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By David Gaddis Smith
Tijuana celebrated the 100th anniversary of its ouster of mostly foreign rebel invaders last week with a ceremony that closed a portion of Boulevard Agua Caliente for several hours and with the opening of a museum exhibit on the 1911 defense of Tijuana.
The ceremony and exhibit opening got overshadowed, however, by media coverage of the killing of an apparent border crosser by a U.S. Border Patrol agent. The ceremony went on Page 2 of El Mexicano and Frontera newspapers, while the killing went on the front page of those papers and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The ceremony highlighted the ouster of foreigners, mostly Americans, from Tijuana on June 22, 1911. The force, in Baja California at the behest of Mexican socialist and anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón, had taken over Tijuana on May 9, 1911, at a cost of two dozen or more dead. The battles were two of many in the Mexican Revolution, but two of the few that took place in Baja California.
The monument honoring the defenders of Tijuana, which is located on a traffic island in the middle of the boulevard, had been in bad need of a paint job and other repairs. Also, most of the plaques honoring the defenders had been stolen, presumably to be melted down for scrap metal. Officials had new plaques made that were installed on a just-in-time-for-the-ceremony basis, and the monument and the wall along the street in front of where the old bullring used to be were painted in the previous week. A replacement plaque for the most-famous Mexican defender, Lt. Miguel Guerrero, (left) is still on its way; the monument had no mention of the Sonoran soldier whatsoever last week. That will change before the end of the year, however, said Sergio Vázquez Ruiz, a member of the committee to honor the centennial of the defense of Tijuana who also is president of the Tijuana Historical Society. Tijuana's oldest park is named after Guerrero. Guerrero was wounded on May 9, 1911, and taken across the border to the hospital at Fort Rosecrans, where he recovered. He later became a colonel known as the "Tijuana Tiger," but in 1915 died in a battle with forces loyal to Pancho Villa in San Miguel el Alto in Jalisco state. He and a number of those who died defending Tijuana or participated in the defense are buried at the monument.
Update, Sept. 13, 2012: Plaques apparently continue to be stolen, and are to be replaced with non-metal ones to discourage theft. Story, Frontera (PDF).
At left, students from the Miguel Guerrero school in Tijuana pose with a new plaque dedicated Wednesday; it names Tijuana as one of 35 heroic cities in Mexico.
The ceremony made no mention that the rebel forces were in Baja California at the behest of Flores Magón, (left) who was living in exile in Los Angeles and who had long sought the ouster of dictator Porfirio Díaz (right). Díaz, president since 1884, had at one point jailed Flores Magón; both originally were from Oaxaca state. The head of the committee that organized Tijuana's centennial celebrations, Conrado Acevedo, said it would have been too complicated to have gone into all the swirling forces unleashed by the Mexican Revolution that the invasion of Baja California took place under; he said Wednesday's ceremony was simply to celebrate Mexico's ousting the foreigners that Flores Magón had sent into Mexico, or who had been attracted for a variety of reasons into joining Flores Magón's forces there. The Tijuana Historical Museum, however, goes into more detail about the June 22 event's historical antecedents. In his speech at the ceremony, Acevedo said: "We are preserving the historic legacy of a group who a century ago offered their lives to defend Mexican sovereignty. Thanks to these heroes, today we can call Tijuana heroic, the city where the nation begins."
The background behind the defense of Tijuana: In 2010, Díaz defeated Francisco Madero (left) in a rigged election. Madero was a wealthy businessman and hacienda owner, which also made him anathema to Flores Magón. The Mexican Revolution erupted on Nov. 20, 2010, and in the early part of 1911 forces backing Madero began making gains in Mexico. At the same time, Flores Magón's Mexican Liberal Party sent forces into sparsely populated Baja California, and took Mexicali on Jan. 29. After Ciudad Juárez was captured on May 11, 1911, Díaz set events in motion to resign as president, which he did on May 25. He left Mexico for France on a ship on May 31, never to return. He is still buried in Paris' Montparnasse cemetery.
Flores Magón hoped to see Baja California become a socialist territory or republic and the vanguard of a movement that would see all Mexico go socialist. Most of Flores Magón's forces were non-Mexicans, and most of the non-Mexicans were Americans, although there also were Canadians, a Welshman and Eastern Europeans. Many were members of the leftist International Workers of the World labor group also known as Wobblies (see IWW membership card at left) and followers of the Socialist Party. After Díaz was ousted, Mexicans in general decided to go with Madero rather than Flores Magón, and Mexicans particularly did not like the largely foreign makeup of Flores Magón's forces. They were painted by the Mexican government and others as filibusterers, a name which has stuck to this day, as some were adventurers and soldiers of fortune not ideologically connected to Flores Magón who would have liked to see Baja California become part of the United States. The United States did not back the Flores Magón forces, and after Díaz fell even allowed Mexican soldiers to cross the U.S. by train from Juárez to Mexicali. President William Howard Taft, however, (right) steadfastly refused entreaties to send U.S. troops into Mexico to protect U.S. business interests. Many of those who had fought for Flores Magón's ideals switched to supporting Madero after Díaz fell; in Mexicali, most of Flores Magón's forces, including many Americans, switched over to Madero, and Mexicali became a Madero stronghold without a fight. Flores Magón brother Jesús also decided to go with Madero. Ricardo Flores Magón suffered tremendous public relations setbacks with the Mexican people by having alleged spies for Madero executed in Baja California, and Mexicans also were not endeared when Flores Magón's forces allowed tourists from San Diego to come to Tijuana and loot shops. While many non-Mexicans fought for Flores Magón, it also is true that non-Mexicans also fought for Mexico's federal government, during Díaz's presidency and afterward. The 50 Mexican federal forces for the Northern District of Baja California when Díaz was still in power included 15 Americans, and the forces that retook Tijuana on June 22 also included a number of foreigners.
Flores Magón's forces carried the flag of Tierra y Libertad, Land and Liberty, which also was the rallying cry for Emiliano Zapata's rebel forces in Morelos state during the Mexican Revolution. (Flores Magón came up with the phrase first.) The man at left was looking at a replica of that flag at the opening of the Tijuana Defense exhibit at the Tijuana Historical Museum on Wednesday night.
San Diego State University historian Richard Griswold del Castillo wrote in the Journal of San Diego History in 1980 that the failure of the Mexican Liberal Party of Flores Magón in Baja California "was not due primarily to its ideology. Indeed most of the party's platform was later enacted into law in the Mexican constitution of 1917. The key to the failure rather was due to the party's lack of pragmatic leadership. By allowing non-Mexicanos to control the army, Magón made it impossible for the majority of nationalists in Mexico and the United States to support his cause. The filibustering charges were believable because the P.L.M. army was not fully controlled by the party."
U.S. authorities arrested Flores Magón for violating the neutrality act on June 14, but he was immediately released. He was arrested, jailed and results on later occasions and then was arrested in 1918 for obstructing the U.S. effort in World War I. He died in Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas in 1922 at age 48. Ironically, Flores Magón is now enshrined, as Griswold del Castillo wrote, "as a precursor of the Mexican revolution. His body now rests alongside those of Madero, Obregón and Carranza ... in the Panteón de Hombres Ilustres in Mexico City."
In right photo, Faraón Sarabia of Ensenada holds a Mexican flag used in the 1911 defense of Baja California, in which he participated as a volunteer (Sarabia family photo on display at the Tijuana Historical Museum). At left, the flag on display in the museum, which is at Second Street and Constitución; the Sarabia family of Ensenada has lent out the flag for the special exhibition. Seated in a wheelchair in the photo at the end of the flag is Libia Sarabia Rubalcava, the daughter of Faraón Sarabia; at her side is her cousin María Antonieta Marín; behind Libia is Martha Edna Castillo Sarabia, a granddaughter of Faraón Sarabia; and next to Martha Edna is Libia's daughter Livia Castillo Sarabia. They are talking with museum coordinator Raúl Villarino Ruiz and with Elsa Arnaiz, the head of the Municipal Institute of Art and Culture.
Above left, the new plaque naming Tijuana as one of 35 heroic cities in Mexico; last month, Ciudad Juárez was named as a heroic city on the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Juárez, which came 10 days after the May 11, 1911 defeat of dictator Porfirio Díaz's forces there. At center, soldiers just before they fired in salute of the 1911 defenders of Tijuana during Wednesday's ceremony. At right, Col. Celso Vega, who headed the Mexican government troops that ousted Flores Magón liberals, which were largely composed of foreigners.
To hear the shot fired in salute, listen to the MP3 player:
In left photo, National Commission of Heroic Cities leader Samuel Ruiz Madrigal (left) and Municipal Institute for Arts and Culture head Elsa Arnaiz look at exhibits before cutting the ribbon opening the exhibition. The photo closest to Ruiz's head is of Flores Magón brothers Ricardo (left) and Enrique; the photo to the left of Arnaiz is of Francisco I. Madero, who became president of Mexico in November 1911 and was assassinated in February 1913. In right photo, from left, Ruiz; Tijuana defense centennial committee leader Conrado Acevedo; Gen. Gilberto Landeros Briseño; Tijuana official Alcide Roberto Beltrones; and state official Cuauhtémoc Cardona on the dignitaries' stand at the monument Wednesday. Mayor Carlos Bustamante and Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán did not attend the ceremony as they were on a trip to Europe trying to drum up investment for Tijuana and Baja California.
Sergio Vázquez Ruiz (right), president of the Tijuana Historical Society, in his speech at Wednesday's ceremony outlined the events of 1911:
Jan. 29, 1911: 14 invaders take the pueblo of Mexicali without resistance.
Jan. 31: The invading force swells to 270.
May 8-9: The "filibusterers" concentrate around Tijuana, with about 300 well-armed and supplied men. He said Tijuana had 450 residents (others say there were fewer, others say more). He said 77 defended Tijuana: The area's political leader, José María Larroque, (left) and eight police; Lt. Miguel Guerrero, age 20, commanding 25 soldiers; and volunteers. (Lawrence Douglas Taylor's book "La campaña magonista en Baja California en 1911" says there were more than 100 defenders.)
May 9: Major battle breaks out, and the Tijuana defenders, low on arms and ammunition, retreat toward Ensenada to seek the protection of federal Col. Celso Vega, the political leader of Baja California.
Vázquez said those who "died for their country" in the defense of Tijuana were: José María Larroque; Juan Osuna; Clemente Angulo; Pastor Ramos (whose great-grandson, Armando Fidel Ramos, spoke at the ceremony); Miguel Mendoza; Francisco Cuevas; Alfonso Padilla; and an anonymous volunteer. (Others named later during the ceremony who also received the salute from the military included Bernardino Bortaris; Manuel Márquez; Bernardino Partida; Blas Guzmán; Eulogio Morales; José Cerda (also spelled Zerda); and Andrés Navarro. There are other names mentioned in a book by UABC's Marco Antonio Samaniego (see below).
May 9-June 21: Vázquez said that under 44 days of occupation, filibusterers vandalized buildings, looted businesses, burned the bullring and the church, and allowed vice to flourish. He said that "thanks to them, the first stone of the leyenda negra (bad reputation) of Tijuana was laid."
June 22, 1911: Federal Col. Celso Vega arrives on the outskirts of the pueblo of Tijuana with his military company, part of the 8th Battalion from Sinaloa state, and volunteers comprised of Mexicans from Baja California, San Diego and Los Angeles. Battle took place in the hills of the Agua Caliente ranch, and the invaders then fled to the United States. (The forces there were arrested for violating the U.S. Neutrality Act. Lawrence Douglas Taylor's book "La Campaña Magonista en Baja California en 1911" says Vega's forces numbered about 600, and also included foreigners, while the Flores Magón forces numbered around 200.)
The above top photo from Feb. 11, 1911, on display at the museum, shows insurgents on one side of the border and U.S. soldiers on the other. The photo below it shows rebels marching to surrender to U.S. forces across the border.
This reproduction of the Saturday, June 24, 1911 issue of Ricardo Flores Magón's Regeneración, on display at the Tijuana Historical Museum, says, "The Defeat in Tijuana is a Triumph." He says the "brave liberals" lost the battle to Madero's forces on June 22 due to a lack of ammunition, not because of a lack of valor. He also reported that Mexicali had fallen to Madero forces because "traitor Rodolfo Gallegos" accepted money for his men to switch sides or give up the fight. The article also is full of inaccuracies.
Lawrence Douglas Taylor writes in his 1992 book "La campaña magonista de 1911 en Baja California" (The Magonista campaign in Baja California) that Flores Magón sowed the seeds of his efforts' own destruction by having so many foreigners in the force and also because of a lack of leadership. The leadership of the liberal forces in Baja California changed hands constantly in 1911, and Flores Magón did not come down to Baja California from Los Angeles, apparently out of fear of being captured and executed. The author also says that Flores Magón, when he received money for the liberal cause, spent it on publicity rather than on the arms and ammunition the liberal forces so badly needed. The author points out that the forces never would have been in Baja California had it not been for Flores Magón, and thus that attempts to label the force as filibusterers seeking to annex Baja California to the United States are invalid, even if some members of the forces may have adhered to such ideas and even if the belief that it was a filibuster movement was highly prevalent at the time. Flores Magón always categorically rejected the idea of annexation, writing, "Baja California will not be separated from the rest of Mexico."
The May 18, 1911 issue of Regeneración, celebrating the liberal occupation of Tijuana. Taylor's 1999 article in the Journal of San Diego History, "The Magonista Revolt in Baja California: Capitalist Conspiracy or Rebelión de los Pobres?"
Marco Antonio Samaniego's extensively researched 2008 book "Nacionalismo y revolución: los acontecimientos de 1911 en Baja California" (Nationalism and revolution: the events of 1911 in Baja California") takes a more middling approach in its conclusions. The Autonomous University of Baja California researcher argues that because Flores Magón often could not control the forces theoretically under his command in Baja California, it can be accurate to say that they were his forces but also filibusterers. One example of the lack of Flores Magón's control is that the forces that took Tijuana actually were supposed to try to take Ensenada. Relations between Mexicans who were part of the liberal forces and the foreigners often were poor, and Americans often called the Mexicans "greasers." Samaniego says the filibusterer term often fails, however; he notes that about 70 members of Baja California's indigenous communities fought with the liberal forces. The participation of these "cucupá, kiliwa and pa-ipai" certainly could not be considered part of a filibuster movement, he says. He says the fact that many Mexicans who fought with the liberal forces then switched to Madero also goes against the filibuster argument. "To show that they, ranchers and countryside workers or indigenous community members, were filibusterers that sought annexation is something that we consider at this time of writing (2008) to be impossible," he wrote.
This replica of a flag was found on a body of a rebel in 1911. The replica, currently on exhibit at the Tijuana Historical Museum, appears to show that not all of those fighting with the liberal forces in Baja California (first against the federal forces of President Porfirio Díaz, and then against the federal forces of an interim government later to be headed by Díaz opponent Francisco Madero) were battling for Flores Magón's ideals for a socialist Mexico.
Update, June 27: Mario Ortiz Villacorta writes in Frontera about the ceremony, noting that respected historians who say the defense of Tijuana was not against filibusterers did not attend. Ortiz Villacorta did note that those who died in the May 8-9 battle did heroically defend Tijuana. At the conclusion of his column, he calls the Border Patrol's killing of a Mexican last week at the border during a rock-throwing incident a hate crime. Column, Frontera.
Frontera's story about the museum exhibit, which runs into December.
Conrado Acevedo Cárdenas, head of the centennial committee for the heroic defense of Tijuana, had the following to say in his speech at the ceremony Wednesday, which was attended by around 1,000 people:
"This is one of the grandest moments in the history of Tijuana. We are preserving the historic legacy of a group who a century ago offered their lives to defend Mexican sovereignty. Thanks to these heroes, today we can call Tijuana heroic, the city where the nation begins....
"From today, Tijuana will be known as a heroic city, in place of the degrading adjectives that it has been slapped with from almost its beginnings."
Notes: A major force behind the centennial commemorations was councilwoman Franciscana Krauss Velarde, who Acevedo said was not able to attend the June 22 ceremony because of illness.
The monument was built in 1952 at the initiative of the Lion's Club of Tijuana.
The Tijuana Cultural Center's Museum of the Californias also has an exhibit on the Defense of Tijuana, with a photo of Teniente Miguel Guerrero and representations of front pages of San Diego and Calexico newspapers reporting the events of 1911.
Labor balladeer Joe Hill, executed in Utah in 1914, was part of the rebel force in Tijuana. William Adler writes about his stay in Tijuana in the book, "The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon."