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IMG_0072_1024Ninety- nine years ago today, September 15, 1916, the bandit-general of the Mexican Revolution Pancho Villa pulled off a daring attack against Carrancista forces in Chihuahua City, in state of Chihuahua, with 2,000 Villista irregular troops against 9,000 government soldiers—the opposing revolutionary faction recognized and supported by the U.S. At the same time, 10,000 American troops under General Pershing were not that far away, looking for Villa for his attack on Columbus, New Mexico earlier that year on March 8 – 9, in which eighteen Americans died.

September 15, at midnight, is when Mexicans traditionally give the Grito, the Cry of Independence, re-enacting the cry Hidalgo gave in 1810 in Dolores Hidalgo, a town forty-five minutes from here, Guanajuato, declaring war against Spanish control.

Villa’s troops entered Chihuahua at midnight without challenge because they blended in with people coming into town for the celebration. Much of the citizenry was sympathetic to Villa. The Cry for Independence—”Viva, viva México!” soon turned into “Viva Villa!” as sympathizers realized what was happening. Villa freed potential allies from the Penitentiary and occupied the Presidential Palace, then withdrew.

This is the scene then in my novel, Playing for Pancho Villa, when Frank Holloway and his friend Juan Carlos, a young doctor, captives, find themselves forced to join Villa’s attack on Chihuahua. Frank survives, Juan Carlos does not.

Because the latter believed in the civilizing power of horses, that night still outside Chihuahua, Frank and friends build an immense fire beside the river Chuviscar and burn Juan Carlos on top of his horse’s side—both killed by Carrancista machinegun fire.

“Dawn was coming and the stars faded. A river of sparks curved up and away. The fire crackled and spit. River stones exploded from the heat. A slight breeze came up. The three of us stood upwind, so we would not have to smell the roasting horse, which was acceptable, or Juan Carlos, which was foreign and troubling.”

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If you write two historical novels—spaced sixteen years apart, then you have to write a third one, so you’ll have a trilogy. Which I suppose is something like a triptych – a painting with three panels, an idea—in writing at least—originating with the Greeks themselves.

Because of the spacing between the first two novels—1900 and 1916 in the history of Mexico, and following the rules of compulsion, mixed with a little obsession, the third novel should be either sixteen years earlier, 1884, or sixteen years later, 1936.

Right away I see trouble with 1936. It is too close to my birth date of 1937. I don’t want to diminish the importance of that historic date, even though I was born in Morristown, New Jersey and not in Erongaricuaro, Michoacán. A better date would be 1884, when Porfirio Díaz was beginning the second part of his thirty-year reign, though he had really never given up power during the interregnum when others seemed to take over, Juan Méndez and Manuel González. In all, the old devil served seven terms as president of Mexico. Surely, that must provide a good deal more material.

But what about elements of Novel One and Novel Two? Why not the grandson of One coming together with the daughter of Two? Of course, some mathematics would be involved to get them together in a plausible time and place. The there would have to be a plot that was somehow related to the two earlier plots—suppression of the Yaquis in the first, and a glimpse of the Mexican Revolution in the second. Perhaps—looking forward again—something to do with Lázaro Cárdenas’s land distribution or his nationalization of foreign oil companies, specifically of American and British-Dutch oil companies.

We know this happened, but we don’t know why those countries didn’t react by invading Mexico in order to set this right, since there is a long precedent for this kind of behavior. This is the first of the questions that come up. And so we begin to speculate, so that we will know what we don’t know. The answer lies in this direction. Porfirio Díaz had seen to it that the Americans and British had built a system of railroads. From then until 1936, Mexico had imported a lot of weapons and studied enough warfare in order to know how to leave one million of their own dead in the Revolution. Perhaps there was a certain parity in weaponry at that time. The losses to the U.S. and Britain would have been considerable. Not to mention again to Mexico.

Plus, the Depression was still making itself felt in the U.S., and Germany and Japan were rearming. The U.S. and Britain had to do the same. Perhaps they made a deal with Cárdenas, that Mexico would keep selling the oil and agree to pay for the expropriations. Until that agreement was reached, there must have been some skullduggery. And since I like skullduggery—at a distance, it seems as if this period could be a fruitful time for the Third Novel.

I have arrived at this point without doing any research. Guided only by the Mexican saying: Te conozco, Mosco, por tu zumbidito – I know you, Fly, by the way you buzz. Which is as much to say, I know enough about Mexican-American history to be able to predict certain patterns. Up to this point, I have been sniffing only.

I have read a little since.

There was a strong Mexican Petroleum Workers Union—the formation of which the outsiders had tried to block, sometimes by illegal tactics (hopefully a source of skullduggery); the foreign petroleum companies were making much higher profits Mexico than in the U.S; a strike ensued with popular support; the Mexican Supreme Court sided with the strikers, as did the president of Mexico; the Court ordered the foreign companies to pay 26,000,000 pesos in back wages; the companies resisted; a boycott of Mexican goods and products ensued; the U.S. press vilified Mexico; in the U.S. State Department, a war was underway between friends of Mexico and potential enemies of Mexico—the latter fearing a Bolshevik-communist adversary, or a Fascist one at their border; in order to survive the boycott and embargo, Mexico had to trade oil for money and machinery with European fascist countries; a political faction inside Mexico, in disagreement with Cárdenas’s nationalizing, threatened internal revolt; Josephus Daniels, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico liked president Cárdenas, and vice versa; Roosevelt listened to Daniels and saw a kindred soul Cárdenas; and so there was no invasion of Mexico; Cárdenas went to the conservative Catholic bishops of Mexico and asked for help in raising the cash to pay compensation for the nationalized oil companies; the bishops ordered the word spread throughout Mexico by dint of his priests’ sermons; thousands of women responded by assembling in front of the Palacio de Belles Artes, Mexico City, on April 12, 1938 with donations—from chickens to jewelry—to pay off the foreign debt; on June 7, 1938 President Cárdenas issued the decree that created Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), “with exclusive rights over exploration, extraction, refining and commercialization of oil in Mexico.”

Is there material enough in this saga of Mexicanization? I think so. But I have more research to do, I think, in order to find a yarn to spin.

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The cover for Playing for Pancho Villa, available now in Mexico at www.editorialmazatlan.com

The cover for Playing for Pancho Villa, available now in Mexico at http://www.editorialmazatlan.com

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