Life and work
Francisco Javier Santamaría was born in 1886 in the
ranchería of Cacaos, to a
criollo family of modest means. He began his schooling in
Macuspana and completed his studies in
Villahermosa (then called San Juan Bautista) at the
Instituto Juárez, where he graduated with a teaching degree. He subsequently moved to
Mexico City to study law, obtaining his license in 1912.
Beginning at a young age Santamaría demonstrated a talent for composition and an appreciation for the
belles-lettres which would eventually evolve into a prolific career as a writer, lexicographer and linguist; his two most often cited works are the Diccionario General de Americanismos and the Diccionario de Mejicanismos, the second of which is a continuation and completion of
Joaquín García Icazbalceta's original project.
At the start of his political career Santamaría was an outspoken critic of
Plutarco Elías Calles and the
Partido Labortista over which he presided. He was also a close friend and political associate of
General Francisco R. Serrano (an inveterate enemy of Calles's), and supported the latter's presidential campaign for the 1925-1928 term, an enterprise which would ultimately end in the murderous defeat of Serrano and his closest associates. Santamaría would be the only one on Elías Calles's
hit list to not fall the night of October 2, 1927, an event known as the "
Huitzilac Massacre," which resulted in the
summary executions of Serrano and twenty six other generals, and which President
Álvaro Obregón ordered out of fear of military rebellion.
 His escape and survival would, however, result in years of exile and poverty in the U.S., an account of which he gives in Crónicas del destierro: Desde la ciudad de hierro (Chronicles of Exile: From the Iron City).
After returning to Mexico Santamaría re-entered politics by joining the
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); eventually going on to serve as a Senator of the Republic for
Tabasco from 1940 to 1946. Immediately after the conclusion of his term he was selected by the party as its candidate for the governorship of Tabasco, competed against three opponents and won handily, reportedly receiving 95% of the votes. As governor he worked to improve his state's educational system and general level of cultural and technological development, while continuing to write books and essays on a variety of subjects.
Francisco Javier Santamaría was a
numerary member of the
Academia Mexicana de la Lengua and held