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"A Century of Women in Latin American Revolutionary Conflict" by Emily Bergstrom

"A Century of Women in Latin American Revolutionary Conflict" by Emily Bergstrom

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Published by: Tlecoz Huitzil on Sep 08, 2008
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06/16/2009

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 A Century of Women in Latin American RevolutionaryConflict
Emily BergstromMichigan State UniversityWomen have fought in armed conflicts throughout Latin American history, fromrural riots in 17
th
century Mexico, to the Andean Insurrection of the 18
th
century, to thestruggle for independence in Bolivia in the 19
th
century, to the Cuban and Central American revolutions of the 20
th
century, and many in between.
1
This femaleinvolvement has been poorly documented and largely ignored until recent decades forvarious reasons. First, many of the women who fought in these conflicts, especially inrebellions and revolts, came from marginalized sectors of the population: often poor,rural, and racially or culturally oppressed peoples. Therefore, though women regularlymade up large percentages of these revolts or rebellions and fought in leadership roles,
2
 historical texts tend to identify the entire mass movements by racial or cultural signifiersand do not specify or separate the women from the multitudes. In other circumstances,especially in the more organized or militarized ranks of an armed conflict, small numbersof usually elite women were able to become female soldiers. These women have alsotraditionally been excluded from historical writings, possibly because their low numbersmade mentioning them seem inconsequential or because they were understood to bemore of an eccentric faction of the army than a significant element within it.This trend of historical exclusion, however, has been rapidly and significantly lesseningover the last century. Here, I reason that this incorporation of women into the telling of Latin American revolutionary conflict is a result of two forces: social context andglobalization. In other words, changes in the social context of various nations has
1
Susan Socolow,
The Women of Colonial Latin America
159
2
Socolow,
Women Colonial Latin America
 
The Impact of Globalization on the Americas: 
Bergstrom
 An Undergraduate Conference on Scholarship and Career Paths 
Michigan State University October 23 24, 2003
2
allowed or encouraged larger numbers of female combatants and globalization andinternational interaction has steadily transformed revolutionary rhetoric in all parts of theworld, specifically in Latin America in the later part of the 20
th
century and hasfundamentally altered in posture towards women in armed conflict. Three conflicts of the last century have contributed particularly meaningful elements towards the recentevolution of women’s place in the history of Latin American revolutionary conflict: theMexican Revolution of 1910-1914, the Cuban Revolution of 1959, and the NicaraguanRevolution on 1979.
The Mexican Revolution
 Social Context and Roles in the Fighting: Mexico in the early 20
th
century was avastly polarized society with great demographic differences between the urban and ruralspheres. For women who participated in the Mexican Revolution, their roles in theconflict were greatly determined by their class, race and other factors. Women of thecountryside, most likely poor, uneducated, and of mixed race or indigenous decent, areoften described as being "swept up" by the revolution. In other words, these womenwere not in a position to
choose 
to participate for political or ideological reasons, butwere instead implicated for more localized reasons of economical or personalrelationships. These women, called
soldaderas 
, followed the soldiers as the armytraveled across the country and "…forged for food, cooked meals, nursed the wounded,washed clothes, collected the soldiers’ salaries, and performed a multitude of tasks notprovided by the Mexican military…"
3
Some women aided the troops in this way becauseof their relationship to a particular soldier (a husband, lover, son, brother, etc.). Many
3
Shirlene Soto,
 Emergence of the Modern Mexican Woman: her participation in Revolution and Struggle for equality, 1910-1940
(Denver, Colorado: Arden Press, 1990), 43-4
 
The Impact of Globalization on the Americas: 
Bergstrom
 An Undergraduate Conference on Scholarship and Career Paths 
Michigan State University October 23 24, 2003
3
women performed the task as a job since the wage-earning troops provided a constant,if meager, commerce opportunity for the women, which they translated into a livelihoodby selling food or other services.Women also occupied another role in the Mexican Revolution, that of the femalefighter. These women were generally urban, white, educated, and affluent. They aremore likely to have chosen to participate in the insurrection for political or ideologicalreasons rather than for economic ones. Female fighters were not commonly associatedwith the lower ranks of fighters. They were many times uniformed, experiencedmembers of cavalry units (though many provided their own horse, gun, and attire, as "itwas unlikely that an officer would deprive a male soldier of his animal to give it to awoman."
4
) Sometimes, these fighters had a relationship to someone in the military andwere economically or socially powerful, allowing them the chance for a higher ranking orsome degree of respect. Others concealed their identity and worked their way upthrough the ranks disguised as men. Many became lieutenants and colonels and wereknown in their ranks for their bravery and for their harsh punishments of deserters oranyone who disobeyed orders.
5
 Globalization and Revolutionary Rhetoric: Though globalization had less of adirect impact on the women of the Mexican Revolution than it would have on thewomen of the two following revolutions to be discussed here, both the history of the
soldaderas 
and the female fighters of Mexico were heavily influenced by revolutionaryrhetoric. The
soldaderas 
provided a motherly image of suitable behavior (feeding,nursing, caring) for women during wartime. They have been depicted by "José
4
Andrés Reséndez Fuentes,
 Battleground Women
(Found in
 Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter- American Cultural History,
1995 51 (4)) 525-553
5
Ester R. Pérez and James and Nina Kallas,
Those Years of the Revolution 1910-1920, Authentic bilinguallife experiences as told by Veterans of the War,
(San José, California, Aztlán Today: 1974), 163

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