Revolution Day Is Coming!

How November 20 became the day we celebrate

Mexico’s Revolution Day is celebrated on November 20th, and marks the start date of what became the 10 year Mexican Revolution.

But what really started the revolution was a repressive era in Mexico’s history known as “El Porfiriato.” It was a period in the late 19th century dominated by General Porfirio Diaz, who became president of Mexico in 1876 and ruled almost continuously (with the exception of 1880 to 1884), until his forced resignation in 1911.

revolucion.JPGUnder Diaz’s administration, the constitution had been amended to allow unlimited presidential re-elections.  Díaz had originally challenged Benito Juárez on the platform of "no re-elections.” Although Díaz had publicly announced that he would not run in the 1910 election, setting off a flurry of political activity, he changed his mind and decided to run again at age 80.

The contested 1910 election was a key political event that contributed to the Mexican Revolution. As Díaz aged, the question of presidential succession became increasingly important. By the 1910 election, the Díaz regime had become highly authoritarian, and there were many sectors of Mexican society that opposed it.

Díaz's presidency was characterized by the promotion of industry and the development of infrastructure, which he did by opening the country to foreign investment. He believed opposition needed to be suppressed and order maintained to reassure foreign entrepreneurs that their investments were safe. The modernization and progress in cities came at the expense of the working class and the peasants.

Wealth, political power, and access to education were concentrated among a handful of elite, landholding families who were overwhelmingly of European and mixed descent. Known as “hacendados,” they controlled vast portions of the country by virtue of their huge estates. Most people in Mexico were landless peasants laboring on these estates, or industrial workers toiling for little more than slave wages.

A number of Mexicans began to organize in opposition to Díaz’s policies. In late 1910, revolutionary movements broke out in response to Francisco Madero's “Plan de San Luis Potosí,” a political document that asked the Mexican people to rise up in arms on Sunday, November 20, 1910, at 6:00 pm and revolt against Diaz and overthrow his government.

Madero's promises of land reform in Mexico inspired many peasants throughout Mexico. Spontaneous rebellions, in which ordinary farm laborers, miners and other working-class Mexicans, along with much of the country's population of Indigenous natives, fought Díaz's forces, with some success.

After all this, Madero became president even though he was an inexperienced politician who had never held office before. He was elected president in October 1911, following the exile of Porfirio Díaz in May 1911.

Madero fervently held his position that Mexico needed real democracy, which included regime change by valid election, a free press, and the right of laborers to organize and strike.

One of the leading figures in the Mexican Revolution was Emiliano Zapata, who is now considered one of the national heroes of Mexico. Towns, streets and housing developments named "Emiliano Zapata" are common across the country.

Opposed to the Díaz regime because of the loss of peasant lands to large haciendas, Zapata initially supported Madero, whose plan promised the return of such lands. When Madero did not carry through on his promise, Zapata rebelled against him. Zapata was killed in 1919, by General Jesus González and his aide, Coronel Jesus Guajardo, in an elaborate ambush.

Many peasants and indigenous Mexicans admired Zapata as a practical revolutionary, whose populist battle cry, "Tierra y Libertad" (Land and Liberty), was spelled out in a plan for land reform. He fought for the political and economic emancipation of the peasants in southern and central Mexico. 

And now you know, so you can shout out, Viva Mexico! like a local.