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Book Review: Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution by Elena Poniatowska

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Anyone who knows me even just a bit knows that Elena Poniatowska is my favorite author and hero. She, along with Eduardo Galeano, has opened my eyes over the years and has given me the strength to fight for indigenous rights, immigrant rights, and the lifelong battle to regain and preserve our lost traditions and culture.  

Her writings on the Mexico earthquake, Nothing, Nobody and on the 1968 massacre of unarmed student protestors at Tlateloco, Massacre in Mexico, moved me greatly, changed how I viewed the world, my Chicanismo, put a fire in my soul, and was first introduction to her work. These books made me a lifelong fan and avid reader of anything she writes. Imagine how excited I was to find this little book through Cinco Puntos Press!

The soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution have always fascinated me. There are stories in my family of them and I’ve always wanted to know more. Elizabeth Salas, in her excellent book, Soldaderas in the Mexican Military, fed some of my thirst for knowledge of these extraordinary women as did Ms. Poniatowska’s Hasta No Verte, Jesus Mio, her biographical book about the experiences of an actual soldadera in the revolution. Still, I found myself wanting to know even more. I have dreams of the soldaderas. They want more, they want their stories to be out there, to be told. Las Soldaderas is one of the answers to them.

Ponitowska writes, “Without the soldaderas, there is no Mexican Revolution – they kept it alive and fertile like the earth.” I believe her. Her narrative of the amazing contributions and tribulations of these valiant women really give you the feel of what it was like to march hungry, search a battlefield for your man, to really suffer as they did, and to be fierce and indomitable. I stand amazed at how much they did, how strong they were, and how little they were valued by most people.

This little book is crammed with photos from the incredible collection of Agustin Victor Casasola in the Fototeca Nacional of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico. The photos give voice and face to these women. There is tenderness, anger, rage, sadness, determination, weariness, happiness, romance, and excitement. There are young women with rifles, holding baskets of food, and setting up camps. These women were everywhere in that revolution on all of the fighting sides.

I learned of Nellie Campobello, the only female novelist of the Revolution who was also a soldadera, and was amazed that I had never heard of her. There are a lot of little details like that in the book, little bits of information that are tremendous in what light they give to the darkness of knowledge I have about them. Finding out about Nellie has me on a quest to find out more, to dig deeper, and to go to Mexico and dig up her writings. I want to see for myself, read for myself a soldadera’s memories.

I could go on for days about this important little book, but I won’t. You need this book. The Soldaderas need you to know them. 

Originally published in Mexico as Las Soldaderas, a coedition of Ediciones ERA and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, © copyright 1999

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About Gina Ruiz

  • This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!