Nahuatl-speaking Indians and other natives, among them the Yaqui of Sonora and the Maya of Yucatan, took part in the Mexican Revolution of 1910-19.
Emiliano Zapata, a well-known leader of the Revolution and champion of the landless peasants of southern Mexico, was not himself an Indian, but he was a mestizo, born in Anencuilco, a small town in Morelos, who, endowed with a charismatic personality, had managed to attract large numbers of Nahuas and others to join the army he had raised. However, the mere idea of an Indian uprising caused such alarm among the elite that a prominent conservative congressman, Jose Maria Lozano, warned his fellow partisans of Zapata's successes and threat in these terms: "Zapata has rebelled. He poses as the liberator of the slave; he offers something to all. He is not alone. Countless people follow him. He offers them lands. His preaching begins to bear fruit: the Indians have rebelled!"
Several testimonies exist that describe the pleasure felt by the Nahuas on hearing Zapata addressing them in their own language. One is provided by a native woman, Luz Jimdnez, in an account she gave of Zapata's arrival in the village of Milpa Alta, just south of Mexico City: "First news we had about the revolution was the arrival of a great man, Zapata, who came from the state of Morelos. He was well dressed with his tall, crowned, broad-brimmed felt sombrero. He was the first great man who spoke to us in Nahuatl. All those who came along with him spoke Nahuatl very much the same as we do. Zapata spoke Nahuatl. When he and his men entered Milpa Alta we could understand what they said."
Emiliano Zapata, who became a legendary hero to thousands of mestizo peasants and Indians, was fighting to get back for them the communal lands that had been usurped by Spaniards, Mexicans, and others of European provenance over the course of centuries. To the eyes of his followers, Zapata's struggle was a fight to regain lost personal freedom and ancestral lands, a battle to assure that land would be owned only by those who worked it.
After several years of fighting, and already suffering from a decimated army, Zapata tried to regain his forces by issuing two manifestos in Nahuatl on April 27, 1918. In one he urged some Tlaxcalan armed bands, who had previously followed Domingo Arenas, his former ally and later his murdered rival, to come to his side. In the other he repeated the call to the people living in the nearby villages. These manifestos are the last existant examples of public documents in Nahuatl in which, once again, the images of the vanquished and of those who abuse power are vividly depicted. The first manifesto reads as follows:
To you, chiefs, officers, and soldiers of the Arenas Division.
What we all suspected has already occurred. That which had to happen today or tomorrow: your separation from those engendered by Venustiano Carranza (president and head of thefederal army). They never favored, nor loved you. They merely deceived you, envied you. They wanted to hurt you, dishonor you, get rid of you. They never behaved as humans toward you.
To turn the face against those who so badly abuse power, honors you, erases the memory of your past deception when their Chief Arenas sided with the federal government.
We hope you will take part in the ideals for which we are fighting. In this manner we will be one, pressed closely against one flag. Thus our unified hearts will excel. Those who make fun of us, the ones engendered by Carranza, will not be able to destroy us.
Join us, our flag belongs to the people. We will fight together. This is our great work which we will achieve in some way, before our revered mother, the one called Patria (i.e., homeland or ancestral land).
Let us fight the perverse, wicked Carranza, who is a tormentor of us all. If we work for our unity, we will fulfill the great command: land, liberty, justice. Let us perform our work of revolutionaries and know our duties toward our revered mother the ancestral land. This army's command invites you. That is why I express this word. All those who will follow it, who will fight at our side, will enjoy a righteous and good life. In it we place our word of honor, of sincere men and good revolutionaries.
Tlaltizapan, Morelos, April 27, 1918
The Commander-in-Chief of the Liberation Army, Emiliano Zapata
The other manifesto, dated the same day, was addressed to the people in general who lived in the region (where Chief Arenas had fought). Here Zapata expresses himself echoing the centuries-old complaints and hopes of the Nahuas:
Our great war will not come to an end, will not conclude until that obscure tyrant, envious, who mocks the people, makes their faces turn around, is defeated. He is Venustiano Carranza who dishonors and makes ashamed our revered mother the ancestral land, Mexico.
Here is the people who keep strong and confront the great possessors of lands -Christians (i.e., hacienda owners and caiques), those who have made fun of us, who hate us. We will receive the valiant ones, our hearts will rejoice being together with them.
Let us keep fighting. We will not rest until we come to possess our lands, those that belonged to our grandfathers, and which the greedy-handed thieves took from us.
It is now more than ever necessary that we all, with our hearts and courage, achieve this great work, following those who began the uprising, who preserve in their souls the true aims and have faith in a pure life.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Liberation Army, Emiliano Zapata.