On Juana Azurduy, female revolutionary heroes & sexism

Juana AzurduyI was thinking about Juana Azurduy today – the lyrics of Mercedes Sosa’s song often run through my mind. And as compelling (or catchy) as the song lyrics are, Juana’s story is even more so. She was a mestizo woman from the Alto Perú (currently Bolivia) region of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata (currently Argentina). She rebelled against being a nun, was committed to the ideals of popular rights and freedom, and married a like-minded man. Together, they raised an army and battled the Spaniards using guerrilla-like tactics. She continued fighting even after her husband was killed in battle and she was injured, she through pregnancies and births – for over fifteen years. She received the official title of Lieutenant Colonel and later was named commander of the Northern Army. At one point she had over 6,000 troops under her command – waging a guerrilla style war against the Spaniards.
Her end was like that of other revolutionary heroes – not exile this time, but being set aside and left to die in poverty. She was only rescued from the pages of history a hundred years later, I’m not sure to what degree by Mercedes Sosa‘s beautiful song. Today, of course, she is recognized along the other heroes of the independence war in Argentina and Bolivia.
I learned Juana’s story and song when I was in elementary school in Argentina. The song really stuck with me, even thirty years later I remember many of the lyrics (press on “continue reading” below for the lyrics in English and Spanish). Part of me is surprised that I actually learned the story and song in school, given that our military government couldn’t have been too fond of any vindication of guerrilla warfare or anything associated with Mercedes Sosa. Still, the Argentine military did venerate all things martial, and specially those associated with the revolutionary war (after all, that has been the only war the Argentine military has fought /and/ won – if we don’t count the Conquest of the Desert, whereas the Argentine military conquered Patagonia by exterminating most of the Mapuche population) – so I guess they figured they might at least throw the girls a bone and tell them about Juana.
And Juana’s story is one that I want to tell my daughters. It’s one that inspires me and one that I imagine has inspired many other revolutionary women in Argentina. I want my little girls growing up knowing that women, as much as men, were responsible for the social changes that brought us freedoms and rights (which is also why I will tell them about Eva Perón, even though I was raised a radical and still cannot shake my bone set antipathy against her :-), and that it will be up to them to continue the struggle for rights and freedoms.
As I was thinking about Juana, it occurred to me that I couldn’t think of one female hero of the American revolution. The only one Mike could come up with was Betsy Ross (the woman who sew the first American flag). There must be other, more real ones – but they seem to be lost in darkness. And I wonder if having Betsy Ross as the “woman” of the American revolution does not do more harm than good – does it imply that the only way women can help revolutionary movements is through domestic pursuits? Do we only have men to thank for the freedoms and rights we enjoy in America? At least in Europe you have women throwing salons and contributing to the spreading of the enlightment, on which not only the French Revolution but the independent movements in all of the Americas are based. And you have women /directly/ participating in the war efforts in WWI and WWII (including in the French and Italian resistance movements – I’ll write about one such woman later). But where are the revolutionary women in America?
I’m not sure what is the chicken and what is the egg, but this led me to think about just how terribly sexist American society is. And I mean sexism in the sense of people believing that women are actually intellectually and/or ethically inferior to men – not /different/, I think women and men are different, but ultimately less. It’s not the sort of thing that you can pinpoint easily, but if you lived in other countries, you’d know what I’m talking about. For example, why is it that twice as many girls in the Arab world chose to become engineers as in America? Why is the idea of having a female president still so revolutionary in the US, when there have been women presidents in South Asia, Europe and Latin America for decades? But even those are just symptoms – what I’m talking about is something much more ethereal, something that you can actually feel and that my daughters will have to grow up to counter.
Below is the video of Sosa singing and the the words of the Juana Azurduy song, my free translation in English and the real ones.


Juana Azurduy
Flower of Alto Peru
There is no other captain
more courageous than you
I hear your voice
beyond Jujuy
and your audacious galloping
Doña Juana Azurduy
I’m in love with my ripening motherland
Sleepless I walk on its face
The Spaniard will not go by
He will have to fight with women
Juana Azurduy
Flower of Alto Peru
There is no other captain
more courageous than you
The cannon thunders
Give me your rifle
Revolution
is smelling like jazmin
Land of the sun
In Alto Peru
The echo still calls
Tupac Amaru
Land in arms which becomes woman
Amazon of freedom
I want to fall in your squad
And at the call from your voice, attack.
The cannon thunders
Give me your rifle
Revolution
is smelling like jazmin

Juana azurduy
Flor del alto peru
No hay otro capitan
Mas valiente que tu
Oigo tu voz
Mas alla de jujuy
Y tu galope audaz
Doña juana azurduy
Me enamora la patria en agraz
Desvelada recorro su faz
El español no pasara
Con mujeres tendra que pelear
Juana azurduy
Flor del alto peru
No hay otro capitan
Mas valiente que tu
Truena el cañon
Prestame tu fusil
Que la revolucion
Viene oliendo a jazmin
Tierra del sol
En el alto peru
El eco nombra aun
A tupac amaru
Tierra en armas que se hace mujer
Amazona de la libertad
Quiero formar en tu escuadron
Y al clarin de tu voz atacar
Truena el cañon
Prestame tu fusil
Que la revolucion
Viene oliendo a jazmin

2 thoughts on “On Juana Azurduy, female revolutionary heroes & sexism”

  1. She was not a mestizo, she was a married criollo [white] lady, that gave her husband, children for Independence.
    Women in Alto Peru now Bolivia died fighting and for this reason we celebrate Bolivian Mothers Day on May 27 in honor of the women of the Coronilla in Cochabamba Bolivia that lead by a blind old women fought the Spanish Royal Army to prevent their entrance to the city.

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