Museum of the Revolution a hidden border gem


The exterior of the Museum of the Revolution in the Border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Emma Freer

Associated Press

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Towns along the U.S.-Mexico border are often stereotyped as enclaves for bar-hoppers, smoky factories, cheap souvenirs and long entry lines for cargo and trucks. They also are known for inexpensive tacos and a plethora of adult entertainment options.

Cultural sites, particularly those on the Mexican side, rarely get much attention.

But within a 20-minute walk from the Stanton Street Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas, visitors to Ciudad Juarez can enjoy a different experience and learn about a moment in history that fundamentally changed Mexico and the United States.

El Museo de la Revolucion en La Frontera, or the Museum of the Revolution in the Border, tells the story of the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath, which is still felt today. The armed struggle, which lasted from 1910 to 1920, transformed Mexican society and sparked a massive migration of Mexicans to the United States that remade the demographics of cities in the American Southwest.

Yes, the conflict gave rise to Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata as revolutionary heroes of the poor. The war also spurred new movements in art, literature, journalism, photography and radical notions of land reform that spread across Latin America.

For those with only a basic knowledge of the Mexican Revolution, the museum guides visitors through the pre-revolutionary Mexico of dictator Porfirio Diaz and the intellectual movements opposing his rule. Exhibits touch upon El Plan of San Luis Potosi‚ a call to remove Diaz and re-establish democracy‚ and writers speaking out against what they described as colonial rule at the expense of the poor.

Newspaper accounts in the U.S. at the time talked about the growing unrest south of the border, and the museum explains in an easy-to-understand narrative how elite and middle-class political leaders joined efforts to remove Diaz. Using photographs, old documents and clothing, the museum goes through the short presidency of reformer Francisco Madero, as well as his overthrow and assassination at the hands of Gen. Victoriano Huerta.

Opposition to Huerta led to more violence as Villa in northern Mexico and Zapata in the south took up arms for their causes.

Museum of Revolution exhibit
An exhibit about photojournalism on display at the museum.

The museum shows how a call for censorship resulted in a journalism boom, with reporters covering the violence and political unrest of the day. It also led to photojournalists, like British-born Jimmy Hare, coming to Mexico to experiment with the latest camera technology to capture scenes of war. Some of those scenes ended up on postcards that became popular in the United States.

Other forms of artistic expression came out of the war, too. Songs recorded at the time recount the suffering and separations caused by the conflict, and images of the revolution that inspired Diego Rivera’s later work are also on display.

The exhibits, though mostly in Spanish with limited English translations, provide visitors with enough visuals so as to be generally self-explanatory. For example, the assassinations of Villa and Zapata are shown though photographs of mourners.

The unrest led many Mexicans to cross into the U.S. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the nation’s only Latina governor, for example, can trace her family’s roots back to the Mexican Revolution. Her family is descended from Toribio Ortega, a general under Pancho Villa, the governor’s brother told the El Paso Times in 2010.

Some Mexican restaurants in the American Southwest display black-and-white photos of the war. Some establishments even claim their original owners are pictured in the images.

But beyond the myths and legends, the Museum of the Revolution in the Border offers a foundation for learning about a turbulent chapter of history that dashed dreams of an egalitarian world across the border.

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