Zapata’s Legacy

What on earth does Emiliano Zapata, a leader of the 1917 Mexican Revolution, have to do with illegal immigration in the United States today?

Alvaro Vargas Llosa has a fascinating take on the social forces driving poor Mexicans to the United States in search of work. He tells the tale through the eyes of Emiliano Zapata, a poor landless laborer who is the grandson of the famous revolutionary. The original Zapata fought for redistribution of land to Mexico’s peasants, but the reform was corrupted by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Writes Llosa:

What has been the consequence of a century of collectivization of the land? In the 1990s, when trade policies became more liberal, Mexico’s rural population found itself caught up in an extremely inefficient system that was undercapitalized, making it very difficult for Mexican peasants to compete with the outside world. When the government finally allowed the villagers to sell the ejidos, something they had been prevented from doing since 1917, many of them put their land on the market and left for Mexico’s cities. When the urban areas did not offer improved conditions, they migrated to the United States. “If my grandfather came back,” ponders Emiliano, “he would die of sadness.”

And such are the ways that the histories of foreign lands intertwine with ours. There’s no escaping it, it’s one world, baby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia.)

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12 responses to “Zapata’s Legacy”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Recommend T.R. Fehernbach’s History of Mexico: Fire and Blood.

    At almost every juncture after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs the wrong decisions have been made that caused the suffering of millions of people for generation after generation.

    Demographics are destiny. But, ideas motivate humans. An individuals matter – in changing the ideas and, thus, the demographics.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Jim Bacon,
    This sounds interesting and could do much to explain curent politics. Too bad you don’t have much more detail.

    PS: Earth to Bowden. What’s the point in Spanish-bashing? What are you? Anti-Catholic? By the way, the Virginia Colony and Jamestown weren’t exactly roaring successes despite what the Anglo-Protestant history writers and myth-makers say.

    BR 549

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    One more point to Bowden,

    You blame the choices of Spanish colonizers for the woes of millions and millions of people thereafter in Mexico.

    Same could be said of our English colonizers in Virginia. They brought us slavery which has been a curse for the U.S. for centuries affecting millions., And, they started the genocide of the Native-Americans, affecting millions for centuries.


  4. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Anon: Please switch to de-caf. You read way too much into what I wrote.

    Everywhere in the world – key people made terrible decisions… in the U.S. the year 1861 jumps to mind. In Europe 1914 is nice marker.

    My point, which I picked up from the book – and others are welcomed to dispute – is that at decision after decision key people (Only at the start were they Spanish – after that they were Mexican) made the wrong choice when an array of choices were available.

    I don’t blame that on the Liberal trinity of race, class or gender(s) nor do I expand it to religion for blame as you suggest.

    Individual persons made decisions. The decisions mattered.

    Relax. Take a deep breath.

    Now, if you don’t want to stay cool, here is a thought about your comment about genocide against the Amer-Indians…

    Do you wish the Indians could have been successful in the genocide of the English colonists? Wouldn’t that have made a better world and America and Virginia if the Indians had just wiped out those nasty, protestant, Englsh, white people in 1622 or 1641(date?)?

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    oh oh… did I just hear someone whisper…. “Guns Germs, & Steel” ?


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Bowden to Earth,
    Yes, I see your point. Mexico’s PRI does have a lot to answer for.

    As far as genocide against the English. I say, “Why Not?” I refer to you the Johhny Horton rockabilly song, “The Battle of New Orleans.”

    “We fired once more and the British kept a coming….”

    As a military guy you obviously understand that we fought TWO wars with the redcoats. They are the only country ever to burn our beloved capital. Only one war with Mexico, though.

    So, if the Native Amerians had wiped the Brits out early, they could have saved us a bunch of trouble.

    Great ideas, Jim.

    BR 549

  7. NoVA Scout Avatar

    The term “genocide” loses meaning if it is applied to the concept of the native inhabitants of Virginia wiping out 150 trespassing Brit bounders and hangers-on. If Powhatan and his boys decided to attack the problem at its source, got in their dugouts and went over to the Sceptr’d Isle and hunted down every boiled beef-eating, gin-drinking man, woman and child, that would be genocide.

  8. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Nova Scout: The massacres involved women, men and children being murdered.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Gee, I can think of a lot of Anglo-inspired massacres against Natives. I’d give you a list, but I’d eat up too much space. Maybe, as a former Army oficer, you could review the record of the 7th Cavalry.

    Please get back to us, soonest. Thanks.


  10. NoVA Scout Avatar

    Yep, JAB. That’s why they called them “massacres.” Some massacres can be genocidal. But if Chief Powhatan and his ICE team decided to take a tough line on unauthorized entrants, that’s not the same as “genocide.” My recollection, however hazy, is that Native Americans could be pretty tough on outsiders regardless of their race. If, on the other hand, they decided to exterminate an entire ethnic group because of its ethnicity, that’s genocide. “Genocide” is one of those words that we should take pains not to depreciate by imprecise usage.

  11. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    NoVa Scout: So when Powhatan eliminated the Piankitank Tribe in 1608 – utterly – that was genocide and the attacks on the English were just massacres?

  12. NoVA Scout Avatar

    I think you’ve got it, JAB, although I don’t know enough about Powhatan’s motivation to speak definitively on the subject. From what you tell us, it sounds like the Chief was intent on eliminating the Piankitanks as a people.

    BTW, I assume that the word “just” in this context, was intended to convey the meaning “merely”, as opposed to something implying “justice.”

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