Zapata, Mexican Rebel Analysis
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. When President Venustiano Carranza tried to escape Mexico and was assassinated, Syme notes that “few regretted the manner of his death.” Often, Syme masks his lack of objectivity by quoting Zapata: “Changing one president for another from the same stable will never achieve anything.” Of Francisco Carbajal, Zapata is quoted as saying, “Carbajal’s an old opossum who learned his tricks from Diaz. We’ll never get our ejidos returned as long as he’s in Mexico City.” Syme ends the book stating that, as of the 1970’s, little has changed for the Mexican poor and that Zapata is still a symbol of their independent spirit. This spirit is noted in a quote attributed to Zapata: “Men of the South! It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!”
The role of women in the revolution is mentioned briefly. Syme states that many wives lost husbands to the government forces and that some of these widows formed guerrilla bands of their own. Nowhere else does Syme indicate the importance of women in Mexican history of this time, nor does he elaborate on the suffering that this struggle imposed on family life. Little is told about Zapata’s wife other than that he was thirty-two when they were married and that, in 1915, they and their son Nicolás moved to a town in the heart of the countryside.
More is said about the United States’ involvement in Mexican politics. When Madero was established as the president of Mexico and then betrayed Zapata and those who had supported him, the president of the United States, William Howard Taft, refused to sell arms to the rebels but continued to supply arms to Madero. After Madero was assassinated and Victoriano Huerta established himself as the caretaker president of Mexico, Woodrow Wilson, who replaced Taft as the president of the United States, refused to recognize Huerta. Again Syme uses Zapata to mask his lack of objectivity. Zapata states that, while Americans are not welcome to interfere in the affairs of Mexico, “any Mexican president who isn’t on good terms with them doesn’t remain in power very long.”