Mexican Revolution

By: Robert C. Overfelt

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: December 2, 2020

The Mexican Revolution began in November 1910. That year, Mexico went through the motions of another presidential election to unseat the incumbent, Porfirio Díaz, who had served since 1876. This time, however, Francisco I. Madero, from Coahuila, campaigning on a platform of effective suffrage and no reelection, made the race a more serious one. Early, Díaz dismissed Madero's chances but arrested and imprisoned him when he gained popular support. Madero's family quickly posted bail, and in October 1910 the erstwhile presidential contestant fled to San Antonio, where he established his headquarters and issued, through the Plan de San Luis Potosí, a call to arms for November 20, 1910. From the end of that year until 1920, the events surrounding the Mexican Revolution influenced life along the Texas border from Brownsville to El Paso.

Actually, the Mexican Revolution was an outgrowth of the resentment that had built up during Díaz's thirty-four-year regime. Among those that spoke out against his dictatorship were Ricardo Flores Magón and his brother Enrique, who founded the newspaper Regeneración in 1900. Through it, they denounced the dictatorship and unacceptable conditions of the masses in Mexico. Since Díaz allowed little dissent, Ricardo and Enrique fled to Laredo, Texas, in 1904. The Flores Magón brothers moved Regeneración to San Antonio later that year. Many of the newspaper's issues from San Antonio recount injustice suffered by the rural and urban workers in Mexico, the corruption and venality of government officials in that country, the collusion of foreign-based capital with the Díaz regime, and the necessity of ending the dictatorship. The activities of the Flores Magón brothers soon attracted the attention of local as well as national authorities in the United States. Agents of Díaz also made their way to San Antonio, where they harassed the Magonistas under the "watchful neglect" of local authorities. After continued harassment, Ricardo Flores Magón moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in early 1905.

There, the Magonistas founded the Partido Liberal Mexicano. This party, which worked in different parts of the United States, called for changes in the way Mexico was ruled. It demanded that Díaz open up the electoral process and institute changes to would bring significant improvement to the lower classes through land reform and to the urban proletariat through improved wages and working conditions. Party objectives also included organizing Mexican-American laborers. Furthermore, the PLM encouraged female participation in its chapters. Sara Estela Ramírez of Laredo worked to help women achieve emancipation from stereotypical roles. Women served as speakers and participated in rallies and fund-raisers held in different areas of Texas, including EL Paso and Frio county. The impact of the PLM in Texas is difficult to judge, but chapters existed as far north as Central Texas. Many Tejanos, fearing to appear too radical, did not become actively involved with the PLM. The dread of extradition also caused many to stay at arm's length from the activities of the PLM.

Continued pressure from both the United States and Mexican authorities made the PLM increasingly weaker, and even the overthrow of Díaz in 1911 produced no respite from the party's opponents on both sides of the border. (The United States argued that PLM activities violated the national policy of neutrality that the country had adopted toward the Mexican Revolution.) By 1914 the PLM consisted only of a small number of supporters throughout the United States, and Regeneración had ceased to be effective. But despite its declining fortunes and the imprisonment of Ricardo Flores Magón, the more committed members of the PLM continued to speak out on the foreign policy of the United States, the murder of Tejanos in South Texas, and the continued Wall Street domination of Mexican affairs.

Many others besides the Flores Magón brothers and their supporters had fled Mexico for the safety of the Texas. After Madero's Plan de San Luis Potosí, a floodtide of refugees inundated the state. An exile community took root in many South Texas counties, and it maintained nationalist sentiments toward Mexico. The Mexican Revolution evolved into a struggle among rival chieftains, each of whom had his backers among the refugees. From Texas, political exiles gave support to an array of political and military figures-including Pascual Orozco, Jr., Victoriano Huerta, Francisco (Pancho) Villa, Francisco Madero, Venustiano Carranza, and Álvaro Obregón. Still others within the exiled ranks sided with Díaz and his ideological heirs and criticized from Texas the various revolutionary governments that served in Mexico from 1910 to 1920. Other refugees became integrated into Mexican-American communities, and their lives became intertwined with those of Mexican Americans already living in Texas. They read Spanish-language newspapers, some of which were owned by immigrants or refugees. La Prensa, founded in 1913, had the widest circulation. The Spanish-language press reported on events in Mexico, denounced the repression of immigrants and the abuse of Tejanos, and encouraged a maintenance of the culture of la patria (Mexico). Newspapers assisted in the preservation of the old way of life by giving space to various religious and secular celebrations, publishing works of literature, and encouraging various artists, writers, and musicians.

Both immigrants and Mexican Americans participated in the activities undertaken by labor organizations. The American Federation of Labor typically spurned Mexican-descent workers and saw them as potential strikebreakers, but Tejano workers found other alternatives. The membership of La Agrupación Protectora Mexicana, founded in 1911, included farm renters and laborers. La Agrupación called for the protection of its members from illegal repossession of property. Tejanos also joined various Socialist organizations such as the different affiliates of the Socialist party in Texas. Some Tejano workmen joined craft unions but found themselves segregated from Caucasian laborers. Even so, the era of the revolution and World War I produced an upswing in organizational awareness.

Politically, Tejanos participated in protest activities to bring attention to the problems of everyday life. One issue that confronted many was the education of their children. In such communities as Del Rio and San Angelo, parents pressured the local school boards for change, though not very successfully. Other issues of concern included lynching, labor exploitation, and changing land ownership. To highlight those problems, several hundred delegates convened in Laredo in September 1911 at what was called the Congreso Mexicanista. Participants addressed the problems that afflicted Mexican Americans as a whole, while women presented their own agenda dealing with the social and political status of women. The Congreso started the Liga Femenil Mexicanista and entrusted it with being an educational advocate for Tejanos.

Motivated by anger against decades-old discrimination and contempt, Tejanos joined in a movement of armed resistance against oppression in 1915. Specifically, they joined in support of the Plan of San Diego, a call to arms apparently hatched in San Diego, Texas, by individuals who called for the establishment of a new nation of Mexican Americans and other oppressed minorities in the lands lost by Mexico in 1836 and 1848. Luis De la Rosa and Aniceto Pizaña led the PSD uprising with recruits from South Texas as well as from the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Coahuila. The conspirators conducted raids on both sides of the border; targets on the Texas side included newly developed farms, irrigation systems, and railroad lines. With these raids, widespread panic enveloped much of South Texas. Non-Hispanic Whites organized vigilante groups to administer justice. The Texas Rangers, their ranks increased for border duty, arrived in the region to carry out law-enforcement activity-but their actions degenerated into repression and violence against both immigrants and Mexican Americans. Ricardo Flores Magón spoke out in Regeneración against what he perceived as genocide directed against Tejanos. Conditions became so volatile that Governor James E. Ferguson threatened to send forces into Mexico after the raiders. In November 1915, however, the governor and Mexican president Carranza met in Nuevo Laredo and agreed that they would take whatever steps were needed to stop the border troubles. Soon after this meeting, activities associated with the PSD subsided.

Others events surrounding the Mexican Revolution wrought havoc upon Tejanos. When the revolutionary chieftain Pancho Villa murdered sixteen Americans in Mexico in January 1916, clashes between the White and Mexican populations of several border towns broke out. El Paso became the scene of several days of racial conflict. When Villista raiders struck Columbus, New Mexico, in March 1916 and the United States authorized Gen. John J. Pershing to undertake a punitive expedition into Mexico, Carranza threatened counterinvasions of the United States. From the Rio Grande valley to the Big Bend, local residents kept watch for attacks from across the border. In May 1916 raids occurred at Boquillas and Glenn Spring, and shortly thereafter the United States federalized the Texas National Guard. Small clashes along the border fueled further reports of imminent invasion by Carrancista forces. Border incidents continued to occur long after 1916, especially in the Big Bend country.

The Mexican Revolution affected Tejanos variously. On the one hand, it left deep psychological and physical scars. No one can calculate the losses incurred by reaction to the PSD and Carrancista activity. Numerous Mexicans or Mexican Americans during the era were killed while "resisting arrest" or "escaping." Homes were burned and many rural Tejanos were forced to move to urban areas where they could be watched. On the other hand, increased immigration from Mexico augmented the size of the Tejano community and invigorated it with unadulterated doses of Mexican culture. The offspring of the immigrants, who grew to adulthood by the 1930s, went on to constitute part of the leadership in the Mexican-American political movements of the 1930s.

Don M. Coerver and Linda B. Hall, Texas and the Mexican Revolution: A Study in State and National Border Policy, 1910–1920 (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1984). Arnoldo De León, Ethnicity in the Sunbelt: A History of Mexican-Americans in Houston (University of Houston Mexican American Studies Program, 1989). Arnoldo De León, Mexican Americans in Texas: A Brief History (Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, 1993). Manuel Gamio, Mexican Immigration to the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930; rpt., New York: Arno Press, 1969). Richard A. García, Rise of the Mexican American Middle Class, San Antonio, 1919–1941 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991). Glenn Justice, Revolution on the Rio Grande (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1992). David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836–1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987). James Sandos, Rebellion in the Borderlands: Anarchism and the Plan of San Diego, 1904–1923 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992). Emilio Zamora, The World of the Mexican Worker in Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1993).

  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Military
  • Boundary Disputes and Ethnic Conflict
  • Politics and Government
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert C. Overfelt, “Mexican Revolution,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

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May 1, 1995
December 2, 2020

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