Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sor. Juana Tells It All to Current Feminists

The National Museum of Mexican Art ( ) in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago is best known for its exhibits of Mexican art and history. The museum has become a focal point for the community offering classes and celebrating many milestones, events, and people in the Mexican-American community. The neighborhood surrounding the museum is home to many outdoor wall murals such as the one in the picture below which are themselves worthy of a visit.
One of their events coming soon is the Sor. Juana Festival. Never having heard of Sor. Juana before, I was intrigued by the notices about her on the museum’s walls. Sor. Juana Ines de la Cruz, who lived from 1651 to 1695 in Mexico, is often considered the first feminist of the Americas. Unwilling to live under the restrictions placed on married women of that time, at age 16, Sor. Juana joined a convent where she was better able to study, learn, and achieve. She became a renowned writer and scholar writing many plays, comedies, historical vignettes, essays, and poems.

Intrigued about this woman who had achieved so much despite all the obstacles which she faced, I sought her works in the library. The one I found that had been translated into English was a A Sor Juana Anthology translated by Alan S. Trueblood with a forward by Octavio Paz. This book contains her famous answer to the Bishop of Puebla who denounced her endeavors and urged her to restrict her activities to Bible reading only. In the letter, Sor. Juana talks about the difficulty she had learning when there were no teachers or classes available to her. Almost all of her knowledge was self-taught. Despite being able to overcome the obstacles herself, she advocated for girls to have the opportunity to get an education.

In addition to this letter, many of Sor. Juana’s poetry is in this volume. While I’m sure much of it was lost in the translation across centuries, worlds, and languages, Sor. Juana still has something to say. Many of her poems have a feminist theme such as “52” which extols an 18 year old girl’s achievements and decries the obstacles in her life that the powers of the time placed in her path.

I have to marvel at all that Sor. Juana did and be grateful that I live in this era instead of then. Despite all that we have achieved in securing women’s rights, however, there are those who wish to take them away. I think that we can all learn from Sor. Juana about how to fight that.

For more information about the Sor. Juana Festival, you can contact the National Museum of Mexican Art ( )


Susan said...

Hi Lisa - I really enjoyed this post. There are so many amazing women all over the world who have advanced the cause of women's rights. I don't know much at all about these women in the Hispanic world, so was very glad to read your post. I would like to link to it from my blog ( I'll go ahead and do it. Let me know if that's a problem and I'll remove it. Thanks for the information on another amazing woman.

Lisa Sachs said...

Thanks Susan. I'm glad that we can link up. Do you know about Kate Shepphard, the women's suffrage leader in New Zealand? It was the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote in 1893. I wrote about that in March, 2011. Anyway, I look forward to seeing your future posts. I signed up to follow you.