Tag Archives: women in Mexican History

Women in Mexican History–Stories from the Revolution–Marcelina

train adelita

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.

girl 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.

Claudia shares:

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.

women in the revolution

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?)


Would you like to read more about women in Mexican history?

Check out A Woman’s Survival Guide to Holidays in Mexico.

cover holidays


Filed under Guest Blogger Adventures, Mexican Cultural Stories, Mexican Holidays, Politics

Women in Mexican History–La Malinche

Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 3 – ‘The Eclectic Others’

This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. In this final week of the carnival our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Eclectic Others’ (the third, and final, chapter in Cathy’s new poetry collection).

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.


The Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgin of Guadalupe), a.k.a. Nuestra Reina de México, La Empresa de las Americas and The Protectress of Unborn Children, is the most revered religious and political image in México and her only noteworthy act was to appear on a hill top and instruct a peasant to build a shrine in her honor, make an image on a cloak appear miraculously and speak Náhuatl, oh and somehow also be the ever-virgin dark-skinned mother of Christ. (See  Christmas in Mexico—La Virgen de Guadalupe)


I say the position and title of Mother of México belong, not to La Virgen, but to another woman, one reviled in Mexican history so much so that her very name is used to mean traitor, one who prefers foreign to Mexican. (malinchista) Yet, this woman’s life story is one that women, especially Mexican women, can find evidence of a life well-lived despite the circumstances she found herself in.

La Malinche, Malinalli, Malintzin, known as Doña Marina to the Spaniards, was born sometime between 1496 and 1501 into a noble family in the Paynalla province of Coatzacoalcos, in the Veracruz region of southern México. She was named “Malinalli” after the Goddess of Grass, and later “Tenepal” meaning “one who speaks with liveliness.When her father died, her mother married again and had a son. In order for the son to inherit her former husband’s estate, Malinalli’s mother sold her to slave traders but told the neighbors that Malinalli had died, even presenting the body of a dead slave girl to bolster the lie.


In the course of her early slave life, Malinalli learned to speak Mayan in addition to her native Náhuatl. Eventually, she became the property of the Cacique (ruler or chief) of Tabasco. During this period, Hernán Cortés arrived in Tabasco. The Maya gave the Spaniards food, cloth, gold, and slaves, including 20 women, one of whom was Malinalli.

In order for the new Spanish owners to take the women as their own, they were purified through baptism and given Spanish names. Malinalli was given the name Marina at her baptism in 1519. Cortés then gave the newly converted women to the highest-ranking officers. Marina was given to Alonso Hernández de Puertocarrero. After a month, when Alonso Hernández de Puertocarrero returned to Spain at Cortés’ orders, Marina became the property of Cortés.lamalinche-translator

Marina began her career as a translator for Cortés at this point, first through Jerónimo de Aguilar who translated from Spanish to Mayan, then later without intermediary when Marina learned Spanish. She became known as Malintzin, the Nahuatl suffix “-tzin” denotes respect, among the indigenous people they visited and Doña Marina among the Spanish. The title Doña was used to indicate the bearer was a lady, nobly born. Both groups, therefore, recognized that she held a position that was more than a slave.


So where did the name La Malinche come from? Cortés was known as Malintzin-é among the indigenous people. Attempting to pronounce this Nahuatl name, Spanish-speakers rendered the soft Nahuatl tzin-é sound as ch; the result was Malinche. As Doña Marina was never far from Cortés, she became known as La Malinche, the feminine version of Cortés’ name. Some scholars argue that Malinche can be translated as Captain and La Malinche is the Captain’s Woman, or perhaps Cortés received his status through Malintzin and the titles should be reversed. He himself gave her some credit when he wrote in a letter to Spain, “After God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina.” God, after all, did provide the Spanish with smallpox and greed which led to the decimation of the indigenous people. In comparison, Doña Marina played a much smaller role of translator, negotiator and adviser.

All accounts show that Doña Marina was extremely loyal to Cortés. This does not mean she was a traitor to her own people, however. It is clear from the records of the time that she saved countless indigenous lives by forging alliances between the Spaniards and the native groups. She also actively encouraged the Spaniards to negotiate rather than fight. She was not always successful in keeping the massacres from happening, though.

la malinche

Doña Marina’s role in Mexican history was not limited to the political arena. She had a son by Cortés in 1522. Their son, Martin, was taken from Doña Marina and sent to live with Cortés’ cousin when he was two years old. In 1526, Doña Marina was married to Juan Jaramillo, although whether the marriage was by force or by choice is not clear. After all, Cortés already had a Spanish wife and couldn’t or wouldn’t marry the indigenous mother of his son. Cortés later took a second wife, who bore him a son also named Martin. The second Martin inherited all of Cortés’ estates in Spain and in New Spain after his death in 1547.

In 1527, Doña Marina had a daughter with her legal husband Jaramillo, named María. Her husband remarried the following year and attempted to disinherit their daughter. Although many scholars say that Doña Marina died in either 1527 or 1529, there are some who say that based on letters to Spain, she may not have died until 1551. Perhaps her death was faked and her child taken from her so that someone else would inherit her estates. It wouldn’t have been the first time for either event in her life.

I can only speculate what might have inspired Malinalli through her life’s journey. Perhaps she saw something more than what was and worked with what skills she had to make it real. Perhaps she despised the system that kept her a slave and worked to destroy it, only to find out that she had traded one set of chains for another.

The truth is that she birthed a new people, a new world, a new life, something more than what was before. She should be honored, not reviled for her acts. Like the Goddess of Grass that she was named after, Malinalli bent but did not break in the storm that ravished her country. 


For more information about this incredible woman:



Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:

The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!

and as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

If you’d like to know more about Mother’s Milk Books — our submission guidelines, who we are and what we do — please find more details here:


Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:

‘Heroines and Inspirations’— Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two of her own powerful, inspiring poems, and the stories behind them.

‘Sensitivity’Marija Smits shares a poem, with an accompanying image, that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of a highly sensitive person.

Georgie St Clair shares her creative female heroines in her post ‘Creative Others: Mothers Who Have It All’

‘The Eclectic Others – Or What Would I Have Been Without You?’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word a thank you to the women of literature and history who have been in her life, shaped her life, saved her life and gave her a future.

‘Barbie speaks out’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines shares a platform with feminist icon, Barbie.

‘Her Village’ — An older (much older than most) first-time mother, Ellie Stoneley from Mush Brained Ramblings firmly believes in the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. To that end, she has surrounded her daughter with the love, mischief and inspiration of an extremely eclectic bunch of villagers.

Survivor writes about the inspiring life of La Malinche and her place in Mexican history at Surviving Mexico: Adventures and Disasters.

Sophelia writes about the importance of her community as a family at Sophelia’s Adventures in Japan.


Filed under Carnival posts, Mexican Cultural Stories