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Revolution, Immigration and a Century of Impact on Both Sides of the Border
There is a faded, black-and-white photograph among a collection of images from Mexico during the turn of the 20th century that captures a child in military garb.
He looks to be no older than 10 years of age, and the rifle at his side is nearly as tall as he is. The dirt on his ill-fitting clothes, the small bandolier wrapped around his chest and the reticent look on his face under a wide-brimmed hat all suggest this child will be forced to grow up quickly.
Such is the price of war and freedom.
To celebrate the centennial of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the Department of History, the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies and the Center for Mexican American Studies collaborated on a series of exhibits and events leading up to the 45th Annual Walter Prescott Webb Lecture Series in early March. The groups partnered with several organizations on and off the University of Texas at Arlington campus - including the Mexican Consulate.
The goal of the exhibits and lecture series, said Dr. Sam Haynes, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, was to showcase the long-lasting impact of the Mexican Revolution and how it has shaped U.S. society today.
"Most of Americans don't know anything about it," Haynes said. "The Hispanic population in the U.S. is very small until 1910. And then it begins to escalate. More than a million people came across the border between 1910 and 1920."
The Mexican Revolution began in earnest as anger and unrest began to swell against then President Porfirio Diaz, a dictator who claimed control of the country for more than 30 years. Small groups of men took up arms against the corrupt government and fighting broke out throughout the entire nation. The era gave birth to iconic revolutionaries Francisco "Pancho" Villa and Emiliano Zapata and the fighting pushed whole villages of Mexican civilians north across the border.
"The Mexican Revolution was a major factor in creating massive migration to United States," said Dr. Robert Fairbanks, chair of the Department of History. "Dallas had few immigrants before the revolution. But in the late 1920s you have Little Mexico appear as a result of people fleeing."
Perhaps the pictures of that time offer the best insight into the emotion and uncertainty of a nation caught in civil unrest. Mexican photographer Agustín Víctor Casasola amassed a healthy collection of images from the revolution, showcasing the men, women and children caught up in the struggle. A sample of his photographs, part of the Casasola Archives that is housed at the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico, are included in the traveling exhibit (sponsored by the Mexican Consulate) that was on display at UT Arlington.
"The revolution set off a chain of events with highs and lows that resulted in continued U.S.-Mexican ties that include the migration of people for a century," said Dr. Susan Gonzalez Baker, Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Mexican American Studies. "Many of the photographs documented the beauty of Mexican life and people -- even in the face of this tumultuous time."
The photo exhibitions also included work from American photographer Robert Runyan. Runyan, from Brownsville, Texas, documented the forced Mexican migration, and showed the pressures the sudden influx of people put on local social services that, in 1913, were overwhelmed and scarce, Haynes said.
The impact of the Mexican Revolution can no doubt be felt in today's immigration debate. Fairbanks said the conversation was greatest during the question-and-answer period following a lecture by Dr. Linda Hall (University of New Mexico), who spoke about how the U.S. responded to the sudden surge of refugees. Haynes said talk quickly turned to present-day issues in Mexico.
"There was a lot of discussion between the audience and the speakers about the instability of the Mexican political system and social system today," he said. "Are the drug cartels, and their impact on society, in any way analogous to the kind of political and social instability that existed in 1910? That came up a lot."
But the plight of civil unrest and the hardship of millions were not the only topic on display. The Casasola exhibit also included photographs from the years following the Mexican Revolution - a period of great change, healing and growth.
"It's clear from the Casasola exhibit, that Mexican urban society changes very rapidly after the Revolution," Haynes. "By the 1920s, Mexico City has its own Jazz Age, just like they did in New York City. ... In a very short period of time, you get a sense of how quickly Mexico changes. It's basically an agrarian revolution, but immediately afterward you have this urbanization and the rise of this diverse cosmopolitan culture."
Haynes said the entire program was successful, citing not only the overwhelmingly positive feedback he received from students and community members but also the appreciation and favor from the Mexican government in allowing UT Arlington to be one of the few U.S. hosts of the Casasola Archives exhibit.
"We were more than pleased," said Adolfo Ayuso Audry, Consul of Mexico for Cultural and Economic Affairs at the Mexican Consulate in Dallas. "It was a great opportunity for the Mexican Cultural department to partner with the university, especially with so many Mexican students on campus. Students are one of our most important audiences. They're the future generation. We want to impact them now, and we trust that the images and events [like the Webb Lectures] will have a long-lasting effect."
Baker said she was pleased with the turnout and response, and is looking forward to future collaborative events with the Mexican Consulate. CMAS also hosted an April lecture event featuring Dr. Jorge Castaneda, former Foreign Minister of Mexico, in which the issue of migrants and immigrants took center stage. Baker said the coverage of Mexican history and issues by multiple departments has reflected well on UT Arlington and forged "a more elaborate relationship with Mexican Consulate."
In the end, organizers agreed the level of collaboration that spanned nations has raised the bar for future events.
"This went beyond norm," Fairbanks said. "We brought in talented speakers and made folks in the area aware of what we already know: that we're serious about creating and promoting events that can engage the community. The visuals that came with the sessions offered a powerful introduction to the revolution and post-revolutionary era. We brought in some of the best people in the western hemisphere and it was exciting to listen to them and interact with them. It re-emphasized our leading role in the [Dallas-Fort Worth] Metroplex as a foremost program."
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