More than a street or a shoe, this is a hero of the Mexican Revolution
Zapata was a hero of the Revolution who championed land reform


This is one of a continuing series of street names explained. In Mexico you can go from town to town and see the same street names, and nearly all are of past national heroes. No Main St here, not even Maple St., Just heroes.

Emiliano Zapata is one such hero, so of course we have a Zapata St in San Jose, in downtown Cabo, and in La Paz. Yes, it means shoe, but it was so much more important as a man’s name. What, you thought Mexico has a lot of shoe streets? No.

Zapata was a village instigator, farmer, and horseman who became an important leader in the Mexican Revolution of 1910. He was key to bringing down the corrupt dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz in 1911 and joined forces with other revolutionary generals to defeat Victoriano Huerta in 1914. We don’t have Huerta streets, it is the name of a bad hombre and means orchard.

Zapata commanded an imposing army. He was idealistic and his pet project of land reform became one of the pillars of the Revolution.

Before the Revolution, Zapata was a young peasant like many others in his home state of Morelos. His family was not as poor as some others; they had their own land and were not “debt peons” (essentially, slaves) on one of the large sugarcane plantations.

Zapata was a handsome and glamorous man and a well-known horseman and bullfighter. He was elected mayor of the tiny town of Anenecuilco in 1909 and began defending his neighbors’ land from being snatched by treacherous rich guys. When the legal system turned on him, he rounded up some armed peasants and began taking the stolen land back by force.

In 1910, President Porfirio Díaz had his hands full with Francisco Madero, (a man’s name, but also the word for wood), who ran against him in a national election. Díaz won by tampering with the results, and Madero was forced into exile. From safety in the United States, Madero called for Revolution. In the north, Pancho Villa answered his call. In the south, Zapata raised an army and began fighting federal forces there. When Zapata captured Cuautla in May of 1911, Díaz knew if he didn’t run, he would surely be killed so he high tailed it into exile.

Zapata and Madero did not stay in cahoots for very long, as Madero did not really believe in land reform, which was all Zapata cared about. When Zapata, (shoe), figured this out, he turned against Madero, (wood), are you still with us?

In November of 1911, Shoe wrote his famous Plan of Ayala, which declared Wood a traitor, named Pascual Orozco head of the Revolution, and outlined a plan for true land reform. But before he could overthrow Wood, General Victoriano Orchard beat him to it in February of 1913, ordering Wood arrested and executed.

We’ve all seen Carranza St and Obregon St, and those guys were involved with this, but this is Wood, Shoe, and Orchard’s story, we dare not complicate it any further or you will surely be lost.

Here are the major accomplishments of Zapata, which might be in your quiz: He allowed women to serve as combatants. Although other revolutionary armies had women followers, in general, they did not fight, they were camp followers: they worked in the kitchen and on their back. Shoe’s ladies carried guns.

On April 10, 1919, Zapata was double-crossed, ambushed and killed by Colonel Jesús Guajardo who doesn’t deserve a street named after him.

Zapata’s supporters were stunned by his sudden death. Without him, the rebellion in the south soon fizzled.

In the short run, Zapata’s death put an end to his ideas of land reform and fair treatment for Mexico’s poor farmers. In the long run, however, he has done more for his ideas in death than he did in life. Like many charismatic idealists, Zapata became a martyr after his treacherous murder. Even though Mexico still has not implemented the same sort of land reform he wanted, he is remembered as a visionary who fought for his countrymen.

When you drive down Zapata St., give his daring and selfless deeds some solemn thought.