The Party of Gunfire

Should we wish to compare some of the figures of the Revolution with the cartel bosses of today we would find certain similarities. The first one that comes to mind is Pancho Villa who, if he were with us today, might well be a drug dealer. Likewise, the killing of 300 prisoners by the sadistic Villista Rodolfo Fierro – until his trigger finger tired after so much killing – described in the “Festival of Gunfire”, by Martin Luis Guzman, included in “Memories of Pancho Villa”, could well be compared to the massacres occurring now in Chihuahua, territory of the Centaur of the North.

It raises some questions: are the most pitiless revolutionaries of back then the ancestors of the heartless hired assassins of today? Or is it that, as in the times of Zapata and Villa, the history of Mexico is the history of betrayal and violence is as Mexican as the tortilla? Is it possible to clean up the images of dubious eminences with official acts and expensive spectacles? What kind of social justice is the government talking about when it talks about social justice one hundred years after corruption has made a social revolution antisocial? Are not the Tarahumaras dying of hunger and cold in the mountains of Chihuahua just as they were dying of hunger and cold in the age of the great estates? Ever since Zapata uttered his resounding: “It is better to die standing than live a whole life on ones knees”, has not the Mexican lived kneeling before corrupt politicians, corrupt businessmen and criminals with corrupted souls?

Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula was born June 5, 1879 in Durango and assassinated in Hidalgo del Parral on July 20, 1923. After shooting the landowner Agustin Lopez Negrete in defense of his twelve year old sister Martina, he escaped to the mountains. There he joined a gang of bandits which attacked towns and robbed banks. In 1910 he joined the Maderista movement and by setting up the Division del Norte became General Francisco Villa, the one the landowner Luis Terrazas would complain about, saying it was financed by looting his property. The Centaur of the North who battled not only Carranza and Alvaro Obregon, but also the Creel Terrazas family, and had the vision to refuse to refuse the presidential chair when he entered Mexico City with Emiliano Zapata, the Caudillo of the North is still admired by the people for being the only rebel who dared to invade the United States, when on March 9, 1916, about 1500 men from his army attacked Columbus, New Mexico. The 10,000 soldiers sent by President Woodrow Wilson in the punitive expedition under the command of General Pershing (commander of United States forces during World War One), penetrated some 600 kilometers into Mexican territory in pursuit of, but not finding him. Villa inspired the cheerful corridos that have been sung and listened to in plazas and on the radio ever since in Mexican towns, including my own, Contepec, Michoacan.

To refresh our memory of the roguish Pancho Villa, who, it is said, was legally married 75 times, there are photographs of the brothers Casasola, revolutionary corridos, oral accounts and the books “Insurgent Mexico” by John Reed, the already mentioned “Memories of Pancho Villa” and “Pancho Villa” by Frederich Katz. Uncomfortably situated in the official history, this guerilla without a cause would, if he were alive today, be celebrated in the narco ballads of Los Tigre del Norte.

Following the actions of the latest presidents of the republic which show a willingness to nullify the achievements of the Mexican Revolution, some analysts believe they have seen the twisted mustaches of Porfirio Diaz emerging from the revolutionary mustache of Emiliano Zapata. Is this why, in the show Yo Mexico, presented by the Department of Public Education, the personages of Zapata and Villa are practically invisible? Is it necessary to spend so much money on ephemeral images instead of using it in the schools to educate the badly educated Mexican children, or to train the young ninis (those who neither work nor study) so that they do not get into drug dealing?

The words that Emiliano Zapata said to the President of the Republic in the National Palace were very clear: “No, Senor Madero, I did not take up arms to conquer lands and haciendas. I took up arms so that what was stolen from the people of Morelos be returned to them. Therefore, Senor Madero, either you comply with what you promised me, us, the State of Morelos, or you, I, the State of Morelos are screwed….” Where has the Mexican Revolution come to after one hundred years of looting and false promises? We know where the corrupt people and the presidents are, but not where the Zapatas are.

Here is my poem,


They turned him into a street
They made him into a monument
They turned him into a postcard
A political speech
A sugar refinery
They turned him into a mustache
A cowboy suit
He sees nothing
Hears nothing

Eyes to See Otherwise.


translated from the Spanish by Jeremy Greenwood.