Two Texas MPs killed, town worker injured in shooting
Mexico faces ominous anniversary of Chinese massacre
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will mark the murders of 303 Chinese during the revolution that the city of Torreón tried to forget about the revolutionary soldiers on horseback in the city of Torreón in 1911. Photo: courtesy of the municipal archives of Torreón . Chinese farm workers, killed in the orchards and gardens surrounding the Mexican city of Torreón by the advance of revolutionary forces in the early hours of May 13, 1911. After skirmishes on the outskirts of the city, the federal garrison, outnumbered, abandoned his positions and escaped under cover of darkness. When the rebels entered the city, they were joined by thousands of residents, inflamed by racist rhetoric. A herb merchant allegedly grabbed a Mexican flag and shouted, “Kill the Chinese!” A revolutionary commander, Benjamín Argumedo, reportedly fired the first shot. Over the next 10 hours, the mob sacked Chinese-owned businesses, looted the Chinese bank, and dragged their Chinese neighbors by their distinctive braids, trampling them to death with horses. “Argumedo gave the order to kill the Chinese,” said Julián Herbert, author of a story of the massacre. “But everyone joined in the murder. They were soldiers, men, women – everyone. A total of 303 Chinese were murdered in the massacre at Torreón, then a booming railway town some 500 miles south of the US border. Then the rebels and locals posed for photos with the bodies of their victims before they were taken away by the cart. The bodies of the dead were taken away on carts and buried in mass graves. Photograph: Courtesy of Torreón Municipal Archives Savagery was a horrific expression of a wave of anti-Chinese racism that swept across North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the United States, such sentiments led to the Chinese exclusion law banning the immigration of Chinese workers; in Mexico, they resulted in the expulsion of most of the country’s Chinese population in the 1930s. The Torreón massacre sparked outrage in China and Mexico eventually agreed to pay 3.1 million pesos gold in repair, although payment was never made. In Torreón, no one was ever charged – let alone tried or convicted – for the massacre, and today the events of 1911 remain largely ignored. There are no monuments to mark the tragedy and attempts to commemorate the events have met with resistance. “This question of the Chinese assassinations brings us to face a truth that we did not want to talk about locally,” said historian Carlos Castañón, who oversees the municipal archives. Revolutionary forces in the city of Torreón at the time of the massacre. Photograph: Courtesy of the Municipal Archives of Torreón On Monday, however, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is expected to travel to Torreón to apologize for the massacre as part of a series of year-long events marking some of the darkest chapters in Mexican history. including the 500th anniversary of the fall of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán. “It’s an honest gesture, which transcends politics,” Castañón said. “For the first time, we will face the big lie that we have perpetuated – and the silence of our complicity.” In Torreón, this silence is still so absolute that no monument marks the massacre, which killed half of the city’s Chinese population at the time. A commemorative plaque was quickly stolen. A statue erected in a public park in 2007 was vandalized and then removed, but will be restored in a public square for the commemoration. The victims of the massacre were buried in mass graves, one of which is now covered by a causeway and a small playground. “Local historians took this as just an anecdote: ‘One day in Torreón they killed Chinese,'” said Castañón, who combed through the archives to try to find out more about the massacre, including including the names of the victims. The president’s plan to commemorate the massacre has, as might be expected, ruffled some feathers among some in Torreón. “All mankind should apologize for what happened through the centuries,” grumbled then mayor Jorge Zermeño in February, according to El Sol de la Laguna newspaper. Revolutionary troops on horseback in Torreón. Photograph: courtesy of the municipal archives of Torreón “We will participate [in the ceremony] but we’ll have our own opinion, ”he said. “I think in wars there is a lot of confusion. These are events of the time and must be seen in the context in which they occurred. Of course, they were regrettable. Much of that grumbling stems from Torreón’s “founding myth” as a city of hardy immigrants who conquered the desert, said Javier Garza, a former city editor. Before the massacre, Chinese migrants opened a bank, built a tram connecting Torreón to the nearby town of Gómez Palacios, and operated most of the local laundries. Their farms fed the local population. “The Chinese community [in Torreón] was the most prosperous [Chinese community] in Mexico, ”said Herbert. “It was not the most numerous, but it was the most prosperous.” In his book The House of Others’ Sorrows: A Chronicle of a Small Genocide, Herbert challenges the local narrative that the pogrom was a spontaneous uprising of poor Mexicans, instead claiming that anti-Chinese racism was rampant in Torreón – and in all the countries. Herbert’s findings turned out to be so controversial that he was unable to organize a book promotion event in Torreón. Torreón was a booming railway town at the time of the massacre. Photograph: Courtesy of Torreón Municipal Archives Not all residents participated in the massacre: some, including a local lumber yard owner, shielded Chinese residents from the crowds. Most of the survivors fled Torreón, but some returned later, and the local Chinese community now numbers around 1,000. Antonio Lee Chairez. Photograph: David Agren / The Guardian Some members of the Chinese community still seem reluctant to talk about the massacre, even though they express pride in their role in making Torreón a city renowned for its industry and agriculture. “I think [Amlo’s] the visit is important and the event deserves it. But the [Chinese] the community is not asking for it, ”said Antonio Lee Chairez, 90, whose father Juan Lee survived the massacre with the help of neighbors. “But it must be positive [that he is coming] – because it was a scandal that no one ever admitted.