November 20th is a day that is particularly special in Mexico: it’s the anniversary of the country’s revolution. From 1910-1920, freedom fighters engaged in battle to overturn the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship, under the political and military leadership of Emiliano Zapata.
While Zapata is immortalized in Mexican history books as a giant among men, less is known about the women who also fought alongside them to make insurrection possible. Soldaderas, the women of the Mexican revolution, are widely forgotten in the country’s collective political memory. Women who were a part of the country’s constant uprisings fell into two camps: those who directly fought alongside men as foot soldiers and those accompanied men, but instead worked as cooks, spies, and nurses. The last living soldadera, Leandra Becerra Lumbreras, has not seen the same recognition that Zapata and other male political actors at the time have, until now.
Lumbreras, whose story was chronicled by Artbound, is a revealing account of the 127-year-old’s last days in Mexico. The eldest living soldadera, described as independent, prickly in disposition, and possessing a great capacity to love was a woman of few words. She was one of the few women to be granted ejido, which was a communal land grant, after the revolution enacted land reform for farmers.
Moises Medina traveled to Zapopan, Mexico with artist Nao Bustamante to meet Lumbreras. “As the story is told, much to the chagrin and warning of other women, with babes in arms she lined up with other men demanding that she too receive compensation in the form of land for her military service,” Medina writes. “Men pushed her while woman berated her but she held steadfast, vocally insisting that she had bled, fought, and mothered children of the revolution, but silently taking large steps toward reaching some semblance of gender parity in Mexico. The certainty of these details are unclear, but maybe for her family it gives a historical context for Leandra’s prickly disposition.”
When asked by Miriam, a friend of Medina’s, about the revolution, Lumbreras’s answers were short, but packed with elusive meaning. She initially wouldn’t speak of when she first discovered the revolution, how she became involved, or what the revolution meant to her as woman, as silence was often her response. Minutes later, she mysteriously responded, “Yes, the revolution, yes. So many things, yes.”
“An uncomfortable truth washed over our faces. 127 years, as an age, is a long time,” continues Medina. “From such great heights you can see the world for what it is. The curvature of the earth, the enormity of it all. From such great heights you cast a long shadow, and maybe it’s too much to take in.Very little was vocalized. But much was said.”
Lumbreras provided logistics for male soldiers during the revolution. “Among many things this included cooking. Miriam supposed that the measure of a good woman started at her hands and her ability to grind corn, slap tortillas and turn them over a hot fire. For Leandra, it may have been that the measure of a good soldadera started at her hands,” Medina surmised.
The 127-year-old passed away in March of 2015, leaving behind a legacy of resistance and knowledge.