Written for young adults, Zapata, Mexican Rebel is a biography of one of the most popular revolutionary leaders of Mexico. While the chronology of events and the people involved are accurate, the author has not tried to be objective; his sympathies lie with the rebels and their struggle against the rich. Early in the book, Syme notes that, in 1900, 96 percent of the people in Mexico owned no land, while one thousand people “owned estates of up to six million acres.” Zapata and the rebels from the pueblos are depicted as justly fighting for their land—land that means their survival. Syme tells little about Zapata’s private life, other than that he was from a respected family, was good with horses, was married, and had one son. As a public figure, Zapata is described as a kind man to his friends and a dangerous foe to those who tried to cheat him. He was distrustful even of other revolutionary leaders. The exception was Francisco “Pancho” Villa, the popular and daring revolutionary leader of northern Mexico. Both are shown championing the rights of the poorest classes of Mexican people; both distrusted Mexico’s political leaders.
It is shown by the deeds of the various presidents of Mexico that they were not to be trusted. Díaz is said to have brought some progress to Mexico, but Syme describes him as ruthless. Francisco Madero, who was supported in his effort to unseat Díaz by the revolutionaries, was afraid to go against the wealthy and “lost his nerve” once in power....
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Zapata is one of the best-known names in twentieth century Mexican history. Popular with young readers on both sides of the Mexico-United States border, Zapata has become a romantic hero for the oppressed and a symbol of the righteous rebel. Found in many school libraries, Zapata, Mexican Rebel was written for young adults.
Syme has not tried to explain how each battle was fought during this twelve-year period of 1908 to 1920, nor has he elaborated on the personalities of the characters. By using a chronological narrative, the author has taken a complex time in Mexican history and made it accessible to his audience. Through Zapata, Mexican Rebel, Syme has successfully captured the nature of class conflict in Mexico. He has focused on Zapata, one of the men who have come to symbolize that continuing struggle. By leaving out Zapata’s personal life and concentrating on his leadership of the oppressed, Syme has not attempted to debunk Zapata as a symbol but rather has clarified that symbol. He has answered the question of what Emiliano Zapata did to be remembered. Zapata, Mexican Rebel is a valuable book for young adults who want to understand twentieth century Mexican history. For those who want to know more about Zapata and his place in history, the author has provided a limited bibliography.