Bor­der town in­vaded by Villa re­jects wall, troops

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

COLUM­BUS, N.M. — A small New Mex­ico bor­der town once at­tacked by Mex­i­can rev­o­lu­tion­ary Pan­cho Villa is re­ject­ing talk of a wall and troops while em­brac­ing its legacy to draw tourists.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis has cited Villa’s 1916 raid of Colum­bus as an ex­am­ple of why Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was de­ploy­ing troops along the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der. The de­ploy­ment comes as thou­sands of mi­grants flee­ing gang vi­o­lence and poverty in Cen­tral Amer­ica head to­ward the U.S.

Colum­bus res­i­dents say those liv­ing on both sides of the bor­der in the area have co-ex­isted peace­fully since the Villa in­va­sion. They say the raid was a phe­nom­e­non of a dif­fer­ent era, and that us­ing it to jus­tify tighter bor­der se­cu­rity ig­nores more press­ing needs such as eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and bet­ter roads.

“It’s just an ex­cuse,” said Roberto Gu­tier­rez, 63, who owns a gro­cery store in Colum­bus. “Ever since then, peo­ple on both sides go back and forth (be­tween the U.S. and Mex­ico) with no prob­lem.”

The town is us­ing the Villa as­sault to gen­er­ate his­tor­i­cal in­ter­est and try to pull in vis­i­tors rather than as a cau­tion­ary tale.

Colum­bus is set to launch a cam­paign called “Where Old Mex­ico Meets New Mex­ico” that spot­lights Pan­cho Villa State Park as a place where vis­i­tors can ex­plore the area near the scene of the at­tack and the spot where the mil­i­tary planned its un­suc­cess­ful bid to re­trieve Villa from Mex­ico.

Res­i­dents mark the day of the raid ev­ery year to re­call the Amer­i­cans killed.

Some­times there is a quiet mo­ment with can­dles dis­played in the mid­dle of the vil­lage. Other times there is a pa­rade with vol­un­teers dressed as Pan­cho Villa or U.S. Gen­eral John J. Per­sh­ing.

Shout­ing “Viva Villa! Viva Mex­ico!” Villa’s forces at­tacked Colum­bus in the early morn­ing of March 6, 1916, loot­ing and burn­ing homes and busi­nesses.

About a dozen res­i­dents and eight U.S. sol­diers were killed be­fore mem­bers of the U.S. 13th Cav­alry Reg­i­ment drove the Vil­lis­tas back across the bor­der.

Univer­sity of Hous­ton his­tory pro­fes­sor Jose An­gel Her­nan­dez said the raid came as Mex­ico was locked in vi­o­lent civil war. Villa felt be­trayed by Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son, who Villa be­lieved would rec­og­nize his rebel govern­ment, Her­nan­dez said.

“The raid has to be un­der­stood in the con­text of U.S.-Mex­ico diplo­matic re­la­tions and the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, not im­mi­gra­tion,” Her­nan­dez said.

The at­tack sparked out­rage across the United States, and Wil­son or­dered the Puni­tive Ex­pe­di­tion into Mex­ico led by Gen. Per­sh­ing to cap­ture or kill Villa.

The U.S. Army didn’t catch Villa and with­drew from Mex­ico amid diplo­matic pres­sure ahead of World War I.

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