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Interview with the great grandson of Emiliano Zapata- the Mexican revolutionary hero (Part 1)

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By Milli Legrain

Photo credits: Emiliano Zapata Foundation

Edgard C. Zapata was one of the guests of honor at the third annual  congress hosted by National Latino Farmers and Ranchers. He told us about the role  his great-grandfather – Emiliano Zapata – played in  Mexico’s land struggles, the shared identity between farmworkers on both sides of the border, and the need for Mexico to listen to those who work the land.

How is the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Congress going for you so far?

I am very excited to attend this third national congress of Latino farmers here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is a whole experience to listen to the leaders who gather here, knowing that we are from the same land and have a shared identity. We share affection for our roots, but also for the countryside. As my grandfather Don Mateo used to say, we have in common that The countryside is the kitchen of the city.

My experience of this organization has been a great one and I appreciate the clarity of its vision. I appreciate how it wants to guide small and medium producers towards greater productivity and for the resources to reach them directly so that they can work towards a successful harvest. 

What are you taking back with you to Mexico?

These conversations are also needed in Mexico. We need government support but the support of organizations like the one that honored me by inviting me to their national congress to exchange ideas is also important.

We have to be inclusive in our public policies – in this case in agriculture – to meet the country’s needs. Let’s have that discussion. Farmworkers and farmers know about the needs of their community.

And I’m touched that this congress has referred to Mexican history, to the campesino [or peasant] revolution led by Villa, Zapata and Madero, the great protagonists of our history. By doing so you have placed the revolution in its global context. It has been a great discussion.

And now we must ask: What is missing? What are the next steps? And I would like for the leaders of National Latino Farmers and Ranchers to accept an invitation from the Zapata Foundation to visit Mexico in Cuautla, Morelos next year. 

This congress has taken us back many years. What was Emiliano Zapata’s legacy to Mexico?

In 1910, leader Francisco I. Madero issued the Plan of San Luis which was a call to arms for the people of Mexico to overthrow the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz and make a democratic change in our country.

In the south-central region of Mexico there was a lot of inequality because the Spaniards established there over the years had built sugar plantations. Faced with the need for mass production of sugar cane, the haciendas stripped the southern peoples of their property and water. The Mexican people therefore led a revolution on November 20, 1910 due to the lack of political and social opportunity. 

In Article 3, the Plan of San Luis said that after the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz was overthrown, the peasants would have their land returned to them immediately. 

With that in mind, the men and women of south-central Mexico initiated a peasant revolution in the sugarcane fields of Morelos. And it was in those towns, in Anenecuilco, State of Morelos, that  General Emiliano Zapata was born. And he saw – in the face of so much inequality – the need to return lands, mountains and waters to the people. 

But Madero failed to implement the San Luis Plan. So in 1911, feeling betrayed by Madero, the Zapatistas called for another uprising to vindicate the ideals of 1910. As a result, 1911 to 1919 were years of tireless struggle to demand the restitution of their lands from the different governments that were established in Mexico City.

In 1919 Zapata was assassinated. He has since become a symbol that all Mexican governments have tried to manipulate.

What distinguishes Emiliano Zapata is that he introduced the social element into this revolution that was initially political. For Madero the priority was regime change. Social needs came later.

This army of campesinos lacked arms and many other things. But, even though the Zapatistas lost the war, the Zapatista ideal of land restitution was embodied in the 1917 constitution because the mobilized crowds demanded it. Therefore, Article 27 cites the people’s right to land, forests and water. 

I think that was the great legacy of the campesino revolution to Mexico.

Let’s talk about Mexico today: Have the ideals of Emiliano Zapata been met? 

In life, unfortunately not. But after his  death on April 10, 1919, the governments that were established after the revolution – from 1920 to date – had to take another look at the needs of the campesinos and indigenous people, but  this time backed by policies.

The government of Lázaro Cárdenas emerged in the thirties and there the Ejidos [cooperatives] are created by presidential mandate. And there the government emanating from the revolution, gives them the land, but on one condition: that they vote, that they become a political clientele for the party that was being created: the Mexican Revolutionary Party (PRI), which for years became the dominant party that is still in force in Mexico today.

But I believe that Zapatismo is still present in both the campesino communities and in the struggle for their rights because General Zapata – after his assassination– became a symbol of dignity and struggle. 

Zapata in the post-revolution and still today has influenced social movements that continue to demand that long-awaited social justice. The demands for justice, the social demands, the demands for security and equality are still alive today.

I think what has distinguished Mexico is the dignity of its people. Thanks to its people, the country has not fallen, because thanks to society it has won its rights, inspired by that historical context. Thanks to the Mexican people, who have fought – no longer in a revolution – but in a revolution of consciousness, for equality of rights for both men and women, for support to rural communities, for security and for food sovereignty.

I believe that over the years the issue of food sovereignty has served the governments that  stemmed from the revolution as well as more recent ones, but  only in rhetoric, because they have not fully addressed the agrarian problem. The result is that indigenous peoples and peasants in Mexico can no longer support their families by working the land due to lack of resources, institutional disinterest and corruption. 

This explains the phenomenon of migration to the United States and the abandoned land. But this land was the legacy of the revolution. That is why what I am witnessing at this third agricultural congress of National Latino Farmers and Ranchers, our efforts to organize and unite are so important, because leaving everything to the government is not healthy. Because the great changes in society have always come from those at the bottom.

That is why Emiliano Zapata’s thinking is still relevant today. There he is, drawing attention to the wounds of society in my country. Zapata is a symbol of social justice. 

END PART ONE – Stay tuned for the second part of this interview to be published soon

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