If you’re like most Americans, you probably haven’t heard of the magonistas and their role in sparking the 1910 Mexican Revolution. But for UCLA history professor Kelly Lytle Hernández, the magonistas changed the course of history and are integral to modern American life. The insurgency, led by Ricardo Flores Magón, was made up of a disparate band of journalists, miners, and migrant workers. Their aim was to overthrown Mexico’s dictator, Porfirio Díaz, and to drive U.S. imperialists, who supported Díaz, out of Mexico. Díaz called the rebels ‘bad Mexicans.’
“An army of migrant workers, cotton pickers, and ordinary people who were able to raid Mexico four times between 1906 and 1910,” says Lytle Hernández. “These raids stoked fear across the United States…because United States capitalists had a major stake in Díaz’s Mexico. U.S. citizens owned about a quarter of the Mexican land base and dominated key industries.”
Mexico was a place where U.S. citizens either made or multiplied their fortunes, and so the U.S. had a financial interest to work with Mexico to shut down the insurgency, according to Lytle Hernández. She says the rebellion opened a new chapter in policing policy, with one of the first cases of the newly formed FBI being to capture magonistas.
Her book, “Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands,” won the 2023 Bancroft Prize. She argues that despite this history being ignored by textbooks, the magonistas inspired a revolution that gave birth to the modern Mexican-American population.
One of the nation’s leading experts on race, immigration, and mass incarceration, Lytle Hernández is also the author of “Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol,” and “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles.” She leads Million Dollar Hoods, which maps the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. For her historical and contemporary work, Lytle Hernández was named a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow.