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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The little-known invasion of the U.S. by Mexico

American history books fail to recount Pancho Villa’s 1916 attack on the United States

Pancho Villa, a Mexican revolutionary from the early 1900s, is recognized as one of the most iconic figures in Mexico. He’s famous for being a great general and a bandit due to his tendencies to loot and pillage. However, he was also considered a Robin Hood-type figure for stealing from the rich, landowning elite and giving to the poor.

Throughout the history of the United States, it has been very common to label Mexican revolutionary leaders “bad men” due to many historical and cultural factors. And in the case of Pancho Villa, he is undoubtedly recognized as a bad man.

The first time a foreign army invaded the U.S. was Mar. 9, 1916, when General Villa and his army of 500 bandits attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. It was a symbolic event for Mexicans because Villa humiliated the U.S., exposing that the country was not as powerful as its citizens believed.

The battle lasted a total of six hours. Villa and his 500 troops devastated Columbus and managed to kill 17 North Americans in the process. Nevertheless, Villa’s troops suffered a loss of 100 men. Yet Villa and his armed forces managed to steal ammunition and set the entire town ablaze before going back to Mexico.

General Villas’ intentions for invading the U.S. were complicated and related to the Mexican Revolution. Villa had been severely defeated by his political rivals and lost the support of the U.S government to Venustiano Carranza, who would shortly after take control of the Mexican presidency. Moreover, Villa’s grand army had been reduced to dwindling numbers after losing land and power to Carranza.

As a last-ditch effort, Villa rounded up as many men as he could in order to invade the U.S. Ultimately, it acted as a big middle finger to his rival Carranza, who had been receiving aid and support from the U.S.

The newspapers and other media quickly broadcasted images of Pancho Villa as an evil man capable of committing other cruel acts. For this reason, the United States decided to invade Mexico and capture him, with President Woodrow Wilson launching the Punitive Expedition against Villa.

At the time, the U.S. regarded Villa as a criminal because they saw him as a threat to the future and security of the nation.

The Punitive Expedition began on Mar. 14, 1916, with President Wilson ordering General John J. Pershing to lead the manhunt for Villa. Pershing was granted the use of airplanes, vehicles, motorcycles and horses, along with 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers to join his crusade.

Ultimately, the search for Villa ended unsuccessfully. For months, Pershing and his troops raided local Mexican towns in their pursuit of Villa. They traversed 450 miles into Mexican territory before finally giving up their manhunt on Feb. 7, 1917.

What’s perhaps most surprising about this entire ordeal is that few people know about it. I asked my friends, my brother and my sister about Villa’s invasion, and none of them knew about this small-scale assault on the U.S.

As someone who’s proud to be Mexican, I wish I had known about Villas’ invasion when I was in high school. Pancho Villa and his troops successfully invaded the United States — if that happened today, it would result in front-page headlines all over the world. Instead, this embarrassing historical fact for the United States is kept out of history books.

Mexico and the U.S. have had shaky political relations for quite some time — and possibly now more than ever. The President of the United States continues to make wild remarks about the people of Mexico. There have been countless insults over the years that are simply untrue and hurtful to all Mexicans.

Above all, the president’s goal to build a “great” wall between Mexico and the U.S. has been in discussion for some time now, and it doesn’t seem as though he will stop his agenda anytime soon. With his instability, it’s possible that Trump will only continue to escalate the tensions between the countries — and there’s no telling what might happen due to his erratic behavior and poor judgement.


Written by: Alejandro Lara — amlara@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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