Pancho Villa, posing with a motorcycle in 1914 I wanted to know where his offices and headquarters were: the Mills Building, the Toltec and the First National Bank in El Paso. In Juarez, his headquarters were in the Customs House and on Lerdo Street. How much money he had in the bank on this side of the line: $2,000,000. What kind of jewelry his wife wore to high-toned Sunset Heights tea parties: five diamond rings, a double-chained gold necklace with a gold watch and diamond-studded locket attached, a brooch, a comb set and earrings with brilliants. Villa’s musical tastes: He enjoyed “El Corrido de Tierra Blanca,” “La Marcha de Zacatecas,” “La Adelita,” and “La Cucaracha.” Pancho Villa took me to places where I never expected to goI traveled throughout the United States and Mexico. But although Villa is everywhere in this book, it’s ultimately not about him. He’s merely my tour guide. Instead Ringside Seat to a Revolution is about an offbeat collection of indi viduals who were in El Paso and Juarez during the revolution. Many crossed Pancho Villa’s path at one time or another. More often than not, they were both spectators and active participants during one of the most fascinating periods in the area’s history. This book is about insurrection from the point of view of those who official historians have considered peripheral to the main eventsmilitary band musicians who played Verdi operas during executions in Juarez; filmmakers who came to the border to make silent flicks called The Greaser’s Revenge and Guns and Greasers; female bullfighters; anarchists; poets; secret service agents whose job it was to hang out in every bar on both sides of the line; jazz musicians on Avenida Juarez during Prohibition when Villa tried to capture Juarez for a third time; spies with Graflexes; Anglo pool hustlers reborn as postcard salesmen; Chinese illegal aliens; radical feminists; arms smugglers; and, of course, revolutionaries, counterrevolutionaries and counter photo courtesy of the El Paso Public Library counterrevolutionaries. Ringside Seat to a Revolution deals not so much with history as it does with microhistory. A surprisingly large number of the events related to the Mexican Revolution took place within a five-square-mile area between downtown El Paso and the Juarez customhouse. Microhistory at its best is more about small gestures and unexpected details than grand explanations. It’s a method of study that focuses more on the mysterious and the poetic than on the schematic. It’s like prospecting for gold or exploring underground mazesthose honeycombed tunnels underneath Oregon Street in El Paso’s Chinatown that the U.S. customs officials raided during the turn of the century. Elderly Chinese immigrants opened secret doors for them. In one underground chamber the border agents found cans of opium; in another, they found a young man playing an exotic stringed instrument the American officials had never heard before. Several excellent historical works JANUARY 13, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
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