Matria: A Film About the Mexican Charros Trained to Fight Nazis

Given recent stories in the news about certain Nazi-sounding people threatening to “invade” Mexico again, here’s a little food for thought.

A 2014 film called “Matria” gives important context to Mexico preparing for invasion and helping America defeat fascism in WWII, a relationship almost never discussed.

The Nazi war machine after WWI still was very tightly bound to military tradition like horsemanship (not to mention a post-Versailles regulation). So of course it makes perfect sense the movie centers on Mexican cowboys (the original cowboys) who were trained to protect their country against invasion by horse-riding Germans.

The threat and rise of fascism in Mexico is perhaps best explained in the work of a German languages professor in Guanajuato, a fascist provocateur named Hellmuth Oskar Schleiter. He had served in German intelligence during World War I and became a fervent adherent to Nazi party objectives for Mexico, masking them in “Make Mexico Great Again” campaigns (Unión Nacional Sinarquista).

Juan Alberto Cedillo describes in his 2007 book “Los nazis en México” how a network of German spies grew and linked across high-ranking Mexican officials, hoping to seize resources like oil reserves.

Nazi military intelligence campaigns really took hold with German companies doing business in Mexico, as evidenced by Swastika flags draped over their doors. The overt fascist signaling was then followed by violent attacks targeting Jews, Chinese, communists, and trade unions. A dangerous increase in threats to law and order from organized actions of fascist “Shirts” (first Green, then Gold, modeled on Hitler’s Brown Shirts) killed several people in 1935-1936. For example as fascists tried to open fire into crowds, ten of them were shot dead by police.

The Mexican government, driven by rising public outcry, tried banning violent fascist agitators from political groups (five years ahead of America). Their ban in fact resulted in the German-backed puppets moving headquarters from Mexico across the border to Mission, Texas.

Operating with protection from Texas the fascist anti-government “Gold Shirts” openly campaigned to violently undermine democracy until their leader died in 1940.

GEN. RODRIGUEZ, MEXICAN FASCIST; Leader of Gold Shirts, Exiled as Enemy by Cardenas in 1936, Dies in Juarez GOT HIS TITLE FROM VILLA Continued Activities Along the Border–Had 800,000 Ready to March on Capital

This might be a good point to remember how white foreigners like Davy Crockett a century earlier had immigrated to abolitionist Mexico and fought a violent campaign to create a pro-slavery state. The Nazi Germans in 1936 perhaps could be framed as walking down this well-known path of the 1836 Texas’ origin story. After Texas was birthed to deny freedom to non-whites it then was annexed by a foreign power (United States) under strict provision for the preservation of slavery. You perhaps could see why Mexico in 1937 eyed Texas and the United States as sources of fascism and racism. By 1939 German spies operating in America had managed to run a huge Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden under nativist and xenophobic “America First” banners.

I mean the 1940 reports of 800,000 fascists organizing in the former Mexican territory of Texas to invade capitol cities and replace elected governments with a racist dictatorship sounds strangely… familiar today. Not to mention the Sinarquista regressive nonsense falsely promising nativists a “return to old Mexico”.

Then, in May 1942 everything changed for Mexico when a Nazi submarine hiding in the Gulf sank two Mexican oil tankers seven days apart — Potrero del Llano and Faja de Oro. This switched defense concepts of Mexico from domestic to international. President Manuel Ávila Camacho responded with a call-to-action and declaration of war on Germany, Italy and Japan.

A popular veteran of the Mexican Revolution and President of the National Association of Charros — Antolín Jiménez Gamas — proposed that Mexican cowboys be organized to defend against the primarily horse-based Nazi military. A Legion of Mexican Guerrillas was formed and within a year Jiménez had 150,000 charros in 250 stations trained and ready to fight Nazis.

Of course Mexico also modernized its military. President Camacho created the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force (FAEM). Texas, given its slavery-based secession and habit of being on the wrong side of history in its attacks on Mexico, had been a constant problem for the freedom-loving Mexicans. Suddenly in 1942 America and Mexico joined on the same side for freedom and against the Axis powers.

The alliance was based on Mexico providing raw materials and labor to America for production of mechanized combat, such as planes and tanks, and in return Mexican pilots would be trained in Texas for combat. Negotiations with America to provide raw war materials slammed the door shut on Nazi aspirations to take them by force.

The FAEM became known as the Aztec Eagles. Their Escuadrón 201 was sent into duty for the Luzon, Philippines campaign and flew nearly 100 combat missions, side-by-side with Americans.

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