The role women were thought to play in the Mexican Revolution has been typically confined to the caricatures of the Adelitas. Although women did fight alongside their men, the Adelitas were not the only women involved in the revolution.
Claudia Guzes, a Mexican friend of mine, told me some stories about her family during the Mexican Revolution. With her permission, I have translated these stories and am sharing them to give name to some of these anonymous Women of the Mexican Revolution.
This is the story of my great-aunt Marcelina Magaña López, my great-grandmother’s sister, Alta Gracia Lucina Graciela Magaña López, originally from Moroleón, Guanajuato.
My great-grandmother Alta Gracia Lucina Graciela Magaña López told my mother some of the stories about her life during the Mexican Revolution. It was a difficult time for women. Soldiers, whether for or against the revolution, were known to kidnap women and girls, who were often not heard from again. Therefore, the people of the town and individual families would make special efforts to hide all the women and girls when soldiers came. Once the revolutionaries arrived in Quiahuyo and my great-grandmother, only a child at the time, asked the soldiers if they had come for las muchachas (girls). She told them that all the girls had already been hidden, which made the soldiers laugh. With good humor, they left without any girls that time.
My great-grandmother also told me a story about her brother Patricio Magaña López. He was in the habit of heading out to las mezquiteras en el cerro (large areas of mesquite trees) early in the day to work in the fields. One day, he was walking before the sun had risen and literally ran into bodies of soldiers (or rebels depending on the perspective) that had been hung near the entrance of Quiahuyo.
She also told stories about the difficult life of her older sister Marcelina Magaña López. Marcelina bore 8 children, four boys Antonio and Jose Luz (Chito), Eliazar (Eliaser), and unnamed baby boy and four girls Guadalupe, María, Josefina, and Bertha. During the Revolution, her husband, Hermenegildo Pérez, decided to fight with Venustiano Carranza sometime between 1910 and 1913. His particular group patrolled Chihuahua, Zacatecas, la Sierra Madre and up through Texas.
Marcelina was in constant fear for her husband’s life when he was off on patrols while she was at home with the children. This wasn’t an unfounded fear. When rebels were caught by los federales (federal troops) nearly all captives were killed. Once Hermenegildo’s group was captured and somehow he managed to not get shot. He hid among the dead bodies of his companions, pretending to be dead as well, and survived the revolution, although his proximity to canons during the war caused him to lose much of his hearing.
When Hermenegildo did get a chance to visit, he told Marcelina where he would be so that she could come and join him but did not give her any money for the journey. Despite the objections of her mother, Marcelina went, taking all her children with her. The journey was difficult and made more so by the fact that Hermenegildo had to change his location often to hide from los federales (Federal troops). The family traveled by boxcar from one area to another.
Food also was another difficulty on the road. Marcelina and the children often ate tortillas stuffed with nothing more than quelite del campo, an edible plant found along the sides of the road and abandoned fields, or other types of foraged vegetation. One of Marcelina’s daughters, Bertha, died when she was only a few months old as a result eating unripe peaches.
At times, the family sheltered under bridges. It became such an ordinary event for the children that when they finally were able to return home, her son Chito would cry because he wanted to sleep under the bridge again and not in his own bed.
On one of the family’s trips to San Luis Potosi, Marcelina gave birth to a baby boy who died a short time later. She left her other children behind and went to pedir limosna (charity) to buy the casket. On the road, she met with two men who were moved by Marcelina’s grief. They took Marcelina and her infant son to the panteon (cemetery) in their car and helped her bury him. The men promised that while they were alive, there would always be flowers on his tomb.
Both Hermenegildo and Marcelina survived the revolution. Hermenegildo became pious, reciting the rosary whenever the opportunity presented itself, and died at the respectable age of 80, although partially blind and completely deaf by then. Marcelina died much younger at the age of 60. It is most likely her life was shortened by the hardships she endured during the revolution and the “reconstruction” afterward.
This period of history, although now glorified with parades and fanfare, was devastating to many Mexican families. Thousands of families fled to the United States during the Revolution. The story of two such families, that of the Villaseñores and the Carmargos, parents of Victor E. Villaseñor are told in his biography The Rain of Gold. The accounts of these families are similar to Marcelina’s story, girls hidden under piles of chicken shit, women raped, traveling by train, high infant mortality, and families separated and destroyed. Villaseñor’s grandmother, the mother of 19 children, lost all but 3 of her children during the war. And what did all this suffering accomplish?
The conditions which sparked the Revolution, inequality of the distribution of wealth, censorship, extreme government control, are still present in México. Talk among the campesinos (farmers) is that it is time for a new revolution even as the government tries to repress it. Recently 43 students have “disappeared” (see Anatomy of a Mexican Student Massacre) hauntingly reminiscent of Tlatelolco student massacre of 1968. There is no doubt that women will be involved in this new period of civil change. It remains to be seen exactly how. (See Also Crisis in Mexico: Could Forty-Three Missing Students Spark a Revolution?)