My great-granduncle Aureliano Muñiz, whose identification card appears on this page, was a veteran of the Mexican Revolution, which began November 20, 1910, and concluded 10 years later.
He and thousands of men fought to defend (voluntarily or by force) what they thought would bring a better life for them and their families.
But there is another story related to the revolution in my family, the story of my great grandfather, Miguel López, who refused to join the revolutionary army and dodged recruitment by hiding in a barn when the forces of Pancho Villa came to his ranch to “invite” any fighting-age men they found to join the cause.
For years, the fact that my great grandfather did not want to join the revolution intrigued me, and it was not until recently that I understood his motives. Even though he was a poor farmer, he was neither starving nor desperate. He simply did not agree with the principles of the revolution.
In Mexico we tend to look at this period of history through rose-colored glasses. The rich and powerful villains, the brave heroes that emerged from the underprivileged class, and a happy ending where good triumphs over evil.
Just imagine it — thousands of poor peasants, tired of the aristocratic regime of President Porfirio Díaz, left behind everything, took their horses and rusty rifles and enrolled in the people’s army of Pancho Villa and Francisco Madero to fight to the death for democracy and justice.
We romanticize the revolutionary movement to the point that we rarely put any thought into the devastation and debacle caused by it and God forbid we talk about the period of stability and progress Mexico was going through before the revolution interrupted it.
In his book The Awakening of a Nation, American journalist Charles Fletcher Lummins describes pre-revolution Mexico as a modern nation with a fast pace of development:
“Its transportation facilities are practically as good as those of our western states, and the investment is far more profitable. It is netted with telegraph lines (with the cheapest tariffs in America), dotted with post offices, schools, costly buildings for public business and public beneficence.”
His 1898 description of Mexico, like many other studies, differs greatly from the picture of devastation portrayed by the revolutionaries as the cause of their fight.
“Don Porfirio” received a deeply troubled Mexico when he took power in 1876 and transformed it into a modern nation.
Since its independence in 1821, Mexico had had 52 different presidents, emperors and other heads of state. The country was economically devastated from multiple invasions and wars with the world’s superpowers (Spain, France and the United States) and was submerged in a financial crisis.
During Don Porfirio’s 35-year rule (1876-1911), Mexico experienced a period of economic growth and peace never seen before. For the first time in its history, foreign and national investors perceived Mexico as stable, and investments flourished in the mining industry, textiles and agriculture.
During his term significant infrastructure investments were made, railroads to the main ports and borders were built (some of them are still in use), public finances were cleaned up and public safety was recovered.
Public services like education, telegraphs and the postal service reached most of the Mexican territory, and public universities were founded in the biggest cities including the national university (UNAM) in Mexico City.
Don Porfirio was not a champion of democracy by any means; he managed to stay in power in a quasi-king status for more than 30 years. He created a modern state without a modern democracy and his indifference to the growing inequality problem triggered the Mexican Revolution.
His biggest mistake was not understanding that Mexico had changed and its citizens were now demanding transparency and democracy.
Edmund Burke once said that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it but I would add to that quote that those who don’t know the true history are doomed to poison the truth.
This year we celebrate the 107th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. It is about time we make peace with it. We need to see the Mexican Revolution as what it really was, a war with no winners.
The revolutionaries and their good intentions started a reactionary war that evolved into an anarchy, stopped the progress and modernization that Porfirio had started and killed millions of Mexicans.
Don Porfirio and his egocentrism deprived Mexico of the transition that could have made Mexico a world power.
Before stepping down as president, Porfirio Díaz said: “Madero has unleashed a tiger, now let’s see if he can tame it.”
Alvaro Amador Muniz hails from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, is an honorary Tennessean and an avid basketball player currently living in Mexico City. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Revolutionary fighter Muñiz, great granduncle of the author.