By Dr. Alvaro Ramírez

THE STRANGE LEGACY OF EMILIANO ZAPATA IN THE USA. This year, there will be many events throughout Mexico commemorating the one hundred anniversary of the death of Emiliano Zapata. Government officials at every level will try to squeeze out of them as much political juice as possible to solidify their legitimacy among their followers.

One hundred anniversary of the death of Emiliano Zapata.

Behind this political façade, there is a reality that few people will bring up and discuss during these days of remembrance. I’ll put it bluntly: if we drop the myth surrounding the general and examine Zapata’s legacy, I’m not sure there is much to crow about.

Every time I come across the general’s name, I remember the slogans associated with him such as:

“Land and liberty”

“The land belongs to those who work it with their hands”

“It’s better to die standing than to live on your knees.”

Zapata and “campesinos” in the United States

Consecuently, for a long time those words used to make me proud to be the son of a “campesino” (farmer) from Michoacán, it was like listening to the Gospel at Sunday mass. Then, my family migrated to the United States. At the time we made this move, I didn’t understand why it was happening, but later as a student in an American university far from my hometown in Michoacán, I began to put two and two together. It didn’t take me long to begin losing my revolutionary religion.

I came to realize that the much-touted land reform based on Zapata’s Plan de Ayala, was a dismal failure. As early as the 1950s, lots of farmers figured there was not much of a future in the fields of Mexico so they exchanged them for the fields of California where ironically they ended up working on their knees on lands that didn’t belong to them. By the 1970s there was a “campesino” exodus, and in the 1980s many took the final plunge and made El Norte their home.

The “campesinos” living in the United States continued to work the “ejido” (communal lands) they in absentia,with the idea they would eventually return after retiring. Well, they began to retire and not many made their way back to the “ejido.” In time, they passed the right to use the lands on to one of their sons, many of whom became embroiled in lawsuits filed by their siblings who wanted a piece of land on which they barely if ever worked.

Statue of Emiliano Zapata, Hacienda de Chinameca, Morelos. Photo: Álvaro Ramírez

Mean of Zapata’s dead

I wonder what Zapata’s death means to these Mexicans living in the U.S., who fight their brothers and sisters for the right to work a small parcel of land, thousands of miles away, that is not too productive and from which their parents ran away. I doubt they have the revolutionary hero in mind. After spending most of their lives in the U.S. their connection to the Revolution is tenuous at best.

What is more, their children, who will inherit the right to the “ejido” in the near future, will be even further removed from the Revolution, its heroes and land reform. To most of them, Zapata is only a distorted image they see on a mural decorating a wall of a Mexican market in the United States.

A slightly different version of this postcard titled, “A Not-So-Heroic Legacy of Emiliano Zapata in The USA,” was published in Cultura Colectiva, a Mexican online magazine, on the anniversary of the assassination of Zapata, April 10, 2019.

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