Emiliano Zapata: Quotes & Biography

Instructor: Benjamin Olson
This lesson will detail the biography of Emiliano Zapata Salazar and his significance for the Mexican Revolution. His most famous quotations will be detailed and analyzed in the context of his biography.

Zapata: Revolutionary Icon

Emiliano Zapata Salazar was one of the most significant figures in the Mexican Revolution and continues to be an iconic symbol of Mexican identity today. Equal parts revolutionary and statesman, Zapata represents better than any other single personality the violence and political tumult of Mexico in the early 20th century.

Emiliano Zapata.

Zapata's Early Life

Zapata was born in 1879 in Anenecuilco. During his childhood, Zapata was surrounded by horses and agriculture, which provided a basis for his lifelong focus on land reform and the plight of poor peasants. Zapata was an orphan by the age of 17 and became of the head of his household.

Zapata had his first run-in with the government when he was arrested for protesting the appropriation of peasant lands in 1897. Undeterred, Zapata continued his political activity until he was drafted into the army. Zapata's childhood experiences, political activity, and army experience would provide him with the motivation and tools that he would need later as a revolutionary.

Haciendas and Inequality

Mexico during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was still very much a product of Spanish colonialism. Rich Spanish families dominated most of the land and wealth on huge plantations called haciendas. These elite families dominated the political landscape and kept the mixed-race and indigenous populations in an impoverished, subjugated condition.

Porfirio Díaz took control of the Mexican government in a coup in 1876. In a fashion that would become all too familiar amongst dictators in the 20th and 21st centuries, Díaz was fond of holding pseudo-elections that gave the superficial impression of democracy. In reality, these elections were carefully rigged.

Díaz's rule further concentrated power and wealth into the hands of elite families, leaving the vast majority of Mexicans in poverty. Attempts to address economic problems, illegal land seizures, and abuses of power often resulted in the arrest of the petitioners and their conscription into the army.

Zapata Enters Politics

In 1909 in the village of Anenecuilco in the state of Morelos, a secret meeting was held by the village leaders. The meeting was secret because the local hacienda foremen would brutally punish any political activity that seemed to threaten the current system. At the meeting in question, the local village elders explained that it was time to elect new, younger, more formidable village leaders. They were too old and tired to cope with the current situation, they said, and it was time to elect new blood. After several local men's names were nominated, Emilio Zapata was elected as village president.

Zapata was only 30 years old in 1909, but he was a well respected member of the community and an able member of the burgeoning resistance movement. Land in the state of Morelos had been steadily taken over by haciendas since the ascension of Díaz. Zapata's most pressing issue was to win back and secure the land that had been gobbled up by the haciendas. In a few cases, Zapata was able to achieve his reforms peacefully, but in most cases, both hacienda owners and the Díaz government resisted all attempts at land reform.


In 1910 Francisco I. Madero, himself a member of the landed elites, challenged the power of Porfirio Díaz. Madero ran for president in 1910 and opposed Díaz's 'reelection', as any elections were not likely to be free and fair. Madero's warnings proved to be well founded, as he was arrested by Díaz loyalists while campaigning in Monterrey. Madero was eventually released and fled to Texas, where he helped to lead the revolution against Díaz.

Zapata originally supported Madero in the hopes that he might help to bring about the land reforms that Zapata was working towards. After Madero's arrest, all hopes for a political solution were suspended and Zapata, along with other revolutionaries in other parts of Mexico, took up arms against the Díaz government.

Along with Pancho Villa and other important Mexican revolutionaries, Zapata waged a guerilla war against the Díaz government. The revolutionaries were eventually victorious, and Madero returned to Mexico City to lead the new government in 1911.

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