A Brief History of Mexico, Abridged
Despite the fact that almost 30% of Las Vegas residents are of Latino origin, a whole lot of the residents don't know anything about the Mexican Revolution. It gets all tangled up with Zorro in some of our heads. And we think that Mexico is a small place.
Mexico had two major revolutions. They can be confusing because the first one lasted from 1810 to 1820. The second one lasted from 1910 to 1920. (You have to wonder whether the Mexican government is a bit edgy about what will happen in 2010!)
Here's what Mexico looked like in 1839, after Texas declared itself independent of Mexico, but before Texas became part of the United States:
You can see that Mexico was pretty much larger that the entire rest of the United States! (PBS has a great interactive map that shows how the United States expanded over the years. Seeing how we absorbed huge amounts of Mexico is truly impressive!)
Here's (very, very) brief history of Mexico.
Prior to 1517, the inhabitants of Mexico did what pretty much every early civilization did - they worked to live and support themselves, and spent a lot of time fighting amongst themselves.
In 1517, the Spaniards arrived. Because of some religious predictions, the natives believed the Spaniards were divinely sent, and the conquest went a lot more easily that in should have.
The Spaniards ruled for the next 300 years. Those of Spanish descent ruled. Those of mixed blood (Spanish and Native) were next in the power hierarchy. The native population was lowest in rank and power. The Spaniards were not effective rulers. They devastated the native population, and the land.
The mixed blood residents rose up and brok from Spain in a revolution that lasted from 1810 to 1820.
For the next 100 years, things didn't get a whole lot better. The very rich held all the power, and everyone else was very poor. There was a lot of jockying to see who would be in charge. No one was happy.
In 1910, things came to a head, and the non-landowners rose up and demanded more equitable sharing of resources and power. That war ended in 1920, after a lot of infighting and power plays. At one point, Pancho Villa invaded the United States. The US Army retaliated, but were never able to bring Pancho Villa to heel. Power changed hands rapidly, mostly as a result of violence or assassination. At the end, General Obrégon was elected President.
This is roughly where we come in at the beginning of Esperanza Rising. The Revolution is over, but there's still a lot of banditry and bad feelings towards land owners.
Obviously, this is a very cursory history. There are excellent histories of Mexico in the library. The link I gave you (above) has many quite readable selections that give much more detail.