Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Revolution: Traversing 'Zapataland'

Morelos is the Tierra de Zapata.  Though now a world-wide icon, Zapata only rarely journeyed outside the boundaries of the second smallest state in the Republic. In a day one can visit the most important places in his life. Unfortunately, in the interest of time, it is best to go out of chronological order

When I take groups on a Zapata study trip, I like to start with the train station in Cuautla.  There you can see locomotive 279, of the kind famous for carrying Zapata and his army throughout Morelos.  Not only a means of transportation, moving trains often served as meeting places and temporary headquarters.  Similar trains were used by Pancho Villa and the northern armies.

In a plaza, a few blocks walk from the Cuautla train station, is a colossal statue of Zapata standing guard over his remains. It’s worth the walk as you pass through the heart of this well kept, but little visited city.  

The horse-whisperer of his day, Zapata trained horses and was friend and employee of Ignacio de la Torre, son-in-law of Porfirio Diaz.  After six months working for De la Torre in Mexico City, he returned to Morelos and trained horses at the Hacienda Cuautlixco, a few miles outside Cuautla and within view of Anenecuilco.  Now a huge burned out shell the ex-hacienda is still worth the effort to visit; I’ve found it a perfect place for a group picnic (and occasional siesta) under the trees.

There are a trio of Zapata museums found in Anenecuilco, Chinameca and Tlatizapan. My favorite of the three museums is that of Anenecuilco, a picture postcard town proud to be the birthplace of Mexico’s most well-known citizen.  On the grounds of the museum are the remains of the house in which Zapata was born, and to one side a stunning 20 meter mural depicting a somewhat mythologized version of Zapata’s life.  From its inception the museum has been the dream of Lucino Luna Dominguez, a passionate devotee of Zapata, who has dedicated himself to this project for many years. Since there are few photos of that epoch, Lucino contracted for a series of large paintings to visually tell the story of Zapata’s life, Hacienda life and the Revolution.  Several of these canvases are already in place each reflecting years of research and a great attention to accurately detailing the conditions of 1910-1919.

The museum itself is a small, nearly perfect space, containing numerous artifacts collected by the Director with the help of the Anenecuilco community.  Lucino once told me he only had to ask for these items for the people to proudly give up treasures that could easily have been auctioned in the open market.   

Our next stop, a short distance away by kilometers, but light years away in ambience, is Chinameca, the dismal town where Zapata was ambushed and assassinated. The site museum is currently being refurbished for the Centenario and hopefully, by the time you arrive, will reflect better on the town and its place in history however despised.  Despite its poor museum, the town is worth visiting if for no other reason than to see the bullet holes from the Zapata ambush still visible in the walls. 

Tlaltizapan, home of Zapata’s revolutionary headquarters is my recommended next stop.  The headquarters building itself is home to another excellent small museum.  Tlaltizapan is a beautiful little town and, like Anenecuilco, well worth a visit on its own merits.  Tlatizapan has a heroic revolutionary history, being famous for protecting Zapata from the federal army that, on August 13, 1916, massacred 250 men, women, children, and elderly who died at the hands of the army rather than reveal information that would lead to Zapata’s capture. 

If you choose to make this trip on your own, I strongly urge you to take John Womack’s Zapata with you.  It is memorable to read the pertinent sections while visiting the various sites.  If you prefer a guided field study, an excursion to “Zapataland” is one of my favorites and available with a 10 person minimum.  If you are interested in being on a list for this trip or getting a group together, please email me at the address below.

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