Emiliano Zapata is the Mexican rebel leader who said "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." A former sharecropper, he organized and led peasants during the battles of the Mexican Revolution, joining forces with Pancho Villa and others to fight the government of Porfirio Diaz. Zapata supported agrarian reform and land redistribution; his rallying cry was "Land and freedom!" (His positions attracted the support of some urban intellectuals, who linked him to the theories of Karl Marx.) Though Diaz was defeated, Zapata continued to resist subsequent government leaders; he was ambushed and shot by Mexican troops in 1919. Zapata remains a folk hero in Mexico, where his name has often been invoked by more modern-day rebels like Subcommander Marcos.
Emiliano Zapata was played by actor Marlon Brando in the 1952 movie Viva Zapata! (John Steinbeck won an Oscar nomination for the film’s screenplay; Anthony Quinn won an Oscar as Zapata’s brother Eufemio)… Zapata’s cry of “Land and freedom” (Tierra Y Libertad) is sometimes translated as “Land and justice.”