Rebellion and Revolution: Mexico
Mexico Revolts 1700-1910
In Mexico from 1700 to 1900, the rural peoples showed an unparalleled defiance. Historians have recorded around 142 village revolts and rebellions between the years 1700 and 1820. And scarcely a year passed from 1810 to 1920 without some kind of rural uprising. The Mexican countryside had more rebellion during those two centuries than any other part of the hemisphere.
Why did people revolt? Much of the resistance centered on local grievances. Small farmers, sharecroppers, and the indigenous protested unfair taxes and issues surrounding concentration of ownership of the land in a few hands. Land became the central issue of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 as haciendas kept taking over the land of small farmers and villagers.
Sometimes these local revolts became regional rebellions through the development of alliances with other sectors of the population. There were also caste wars in which the indigenous population fought to expel white authorities. The Yaquis in Sonora and the Maya in the Yucatan were never decisively defeated during the nineteenth century. The indigenous population, nearly wiped out by disease, recovered by the eighteenth century. As their numbers grew, so did their ability to carry out successful resistance campaigns.
The revolt in the Yucatan of the Mayans led by Jacinto Canek was quickly put down but long remembered. The Mayan people have a strong sense of continuity with their past. They pass on their oral history from generation to generation. Their history became alive ninety years later as a new, more successful revolt called the War of the Castes raged for fifty years. Their rallying cry was “Jacinto Canek.”
The Yaquis formed the dominate thread of rebellion at times took the form of armed struggle, and at other times was a cultural resistance that found nonviolent ways to defend the culture, identity and way of life of the people. The Yaquis were able to remain separate while also partially integrating their economy into the larger Mexican society. This feat was central to their lengthy survival.
In 1740, the Yaquis revolted against the paternalism and exploitative labor practices of the Jesuit mission. The Yaquis’ grievances were put forward by El Muni, their new leader. In 1736, the priests had El Muni arrested, provoking an outcry and spontaneous demonstration by two thousand Yaquis.
By 1740, many Yaquis were going hungry because the Jesuits had sent out of the territory surplus grains which the Yaquis raided granaries which they thought were theirs anyway. The rebels never killed any priests and generally left the mission property unharmed.
During the nineteenth century, the Yaquis were in almost continual revolt. They opposed white colonization and the dividing of their communal lands into individual plots. They first appealed through legal channels. When that failed, they relied on armed struggle.
By 1873, a new leader, Cajeme, had arisen who emphasized Yaqui self-sufficiency and autonomy and who initiated a cultural awakening through the recreation of traditional festivals and ceremonies, and the reactivation of councils as a democratic form of government. The Yaquis were, at this point, a state within a state, which the Mexican government could not tolerate. A new cycle of attacks against them began.
By the end of the nineteenth century, their resistance took the form of guerrilla bands under their new leader Tetabiate. The Yaquis were more dispersed geographically, but they formed communities in exile that financially supported the guerrilla war.
Mexican president Diaz reacted by deporting Yaquis to distant parts of Mexico. When the revolution of 1910 broke out, the Yaquis joined the revolutionary forces of Pancho Villa and Alvaro Obregon.
In the 1930s the government of Lazaro Cardenas created a zona indigena (reserve) which included most of the traditional Yaqui land which they were able to hold in common. New treaties in the 1950s integrated the Yaquis into the large Mexican state through the building of large dams that forced them into export and large-scale agriculture.