November 20 Parade Celebrates Pancho Villa & Mexican Revolution


November 20 Parade Celebrates Pancho Villa & Mexican Revolution

Tara A. Spears

Aniversario de la Revolución (Revolution Day) is one of five Mexican national holidays that are established by law. The national holidays mandate that federal offices, banks, and schools are closed besides many other businesses. The importance of this day is that it commemorates the start of the 1911 Mexican Revolution against the long-term dictator, Porfirio Diaz. One of the notable leaders of the 1911 uprising is the folk hero, Pancho Villa.rev2

Like so many military leaders who are later criticized for their actions, was Pancho a criminal or a complex individual with lofty ideals? History can only list the lifeless facts, not present the soul and charisma of the man that thousands rallied around to change the government of Mexico. Was Villa just a bad-ass dude or a Robin Hood that wanted to help his fellow countrymen; you decide.

The facts show that the Mexican Revolution took place from 1910 to 1920. It was a “constitutionalist war”, basically a fight between the have’s and the have not’s. Pretty much everyone has heard of its most famous hero, Pancho Villa. Without Villa’s fighting there would not be a holiday a hundred years later.rev3

Born in 1877 with a different name, Doroteo Arango, Villa came from a poor family in north central Mexico. At age 16 he killed the man who raped his sister and had to flee for his life. When he became a fugitive he changed his name to Francisco “Pancho” Villa to elude the law. He worked a series of manual labor jobs throughout northern Mexico until about 1899 when he tried an easier way to get money, robbing banks.

In order to avoid capture, Pancho Villa took off with his group of bandit followers into the Sierra Mountains of central Mexico in 1900. Over the next decade he became a legendary hero-a Robin Hood to the poor in his country, robbing the rich and sharing with the hungry masses-all the while skillfully evading the government’s troops.

On November 20, 1910, the war to overthrow General Porfirio Díaz officially began when Francisco Madero escaped from prison in San Luis Potosí and declared the electoral process in Mexico invalid. General Díaz had been in power since 1876. During Diaz’s rule of 34 years, Mexico’s political stability had improved. Its economy had grown. New industries were established, railroads were built and foreign investment increased. Yet, none of this business expansion made any difference in the lives of the vast majority of Mexicans. Peasants and laborers, they were poorer than ever. They were also seriously fed up with their government.                  rev5

Thus, soon after Francisco I. Madero’s declaration of war, Pancho Villa led his men down from the hills to join the revolutionary forces. By joining the rebel forces against the dictator, Villa transitioned from bandito to revolucionario. The charismatic Pancho was able to recruit an army of thousands, including a substantial number of Americans, some of whom were made captains in Pancho’s División del Norte.

Madero’s forces were successful. Díaz was overthrown and Madero elected president of Mexico in 1911. However, Madero was soon captured and assassinated by one of his own generals-a traitor named Victoriano Huerta. Following Madero’s short-lived victory and assassination, Villa remained in command of his División del Norte army in resistance, along with Coahuila’s Venustiano Carranza and Sonora’s Alvaro Obregon. Together these three common men fought in 1913-14 against the Huerta dictatorship. About this time, Villa also became a folk hero north of the border, in the United States.


In true Robin Hood style, Villa broke up the vast land holdings of local hacendados and parceled the land out to the widows and orphans of his fallen soldiers. (This concept of everyone entitled to land ownership formed the basis of the present day ejido system.) Rather than use the government’s despised peso, Pancho Villa produced his own money, and any merchant who refused to accept this “new” currency faced the risk of being shot. Executions, often ordered on a whim, weren’t often carried out by Pancho himself. Instead, they were carried out by his friend Rodolfo Fierro, (far left in photo) best known by his nickname El Carnicero, or The Butcher. It seems that Pancho just couldn’t live by non-violent rules.

The United States government working with the Huerto dictatorship, sent two “punitive expeditions” into Mexico in 1916 and 1919 that failed to capture and conquer the “Villistas.” Because of the constant pressure of evading the government, Pancho worked out a deal. The Mexican government accepted Villa’s surrender and retired him on a general’s salary to Canutillo, Durango. Pancho Villa was assassinated near there in 1923.

Pancho Villa is remembered with pride and respect by most people in Mexico. He led the most important military campaigns of the constitutionalist revolution. Since Villa’s death, many statues have been erected in his honor across the country, and most villages and towns dress up as Pancho for parades on November 20. Don’t miss out on sharing the Mexican pride: watch the Revolution Parade that begins around 9:00 am on Sunday, La Penita’s main avenida.

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¡Viva Mexico! ¡Viva la Revolución! Long live Mexico! Long live the revolution!