The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | E-books | Mexico | Beyond the Border

1: Beyond the Border

Notes and Acknowledgements for the Third Edition || 2: Cananea >>

    A Monday in October, 1990.  Perfectly sunny today, after the rains from the remnants of a tropical storm from the west, the day before.   A good day for seeing the sights in Mexico City’s historic center, from both the recent and the ancient past.

    Just paved, the Plaza de la Constitución, also informally called the Zócalo.   At its north, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the symbol of the religious authority of Spain.  Around the corner to the east, the symbol of its political authority, the Viceregal Palace, which became the National Palace when Mexico’s independence became complete in 1821.  natpal.jpg (40537 bytes) To the north of the Zócalo, the Templo Mayor, or Main Temple, of the Aztecs.  Destroyed by Spain and the enemies of the Aztecs in 1521, the ruins of the temple remained covered until they were accidentally unearthed in 1978.

            After walking across the Zócalo, I stood by the cathedral and admired its work.   Next, I went to the temple.   I marveled at the craftsmanship of the objects, as pots and jewelry, in the museum in the front of the complex.  Then, I took the walkway, which went around the rooms and buildings of the temple.

            I walked back to the National Palace.

            To the left of the entrance, there was a stairwell, going to the second floor.   A section of a mural, with a street scene from the beginning of the 20th century.  Stores, along with offices of British and American oil companies.  Derricks in the back of the offices of the oil companies.  The street was filled with people.  In the crowd was a man with bullets around his shoulder, holding a rifle in one hand, and a banner in the other.hidalgo.jpg (45754 bytes)

            The banner listed six events that led to the Mexican Revolution, according to Diego Rivera, the painter.   At the bottom was the miners’ strike in Cananea, Sonora in 1906.  Cananea, just 75 miles from Sierra Vista by road, no farther from Sierra Vista than Tucson.  In two days, I would start the journey of 1,600 miles to return to Sierra Vista from Mexico City.  What is on the other side of the border here?  What has made it what it is today?  What do we really know about the people there, who come across to shop in our stores and buy our products?    We came up with an acronym for our attempts to streamline commerce with them, NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, even before the agreement was finally approved in the United States and Mexico.

            Events happened in the towns south of the border here, that are important to the history of all of Mexico.   Since many of these events were so destructive, they are better recorded north of the border than in the towns themselves.   As they prepare for what people in Mexico’s conservative and centrist streams of politics hope will be quick and smooth going for NAFTA, their infrastructure has improved greatly.  Still, the towns are dealing with the events that happened in them years ago.

    In this writing, the towns across the border here are presented in the order when their most important historical events happened.  Cananea, with the strike of 1906, is first.  Next is Nacozari, where Jesús García sacrificed his own life to run a train with burning cars filled with dynamite out of town a year later.  Then, Nogales, where the defeat of the federal troops in an early part of the Mexican Revolution assured Alvaro Obregón the finances from customs revenues to seize Mexico City more than a year later.  Naco, where forces loyal to Pancho Villa faced troops loyal to Obregón and Plutarco Elías Calles for two and a half months in 1914 and 1915, is afterwards.   Next, Agua Prieta, where Pancho Villa opposed future Mexican presidents Calles and Lázaro Cárdenas in person later in 1915.  Finally, other towns in northeastern Sonora—Santa Ana, Magdalena, Imuris, Sásabe, Santa Cruz, Fronteras and Esqueda, Cumpas, Ures, and Arizpe.

sunpyrm.jpg (108501 bytes) The Pyramid of the Sun, just Northeast of  Mexico City. Just down the road, archaeologists were trying to find out more about who the builders were. They are sure that they lived from about 300 B.C. to A.D. 900.

    After Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, was destroyed, and Mexico City built on top of it, Mexico’s Spanish colonizers crushed everyone, enemies and friends of the Aztecs alike.   The highest officials of New Spain were always sent from the mother country.    After almost 300 years, people of European, native, and mixed descent born in Mexico took advantage of Spain’s problems with itself and with Napoleon in France to rebel.

    What if one event in history had happened differently?  Not the war for Texas independence in 1836, by which residents of eastern Albuquerque and Santa Fe have to remind their guests that they are in New Mexico in the U.S.A.   Not the war of 1846-48, called in most histories in Mexico the American Intervention, by which Los Angeles and San Francisco in California, Las Vegas and Reno in Nevada, Salt Lake City and my college town of Logan in Utah almost 1,000 miles north of Sierra Vista, Farmington and western Albuquerque in New Mexico, and Phoenix, Arizona are now in the United States instead of Mexico.   Not the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, by which Tucson, Sierra Vista, and most of the rest of southeastern Arizona are in Arizona rather than Sonora.   Not the Civil War in the United States or the French Intervention in Mexico, which occurred at the same time.  Not the Mexican Revolution of 1910, as large and tragic as the military action in it was.

    The area of the Louisiana Purchase belonged to Spain in 1800.  Spain then ceded it to France, its northern neighbor, in a vain attempt to appease Napoleon to stay out of the homeland.  Needing cash after he lost several battles to Britain in the West Indies, Napoleon sold the area to the United States three years later.

    What if Spain had kept the area, and Mexico assumed it when it completed removing Spain 21 years later?

    Where Colorado Springs and Denver, and Casper and Cheyenne, Wyoming are would have been in Mexico.   Great Falls and Billings, Montana.   Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota, and Rapid City and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska.  Minneapolis would have had a Spanish name, and it and St. Paul would have been international twin cities, as El Paso and Juarez are today.  Further down the Mississippi, Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa would have joined Moline and Rock Island, Illinois as Quad Cities in two countries.   Going south, St. Louis, and to the west, Kansas City, Missouri.  Little Rock, Ft. Smith, Hot Springs, and Hope, Arkansas.  Alexandria and Shreveport, Louisiana.  Moving north and west, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and Topeka and Wichita, Kansas.

    A history of popular music in Mexico describes singer Alberto Vázquez as an imitator of Elvis Presley.   If Mexico had kept the area just west of the Mississippi, would Alberto have built a mansion in Chatfield, Arkansas, just 10 miles of where Elvis built Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee?  Would Elvis have been considered an imitator of Alberto?  Would Elvis Presley, and Alberto Vázquez, even have existed at all?   In a recent history of popular music in Mexico, written in English, the American writer chose not to mention Alberto Vázquez, but he mentioned many others.  What other American, and Mexican, musical figures would have not existed, had Mexico been able to keep the area immediately west of the Mississippi now in the U.S.?

    Then again, if Spain had held the area, would Miguel Hidalgo have attempted to go to the United States in 1811 to get arms when he began to fail in his battles for Mexican independence, if he knew that he would have to go farther east than St. Louis or New Orleans?

     As it was, Hidalgo was captured, taken to the city of Chihuahua about 240 miles south of El Paso, and shot there.  After they removed Spain 10 years later, military leaders and politicians of all stripes fought over who would rule Mexico for 55 years.   The complete conquest of Mexico by the United States in 1846 and 1847 was made much quicker because many local warlords preferred anyone to Antonio López de Santa Anna, the most prominent commander of the time.  When Benito Juárez became president and stooped payment on debts owed by previous leaders to France in 1862, France tried to take over and rule through an emperor its forces brought with them, Maximilian.   As some say Hidalgo was trying to do eventually, Juárez returned from the north, and had Maximilian shot.

hemicy.jpg (53771 bytes)

The Juárez Hemicycle at the Alameda Park in Mexico City. In 1867, Benito Juárez finished removing Maximilian and France from Chapultepec Castle and Mexico. Juárez is one of Mexico's two biggest heroes, with Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico's hero of independence. The demonstrators were assembling as the "Pact Against Hunger" to march on the National Palace, 1 mile east.

    In 1876, Porfirio Díaz, a general from the southern state of Oaxaca, took over, and ruled for 35 years until Francisco Madero forced him out in the early days of the Revolution.  Most of Mexico’s railroads, ports, and mines were developed during this time.   Foreign developers could do anything they wanted, as long as Díaz and those he installed in power through all Mexico retained political control over their own domains.   American investment in Mexico soon outstripped investment from Mexicans themselves.

    Very little of this wealth got to the people.   Only one in six Mexicans could read and write.  Landowners broke up village lands in different ways around the country, took them over, and built up haciendas.   Villagers were left with debts to the landowners, and the army and the rural police force, the rurales, would forcibly return to these lands anyone who tried to escape.  There were continuous local rebellions.  Mayas from the southeast were deported to the mines in the southern part of the state of Sonora, and Yaquis from southern Sonora were deported in the opposite direction to work henequen plantations.

    It is estimated that 1.5 million, or one out of eight people in Mexico, were killed, or fled Mexico in the years of the Revolution from 1910 to 1920.  Had the Civil War happened on this scale in the United States, 4 million would have been killed or fled, instead of 600,000.

    Most of the national figures left in Mexico in 1920 came from Sonora—the state in Mexico opposite along the border to Arizona.  They were gradually removed in favor of figures from the area between Guadalajara, 1,200 miles south, and Mexico City.   Many less prominent leaders held areas as generals, or as labor or agricultural leaders.  The leaders formed the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, for two reasons—to try to make sense of what happened in the Revolution, especially from 1910 to 1920; and to compete politically instead of militarily for control of Mexico, as happened through 1935.

    Mexico is still reforming politically.  Governors of all of Mexico’s 31 states  belonged to the PRI, until candidates from the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, were awarded victories in Baja California Norte in 1989, and in Chihuahua in 1992.  The liberal Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, received many seats in both houses of the federal Congress in 1988, and the PAN got many more than it had.  There are many smaller political parties in Mexico.  Through the system of proportional representation, these parties were given seats in the Congress in 1988, and again in the midterm elections of 1991.   In 1993, Mexicans were given photo voter registration cards, in the hope of ending the charges of voter fraud of which all parties have accused each other of after every election.  In 1994 before the elections, the federal Senate was expanded, in the hope that there would be more members both from the PRI and its national opponents.  This July 2, 2000, Vicente Fox of the PAN was elected president. Fox took office on December 1 of this year. He is the grandson of an Irishman who came and started a ranch that raises chickens and ostriches as well as cattle near Leon, about 200 miles north of Mexico City in 1913, just after the Revolution started. Fox's grandfather was more successful there than Pancho Villa, who was there two years later. The PRI will still hold more offices in Mexico than any other party.

Notes and Acknowledgements for the Third Edition || 2: Cananea >>