culminated in the revolution is known as the Porfiriato. Porfirio Diaz was President of Mexico between 1876 and 1911. During that time he effectively dispossessed the Mexican population of 90% of communal land and left only 3% of the rural population with ownership of land. His policies supported foreign investment in Mexico to the extent that by 1911 the U.S. controlled 81 percent of the mining industry while Britain controlled 15 percent. Daniel Guggenheim owned the largest privately owned business in Mexico, the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO). These acquisitions by foreign interest were made possible through the mining code of 1884 that enabled foreign investors to claim subsoil rights.
Foreign investment displaced thousands of indigenous people in Mexico. The Richardson Construction Company of Los Angeles purchased 993,650 acres as a result of the surveying law of 1883 in the Yaqui River Valley. The reaction of the indigenous Yaqui people to this displacement resulted in the Diaz regime violently relocating them to the Yucatan Peninsula. Workers in the urban centers also felt oppression as a result of the Diaz regimes foreign policy. In 1907 a strike at the Rio Blanco Textile factory led to mass riots, the execution of six leaders and one hundred dead strikers. The collective oppression that the Mexican masses felt from land displacement, labor exploitation, foreign control of natural resources, and political exclusion resulted in the Mexican Revolution.
was an upper class landowner and lawyer from the state of Coahuila. The Madero family owned a million and a half acres in cotton, lumber, rubber, cattle and mines. Their business in mining and smelting competed with the American Smelting and Refining Company owned by the Guggenheims. Frustrated with political exclusion from Mexico City and unprecedented foreign investment, Madero opportunistically capitalized on peasant unrest due to land dispossession and began to organize a presidential campaign around the original goals of the constitution of 1857.
Diaz, feeling threatened by Madero’s increasing popularity, put him under house arrest. Madero fled to San Antonio Texas, where he wrote the Plan de San Luis Potosi, a call to arms for all sectors of Mexican society to begin an armed Revolution against the Porfirio Diaz regime. The Plan de San Luis Potosi set November 20, 1910 as the starting point for the Mexican revolution.
Francisco “Pancho” Villa
A revolutionary general from northern Mexico, he commanded the largest regiment of troops during the Mexican Revolution. He is most known in the Southwest for eluding a United States punitive expedition led by General John Pershing. The U.S. pursued Villa after he and his men crossed the border and raided Columbus, New Mexico in 1916 in retaliation for U.S. intervention into the war. Francisca Baca, along with many, gave him food and watered his horses when he passed through her family’s land. This is one the most highly reproduced photographs of Mexican history.
An early and decisive battle fought during the Mexican Revolution was at the Juarez-El Paso border. On May 8, 1911 revolutionary forces led by Francisco Madero, Pasual Orozco and Francisco “Pancho” Villa confronted Federal troops in Juarez. Madero, fearful that the fighting would spill over to El Paso, called for a retreat of his troops. Villa and Orozco’s forces, already in position to attack Federal troops, disregarded the order. The battle that ensued resulted in the surrender of Colonel Juan J. Navarro and his troops.
During the battle spectators from El Paso made there way to the tops of buildings and railroad cars to witness the fighting. After the battle was over, seventeen people were either killed or wounded due to ricocheted bullets.
A revolutionary general from southern Mexico, he led the peasantry of Morelos in the fight for agrarian reform. Zapata is responsible for presenting the Plan de Ayala at the Convention of Aguascalientes in 1914. This plan later became the basis for agrarian reform institutionalized through the Mexican Constitution of 1917.
Led by Zapata, the peasant forces of southern Mexico, who were collectively referred to as “Zapatistas,” succeeded in occupying the Mexican capital in 1915. In Mexico City the Zapatistas were met by Francisco Villa and his forces of the north. This historic moment of the Mexican revolution marked the only meeting of Zapata and Villa, the two most famous generals of the war.
often burned and dynamited trains in Chihuahua and throughout the Mexican Southwest. Train riders were sent home when rebels robbed the trains. Family legend has it that Teodoro Baca walked home in his long-johns, robbed of everything except for money he had hidden in another passenger’s baby’s diaper. Teodoro had been on his way to get provisions–meanwhile, Francisca Baca, at home, was also robbed of everything except some money she hid in a water vase. It is with that money that the two went North.
Juarez-El Paso Border
Like thousands of other Mexicans, the Bacas came north believing that Juarez would provide safe haven for the duration of the war. The Juarez-El Paso region had the largest population on the U.S.-Mexico border in 1910 (114,280). The geographic and political distance from the Mexican capital enabled revolutionary leaders to lay the ideological foundations of the revolution, amass popular support, and stockpile arms without persecution from the Diaz regime.
Juarez, however, did not provide refuge from the war. When the Baca’s arrived they came face to face with the fighting at the border and were forced to cross into the United States, ultimately settling in Colorado.
A decade of civil war took it’s toll on all of Mexico, especially the children. Families were torn apart, leaving the survivors with the task of rebuilding a nation. All that was left was the promise of a better future and the hope of realizing the ideals of the Revolution.