Felipe Soriano, from the series Last of the Zapatistas Photo: JON GUIDO BERTELLI
In the late 1990s I spent the greater part of two years living in Mexico, searching for the last surviving Zapatista fighters – the veterans of the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution of the South, led by the mustachioed Emiliano Zapata. My search was focused in the state of Morelos where the revolution of the South started.
While Pancho Villa was the leader of the revolution of the North, Emiliano Zapata and his courageous fighters represented the South. They battled fearlessly for the rights of their people against injustice, all under the common cry of “Tierra y Libertad!” (“Land and Liberty!”) and dedicated themselves to bettering the lives of the common man.
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Of the surviving veterans that I met, the “kid” of the bunch was 99 years of age. Most of the others were over 100 years old. Three of the veterans passed away just a few days after I interviewed them. Zapata himself was killed in 1919.
The Zapatista fighters were idealistic men and women who left their few belongings behind to follow the heroic figurehead of Zapata. Surviving in the hills surrounding Morelos for up to 10 years and fighting guerilla warfare, their aptitude for survival was forged through years of hunger, thirst, bloodshed and epidemic disease. They lived on food unfit for consumption and by drinking dirty, fly-infested water. These people not only gave up their own lives to the revolution, they also sent their own children to continue the fight.
Many have been decorated as war heroes by the Mexican government, and some have been recognised internationally for their bravery. Always friendly, they would welcome me into their homes, where they told me about their war experiences and life during the revolution. Zapata’s family members spent countless days with me looking for veterans and other people from the period that I could photograph and interview. Without them this project would not have been possible.
I think often about my “old friends” and their noble ideals, which still echo through the hills of Morelos and Mexico