Christa Kelly, News Editor
Manuel Manrique Zapata, grandson of Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, was welcomed by Augsburg students as he visited Minneapolis to build community, share history and celebrate Dia de los Muertos. Zapata was hosted by the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship as part of Minneapolis’s effort to unite the city and Cuernacava, Mexico, as sister cities.
Zapata spoke to students and staff about his grandfather and the work that he did to liberate Mexican laborers from landowners. Emiliano Zapata, orphaned at seventeen, was long concerned about land ownership rights. At eighteen, he was arrested for protesting when an estate stole workers’ land. This fervor to protect people and property grew stronger, and by age thirty he had been elected president of the board of defense for the village he lived in. When negotiations failed to get back the stolen land, Zapata organized a group of villagers and took it back by force. This would be the start of a nearly decade long movement.
Zapata was popular among peasants and laborers, and seen as the voice of the people. He soon gained thousands of supporters, who became known as Zapatistas.
“People trusted him,” student Gabrielle Lewis recalled from the speaker’s presentation. “He was not a solitary revolutionary. He had a team of people supporting him and his cause.”
Zapata and his supporters became a strong and influential force. When dictator Porfirio Díaz won the 1910 election, Zapata took up arms to support Francisco Madero, Diaz’ former opponent who Diaz had jailed in fear of losing the election to him. His supporters managed to take the road to Mexico City by force, and within a week, Diaz had fled. Zapata implored Madero, the new president, to return the land that Diaz had stolen. When Madero refused, Zapata prepared for another revolution. He vowed to take back the country through guerilla warfare tactics, planning to appoint a provisional president until elections could be held, and to return the stolen land back to its rightful owners, while redistributing land owned by estates through agrarian commissions.
Eventually, Madero was assassinated and Zapata’s supporters joined with a portion of the army to fight the army of a moderate politician, Venustiano Carranza, that had risen up. After years of fighting, Zapata was lured to meeting under the guise of gaining new supporters. There he was assassinated.
But Zapata’s legacy lives on and continues to inspire others to fight for change. Lewis notes that “we still need heroes like him today.”
“He was a hero because he was an ordinary person,” Lewis said.
This article was originally published in the November 8, 2019 issue.