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Ringside Seat to a Revolution

El Paso Times - Leon Metz

A friend was kind enough to give me a copy of a just-released book titled Ringside Seat to a Revolution by El Pasoan David Romo. It is an oversized soft-cover item of 293 pages filled with Mexican revolutionary history and photos, published by Cinco Puntos Press.

Roughly one-third of this history is consumed by an excellent series of black-and-white photograph originals, plus a few cartoons, posters, diagrams, bibliography, notes, index, and so forth. The overall focus is on the 1911 first Battle of Juárez, the author justifiably looking forward to the upcoming 100th anniversary of this commencement of the Mexican Revolution. The book has a secondary title of “An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juárez: 1893-1923.” Thus this secondary title is essentially the book’s core, as the primary subject isn’t so much a history of fighting as it is of the underground activities in and around El Paso and Juárez, what went on and who was involved.

Romo divides his book into sections, such as the Prologue, “A Psychogeography of Two Cities;” “Journalists, Radicals and A Saint;” “The Revolution as Spectacle;” “A City Divided;” “Dying on the Border;” and “A Walking Tour of Mexican Revolutionary Sites in El Paso and Juárez.” Thus, this First Battle of Juárez (which is what the book “essentially” covers) moves back and forth in all of its many and fascinating aspects and elements.

In a chapter titles “The Mayor’s Silk Underwear,” Romo ridicules former El Paso Mayor Tom Lea, who took a tough stance during the Revolution. Romo found it difficult to let go of this subject, and thus the mayor’s alleged silk underwear becomes the implied foundation for the municipal crackdowns by the Lea administration on El Paso-based revolutionaries. But that’s but a brief item.

One of Romo’s best chapters—and are all good—include a piece titled “Musicians,” a specific reference to corridos, popular folk songs celebrating battles and heroes. These songs remain favorites by all classes even today. The author notes that Pancho Villa, upon capturing Juárez in 1915, had a federal officers shot and common soldiers imprisoned, but he spared the band, later forcing it to parade through the streets playing national tunes. But Romo also states that regardless of who controlled a particular town, bands always marched in the streets to reassure the citizenry that the government (or the rebels) had everything under control.

In an interesting chapter titled “A Racial Geography of El Paso,” the author notes that President Wilson in 1916 ordered a special census to determine El Paso’s racial composition. The subsequent count broke down as “Persons of Mexican Descent, 32,737, Whites (other than Mexican), 27,359; Negroes 1,514; Chinese 243; Japanese 41; Indians 5; Mexican refugees 6,554, and White Refugees 482.”

Overall, Romo seems to have touched the revolution locally in all its various and relevant aspects. Other than the layout of the El Paso-Juárez walking tour, the book ends with the last Battle of Juárez in January 1919. This is as fine a local primer on the early Mexican Revolution as we will likely ever read. Romo touches all the local and across-the-river bases.
- Leon Metz, 

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