Here is a test for history buffs.
Flesh out these Midwest references to the Mexican Revolution: Pancho Villa, Kansas City railroad magnate Arthur Stilwell, Mother Jones, Leavenworth prison and Girard, Kan. Each has a significant connection to the revolution, which is being celebrated throughout Mexico for its centennial.
The revolution encompassed many elements, from foreign capital, national sovereignty, land rights, a ruling elite class versus the agrarian peasants and unionization. Literally, it is the stuff of dissertations. Yet the Midwest’s heavy influence is largely unrecognized.
A panel discussion tonight will go a long way toward adding much needed perspective. “Viva La Revolucion: 1910 Mexico in Retrospect,” starts at 6 p.m. at the Kansas City Central Library.
Jacob Prado, the Mexican consul in Kansas City; Julian Zugazagoitia, director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Mike Haverty, executive chairman of Kansas City Southern; and historian Fred Whitehead will speak.
Attend to learn more, but here is a brief synopsis of a few pertinent characters:
Ricardo Flores Magón’s newspaper Regeneracion was banned in Mexico by President Porfirio Diaz and its presses were seized. Flores and his brother fled to St. Louis, where they continued to produce the paper, considered instrumental in building support for the revolution. The railroad was used to smuggle the paper into Mexico for distribution.
Eventually Flores was jailed under an espionage act and died at Leavenworth’s federal penitentiary. And yet another influential publication was published in Girard, Kan., called Appeal to Reason.
Arthur Stilwell, founder of what became Kansas City Southern, dreamed of building a transcontinental railroad through Mexico and was among the many foreign investors Diaz courted. He also hired Pancho Villa as a contractor. A 1928 Kansas City Times article about Stilwell’s memoirs said Villa “wrecked” a Mexican silver mine where Stilwell was president. “Stilwell never invited Villa to his private car because he was so rough and dirty. So Villa got revenge,” the account reads.
Also, union organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones lived in Kansas City and supported strikes at Mexican copper mines.
Whitehead theorizes that the history is little-known in part because later generations distanced from the heavy tones of socialism and anarchy. It’s an interesting sidelight, given the penchant today for people to label as “socialist” policies and attitudes that bear no relationship to true socialism.
But if past relationships between the U.S. and Mexico were better understood, opinions on present issues might benefit from the added insight. Too often, that’s a critical missing element.