On June 6, the Zinn Education Project hosted author Kelly Lytle Hernández in conversation with historian Nancy Raquel Mirabal to talk about the magonistas, a group of insurgents who challenged Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz and U.S. imperialism in the early 20th century.
Followers of Mexican anarchist and activist Ricardo Flores Magón, the magonistas and their revolutionary actions play a significant part not only in the Mexican Revolution, but also in the creation of the present-day U.S. police state and corresponding immigration and incarceration policies. Lytle Hernández and Mirabal held a lively conversation connecting these daring Mexican rebels to the labor struggle and the Black Freedom Struggle in the United States.
Here are a few reactions from participants:
What a wonderful topic! I so appreciate your connecting more necessary dots as we work to dispel harmful myths and reveal a more authentic American history.
I loved her discussion of the role of women in the movement. But also talking about: the founding of the FBI with the magonistas in 1908; the movement plans to give land to Black Americans and Indigenous communities; relating all this history to the carceral state today; referencing Du Bois’ “Global Color Line”. . . and . . . AND — she is a wonderful storyteller!!! Ain’t nothin’ better than someone who loves this history, knows this history, understands the interconnections, AND can tell it through wonderful stories. I forgot I was hungry. And that’s sayin’ a-lot!
Your expertise has fed me. The light you shine on the Mexican movement has brought me a sense of power, pride, and ganas! It is an honor to be in this space listening to your knowledge.
I will be thinking for a while about the phrase you said more than once: “When you tell the story of [a particular history] from that moment. . .” This will help me to think about what moments I am using in teaching — how can I help students better understand the subtext of U.S. history as it is told in our textbooks, as it is framed as a “story.” I wish I could take a class from you! Thank you!
Your work inspires and motivates me (and many other young scholars) to keep fighting and strive to bring to light and challenge the inequities we see in our communities.
Here are some main points of the session from the tweet thread by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca, high school teacher and Zinn Education Project team member.
The magonistas “were poor men & women, mostly miners, farmworkers & cotton pickers, many of them displaced from Mexico when President Díaz gave their land to foreign investors. They wanted their land back & they were willing to fight for it…Díaz dubbed them, ‘malos Mexicanos.’” https://t.co/JMs6f6DhRc pic.twitter.com/6ecohn1EHV
— Ursula Wolfe-Rocca (@LadyOfSardines) June 6, 2022
But Hernández says the title was also meant as a nod to our recent president’s use of a similar (“bad hombres”) rhetoric today. Finally, it also captures the defiance of the rebels — they never apologized for their militancy, for their “badness.”
— Ursula Wolfe-Rocca (@LadyOfSardines) June 6, 2022
When Ricardo Flores Magón is arrested & jailed, it is women who carry on the struggle. His partner María Talavera Broussé used to ask the jail to launder her man’s clothes — what she was actually doing was sewing revolutionary communication into the seams of his clothes.
— Ursula Wolfe-Rocca (@LadyOfSardines) June 7, 2022
Here are many of the lessons, books, articles, videos, and more recommended by the presenters and also by participants.
Lessons and Curricula
U.S. Mexico War: “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God” by Bill Bigelow (lesson)
Deportations on Trial: Mexican Americans During the Great Depression by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca (lesson)
The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration by Bill Bigelow (teaching guide)
In addition to Kelly Lytle Hernández’s Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands, the following books were referenced:
Still Dreaming / Seguimos soñando by Claudia Guadalupe Martínez, illustrated by Magdalena Mora, and translated by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite (Children’s Book Press)
An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz (Beacon Press)
City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles by Kelly Lytle Hernández (University of North Carolina Press)
Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez (Penguin Group)
Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol by Kelly Lytle Hernández (University of California Press)
“Revolutionary Women of Texas and Mexico: Portraits of Soldaderas, Saints, and Subversives” edited by Kathy Sosa, Ellen Riojas Clark and Jennifer Speed (Maverick Books)
Related Articles and Podcast
““The Díaz Administration Is a Den of Thieves.” Political Activism in Turn-of-the-Century Mexico” by Kelly Lytle Hernández (Literary Hub)
“Downplaying Deportations: How Textbooks Hide the Mass Expulsion of Mexican Americans During the Great Depression” by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca (Zinn Education Project)
“The Legacy of “Juan Crow” Lynching In Texas” by Énoa Gibson (Truth Be Told)
“Katha Pollitt on How to Protect Abortion Rights and Kelly Lytle Hernandez on Bad Mexicans” from The Nation podcast Start Making Sense
This Day In History
May 5: Rethinking Cinco de Mayo
Sept. 14, 1911: El Primer Congreso Mexicanista Convenes in Laredo
Jan. 28, 1917: The Bath Riots
July 12, 1917: The Bisbee Deportation
Jan. 28, 1918: Porvenir Massacre
Feb. 26, 1931: La Placita Raid
Jan. 31, 1938: Emma Tenayuca Leads Pecan Sheller Strike
Listen to an interview with Lytle Hernández about Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands on Democracy Now!
What was the most important thing (story, idea) you learned today?
Another example of people — magonistas — not just lying down and allowing abuse. There are thousands of stories of rebellion. They have to be taught. I also love the inclusion of women in these stories. It is important that everyone sees themselves in stories of resistance against oppressive systems.
So many historical and political connections! Such passion! This turned out to be one of my favorite sessions. Prof. Hernandez is an amazing person — historian, teacher, speaker, organizer, inspiration. Her creative and clear analysis — ‘white settler state,’ Juan Crow, etc. — and wonderful stories at the end about women in the movement. Terrific.
Although I know about the Mexican Revolution, the magonistas were completely new to me and it reminded me that there is always a precursor to a revolution/rebellion and needs to be studied.
The minimization of Mexican American history and the deep connection between movements against white supremacy.
Learning about Ricardo Flores Magón and Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza, and about the IWW in the Southwest.
That Black Americans often followed international revolutionary movements — since these movements provided different frameworks that could be used in their fight for freedom.
The link between Black Americans and Mexicans/Mexican Americans looking to each other as inspiration; Juan Crow which is not covered in U.S. history textbooks as it should be.
How this history IS also American History and deserves to be taught as part of the “canon.”
How badass Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza was!!! And also sitting with a lot of gratitude for revolutionaries of all times and experiences. The threads that Dr. Lytle Hernández’s conversation sparked particularly for me and the parallels of the Haitian Revolution is inspiring.
The connection between the labor movements in the U.S. and in Mexico. The power of a shared story to spark a revolution.
The history of rebellion and resistance is American history, especially as it relates to white settler colonialism in the American west. Additionally, how mass incarceration and State and Federal law enforcement (the FBI) was shaped by the magonistas.
What will you do with what you learned?
I can use it in my high school American History classes. It compares to the current (and radical) Liberation Theology Movement in Mexico, Central, and South America, which seems to be on the same continuum of redistributing land, money, and resources to IP and other marginalized peoples.
Bad Mexicans will be a choice for book clubs in my Modern U.S. History class.
I’m completely rethinking my unit on the Mexican Revolution! My course is two-year, and I will begin by drawing connections/parallels between Jim and Juan Crow.
Incorporate it into my new Black & Latino Studies course I’ll be teaching in the Fall!
[I will] include more stories of cross-racial solidarity in my teaching.
To focus on the organizations; the putting on the pedestal of leaders is always a poor tactic as through the prism of today they appeared flawed. However the organizations and the solidarity are real lessons about what our students can do today.
At a school of 60% Latinx and 35% Black American students, I see this as an opportunity to share the significance of their stories as being overlapped and integral to each other.
I intend to encourage my middle school cohort to make a play about Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza!
Include the “rebel history” of those that impact American history and challenge the white manifest destiny narrative.
Kelly Lytle Hernández holds the Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair in History and directs the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. A 2019 MacArthur fellow, she is the author of Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands, Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol and City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles.
Nancy Raquel Mirabal is associate professor of American Studies and the Director of the U.S. Latina/o Studies Program at the University of Maryland, College Park and a board member of Teaching for Change. Mirabal is the author of Suspect Freedoms: The Racial and Sexual Politics of Cubanidad in New York, 1823-1957; first editor of Technofuturos: Critical Interventions in Latina/o Studies and co-editor of Keywords for Latina/o Studies.