Writing is one of those things that I always took for granted. It wasn’t a right or a privilege or anything special, really. We all did it. Of course at some point we were taught, we learned. I distinctly remember my handwriting classes at school, fitting my words into those narrow rails and doing my best efforts to elegantly join my “s” to the “c” that followed. But I was born in a developed country in the late 20th century, and it took me a lot longer to realize everything that had to happen before me so that I could have the luxury of deciding whether my handwriting would be joined, separated, or a mixture of the two.
Not that long ago, women weren’t even supposed to go to school. In Mexico, it wasn’t until the very late 19th century that women started to be legally and – most shockingly – socially allowed to obtain the proper schooling necessary to even consider attending university. It is in these late decades of the 1800s that a feminist movement started to brew in the Aztec country, giving way to Las Hijas de Anáhuac (1873) and later, Violetas del Anáhuac (1887) – the first ever Mexican publications made for and by women.
Although the two publications shared a similar name and premise, and both were run by women, they were markedly different in content. Las Hijas, the pioneer, still breathed the male dominated discourse prevalent at the time. Meanwhile Violetas, led by Laureana Wright de Kleinhans, was designed to give women the power to educate themselves, to trust in their own intelligence and potential. Surely Violetas was a more groundbreaking endeavor – certainly a more inspiring one for me – but I again must acknowledge what came before, what allowed Violetas to dare to do what they did. And that was Las Hijas de Anáhuac.
For every “first” there is a long road of elements that came before and came together to allow that first to happen. In the long fight towards women’s rights I see one fundamental roadblock that keeps appearing time and time again: the power of the human mindset. The crazy thing is that back in the late 19th century, and I dare say still today, it wasn’t that we were fighting against men to get them to recognize our value as people – we had to fight against ourselves. Mentalities had to be shifted and reshaped in order to allow ourselves to believe that we were more than wives, mothers, cleaners and cooks for our male counterparts.
This is where I bow to Laureana Wright and her team of “señoras redactoras” (lady writers). A group of determined women who got together to take charge of their position in society, in humanity. These enlightened women wanted to spread the light to others, recognizing the need for and power in education. They looked to teach, not only themselves and their contemporaries, but in doing so to also help educate the future generations, establishing a chain of knowledge and awareness that they saw (and I too) as the only path towards progress.
For two years, these ladies filled the pages of their weekly newspaper with reviews and literary articles, profiles and exposés on an array of women and their accomplishments, as a way of demonstrating and showing to the world that women too are capable of extraordinary achievements. This was a stark contrast to most other texts dedicated to women at the time, which were nothing but manuals on how to be the best housewife you could be, and how the new must-have dress was to be worn.
Las Violetas del Anáhuac was a movement in and of itself, but through its publications it also gave voice to the movement that was happening around it. Laureana, an upper middle class writer and thinker, was very close to ruler Porfirio Díaz’s wife, Carmen Romero Rubio, who was instrumental in the establishment of the first National Secondary School for Girls in Mexico. Of course, Violetas published this story in all its glory. They also published a piece on Matilde Montoya and her rocky path to becoming the first woman in Mexico to obtain her medical degree.
The Anáhuac publications are but an example of the beautiful things that can happen when we get together, join forces, and go for what we want and know we deserve. It only lasted for a couple of years, but they were enough to lay the groundwork that would later make education universal, and would give women the legal right to vote and think and be entirely independent-from-men members of society. The social right, however, still has a long way to go in Mexico, but we’ll get into that at a later time…
As I type this on my 21st century laptop, no longer having to worry about whether my handwriting will be legible or not, I cherish every word that comes on screen, fully aware that the freedom I’m enjoying is thanks to the vision and struggle of many strong, determined women before me. This is my chance of becoming a Violeta myself, and I hereby pledge to use my ink to share their story and continue with their mission.