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How the Mexican Revolution Forged a Friendship Between Mexico and Texas

General Pancho Villa with other Mexican generals and American troops in Mexico, circa 1910.
Image via Flickr/DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University (Public Domain)
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General Pancho Villa with other Mexican generals and American troops in Mexico, circa 1910.

From Texas Standard:

Big time Hollywood actors like Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Antonio Banderas, have immortalized some of the stories of the Mexican Revolution.As the story's been told for generations, the Mexican people were impoverished by the extravagant lifestyle of president Porfirio Diaz (no relation to yours truly) whose dream was to pave Mexico City in marble. Out of that circumstance, came a need for a "Robin Hood."

 

Matthew Butler, Historian and Mexico expert with the University of Texas at Austin, says it was in that environment that Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa became heroes. "The Mexican Revolution had a political aspect but also a social aspect, which those two figures embodied more than anybody else," Butler says.

This is the part of the story where Texas first played a role.

It was 1910 and for the first time someone had challenged the Diaz presidency. Francisco I. Madero ran for president and lost. He enraged Diaz so much that he knew his life was in danger.

Madero fled to San Antonio. There, he wrote a letter, historians say, that lit the fire that started the revolution.

Margarita Araiza is a historian in Webb County. She says, when the fight began many rich Mexican families took refuge in Texas – so many, in fact, that the social fiber of cities like Laredo were forever changed.

"This was always predominantly Hispanic and it still is," Araiza says. "Economically as well as politically; so, the power basis were always in the Hispanic families."

Their influence was such that they had chapters of Mexican political parties in cities all the way up to Central Texas.

Butler says even American journalists followed the troops of Villa and Zapata and wrote about the battles. One such journalist was John Reed. He wrote a book called  Insurgent Mexico – which turned a spotlight on Pancho Villa.

"[The book] presented him, not just as a popular hero, but as a figure with whom the U.S. could achieve an understanding," Butler says.

In Washington, some hoped Villa might become president.

American perceptions of Villa were very different from that of Mexicans. In Mexico, Villa was seen as a womanizer with trigger-happy fingers. In the 1972 film "Pancho Villa" actor Telly Savalas played the role of the controversial revolutionary who tried to gain the respect of U.S. politicians by filming his battles and embedding journalists in them. It was media savvy strategy critics might say the U.S. itself learned from.

The Mexican Revolution, like most revolutions, was a bloodbath that displaced millions of people – some of whom found refuge in Texas. A million people lost their lives in the conflict. Did it make things better? It depends who you ask. It certainly forged a friendship between Mexico and Texas that endures, and in a sense, continues today. The Lone Star state is a refuge for many as Mexico faces another violent episode in its history.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

David D. Brown is executive producer and host of the award-winning cultural journalism program Texas Music Matters at NPR affiliate KUT-FM in Austin. He is former anchor of the award-winning public radio business program Marketplace, and a veteran public radio journalist. He has reported national and international affairs for Monitor Radio from bases in Atlanta, Boston, London, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
David Brown
David entered radio journalism thanks to a love of storytelling, an obsession with news, and a desire to keep his hair long and play in rock bands. An inveterate political junkie with a passion for pop culture and the romance of radio, David has reported from bases in Washington, London, Los Angeles, and Boston for Monitor Radio and for NPR, and has anchored in-depth public radio documentaries from India, Brazil, and points across the United States and Europe. He is, perhaps, known most widely for his work as host of public radio's Marketplace. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to Texas full-time in 2005, Brown joined the staff of KUT, launching the award-winning cultural journalism unit "Texas Music Matters."
Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.