Revolutionary Women of Texas and Mexico: Portraits of Soldaderas, Saints, and Subversives, a new book from Trinity University Press, celebrates the contributions of women in Texas and Mexico.

The book, which focuses on the era of the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War, offers written portraits of 18 women – from La Malinche and the Virgen de Guadalupe to Gloria Anzaldúa and the Zapatistas.

Along with a forward by celebrated activist Dolores Huerta, the collection boasts entries from former San Antonio and Texas poet laureate Carmen Tafolla, beloved poet and author Sandra Cisneros, and Laura Esquivel, author of Like Water for Chocolate. The collection was conceptualized and edited by the San Antonio-based trio of Kathy Sosa, Ellen Riojas Clark, and Jennifer Speed.

The idea for the book, according to Sosa, was born out of the stories that her husband, Lionel Sosa – an artist and marketing consultant who contributed both art and writing to the book – used to tell her about his grandmothers, both of whom came to San Antonio during the Mexican Revolution with their children.

It was around 2009 when Sosa, along with her husband, got to work on Revolutionary Women and a 20-part documentary series for KLRN called Children of the Revolución: How the Mexican Revolution Changed America’s Destiny.

Along with Clark and Speed, Sosa then set about selecting and inviting the authors and determining the subjects of the text.

Of the book’s subjects, Sosa said that “these women changed our world,” noting that the text focuses broadly on the transformative element of the revolutionary spirit and not merely on aspects like armed conflict or regime change. While soldiers and statespeople dominate written accounts of all manner of social and political change, this book wants to remind its audience that people, particularly women, outside those spheres also play key roles.

These women and others like them, Sosa said, are conspicuously absent from most history texts and classes.

“Nobody has ever really recognized these women of the revolution in this way,” she said. 

Kathy Sosa Credit: Courtesy / Trinity Press

Sosa describes the value of the text to general readers as multifaceted. For one, the book features scholarly essays right alongside literary portraits. Sosa feels that this multi-genre format and the book’s overall readability make it an excellent entry point into these histories.

Even some of the subjects in the book that are more familiar to the general public, Sosa said, using the Virgen de Guadalupe as an example, are freshly considered in a revolutionary context.

A historian by trade, Speed, now a research development strategist in the office of the Dean for Research at Princeton University, says she “jumped at the chance” to work on this project.

“The chance to do biographical work on women is an opportunity that just doesn’t come that often, that you really have to carve out,” she said.

On the other hand, she noted, there “seems to be an endless appetite for important men in U.S. and Mexican history.”

Speed said that biographies and other historical works that center the experiences and contributions of women might be a little harder to work on, “because the documentation tends to not be as rich.”

Nevertheless, she said, there is really no excuse not to tell these aspects of history.

“We just have to work a little bit harder to be able to tell their stories, but it is worth it when we do because it is the truth,” she said.

“As we tell those stories, and people come to appreciate them and request more, it opens the door for more scholarship and more interest in biographies of women.”

Clark referred to the book as a “real San Antonio story,” in reference to the women in the book and those who created it.

Local Chicano writer Sandra Cisneros holds up a copy of the new book which she contributed to. Credit: Courtesy / Trinity University Press

The most important driving force behind the book for Clark, a professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is “the underrepresentation of Latinas in our history books and in our learning environments in general.”

Clark hopes that scholars and teachers alike will find the book and use it to enrich their practices. 

“If professors don’t read these stories then how can they teach them to their students?” she said.

Clark also spoke to the book’s importance to San Antonio as “not a multicultural city but a bicultural city – Mexican and American.”

“San Antonio has always been a part of Mexico – culturally, historically, and spiritually,” she said. This text shines a light on that.

Clark, like Sosa, also touted the book’s multi-genre approach, saying she believes that aspect of the text makes it approachable for the general public, its “most important readers.”

“I want this book to be for the general community, for us to become more aware of who we are and to take pride in these things,” she said.

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James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.