Mexico Faces Up to Uneasy Anniversary of Chinese MassacreBreaking News
tags: racism, immigration, Nativism, Mexican history, Asian History, Chinese Diaspora
The first to die were Chinese agricultural workers, who were killed in the orchards and gardens surrounding the Mexican city of Torreón by advancing revolutionary forces in the early hours of 13 May 1911.
After skirmishes at the outskirts of the city, the outnumbered federal garrison abandoned their positions and slipped away under the cover of darkness.
As the rebels entered the city, they were joined by thousands of locals, fired up by racist speeches. A herb-seller is said to have clutched a Mexican flag and screamed: “Let’s kill the Chinese!” A revolutionary commander, Benjamín Argumedo, is believed to have fired the first shot.
Over the next 10 hours, the mob sacked Chinese-owned businesses, looted the Chinese bank and dragged their Chinese neighbours by their distinctive braids, trampling them to death with horses.
“Argumedo gave the order to kill the Chinese,” said Julián Herbert, author of a history of the massacre. “But everyone joined in the killing. It was soldiers, men, women – everyone.”
A total of 303 Chinese people were murdered in the massacre at Torreón, then a burgeoning railway town some 500 miles south of the US border. Afterwards, rebels and locals posed for photographs with the bodies of their victims before they were hauled away by the cartload.
The savagery was an appalling expression of a wave of anti-Chinese racism which swept throughout North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the US such sentiments led to the Chinese Exclusion Act banning the immigration of Chinese labourers; in Mexico they culminated in the expulsion of most of the country’s Chinese population in the 1930s.
The Torreón massacre caused indignation in China, and Mexico eventually agreed to pay 3.1m pesos in gold in reparations, although the payment was never made.
In Torreón, nobody was ever charged – let alone tried or convicted – over the massacre, and today the events of 1911 remain largely unmentioned.
There are no monuments marking the tragedy and attempts to commemorate the events have been met with resistance.
“This matter of the Chinese killings makes us confront a truth that we haven’t wanted to talk about locally,” said historian Carlos Castañón, who oversees the municipal archives.
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