THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

12 September 2017

Coronela Zapatista

Our post of 21 August, Soldaderas y Revolucionarias, discussed our new profile picture of a Mexican soldadera that is held in the Casasola archive.  At the time of posting, we had no further information about the woman's identity.  However, following a twitter intervention from one of our readers, we were pointed toward John Mraz’s book Photographing the Mexican Revolution.  His work with the Fototeca Nacional at the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia has uncovered a tentative identity for the sitter: Carmen Robles, who was a Zapatista colonel.  

Little is known about Robles, but another image taken in Guerrero and thought to be of the same woman exists.  It was via this second image, printed in Gustavo Casasola's Historia Gráfica de la Revolucion and in which she is named in an accompanying caption, that she was identified (you can see this in our copy of the later abridged publication Anales Gráficos de la Historia Militar de Mexico, p.333).  However, the process of identifying historical actors is always a nebulous one and must be approached with care.  Racial categories in Latin America have often challenged black/white or indigenous/European binary thinking and raise important interrogations into the complex societies that colonialism and slavery produced in the Americas.  As B. Christine Arce has recently stated, "identities of women - both soldaderas and mulatas - have been obscured through misnaming, resulting in an historical odyssey of discovery, neglect, and recovery."  As such, this identification will no doubt continue to be debated.  However, one thing is clear: the photograph provides concrete evidence of the participation of Mexicanas mestizas in the Revolution who actively sought to shape their destinies and creatively adopted the guise of masculinity to do so.

- F.D. Fuentes Rettig

B. Christine Arce, Mexico's Nobodies: The cultural legacy of the soldadera and Afro-Mexican women.  New York: 2017, SUNY Press.  On order.

Gustavo Casasola, Anales Gráficos de la Historia Militar de Mexico 1810 – 1970.  Mexico: 1973, Editorial Gustavo Casasola.  BL shelfmark X.802/3798

John Mraz, Photographing the Mexican Revolution: Commitments, testimonies, icons.  Austin: 2012, University of Texas Press.  On order.