Ricardo Flores Magon Academy: Why was embattled school named for anarchist writer?

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This week's cover story, "A Hard Line," takes a look at the Ricardo Flores Magon Academy, a charter school in Westminster with both high test scores and a high number of former teachers, one of whom recently filed a discrimination lawsuit against the school. Among complaints voiced by some former teachers is that the students there are called "Magonistas" in a nod to the followers of the school's namesake, Ricardo Flores Magon. So who was he?

According to several books, Ricardo Flores Magon was an anarchist journalist who was instrumental in the Mexican Revolution to overthrow dictator Porfirio Diaz. Born on September 16, 1874, his foray into politics -- and the first of his stints in jail -- happened in 1892, when he participated in student-led demonstrations against Diaz's reelection.

The next year, he helped organize the first of several revolutionary newspapers for which he would write during his 48 years. The Ward S. Albro book, Always a Rebel: Ricardo Flores Magon and the Mexican Revolution contains excerpts of some of his writings, such as this one from that time period: "God help Mexico! where human beings are treated worse than cows and hogs. Where 80 percent of all the hacienda workers exist -- not live! -- in a state of peonage or plain slavery."

After that newspaper was suppressed, Magon disappeared from the political scene until 1900 (partly to attend law school, which he did not finish), when he reemerged with a different newspaper, Regeneracion. In it, he criticized the government, calling Diaz out by name. In 1901, he was arrested as a result. After his release from prison in 1903, he fled to the United States, where he spent the rest of his life.

In the U.S., he reestablished the newspaper in San Antonio, Texas, writing, "Tyranny has run us out of our own country, forcing us to search for liberty in a foreign land... We shall attack General Diaz as the man who is directly responsible for the misfortunes of the Mexican people and because he represents the most hateful, bloody and fatal tyranny that has ever been experienced by our country."

But Magon's troubles followed him to the U.S. and after an attempt on his life, he and his fellow exiles moved themselves and the newspaper to St. Louis. Again, Mexican authorities attempted to suppress the paper and Magon was arrested once more.

In 1906, Magon and others formed the Mexican Liberal Party. According to the book Anarchism and the Mexican Revolution: The Political Trials of Ricardo Flores Magon in the United States by Colin M. MacLachlan, the PLM "advocated for Mexican economic nationalism, political freedom inside Mexico, bread-and-butter labor issues such as the eight-hour work day and international working-class solidarity."

In 1907, Magon relocated again to Los Angeles, where he was arrested yet again. He faced trial and was found guilty of conspiracy to violate the neutrality law. He was imprisoned until 1910. He continued to write, rechristening his newspaper Revolucion. Around this time, he proclaimed that he was an anarchist.

The books suggest that from 1910 until his death in 1922, Magon had less personal influence on events in Mexico, though his writings lived on and inspired several uprisings both in Mexico and the U.S. In 1918, he was arrested again for writing a manifesto addressed to "Members of the Party, Anarchists of the World and the Workingmen in General." He was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to twenty years in prison, where he died.

School founder Marcos Martinez says he named the school after Magon because he wanted the name to reflect his vision of a school that would hold low-income, Spanish-speaking students to high standards of achievement.

"We wanted to name it after someone that the community can identify with," he says. "At first I thought, okay, maybe Emiliano Zapata or Pancho Villa, but I said, you know, even though those guys believed in their people and their cause and they were great leaders, I thought, you know, I want to name it after someone who used their intellect. Not their gun. Not violence. Ricardo Flores Magon was an intellectual. He was a lawyer. He has written numerous publications. And he used his pen and his brain to make change."

Martinez hopes his school is making change too and points to its superb test scores and the accolades it's won for its tennis and chess programs as proof. However, the school has also racked up several complaints in its five-year history, including that administrators discriminate against women, fire teachers for no good reason and impose a militant school culture. Martinez denies the allegations, but will that be enough to win the school another charter when its current one expires in June?

More from our Education archives: "Life Skills Center: DPS board votes to shutter alternative school, which vows to appeal."

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