Leona Vicario defied convention.
A financier and intelligence gatherer for Mexico’s independence struggle two centuries ago, she broke gender barriers and publicly refuted an allegation that she made sacrifices for her country to win the man she loved.
As Mexico marked its independence day yesterday, the anniversary of revolutionary leader Miguel Hidalgo’s 1810 call for freedom from Spanish colonizers, some academics and advocates said Mexico has yet to fully embrace Vicario and her forward-thinking positions on equality.
She did not command rebel armies or die by execution like Hidalgo and successor Jose Maria Morelos.
However, Vicario challenged not just foreign rule, but also a society that deemed women unworthy of public roles.
This year, Vicario is in the official spotlight, even as Mexico endures high rates of violence against women and other contemporary afflictions.
On Aug. 21, a bronze statue of Vicario, fists on hips, was unveiled on the Paseo de la Reforma, a major Mexico City avenue.
While Vicario also got a state funeral in 1842, her name is inscribed in Mexico’s Congress building and a town is named after her, some say more is needed.
“Incorporate her into textbooks, make her story reach young people by every means possible,” said Celia del Palacio, author of the historical novel Leona and a researcher at the communications and cultural studies center at Mexico’s Universidad Veracruzana.
Vicario was born in Mexico City in 1789. She studied widely at a time when such an education was mostly denied to women, including those of means.
Her parents died in 1807, leaving her a fortune with which she funded rebel activities.
Spanish authorities discovered her secret role. Vicario fled, ended up on trial, escaped, had her property confiscated, married independence figure Andres Quintana Roo and had children, and returned to Mexico City in 1820 as crown authority crumbled.
After independence, a newspaper published her rebuttal to politician Lucas Alaman, who suggested Vicario campaigned against Spain to win the affection of Quintana Roo.
Love is not the only “motive for the actions of women,” she wrote in 1831.
Vicario said her “actions and opinions have always been very free, absolutely nobody has influenced them, I’ve always operated with total independence on that point, and without catering to the opinions of people I have respected.”
“I think all women are like that, except for the very ignorant, or those who have become subservient because of their education. In both those groups, there are also a lot of men,” she added.
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