…dead? Well, yes, but not really.
Today is the 90th anniversary of the death of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata. Assassinated on April 10, 1919, the leader who fought for Mexico’s agrarian poor ceased breathing on this day, but he hardly stopped living. He remains perhaps the most powerful symbol of the rights of the the poor to their land, and to the right to earn a living from that land.
While he most famous declared “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,” his ideas extended beyond the masculinist rhetoric of war. His “Plan de Ayala” served as his movement’s revolutionary blueprint. It read, in part:
In virtue of the fact that the immense majority of Mexican pueblos and citizens are owners of no more than the land they walk on, suffering the horrors of poverty without being able to improve their social condition in any way or to dedicate themselves to Industry or Agriculture, because lands, timber, and water are monopolized in a few hands, for this cause there will be expropriated the third part of those monopolies from the powerful proprietors of them, with prior indemnization, in order that the pueblos and citizens of Mexico may obtain ejidos, colonies, and foundations for pueblos, or fields for sowing or laboring, and the Mexicans’ lack of prosperity and well-being may improve in all and for all.
With the motto ¡Tierra y Libertad! (Land and Freedom!), Zapata remains a powerful force in the present-day indigenous movement which derives their name from his as well as countless other endeavors representing the rights of the poor. In times like these, heroes like him are invaluable.
So, while the man died on this day, his legend is another thing altogether.
To learn more about Zapata, check out John Womack’s now famous book on the man and his life, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution.