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  • The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence, 1810–1821
  • Joan Bristol
The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence, 1810–1821. By Eric Van Young. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. xvii plus 702 pp. $75.00/cloth).

The process of Mexican independence from Spain began with the 1810 uprising of Father Hidalgo and his plebeian followers and ended eleven years later when Iturbide, a former Spanish officer, proclaimed himself emperor of the republic. The relationship between these events and the connections between elite leaders and rural followers are not always clear. What did rural plebeian rebels hope to gain in the fight for political independence? What was the role of ideology in the independence struggle? How did Mexican independence compare to contemporary Atlantic revolutions? Eric Van Young addresses these questions with thorough analyses of empirical data, compelling microhistorical accounts, and attention to issues of discourse and representation. The “Other Rebellion” was the rural insurgency which was separate in many ways from the war waged by elite creoles to gain independence from Spain. Rural insurgents were not inspired by the anticolonial ideology which motivated creole elites. Instead they fought in order to protect their local cultures and communal autonomy from the incursions of colonial authorities.

Van Young’s findings challenge several long-standing characterizations of the independence struggle. Data from cases of 1,284 people captured for insurgent activity, most between 1810 and 1812, show that about 55% of the participants were identified as Indians, rather than mestizo, as historians influenced by the “cosmic race” idea (the idea of Mexico as an heroic mestizo nation) have long [End Page 261] assumed. Appendix A discusses the methods used to analyze this data. Rural insurgents were motivated to participate by frustration at personal and professional setbacks; by loyalties based on ties of kinship, friendship, and love; and by longstanding local alliances and feuds. The local nature of rural rebels’ concerns is illustrated by the fact that insurgent activities generally took place close to home, especially for Indians. Van Young also challenges the traditional emphasis on the power of leaders to incite insurgents. Indian notables, whose influence was feared by colonial authorities, were underrepresented in the insurgent forces as compared to Indians in general, probably because of their ties to the colonial regime, the source of much of their authority and material benefits. The majority of “cabecillas,” or low-level leaders, were not indigenous and did not have village-level ties. They, like other leaders, facilitated rather than motivated the participation of rural insurgents. Although priest leaders like Hidalgo are often used to symbolize the independence struggle, Van Young estimates that as much as 80% of the clergy remained at least passively loyal to the crown. Priests who did get involved in the insurgency on both sides were motivated by various reasons ranging from personal discontent to political convictions. Van Young illustrates the complex web of motivations that inspired leaders through portraits of specific people, including four priest cabecillas and a delinquent-turned-cabecilla named Chito Villagrán. Delinquency and rebellion were often intertwined. While Villagrán’s rebel activities seem to have stemmed from his pre-insurgency criminal activities, a letter sent by Villagrán (probably written by a member of his entourage) indicates that he had ideological concerns as well. Villagrán discussed who had the right to rule Mexico and seemed to suggest that the Mexican people together would decide on the appropriate form of rule. Appendix B contains the Spanish version of this letter. Van Young puts the rural insurgencies within the context of a longer tradition of popular discourse, protest, and collective violence. Three chapters on village riots show that local insurrections were often rooted in resentments and local politics which had pre-insurgency era roots. Older messianic ideas about mystical kingship were also an important part of rural insurgent ideology, and some Indian insurgents claimed that they were fighting for the Spanish king, who was a savior figure in their eyes, against the Spanish government. Fascinating descriptions of individuals and events show that the insurgency gave people a vehicle and a language for acting on motivations which...

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pp. 261-263
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