Writing Pancho Villa's Revolution: Rebels in the Literary Imagination of Mexico

Writing Pancho Villa's Revolution: Rebels in the Literary Imagination of Mexico

Writing Pancho Villa's Revolution: Rebels in the Literary Imagination of Mexico

Writing Pancho Villa's Revolution: Rebels in the Literary Imagination of Mexico

Synopsis

The 1910 Mexican Revolution saw Francisco "Pancho" Villa grow from social bandit to famed revolutionary leader. Although his rise to national prominence was short-lived, he and his followers (the villistas) inspired deep feelings of pride and power amongst the rural poor. After the Revolution (and Villa' ultimate defeat and death), the new ruling elite, resentful of his enormous popularity, marginalized and discounted him and his followers as uncivilized savages. Hence, it was in the realm of culture rather than politics that his true legacy would be debated and shaped. Mexican literature following the Revolution created an enduring image of Villa and his followers. Writing Pancho Villa' Revolution focuses on the novels, chronicles, and testimonials written from 1925 to 1940 that narrated Villa' grassroots insurgency and celebrated-or condemned-his charismatic leadership. By focusing on works by urban writers Mariano Azuela (Los de abajo) and Martén Luis Guzmán (El águila y la serpiente), as well as works closer to the violent tradition of northern Mexican frontier life by Nellie Campobello (Cartucho), Celia Herrera (Villa ante la historia), and Rafael F. Muñoz (¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa!), this book examines the alternative views of the revolution and of the villistas. Max Parra studies how these works articulate different and at times competing views about class and the cultural "otherness" of the rebellious masses. This unique revisionist study of the villista novel also offers a deeper look into the process of how a nation' collective identity is formed.

Excerpt

On March 6, 1913, Francisco Villa and eight followers crossed the border into Mexico from El Paso, Texas, with the aim of overthrowing the dictatorship of Gen. Victoriano Huerta. They had nine rifles and nine horses, “500 cartridges per man, two pounds of coffee, two pounds of sugar, one pound of salt.” By the end of that year, Villa's forces had swelled to several thousand well-equipped men. the former social bandit was now chief commander of a loose coalition of revolutionary forces known as the Division of the North and controlled most of the state of Chihuahua. Six months later, Villa's Division of the North crushed the federal army in the city of Zacatecas, in central Mexico. After a brief truce with competing revolutionary factions from other regions, Villa and his army continued their advance south, unopposed, to Mexico City.

The impressive rise of the Villistas from a grassroots movement to the undisputed masters of the country in the period 1913–1914 is a military phenomenon still being unraveled and debated by historians. There is general agreement that no other revolutionary mobilization in Mexico had “the popular intensity and mass following” of Villismo, nor did any other arouse such feelings of pride and power among the rural poor. the unmistakable message of Villa's military success was that the years of living in fear were over. the time had come to take by force what rightfully belonged to the historically disenfranchised. This had a profoundly liberating impact on the psychology of the downtrodden. the rural masses' bold acts of social transgression, unimaginable a few years earlier, became commonplace.

The change in popular mentality stunned the wealthy landowners and the “decent people, ” those who “dressed well, were rich, and were not too dark.” the colonial structures of Mexican society, still in place even after a century of independence from Spain, were shaken to the core. Arturo Warman summarizes the new social reality: “The ethnic barrier . . .

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