First, NO shade. We harbor Frida Kahlo no ill will, in fact are adamant fans of her paintings and honor her unique struggle as a queer woman of mixed background luchando in Mexico. we do, however believe that her image has been used to trap Mexican ideology in some kind of commodified kitsch to be printed and reposted everywhere as the one and only woman who fought for rights in Mexico, obscuring others and telling one version of feminist mexico. So we want to scratch the surface and introduce you to some others you may never have heard of until now.
Colonization and ‘New Spain’ (1519–1810)
La Malinche (1500–1529) is one of the most profound and complicated symbols of feminism in what is now Mexican ideology. She was sold into slavery at least three times beginning at the age of 8. Probably a mixture of natural inclination and survival necessity she learned several indigenous languages as she was moved around the country. Eventually she was given as property to one of the generals in the invading Spanish army led by Hernan Cortes. Working with other interpreters, she translated between multiple languages and eventually assisted the communication between Cortes and Moctezuma and according to some gained her freedom by doing so. She had a child with Cortes but because she was not recorded in official documents, Spain did not recognize legitimacy. She married later and also had another child, bu the illegitimacy of her first child with the Spanish invader is what has captured the Mexican imagination for centuries.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648–1695) was self educated, some say at three years old she had learned to read and write in Latin. She taught herself Nahuatl, Greek logic theory and composed poetry during a time when girls were forbidden a formal education. She became a nun in 1667 “to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study” and pursued knowledge focusing her writings on philosophy, love, the rights of women and religion. She criticized the misogyny and patriarchy of the catholic church and advocated for the access of all women to an education and professional life.
Mexican War for Independence and the Porfiriato Regime (1808 -1911)
Leona Vicario (1789–1842) helped finance the Mexican War of Independence from Spain and was a member of the secret rebel society called Los Guadalupes. Leona was well educated and driven by her feminist ideals became one of the first female journalists in the country.
Laureana Wright de Kleinhans (1846–1896) founder of the feminist literary journal, Violets of Anahuac. The publication promoted female education and insisted that the intellectual equality between men and women was the means of emancipation. She was one of the first feminist theorists in Mexico, asking women to question their role in society and the conditions in which they lived.
Rita Cetina Gutierrez (1846–1908) was a teacher and feminist living in the Yucatecan city of Merida. With the help of two friends she opened La Siempreviva, Mexico’s first secular school for poor girls and an art college for young women. She also founded a scientific and literary society and a newspaper specifically written for women.
The Mexican Revolution (1911- 1925) “The First Wave”
Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza (1875–1942) was an indigenous woman and part of the Caxan people of Durango. She argued that the Mexican Population could not count on the leadership of political parties given that they wanted to obtain office in order to protect their own interests. Her two newspapers, Vesper & El Desmonte spoke out against foreign domination and the Porfirio Diaz regime.
Elvia Carrillo Puerto (1878–1968) Through the feminist leagues which Carillo founded, family planning programs were instituted with legalized birth control, the first in the Western Hemisphere. Elvia believed large families were a barrier to a better life for the poor and distributed literature by Margaret Sanger, who would later go on to found the American Birth Control League, later known as Planned Parenthood.
María del Refugio García (1898 -1970) In 1935 co founded “Sole Front for Women’s Rights” and she worked with radical groups for women’s suffrage and the right to stand for office. Which she did twice and was dismissed regardless of having won both of the elections. She argued for the agrarian code to be modified to allow women the right to apply for government land grants. She also addressed worker’s rights, calling for all women to be allowed maternity rights, for indigenous women to be encouraged to take their place in society and politics, and for unemployed women to be helped by establishing work centers.
The Second Wave (1968–1989)
Alaíde Foppa (1914–1980*) was a writer, art critic, teacher and translator. In 1972, she created the radio program “Foro de la Mujer” (Women’s Forum) which was broadcast on Radio Universidad, to discuss inequalities within Mexican society, violence and how violence should be treated as a public rather than a private concern, and to explore women’s lives. In 1975, she co-founded with Margarita García Flores the publication Fem, a magazine for scholarly analysis of issues from a feminist perspective. Foppa financed the publication from her own funds. It is widely argued that in 1980 she was kidnapped and murdered by the state in Guatemala but no investigation has followed up and her case remains unsolved.
Marta Lamas (1947 -) is the co-founder of feminist magazine, Fem. In 1987, she co-founded the first feminist newspaper supplement in Mexico for the newspaper La Jornada. In 1990, she founded Debate Feminista, a publication aimed at connecting academic feminist theory with the practices of activists in the women’s movement. She also founded the Sociedad Mexicana Pro Derechos de la Mujer (Semillas) which connects women across class difference. The group sponsors cooperatives and micro-enterprises and offers support centers and work groups which address problems women face, including human rights issues. In 1992 Lamas co-founded the Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida to “disseminate information on abortion and reproductive and sexual health and rights from the bioethical, social and legal perspectives to lawmakers and the press”.
EZLN & Indigenous Women’s Rights (1994/the start of NAFTA — present)
Comandanta Ramona (1959–2006) a Tzotzil Mayan & one of seven female commanders in the EZLN army that consisted of one-third women. Ramona helped outline the spaces that needed to be created for women both in the nation of Mexico and within their own indigenous communities.
“Women’s Revolutionary Law”
1. Women have the right to participate in the revolutionary struggle in the place and at the level that their capacity and will dictates without any discrimination based on race, creed, color, or political affiliation.
2. Women have the right to work and to receive a just salary.
3. Women have the right to decide on the number of children they have and take care of.
4. Women have the right to participate in community affairs and hold leadership positions if they are freely and democratically elected.
5. Women have the right to primary care in terms of their health and nutrition.
6. Women have the right to education.
7. Women have the right to choose who they are with (i.e. choose their romantic/sexual partners) and should not be obligated to marry by force.
8. No woman should be beaten or physically mistreated by either family members or strangers. Rape and attempted rape should be severely punished.
9. Women can hold leadership positions in the organization and hold military rank in the revolutionary armed forces.
10. Women have all the rights and obligations set out by the revolutionary laws and regulations.
Femicide & Modern Resistance
Marcela Lagarde (1948-) is credited with being the first person to introduce the concept of “femicide” to Latin American audiences as the abduction, death and/or disappearance of women and girls which is allowed by the state, or happens with impunity. In 2003, Lagarde served as the president of the national commission on femicide & issued 14 volumes of their research to the legislature. In 2009 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a verdict against Mexico condemning the failure to protect hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez, who were killed.
Arussi Unda helped organize the National Women’s Strike on March 9, 2020 in Mexico to protest and raise awareness of the increasing violence faced by women across the country “women are the gatekeepers of our crumbling country, yet we are the ones being assassinated, raped, disappeared, bought and sold by traffickers. We care for the children, for the sick, for the elderly, and yet our governments have systematically denied us our right to rebel against an unjust system / If we stop, the world stops”
Yesenia Zamudio helped lead the takeover of the human rights commission building downtown Mexico City in September 2020 “We’re here so that the whole world will know that in Mexico they kill women and nobody does anything about it,” She is still seeking justice for the slaying of her 19-year-old daughter four years ago. The activists have transformed the building into a safe house for victims of gender violence.
Andrea Murcia is a feminist photojournalist in Mexico City. We support her work as she documents the modern resistance and bears witness to the stories of women who will not be forgotten. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of our Fortuna Bandana is directly invested in supporting her continued work