DIEGO RIVERA -- MY ART, MY LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (WITH GLADYS MARCH)
PASSAGE OF ANGER
A FEW MONTHS before leaving for Spain, while painting in the shadow of Mount Orizaba, the great volcano of Veracruz, I witnessed the earliest of the many terrible clashes that were to occur between the people and the despot Diaz.
It happened like this. Along the foothills of Orizaba were textile mills where Mexican peasants toiled for long hours under inhuman conditions. Petty regulations were enforced by the millowners to keep the workers at the level of beasts of burden. Infractions of the rules resulted in brutal beatings by the foremen. Wages were paid not in cash but in tokens redeemable in the company store. Since these wages were not enough even to keep an Indian peasant alive, the workers were continually in debt.
In the winter of 1906, the millowners increased the number of hated regulations while cutting the miserable wages. Without plan or organization, the outraged workers walked out of the mills.
With the naive trustfulness of Mexican peasants, they decided to appeal to the ""Father of His People" for help. A delegation of pajama-clad and sandal-shod workers trudged to Dial's palace. Diaz promised to take care of his '"children," and there was no hint of what was to follow in his reception of the delegation.
The way he took care of them was to send troops who shot down men, women and children gathered in streets. To this day, I can see the still bodies of the victims lying lifeless in the widening pools of their blood.
As the strike went on, the terrible soldiers returned. I put aside my brushes and joined the millworkers. Once the sabre of one of Diaz's mounted policemen struck me on the back of my skull, near the nape of the neck. I was thrown into prison with other strikers, and the stale prison bread was the most wonderful food I have ever tasted.
After my release, I found myself so paralyzed by helpless anger and frustration that I was unable to paint anything.
I boarded the ship that was to take me to Spain, still in the grip of horror. I could not sleep. Often 1 would stand at the bow alone, singing and yelling. My fellow passengers must have thought me a madman. How could I explain the scenes of carnage which I could not make myself forget?
And yet my chants and cries on shipboard remained more the wild shouting of a Nietzschean than the steely anger of a true revolutionary. Though my social and political ideas had grown more elaborate, they had also become less direct, clear, and biologically truthful than when, at six, I had spoken from the pulpit in the Church of San Diego. But I can truthfully say that the final crystallization of my political ideas began at this time.