COLUMBUS, New Mexico (Border Report) – Francisco Villa Campa says people often have the wrong idea about his grandfather.
Yes, he was a military man who had to make tough decisions. Yes, he is remembered as the last general to lead an invading foreign army into the continental United States. But he was also a man who cared deeply about affording others the education he never had.
“Education was a priority for him. He opened 50 schools and wanted his soldiers to learn” to read and write, the Mexico City lawyer said.
On Saturday, Villa Campa was a guest at the 25th Binational Festival of Friendship in Columbus, New Mexico. The three-day festival coincides with the date Pancho Villa’s troops rode into town, guns blazing.
The March 9, 1916, battle left eight American soldiers, 10 townspeople and 60 to 100 of Villa’s soldiers dead. The Mexicans had underestimated American troop strength in the town and could not counter machine-gun fire, according to historians. The raid prompted President Woodrow Wilson to send Gen. John J. Pershing on a punitive expedition to Mexico five days later.
The festival’s highlight was a nearly 100-strong contingent of riders from Mexico, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona riding from the Columbus port of entry to the center of town.
“This is our 25th anniversary of the Binational Friendship Festival. It’s called that because we are not celebrating Pancho Villa’s attack on Columbus. We are reaching out to our Mexican counterparts and friends to become closer, united with us,” said Columbus Mayor Esequiel Salas.
Nonetheless, an actor playing Pancho Villa rode at the head of the horse column while a corrido, or dramatic ode, played in the background. “Oye, tu, Francisco Villa/Que dice tu corazon/Ya no te acuerdas valiente/Que tomaste a Torreon. (Hey, Francisco Villa, what does your heart tell you? Do you remember, brave one, how you took down Torreon?)
The riders included men, women and children. Horacio Morales of El Paso says he has participated in the cavalcade for 16 years.
“This is a tradition that should continue forever. It’s important,” he said. “I enjoy riding all the time and I have a lot of fun here in town.”
The flags of the United States, Mexico and host New Mexico fluttered in the wind as the riders covered the three miles from the port of entry to Downtown Columbus with squad cars from the Luna County Sheriff opening the way.
Meantime at the town square, hundreds of locals and visitors sampled food from stands, listened to music that went from a Country Western duo playing cowboy songs to a DJ blasting Mexican regional music.
Fairgoers included tourists from Ontario, Canada, to visitors from Juarez, Mexico.
“What I really like is that both countries celebrate this. The ones from Juarez commemorate that Villa came here and the Americans celebrate the defense of their town,” said Juarez resident Corina Galvan, who came with her husband and son.
Salas said he is glad the festival draws people from all over North America to a small New Mexico town that is rich in history and has a Mexican sister city – Palomas, Mexico – just three miles down the road.
He said he knows of talk and media reports putting the future of the festival in doubt. But he promised the binational festival will continue next year.
“There is plenty of things to do here if you like history,” Salas said.