- The Man Who Wrote Pancho Villa: Martín Luis Guzmán and the Politics of Life Writing by Nicholas Cifuentes-Goodbody
Very infrequently is someone asked to review a book about not only a well-known figure such as José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, or Francisco [End Page 238] “Pancho” Villa, but also someone from your own cultural heritage—that is, until that figure teaches you something. It is almost cringeworthy to have to reread another history of the “greater-than-life” figure who was a hero to some, revolutionary to others, depending on one’s point of view. However, the author of this manuscript, Nicholas Cifuentes-Goodbody, wrote what he humbly calls a “book” that takes a greater view. The title is sadly lost in the cover of the book itself. “Pancho Villa” stands out in bright yellow at the top, but the true topic is Martín Guzmán, “the man who wrote Pancho Villa,” who writes both a biography and an autobiography in his writings about the civil war that broke out in Mexico in 1910; Guzmán himself is a vehicle of the creation of the official history of the institutionalization of the Mexican Revolution.
Cifuentes-Goodbody begins with an excellent chapter laying out what he intends—and indeed, completes—with compelling fashion in this book. He describes how he will intermingle Guzmán’s personal and professional life through his writing. This is a tumultuous time in Mexico. Pancho Villa, once backed by the United States, then pursued by General Pershing in the Punitive Expedition, went from hero to victim within a decade. Guzmán was there to document it all. He also lived under the political rule that would come to dominate what would start with the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and end up becoming “legitimate” one-party rule for much of the twentieth century.
Cifuentes-Goodbody skillfully steps the reader through the life of the “man who wrote Pancho Villa,” as it has everything to do with politics. Chapters include “The Push for Posterity,” “Looking beyond Mexico,” “Courting Cárdenas,” and “The Tlatelolco Massacre”—of course, complete with notes, references, and index. That said, the biggest omission is, as already stated, “the politics of writing.” The author makes an extremely strong case from the beginning of the book to the end that Guzmán’s body of work is not a simple biography of Villa nor an autobiography of his own life. It is a mixture of both. It is history from a man who lived during a period of turmoil. Guzmán was, eventually, to take his argument to Spain, which resulted in a backlash; he was called an expatriate in Mexico City. Here the author again makes a very persuasive point in that Guzmán had no other recourse than to take his concerns directly to Spain. Called a traitor to Mexico by some, Guzmán was accused of leaving Mexico for Spain during the Revolution and Spain for Mexico during the civil war. All this would certainly have political repercussions once he returned to the country of his birth and the one he genuinely loved.
Guzmán was to feel the repercussions of this perceived abandonment of his country upon his return. In 1970, and given his support for the Díaz Ordaz government, he was nominated as senator for the Federal District. At this point, Guzmán was eighty-three years of age, and his ties to Pancho Villa and “fleeing the mother country” were well known. Of course, his nomination was not well received by opposition parties such as the National [End Page 239] Action Party (PAN), which viewed the author’s candidacy as unconstitutional. In the words of Cifuentes-Goodbody, “Guzmán’s election to the Senate seems to be the culmination of a process of a gradual reincorporation into the highest political and cultural circles of Mexico that began in 1936” (160). However, this did not go without...