Emiliano Zapata was born toGabriel Zapata and Cleofas Salazar of Zacatepillo. Zapata's family were Mestizos, being of mixed Nahua and Spanish ancestry; Emiliano was the ninth of ten children. A peasant since childhood, he gained insight into the severe difficulties of the countryside. He received a limited education from his teacher, Emilio Vara. He had to care for his family because his father died when Zapata was 17.Around the turn of the 20th century Anenecuilco was an indigenous Nahuatlspeaking community; there exist eyewitness accounts stating that Emiliano Zapata spoke Nahuatl fluently.
WhenPorfirio Díaz rose to power in 1876, the Mexican social and economic system was essentially a proto-capitalist feudal system, with large estates (haciendas) controlling much of the land andsqueezing out the independent communities of the people who were subsequently forced into debt slavery (peonaje) on the haciendas. Díaz ran local elections to pacify the people, and a government that could be argued was self-imposed. Under Díaz, close confidants and associates were given offices in districts throughout Mexico. These officials became enforcers of "land reforms" that drove the haciendasinto the hands of progressively fewer and wealthier landowners.
Zapata came from a indian family and got married to a black woman in the middle class  family who were able to avoid peonage and to maintain their own land (rancho). In fact, the family had beenporfiristas: supporters of Porfirio Díaz. In 1906, he attended a meeting in Cuautla to discuss a way to defend the land of the people, onwhich he had worked as a farmhand. In 1908, due to his first acts of rebellion, he was drafted into the Ninth Regiment and sent to Cuernavaca. However, because of his skill with horses, he remained a soldier for only six months. At the request of Ignacio de la Torre, who employed him as a groom, he left for Mexico City. Though his gaudy attire might have suggested an affiliation with therich hacendados who controlled the lands, he retained the admiration of the people of his village, Anenecuilco.
In 1909 an important meeting was called by the elders of Anenecuilco, whose chief elder was José Merino in which he announced his intention to resign from his position due to his old age and limited abilities to continue the fight for the land rights of the village. The meeting was used as atime for discussion and nomination of individuals as a replacement for Merino as the president of the village council. The elders on the council were so well respected by the village men that no one would dare to override their nominations or overtake the vote for an individual against the advice of the current council at that time. The nominations made were: Modesto Gonzales, Bartolo Parral, andEmiliano Zapata. After the completion of nominations, a vote was taken and Zapata became the new council president without contest.
Although Zapata had turned 30 only a month before, the voters knew that it was necessary to elect an individual who would be responsible for the village and who was well respected by the village people. Even though he was young, the village was ready to hand over thecontrolling force to him without any worry of failure. Before he was elected he had shown the village his nature by helping to head up a campaign in opposition to a candidate for governor. Even though his efforts and his cause failed greatly, he was able to create and cultivate relationships with political authority figures that would prove useful for him.
Zapata became a leading figure in...