Soldaeras holding rifles. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-25760

While I was growing up, my family often told me stories of the Adelitas of the Mexican Revolution: the women who fought alongside men to liberate the country from an oppressive dictatorship. Whenever I visited Mexico during the celebration of any holiday, there never failed to be a couple of women dressed as Adelitas. These women dressed in their long, bright skirts, beautifully embroidered shirts, big hats, and bandoliers often left me in complete awe. Unfortunately, these women only appeared in family stories and Mexican festivities, never in my studies. In fact, until I took a class on Latin American History at Amherst College, I had never even studied the Mexican Revolution; but even then, Adelitas were not the main topic of any one class.

Thus, when I enrolled in Professor Brenneis’ “War in Translation” seminar, I had my mind set on studying the wonderful women I had heard so much about in my childhood. My research taught me so much about who they were and what their roles were, depending on which side of the war they fought on; I even found a book with dozens of names and even some pictures. Reading the names of so many women in Mexican history made my historian heart feel like it would burst. Even better, quite a few of them were described as having been teachers, newspaper editors, poets, and writers; surely, I thought, I would find something to translate.

I set my sights on the work of a particular Adelita, – Adelitas, I also learned, were officially called soldaderas – Dolores Jiménez y Muro. She was everything: a teacher, newspaper founder and editor, poet, writer, and a notable feminist. She even co-wrote the preamble to Emiliano Zapata’s “Plan of Ayala,” (a document which any student of the Mexican Revolution quickly learns about). The problem? I could not find her work; I soon learned that I either did not have access to her work or that it was just not accessible digitally.

By the time I was supposed to move on from the research and onto the actual translation, I had nothing. So, I began translating the memoir of a male Mexican revolutionary, Isidro Fabela. He was nothing like Jiménez y Muro: he was a wealthy landowner, a lawyer graduated from the best of schools, and friends with the sons of the high officials he was trying to overthrow. His views were much more moderate than Jiménez y Muro’s radical ones. But his work was accessible. In fact, my research led me to a foundation bearing his name that contains a whole archive of his writing.

The difference is striking: a man who spent the revolutionary years sitting at a desk, attending protests on horseback and traveling by train influences the narratives of history, yet the words and thoughts of a woman who fought on the ground, gave up her job, and was even imprisoned for demanding socio-economic reforms are locked away in the obscurest of archives. Alas, when the end of the semester came, I had one source from Jiménez y Muro to translate, thanks to the research librarians at Frost, but it was something she had only edited, not written, so they were still not her words. Knowing that I would return to this project during the summer, I continued to investigate her story – and Isidro Fabela, just in case.

While I was able to contact people who have studied the work of Dolores Jiménez y Muro more in-depth, the slow proceedings of the research meant that, for the time-frame of this colloquium, I would have to give her up and focus solely on the work of Fabela. I must admit that I was very disappointed when I finally accepted this, not wanting to let go of my Adelitas just yet. But I also realized that just because I could not do it for this specific project, it did not mean I had to give it up entirely for the rest of my academic career. Good things – and good research – take time, I suppose.

As I continued to work on Fabela’s memoir, I became more invested in the actual translation aspect of the project than the content, and doing so made me enjoy it more. There are many things I do not agree with Fabela on, and in the beginning it made it harder for me to actually care about his work. However, by focusing on the translation aspect of it, I remembered the initial reason why I decided to enroll in the class: I am interested in the history of events as experienced by the people who lived them, regardless of their stance. I started to pay more attention to the information his memoir contributed to the study of the Mexican Revolution, like his anecdotes about notorious revolutionaries, instead of what his perspective lacked. Just because he does not discuss the same issues that a woman would, it does not mean that Fabela’s voice should not be heard. Only through understanding all of the sides of a conflict can we make up our own mind about how and why the Mexican Revolution happened.

As discouraging as it was to have to give up on Adelitas, my research has served me as motivation for future projects. The frustrations and obstacles I encountered in trying to access the work of Mexican women made me realize how important it is to have someone willing to go through the troubles to shed light on their stories. Everyone has come to accept that history is written by the winners, but few question why these “winners” are almost always men, especially white men. I refuse to accept that the women whose stories go untold are “losers” in any sense. If anything, they are even more heroic for the fact that they accomplished so much under greater pressures. I may have had to give up on Adelitas for this specific project, but that does not mean I am giving up on them forever.

I can pursue my interest in the stories of Mexican women because I am fortunate enough to be bilingual in English and Spanish. As such, I am capable of reading about this great event in Mexico from the point of view of Mexicans. There are plenty of students also interested in this topic who do not possess the same abilities, and it is a shame for them to miss out on their academic interest for lack of available translations. Beyond my personal interest in the stories of women in Mexican history, and even if I do not agree with the views of people like Fabela, I have to admit that the existence of memoirs like his is a positive contribution to the study of the Mexican Revolution. (I still wish Fabela had at least mentioned women in his writing, though.)

Image credit: Soldaeras holding rifles. From: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, (Accessed 11/25/19).

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