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Two birthday boys

12 May 2010

Two Mexican Revolutionary figures with difficult names — and often misidentified even by scholars — share a birthday today.

"Juan Andrew Almazan" photo from Nevada Observer

Juan Andreu (or Andrew) Almazán — born 12 May 1891) was a political chameleon.  Trying to figure out exactly which side of the Revolution he was on (answer:  all of them) is only slightly more difficult than straightening out his name.

He had no English antecedents, although he claimed something even better — that he was a direct descendant of Moctezoma.  Not likely, but even good Mexican sources often misspell his Catalan apellido paterno (Andreu) as the English name “Andrew” and scholars (even native Spanish speakers) assume “Juan Andrew” was his given name.

Ray Acosta — who probably knows more of who was who in the Revolution than anyone alive — managed to straighten out the scholars in his book, and get the guy’s name right… and figure out who he was fighting for and against at any one time, but at the cost of  insomnia and near breakdowns by two editors.

As a medical student in Puebla, he joined the Madero movement in 1910 and accompanied the “apostle of democracy” into exile, joining the Revolution in 1911, when — sent by Madero to negotiate with Zapata, he joined Zapata’s anti-Madero movement.  Then… when Madero was overthrown by Huerta — going back to the federal government.  When Huerta was tossed out in 1914, rather than join the victorious Constitutionalists, Andreu joined the counter-revolutionary Orozco (who himself had moved from an anarchist to supporting the old guard in rural Chihuahua).  People forget Zapata was fighting to maintain traditions… which often put him on the side of the reactionaries.  And, being somewhat cast as an Anarchist, Orozco and Andreu slipped easily into the new role of Zapatista allies.

Zapata, allied with the Conventionalists (as opposed to the Constitutionalists) seemed to have the upper hand for a time.  But, by 1916, with the Conventionalists melting away, Andreu managed to find a new losing faction to join.  The outlier of the Revolution — the Felicists (promising a return to the good old days of Don Porfirio, under the rule of his nephew, Felix Diaz).

Of course, things finally sorted themselves out and the Constutituionalists, under Venustiano Carranza more or less had the upper hand.  For once, Andreu picked the winning side, joining Obregón’s 1920 “revolt” when Carranza tried to extend his presidential term through a proxy candidate.  This time he managed to stick with the government… through the 1924 attempted “Revolt of the Generals” serving in the cabinet under Ortiz Rubio.  Maybe he just got bored growing rich on paving contracts and investments in Acapulco real estate.  He left the government in 1939 to run as a far right wing candidate in the 1940 election… garnering almost six percent of the vote.  And finally got the hint that politics wasn’t his calling.  He died in 1965.

Abelardo L. Rodriguez (photo: Crisol Plural, Aguascalientes)

Abelardo Luján Rodríguez (born 12 May 1889) has a less problematic family name.  Some scholars give his birth name as Rodríguez Luján, others as Luján Rodríguez.   It is possible Luján was his mother’s family name, and not his father’s, but the Mexican records suggest otherwise.

The confusion seems to stem from his activities in the United States (where only one family name is the norm).   Mexicans often find their apellido materno mistaken for their “last name” and the more commonly used apellido paterno is taken as a “middle” name. As a very young man, he worked in the United States as a professional baseball player.  In the 1920s, his Tijuana business catered to gringos.  Apparently, the U.S. style name stuck.

Abelardo looks rather comical in his military uniform, and it’s hard to think of him as a pro baseball player, which he gave up to join the Revolution in his native Sonora in 1913.  A Calles loyalist, he was appointed Military Governor of Baja California Norte in 1921, and stayed on as governor of the Baja (at that time a single state) until 1929.

The 1920s was the  “noble experiment” north of the border, and Luján Rodriguez — perhaps with less than noble intentions, but certainly practical ones — set up a highly successful wholesale liquor business in Tijuana.  His business acumen, and his political reliability, and his … uh… well-oiled connections north of the border, led to his short stint as interim president when Ortiz Rubio retired for reasons of ill health (the bullet hole someone had put in his jaw had a little to do with that, though  Ortiz Rubio thought Plutarcho Elias Calles’ disapproval of his administration was even more detrimental to his health).

Not yet fifty when he left office in 1936, Luján Rodriguez had a surprisingly honorable — though less colorful — post-presidential career.  Although he’d never finished primary school, with his business and political experience serving as his higher education, he was the first rector of the Autonomous University of Sonora.  After a term as governor of his home state, he moved north of the border, running businesses (all legit) and teaching at UCLA until his death in 1967.

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