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<< Back to Ringside Seat to a Revolution

Ringside Seat to a Revolution

RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities

El Paso's main role in the Mexican Revolution was as a center for arms smuggling and espionage. During this period, the battles of the Mexican Revolution were sometimes won and lost, not out in the field, but back in the streets of El Paso. Whether or not a faction was successful in getting arms across the border into Mexico through the major customs port of El Paso-Juárez often meant the difference between victory and defeat.

David Dorado Romo grew up in El Paso, didn't much care for it, tried to escape... to live anywhere but El Paso. "If you walk through downtown El Paso after 5 p. m., you'll find that the place is dead."

There's more action in Juárez. But it didn't appeal to me either. There was too much suffering there.

But it's not that you can't go home again; it's more that you can't ever get away from it. He returned, and started looking for Pancho Villa. And Francisco Madero. And Porfirio Diaz. And Venustiano Carranza. And the governors and generals and soldiers (male and female) who were part of that part of the Mexican Revolution that enveloped the city between 1911 and 1921. And the anarchists, spies, politicians, writers and photographers who came and went, along with the miracle workers (Teresite Urrea), radical journalists (John Reed), revolutionaries (Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón), arms smugglers and spies (Victor L. Ochoa) and generals (Pascual Orozco) who came for a long or short stay in the cities.

Romo could not get away from his hometown, and we should be grateful. He has collected a fine, fat book with more than 200 photographs and dozens of tidbits from El Paso-Juárez history.

For instance: that tourists flocked to El Paso to watch the various battles across the border. That Ochoa was not only a key element to the Revolution, but an inventor at the same time.
That Ricardo Flores Magón spent the last part of his life in a U. S. prison for opposing World War I. That the Mutual Film Company came to El Paso to make The Life of General Villa --- with its star under contract: Pancho Villa. That Zyklon B ---yes, that Zyklon B --- was used as a disinfectant for Mexicans who crossed the border into El Paso during the war.

What the U. S. didn't do was to protect the Mexicans --- and its own citizens --- against the influenza epidemic which caused so many deaths in both countries in 1918 and 1919. It started, apparently, in a military barracks in Lawrence, Kansas.

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