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<< Back to Ringside Seat to a Revolution

Ringside Seat to a Revolution

The Monitor

Most people know that to really uncover a city, one must find the places where the locals hang out and dig up the legends and tales that make each city what it is. David Dorado Romo has done just that with the West Texas city of El Paso.

Romo was inspired by a group of Frenchmen who tried to document the various aspects and ambiences of Paris during the 1950s. Their goal was “to use their emotional vibes emitted by their city to create a revolution.” Lucky for Romo, El Paso and Ciudad Juarez had already witnessed a revolution at the beginning of the 20th century, one of the most volatile times in Mexican history.

Romo’s tour guide is Pancho Villa. Everywhere Villa went in El Paso and Juarez he left his mark, from the hotels he stayed at during his American exile in 1913 to the houses in which he hid his mistresses. Romo is determined to follow all the tracks. Along the way, the author uncovered much of Villa’s tastes in music (“El Corrido de Tierra Blanca”), food (canned asparagus and peanut brittle) and drink (a teetotaler, Villa preferred strawberry soda pop to tequila).

Not surprising then, Villa is everywhere in Romo’s book. If we can take the title’s reference to a boxing match, then Villa is the ring announcer, but the camera is on the crowd. Romo is most interested in how the Mexican Revolution was seen by those residents that official histories often have considered peripheral to the main events: musicians, filmmakers, female bullfighters, anarchists, poets, spies, pool hustlers, radical feminists and arms smugglers.

Of course there are the revolutionaries themselves. John Reed, the author of 10 Days That Shook the World and the subject of the Academy Award—winning movie Reds, spent time in El Paso during this time and described it as “the Supreme Lodge of the Ancient Order of Conspirators of the World. The personnel changes from year to year; but its purpose is always the same—to destroy the existing government of Mexico.”

Romo believes the border city experienced a cultural renaissance born out of conflict. He’s determined to place his hometown in the American history books, which focus on Anglo gunslingers and Texas Rangers getting all the good lines and Mexicans relegated to cameo roles.

Romo takes a literary approach to his book, one that focuses more on “mysterious and the poetic than the schematic.” Part archaeologist and full-time prospector looking for the uncovered gold mines, Romo went far and wide across the Americas to dig up any and all the information on the revolution. Backed by a grant from the Fideicomiso-Rockefeller Foundation out of Mexico City, Romo took time off from his job as artistic director of the Bridge Center for Contemporary Art to research the book. The photographs, diaries, advertisements, and maps included go far and beyond the profile of these two cities published before. An amateur picture of Halley’s Comet streaking across the night sky on May 16, 1910 appears almost surreal on the pages as the author explains the phenomenon was celebrated in several corridos as the first portent of the Mexican Revolution.

Romo’s book reads like its own shooting star for all those interested in this fascinating time period.

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