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The Beautiful Face of Courage: The Adelitas Women of the Mexican Revolution


They looked for water and food for the soldiers, built barricades to protect them in the evening, healed the sick, carried the weapons. They went on foot to the sidewalk, following the battalions where husbands, fathers, brothers, and lovers participated. They are the soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution (1910), better known as “the adelitas”, and participated in all the sides that made up this armed movement: Maderistas, Zapatistas, Villistas, Carrancistas.

 
Many times they had the worst part of the war and some leaders never acknowledged their commitment to the cause. Most of them are anonymous faces and their drama barely appears in the history books. However, some of them were immortalized in the corridos, songs of the time that compiled the experiences of the Revolution.

 
In these corridos their leaders were portrayed, events were narrated and the female presence was reflected in the battalions, always faithful, brave, cheerful, self-sacrificing and even flirtatious, with a personality so typical that it inspired the rest of the group. They even had the courage to dance and find fun in hiding.

 
The photographs of the movement reveal their appearance: dressed almost always in their petticoats or long skirts, wearing scarves and hats. Other times they are practically disguised as men, only their eyes give them away. They rarely appear smiling. Their look had become stern and distrustful, however, they are seen preparing food, guarding their children in their rebozo, sharing the fate of the soldiers.

 

 The “adelitas” or “soldaderas” also occupied more strategic roles as spies, distributing propaganda or clandestine mail agents. Despite this, there were privileges to those who could not access, for example, horseback riding. Even when pregnant, they had to follow the troops walking. If their partner died, they could take their place in the battalion and this was how they could get to occupy military ranks. The greatest rank for a woman was that of a colonel, although almost all the troops had a woman who distinguished herself by her leadership and was the one who coordinated the rest of the women.

 
About how many women participated in the Revolution, there are no precise figures. You have to immerse yourself in the archives to know the names of these brave women and the tragedies they suffered: Petra Guerrera, Hermila Galindo, Juana Belén Gutiérrez, Coronela Caritina …

 
One of the saddest events occurred in 1916, at the Santa Rosalía station in Camargo, Chihuahua, when Villa snatched the train station from the Carrancistas. Ninety women Carrancistas were arrested and one of them shot Villa. Enraged, the “Centaur of the North” demanded to know who had fired at him. As none responded, they were all shot.

 
The “adelitas” or soldaderas were also part of the coveted booty in the clashes between the various revolutionary groups. They were wanted to rape them and thus disgrace the enemy. Thus, these brave and loyal women do not differ much from what other women have been in the wars of the world: consolation and relief, soldiers of a lesser category, cannon fodder. But they have also known to be the most beautiful face of courage.

 


 

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