* The women who took up arms in the Mexican Revolution
Very little historical attention has been paid to women in combat. Yet in footnotes you’ll find the women who have served alongside men in various conflicts across the globe and time. Perhaps you’ve seen the images that have been etched in the mind of Mexicans and Chicanas: women soldiers, or soldaderas, dressed in long peasant skirts with bullet belts crossed over the chests. They carried weapons to defend their ideals and revealed the courage and determination of women.
I’ve always felt that these revolutionary women called Adelitas sought to remind us all that the patriarchy exists at our pleasure. But of course, most took up arms and followed men into conflicts because they didn’t want to wait at home. Like the husbands and brothers they followed, they were searching for the opportunities to better their lives. While some were forced into service, these women cooked, smuggled supplies, served as nurses and, still others, participated in the fighting becoming coronelas, or colonels, who led soldiers into battle.
History includes the few known women who donned male clothing (as if women never wore pants in the countryside!) Two notable soldiers who passed as men were Angela Jimenez, who fought under the name of Angel Jimenez, and Petra Herrera, who became known as Pedro. Both earned recognition for intelligence and valor. The latter was also known for the skill of destroying bridges and led 200 men during her service. Another remarkable voice who wasn’t involved in battles, Dolores Jiménez y Muro, became a writer and advocate of human rights and government change. She served under Emiliano Zapata who made her a colonel when he heard of her work for the poor.
One other name pops up in the search, Amelio Robles (Amelia), who is considered the first transgender figure in Latin American history. Robles adopted the mannerisms common among men and stood out for skills of drinking, fighting, horse-riding and shooting. The Ministry of War recognized Robles as a veteran of the Mexican Revolution. In honoring the Adelitas, we must not overlook Robles contribution as a Zapatista who continued to identify as male when the war ended. Read more about Robles.
The many photos of the Adelitas have inspired generations to look toward the archetype of a woman warrior and the symbol of fierce action and dynamic inspiration to women. The name is used to refer to a woman who struggles and fights for the rights of women.
Of course, Mexicans love an excuse to sing, so it’s no surprise that the popularity of Adelita led to a ballad, un corrido, that honored her as beauty and bravery, though perhaps not her sacrifice.
“Popular among the troop was Adelita/ the woman that the sergeant idolized/ and besides of being pretty she was brave/ that even the Colonel respected her.”
This week of Mother’s Day, I want to honor the fierce women who taught me that I not only could but should stand up for human rights. ¡Vive Adelita!
Who has inspired your determination and courage? Leave names in the comments!