September 15-16 is Independence Day in Mexico and myriad other countries formerly colonies of Spain; it also is the kick-off of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States of America.
The Las Vegas Hispanic community kicked off the month with a parade that was jammed with Mexicans, Guatemalans, Panamanians, Nicaraguans, Colombians, Ecuadorians and others from almost every country south of the Rio Grande. I even met people from Belize, formerly British Honduras.
It wasn’t the Rose Parade or a Presidential Inaugural Parade, certainly, but people from various national and local groups representing various communities in Mexico, for example, organized into informal marching groups, a smart marching drum and bugle corps, Mexican folk (folklorico) dancers, a hundred Zumba dancers, new and antique cars and marvelously, dozens of Mexican cowboys wearing Stetson western hats riding their horses in the last of the Wild West towns, Las Vegas, Nevada.
How fitting it was that Mexican cowboys rode in the parade, after all, it was Spanish settlers and their sons and grandson Mexicans that invented the “cowboy” (the Vaquero) in Mexico over two hundred years before Americans took to raising cattle west of the Mississippi River.
Watching these modern vaqueros ride in the parade also brings back history that in 1862 Colonel Porfirio Diaz ‘ horse soldiers of the Mexican Army routed/ destroyed beautifully plumed French Cavalry at the Battle of Puebla on the 5th of May, 1862, disrupting the French invasion of Mexico.
That fight for Mexican freedom morphed into a long dictatorship of the aforementioned Porfirio Diaz and the 20th Century’s first social and political revolution that helped change the world.
Led by a University of California educated slightly built bespectacled Francisco Madero, Mexicans in 1910 revolted against the 30-year long dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and his government of oligarchs otherwise known as ossified old men.
Madero’s most loyal fighting general was former bandit and spectacularly charismatic Pancho Villa in the border state of Chihuahua whose call to arms raised an army – Division del Norte, that showed the world Mexicans continued to be the world’s finest light cavalry that they had demonstrated against the French forty eight years earlier.
Victor Alba, Spanish leftist-evolutionary, Franco prisoner who fled to Mexico and America in 1946 wrote a brilliant history -- “The Mexicans – The Making of a Nation – in which he wondered how Pancho Villa’s troops could fight all day, travel overnight two hundred miles in railroad cars arrive at a battlefield and organize head on cavalry charges that overwhelmed the enemy like few cavalry in history.
Pancho Villa’s horse soldiers defeated government troops and counter-revolutionaries with great success all the way to Mexico City which they took easily.
Coming from the south was Emiliano Zapata’s army on foot. The two armies met in Mexico City. Fortunately for all, Villa and Zapata decided to not fight each other and modern Mexico was born. A little later, however, Mexican reactionary generals imported German military advisors who imported barbed wire from America and machine guns from Europe to fight off Villa’s horse soldiers and the famous Mexican cavalry faded into history -- a casualty of modern warfare.
This history-making Mexican Revolution lasted ten years and produced an unknown number of dead. We do know that there was a much smaller Mexican population in 1920’s census than in the 1910 census. Not all missing died, so where did the living go?
They came to the United States as they had since 1779 when Mexicans came to fight in the American Revolution and in 1861 when they came to fight in the American Civil War (on both sides). It was their great-great grandchildren I mingled with on the parade route and watched as they happily marched and danced their way into Downtown Las Vegas. Also in the crowd and in the marchers were recent immigrants from all the countries of Latin America.
Las Vegas is home to far more Hispanics than I ever realized. They come from everywhere; they work in the gigantic hotel and gaming industry of Las Vegas, they work in construction every day in 100-degree plus temperatures, they work in retail, services, law enforcement, media, mining, ranching, they flip burgers, run restaurants, run tax and notary services and seem to open new Mexican, Salvadoran and Cuban restaurants every week. They are everywhere.
They teach in schools, they study at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and College of Southern Nevada, they practice law, many are running for political office for this November’s election and many of them gathered in Downtown Las Vegas to revel in and celebrate their commonalties in the United States of America.
Fittingly, the Grand Marshall of the parade was Nevada’s Governor, Brian Sandoval whose family came to the United States from Mexico when everyone rode horses, wore Stetsons and tamed the Wild West.
Contreras formerly wrote for the New America News Service of the New York Times