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Pancho Villa And Modern Mexico: Chihuahua Legislature Convenes In Ojinaga

Lorne Matalon

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Pancho Villa And Modern Mexico

Pancho Villa And Modern Mexico

An iconic image; Villa and southern rebel leader Emiliano Zapata, for whom the Zapatista rebels protesting NAFTA named themselves, in the Presidential Palace, Mexico City, Dec 6,1914 after driving the Constitutionalists from the capital. Zapata had no presidential aspirations and refused to sit in the the president's chair. Villa is in that chair and he likely harbored presidential aspirations but they were never realized. He was assassinated in 1923.

Friday, Jan. 10 marked the 100th anniversary of Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa's victory at the Battle of Ojinaga, a battle that helped change the course of modern Mexican history.

Iconic images of Villa that resonate even today in Mexico society were taken at that battle. Villa routed Mexican federal troops there and went on to spur the establishment of some of the basic constructs of modern Mexico like agrarian reform and compulsory education.

In death he remains a symbol of hope for many of a Mexico still longing to put his democratic ideals into practice.

The Governor of Chihuahua state, César Duarte, told the Fronteras Desk that Pancho Villa is an example of a brave citizen who fought for liberty and democracy in Mexico.

Ojinaga and Pancho Villa are linked forever by imagestaken by an American film company that have come to define both Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution.

In 1913, Villa, needing cash to finance his war, signed a deal with the Mutual Film Company to document his battles. Engagements were sometimes recreated for the cameras but recent evidence suggests he did not delay or postpone his attack to accomodate the filmakers.

To honor his memory, the Chihuahua State legislature convened Friday in Ojinaga, a stone’s throw from Presidio, Texas, where the troops that Villa routed sought refuge after the battle before the defeated soldiers escaped to Marfa, today a one hour drive away from the Mexican border.

Ojinaga Mayor Miguel Antonio Carreón Rohana says the celebration and the visits by senior politicians are focusing the eyes of all of Mexico on his border town.

“It’s very important to us that the governor be here and the Congress," he stated. "It's the first time in the life of our town."

Lorne Matalon

Chihuahua Governor César Horacio Duarte greets Congressional representative María Ávila before the start of a special session of the Chihuahua State legislature, Jan 10, 2014 at Ojinaga, Chihuahua. The session was held to honor the victory of Pancho Villa's revel forces against Mexican federal troops at the Battle of Ojinaga 100 years ago.

On the street, people seemed to relish the attention. A resident named Hector Rodriguez went further saying the towns of Ojinaga and its sister city of Presidio, Texas, have long been ignored by the powers that be in Mexico.

“It’s good for the city because a lot of people from parts of Chihuahua coming here and see what’s going on really, what this city is,” he explained.

Others were on the street were remembering a man who in death has become a national hero. Villa was assassinated in 1923.

Romina Gandera drove several hours from Chihuahua City to attend.

"There's a lot of corruption in Mexico," she said in Spanish. "And the people know it. We're still looking for a leader," she said explaining that Villa was just such a personality.

Gandera’s friend Roberto Salcero says Villa is as close to the father of modern Mexico as there is.

“It’s like where our story begins. So we born from there. We have to pass that information to the next generations.”

On March 9, 1916 between 500 and 600 Mexican rebels led by Pancho Villa crossed the border and attacked Columbus, New Mexico. The motivation is unclear but one theory suggests the attack was revenge against the U.S. President Wilson hurt Villa by allowing Mexican troops commanded by a rival to be moved by train through Texas and New Mexico to a campaign in Mexico. Whatever the motivation, he was lauded in Mexico for standing up to the superpower to the north.

Like many historical figures, Pancho Villa was not and is not universally loved. He was barbaric in the way he killed his prisoners of war.  And he had a less than stellar relationship with the women in his life. Late in his life he lamented the cruelty he was responsible for.

Nevertheless, his rout of federal troops and his defiance of the superpower to the north mark his place and this town’s place in Mexican history.