By Mildred Boyd
January 2004 Guadalajara-Lakeside Volume 20, Number 5
In 1914, U.S. officials at Fort Bliss, Texas, were somewhat surprised
to find that the army of 5,369 Mexican revolutionaries interned there
included 1,256 women and 554 children! It shouldnt be surprising.
Both Indian and Spanish sides of the Mexicanas heritage
include courageous women. Meso-American myths teem with tales of female
warriors and virtually every Earth Mother deity doubled as War Goddess,
wielding both shield and broom to symbolize that duality. Spanish wives
and daughters accompanied their men throughout the conquest and several
earned encomiendas for extreme bravery.
The role of the Soldaderas has been
denigrated to that of loose women and whores (which, admittedly, some
were) by calling them galletas (cookies) and cucarachas
(cockroaches). They were, nevertheless, essential as foragers, cooks,
nurses, laundresses, couriers and spies. Most carried weapons and fought
alongside the men. A few achieved high command, especially under Zapata,
and still fewer received veterans pensions. Even mere camp followers
managed to achieve a dubious equality, if only in the right to face
enemy fire carrying infants on their backs. They were also equal on
the long marches but, on troop trains, the men rode inside while women
and children clung precariously to the roofs.
If I die in battle, the soldiers
sang, Adelita, I implore you, cry for me. But who was Adelita?
Was she the shy 14-year-old nurse or the vicious 21-year-old killer?
Was she a harlot, a saint, the sweetheart of the regiment or Pancho
Villas private paramour? Although there is a photograph identified
as Adelita, there is no proof that this most famous of soldaderas
actually existed. Certainly, the glamorous heroine of song and story
never did. Many of her purported exploits happened, but to other women
who remain faceless and unsung. In time, the name denoted any female
soldier so, in a sense, Adelita not only existed but, according to another
song, Adelita never dies!
In 1910 a force of over 1000 swept through
Tabasco and Chiapas looting, burning and killing. Hardly an unusual
event in wartime, except that this particular groups commander,
brandishing a bloody machete and vowing to decapitate Diaz, was a woman.
Margarita Neri earned such a reputation for ruthless slaughter that
the Governor of Guerrero, on hearing of her approach, hid himself in
a crate and was sneaked out of town. Some say that she served as an
officer under Zapata. Others insist that, although he admired and sent
men to recruit her, they so offended her that she cut off their ears
to emphasize her refusal. Whatever the truth, she seems to have deserved
the accolade of a superb guerilla commander.
As weapons expert, crack shot, and nurse Margarita
Ortega would have been invaluable but, teamed with her daughter, Rosaura
Gortari, she also excelled as courier and spy. Unfortunately they fought
on the losing side against Madero. Captured by the Maderistas, they
were force-marched into the desert and left without food or water. They
survived the ordeal but Rosaura died soon after reaching refuge in Phoenix.
Margarita did not long outlive her daughter. Sent on another mission
into Sonora, she was recaptured. Forced to stand in a cage, poked, prodded
and savagely beaten when she collapsed, she still refused to betray
her comrades and, after four days of torture, was summarily executed.
Choosing pen and petition over knife and gun
made Flores de Andrade no less the rebel. She was an ardent member of
a secret society whose not- so-secret aim was to overthrow Diaz and
achieve freedom for all Mexicans. To this end, she marched and
petitioned so successfully that she annoyed, not only Diaz, but the
U.S. officials who supported him. Hunted by both, she sought refuge
in the north but was eventually captured and sentenced to death. Facing
the firing squad, she allegedly grabbed the commanders rifle,
forced his men to down their weapons and held out until President Taft
ordered her release! However improbable, she did survive to tell
Maria de la Luz Espinoza Barrera, La Coronela,
served with such distinction throughout the war that she was actually
awarded a veterans pension. Unfortunately, she had survived all
those battles only to find herself and her lifestyle socially unacceptable
in peacetime. For one who smoked, drank, gambled and feared no
man to revert to the timid submissiveness expected of women was
unthinkable. Like many veterans, Maria found conformation impossible
and spent the rest of her life, a restless soul as an itinerant
peddler, still dressed as a man and carrying a pistol.
In all corners of the world an anguish lives,
wrote Dolores Jimenez y Muro, and I dont have the indifference
to see, the cowardice to flee, or the meekness to accept it. A
powerful political writer and speaker, poet and private secretary to
Carranza, Jimenez allowed neither persecution nor imprisonment to distract
her. While in jail she helped create a plan, primarily to
bring Madero to power, but also addressing numerous social reforms,
including higher wages for all and land restitution. Her stand on the
latter issue earned the admiration of Zapata and an invitation to join
him, but it was not until Maderos death in 1913 that she accepted.
Though over 70, she remained politically active, still with a price
on her head, long after Zapatas assassination in 1919.
As early as May, 1901 Juana Belen Gutierrez
de Mendoza was publishing an inflammatory anti-Diaz newspaper in Guanajuato.
Since she also attacked the church and advocated emancipation for women,
its little wonder that she often found her presses confiscated
and herself imprisoned. After Maderos accession in 1911, disenchanted
with his apathy in redressing social injustices, she joined the equally
disillusioned Zapata and fought on, this time with a gun. After Zapatas
death she returned to the intellectual battle, founding yet another
newspaper. Her outlook, after nearly two decades of conflict, was bitter
and grimly realistic but still, somehow, hopeful.
To the handful of women mentioned here and
to the legions of others who fought and are still fighting with equal
courage, Viva, Las Adelitas!