Conquest and colonial exploitation
Nuño Beltrán de Guzman marched through this area in the early 1540s, he slaughtered or enslaved whatever indigenous people he encountered. In the earliest stages of this invasion, the native people were terrified of the Spanish horses and guns. However, these were not the civilised, city-dwelling, indigenous people of the Valley of Mexico whom the Spanish conquered in only a few years. The inhabitants of north-central Mexico's semi-desert highland plateau were fierce, hardy, and independent. These were the fearsome Chichimecs whose warriors had plagued the Aztecs and other civilised pre-hispanic cultures for centuries. They would not easily accept the steel Spanish boot on their necks. Incessant Chichimec attacks forced the Spanish to move the location of Guadalajara at least 4 times before it was settled in its current location. On the upper right, a priest extends a protective hand over the back of a native. Here, Barra demonstrates the ambiguous role of the Church in the conquest. On the one hand, there were notable examples of priests who attempted to protect the indigenous people from the worst abuses. On the other hand, the Church itself materially benefitted from the exploitation and forced labor of the native populations.
great age of murals grew out of the 1910 Revolution and its aftermath. The country's new leaders wanted to educate the largely illiterate population about the history of Mexico and the values of the Revolution. To help this process, they recruited great artists like Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and others to paint large murals inside public buildings all over Mexico.
The mine owners began to recruit from the villages, often as forced labor under the encomienda system. When the encomienda system was abolished during the indigenous population crash of the 17th Century, wage labor was employed to lure workers to the area. The hours were long and the work and treatment were brutal. Tools were primitive and accidents frequent. A miner would enter the dark tunnels before sunrise and emerge only after dark. Once he began at the mines, a typical indigenous worker's life was short and he often never saw daylight again.
social spectrum in colonial society. The Spaniards shown are probably peninsulares, also known as gachupines. They were residents of New Spain but were born in Old Spain. Next down the scale were the criollos, Spaniards born in New World. They could amass wealth through mines, commerce, or hacienda ownership but the top--and very lucrative--official positions were all occupied by peninsulares. Next, came the mestizos, who were of mixed Spanish and indigenous blood. Legend has it that the very first of these was the illegitimate child of Hernán Cortéz and his indigenous mistress known as La Malinche. The overwhelming majority of Mexicans today are mestizos. Below the mestizos were the native people, who in many cases were little better than slaves but did have limited protection through laws and sympathetic priests. Finally, there were the Africans--outright slaves--imported during the indigenous population crash of the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Independence, turmoil, and more oppression
Agustin de Iturbe changed sides. Together, he and insurgent commander Vicente Guerrero declared Mexico's independence. Spain had little choice but to withdraw. Iturbe was an opportunist, however, like so many others in Mexico's turbulent history. He made himself Emperor of Mexico but only occupied that post for eight months before the outraged insurgents ousted him and declared a republic. From then until 1867, Mexico experienced one revolt or foreign invasion after another. The opportunists had a field day. Chief among these was Antonio López de Santa Ana, who can be seen decked out in gold braid in the upper left. He was a politician/general who saw himself as the Napoleon of the West. He is remembered in the US as the victor in the Battle of the Alamo, and in Mexico as the man who lost half of its territory. The instability produced weakness which led to two catastrophic foreign invasions. The first was by the United States. Many in the US, including Congressmen Abraham Lincoln, recognised the war as naked aggression. US forces seized Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and California. The US had previously annexed Texas, which had been seized by US settlers who defied Mexico's ban on slavery. Internal instability continued with the Reform War between Conservatives and Liberals. When the Conservatives lost to the forces of the Liberal Benito Juarez (upper right, just under the flames), they encouraged the French to invade. Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian was installed by the French as Mexico's second Emperor (see the man with the flowing blonde beard in the upper center). When Benito Juarez finally drove the French out--with the material assistance of President Abraham Lincoln--he began the first period of sustained, stable, and honest government since the beginning of the War of Independence. No opportunist, Juarez is honored everywhere in Mexico as a true patriot.
Porfirio Diaz. During the Reform War and the later French Occupation, General Diaz had won numerous victories. Following the departure of the French and the re-establishment of the Republic, he turned out to be another of Mexico's many opportunists. After leading an unsuccessful revolt against Juarez, Diaz was exiled for a time. However, after Juarez died in office, Diaz re-emerged politically. In May 1877, he was elected President of Mexico. Diaz held that post, either directly or through proxies for 35 years. During this period, known as the Porfirato, he maintained power through rigged elections, secret police repression, and the bribing or assassination of opponents. The last was referred to as a choice between silver or lead. Notice the turmoil behind the top hats. One banner proclaims "Huelga!" (strike). Throughout the Porfirato there were revolts by campesinos and strikes by workers, usually put down with great brutality.
José Guadalupe Posada. He portrayed Mexico's nouveau riche as catrinas--skeletons elegantly dressed in the latest French finery. Posada was born and raised in Aguascalientes and his work is displayed in a local museum that I will show in a later posting. Catrina figures, and endless variations on their theme, are still wildly popular throughout Mexico. While the wealthy partied, the steam in that kettle began to whistle.
General Victoriano Huerta points a gun at the heads of Madero and Piño Suarez as other officers brandish knives. Francisco Madero ran against Diaz in the 1910 presidential election, while Piño Suarez ran for Governor of Yucatan. Both were arrested but escaped to the US. On November 20, 1910, they issued their Plan of San Luis Potosí. This called for widely popular land, labor, and election reforms. Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza, and many others answered the call. Diaz was quickly defeated and the old dictator resigned and sailed for France in May, 1911. Ironically, he would be the only top figure during the Revolution to die peacefully in bed. Madero and Piño Suarez were elected President and Vice President of Mexico. Though popular, Madero proved weak and a poor judge of character. He was an upper-class hacendado and, like many of the crillos during the Independence War, he wasn't really interested in the fundamental changes demanded by the workers and campesinos. Madero made the disastrous mistake of trusting Diaz' former generals. A group of them, led by Victoriano Huerta, conspired with US Ambassador Lane Wilson to stage a coup and set up a military dictatorship. During the coup, Madero and Piño Suarez were murdered in what became known as the Ten Tragic Days. Villa and Carranza joined with Zapata against Huerta. Zaparta was already in revolt because of Madero's failure to follow through on land reform.
Villa and Zapata possessed many similarities. Both grew up as poor country boys. Zapata lived on a small rancho and was an expert horse trainer. Even prior to Madero's 1910 proclamation, Zapata had begun to lead armed revolts against illegal land seizures in his native Morelos State. Villa grew up as a share-cropping campesino in Chihuahua far to the north. After a local hacendado raped his sister, Villa killed the man and rode off to the mountains to become a bandit. Both were close to the people and strongly supported land reform and an end to the hacienda system. Both were natural leaders beloved by their soldiers and, although lacking formal training, displayed great military ability. On the other hand, their personalities were quite different. Villa was ebullient and outgoing, while Zapata was intense and introspective. Of the two, Zapata had the most comprehensive and well-thought-out program of social reform called the Plan of Ayala, which he implemented even while the fighting continued. Villa seems to have been more of a "throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks" kind of guy. There is no doubt that they were the two foremost social revolutionaries in the struggle. They only met a few times and both came to tragic ends. Most in Mexico still consider them heroes.
Plaza de la Patria. Although each sent delegations, none of the top leaders personally attended except Álvaro Obregon. Jealousy and distrust among them were increasing.
This completes Part 3 of my Aguascalientes series. I hope you enjoyed these wonderful murals and the story they tell. Anyone who wants to respond should either leave their comment in the Comments section below or email me directly. If it says "no comments" at the bottom of the page, that means no one has yet commented. Just click on that and it will take you to the Comments page.
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Hasta luego, Jim