Article by Jamie Shaw, Skunk Magazine
Previously (Inhibitive nature of prohibition) I have written of the racist nature of cannabis prohibition and I am certainly not the first to do so. I, and others, have highlighted how opium prohibition targeted specifically those from India and China. The anti-Italian sentiment of alcohol prohibition has been pointed out, and many are familiar with the initial anti-Hispanic nature of cannabis prohibition, and the use of the word ‘marijuana’. An earlier piece, Decolonizing Cannabis touched briefly on this word, as did A Woman Who Knows Her Place, but to fully explain the reasons prohibitionists chose ‘marijuana’ over say ‘Ganga’ or ‘Mah’, I need to tell a different story. One I promised in the above article to tell. It is a story of revolution, it is a story of cannabis, but mostly, it is story of cockroaches.
Pancho Villa. The name itself conjures images of Mexico, of revolution and anti-authoritarianism. Outside of Mexico, a century later, this is all the name evokes. A sense of rebelliousness, though against exactly what, and for exactly what, is somewhat undefined.
History is written by the victor, and yet while Villa is not viewed as a hero by the world’s America-centric culture, he hasn’t exactly been vilified by history either. The US’s stance on revolutionaries is somewhat complicated; they themselves overthrew a colonial European power after all, and this may be the informing principle of the American take: they absolutely supported Cuba over-throwing Spain, they even helped, but they didn’t very much like Castro overthrowing Battista. They appreciated Mexico gaining independence from Spain, but didn’t so much like Zapata and Villa for over-throwing Diaz first, or his successor’s appointee Caranza next. While the Zapata revolution continues to this day in southern Mexico, Villa’s revolution in the north of Mexico ended long ago. Villa, however, had something that Castro and Zapata did not – a Hollywood contract.
Between 1912 and 1916, four or five films were made starring Francisco Pancho Villa. The famed D.W. Griffith even shared a producer credit with him on one of these, a silent war documentary entitled Life of Villa. The Hollywood connection goes further, with no less than thirty six films about Pancho Villa over the last hundred years, starring such actors as Yul Brynner, Telly Savalas, Hector Elizondo, and Antonio Banderas. Despite this relatively high prominence in film, Villa’s biggest impact ultimately would not be in the world of film, nor on the Mexican government, nor would it be in the US Army’s military training. No. His biggest impact would be felt in Legislatures all across the US as an unwitting inspiration for one of the longest, most effective propaganda campaigns in history – cannabis prohibition.
Understand, I personally believe Pancho Villa was a brilliant, visionary man. Revolution doesn’t just happen in the political realm. When you and your entire nation are in the process of realizing that things don’t need to keep being the way they are just because that’s the way they were — this can lead to outside of the box thinking that has much wider-ranging repercussions.