Monday, May 2, 2011

Juana Azurduy de Padilla

Tonight, I would like to focus on a woman who fought all the way up until her death, even after the death of her husband and sons. The name Juana Arzuduy de Padilla might be known to some if they recall the Bolivian war of Independence. Plus, there's a province and airport named after her in Bolivia! Padilla was one of the few women that convinced men during her time of a woman's capability to manage and lead an army of guerrillas. Her shrewdness and passion for the indigenous peoples of Chuquisaca (modern-day Bolivia) has made her a nationally-recognized symbol of the struggle against Spanish power settlement in Latin-America. There are many pictures of Juana floating around. I am not sure that any of these portraits are authentically her. However, they all seem to commonly depict her bold and fine features. A contemporary of hers, doña Lindaura Anzuátegui de Campero describes her as : "Of advantageous height, with perfect and accentuated lines. Her beautiful face reminds one of the Roman transtiberianas kind."
  Chiquisaca was a province at the time in what was called Alto Perú (Upper Peru). Padillo was born here on July 12, 1790. Interestingly, this was the same time that Tupac Amarú II starts his rebellion against Spanish conquest of the indigenous peoples. Even though Amarú was defeated, his rebellion transformed Latin-America, leading to more uprisings and rebellions against Spanish conquest. Padillo was born of mestizo ethnicity (mixed blood). Her father was from Europe (Spanish) and her mother of indigenous lineage. She grew up working side by side with Indians in the region and learned to speak Quechua through her mother. This fostered Padilla's bond to her indigenous roots. On May 25, 1809, Padilla left her four children to join the revolution against the viceroy of Río de la Plata in Upper Peru. Influenced by the Peninsular war and the contemporary efforts of Símon Bolivar in Venezuela, Chuquisaca also sought to become an independent country.
 After the death of her husband, Manuel Ascencio Padilla, who was  killed and beheaded while trying to save her, and after the death of her children (her sons being killed by enemy troops, and her daughters dying subsequently), Juana took command of the army he had organized and led counter-attacks. She fought alongside the Argentinean governor/ guerrilla leader, General Martín Miguel de Guemes . Her forces captured Potosí temporarily and became remarkably skilled at wounding and killing many enemies in the Battle of Villar in 1816. There are some pretty funny accounts out there that romantically portray the way she swung her sword around on the battlefield. For these actions, she was appointed Lieutenant Colonel by Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata at Buenos Aires. After the death of Guemes, Padilla fell into depression and spent most of her life in poverty. Her character and actions were forgotten at the time of her death.
  I choose not to go into elaborate detail of her biography because the research I have done on her has shown some inconsistencies. I have mentioned only what I know for sure can be confirmed. Either way, Padilla ends up being one of my favorite revolutionaries because she could have claimed she was born of royalty (which her appearance clearly dictates she could have), like many people of Mestizo ethnicity did back then, but instead she identified strongly with the Indians. It also takes a lot of resilience and balls to continue to fight after seeing your husband beheaded and your children captured and baited. The fact that she abandoned her children, I suppose, does raise some ethical questions. I was reading an article by Margaret Randall in which she compellingly tells us how her involvement in politics estranged her, to some extent, from her role as a mother. Randall clearly expresses regret for this. At one point, she sees the superficiality in becoming critical of the system while not exercising any criticism on oneself. She does not regret her political development. But she does challenge the idea of being "intellectually" developed and not applying this to your own personal relationships with others. I thought it was a pretty interesting article. It made me think: when it comes down to it, if you had to choose between a life of nurturing your family or a life of fighting for the revolution, which would you choose? This seems to be a dilemma that only women, back then, were faced with. I would argue that Padilla might have understood the connection between the macro-scale forces of political oppression and the effects it has on micro-scale everyday living. This trickles down to the environment you raise your children in. One would rather see their children and children of the future grow up in a liberated environment. But is it worth paying the price? Hmmm....

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