May 312010

How did the State of Aguascalientes come to be so small, and sandwiched between much larger states?

Aguascalientes coat-of-arms

The area that is now the State of Aguascalientes was caught between the colonial jurisdictions of Jalisco and Zacatecas.  Prior to the Mexican Revolution it was considered part of Zacatecas, but after the War of Independence, in 1821 it gained status as its own political entity. This lasted only a few years. In 1824 it became part of the State of Zacatecas.

A decade later, in 1835, Zacatecas rebelled against the Federal Government.  General Santa Anna and his army squashed the rebellion, ransacked the City of Zacatecas and seized large quantities of the state’s silver. As payback for the rebellion, the Mexican Legislature separated the agriculturally-rich Aguascalientes Territory from the State of Zacatecas.

The more romantic version is that, “the independence of Aguascalientes was sealed with a kiss, as the locals are invariably quick to point out.”  (Tony Burton, Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury). While quelling the Zacatecan rebels, General Santa Anna met the beautiful Doña María Luisa Villa, the wife of the Aguascalientes’ mayor. Santa Anna was very attracted to her and promised her anything for a kiss. He got the kiss and fulfilled her promise by making Aguascalientes an independent territory under the governorship of her husband, Pedro García Rojas. Hence, the lips on the state’s coat-of-arms!

Detail from Aguascalientes coat-of-arms (Note the lips!)

But Aguascalientes’ independence did not last long. In 1847, the national legislature revoked its independence and put it back into the State of Zacatecas. However, a few years later in 1853, Aguascalientes regained independent status. Finally, under the new Mexican Constitution of 1857, Aguascalientes became Mexico’s 24th state, with the colonial city of Aguascalientes as its capital.

Aguascalientes is a rather small state. Among Mexican states it ranks in the lower 20% in both areal size and population (about 1.2 million).  Most of the population (over 900,000) lives in the industrial Aguascalientes Metropolitan Area.  Locals claim that the Aguascalientes Nissan plant is the largest outside of Japan.

The evolution of Mexico’s political boundaries is discussed in chapter 9 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

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