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Filling in the details: Alma Reed

11 January 2009

When I originally started writing what was then “Mexican History For Gringos” and — despire all the “challenges” of getting it into print  became  Gods, Gachupines and Gringos — i was always haunted by the thought that  “new” facts and documentation would turn up requiring visions and revisions (which a minute would reverse).    I kept in mind the warning from my father about his buddy who sat down when he retired to write a short monograph on the history of the viniculture in western New York and died — twenty years later — with a garage full of three by five index cards, reams of handwritten notes… and no monograph.  At some point, you realize you can’t include everything and everybody, whether you’re talking about a mere hundred and fifty years of grape-growing and fermenting, or a few millenia of a few hundred cultural groups.

Museo Nacional de Historia (INAH) reprinted from "The News"

Photo: Museo Nacional de Historia (INAH) reprinted from "The News"

One person I mentioned, but not in any detail, was Alma Reed (1889-1966).  I only mentioned her in passing, as one of a number of left-wing writers who came to Mexico during the Revolution.  Reed was particularly interesting for her romantic involvement with Felipe Carillo Puerto, who headed a Mayan-Feminist-Socialist movement in the Yucatan that freed the Mayans from debt bondage, gave women the vote (and brought them into the state government) and turned the henniquin plants into workers’ cooperatives.  Which, of course, got Carillo Puerto shot by reactionaries.

(Gods, Gachupines and Gringos: A People’s History of Mexico, © 2008, Richard Grabman):

Alma Reed (no relation to John Reed) was a California free-lance writer, a friend of Jack London, and a radical feminist for her time. Fascinated by what was going on in the Yucatán, where Carrillo Puerto’s socialist administration was bringing in feminist leaders to change the culture of the tradition-bound state, Reed wrangled an assignment to interview the governor and the women’s leaders. She got the story and also a fiancé. She would have become Mrs. Carrillo Puerto if the governor had not been assassinated.

The state’s main industry was henequen production (henequen was the main source for fiber for cheap rope in the early 20th century). Beyond breaking up the grower’s estates, the Carrillo Puerto administration was determined to turn the processing plants over to the workers. The producers and manufacturers naturally turned to “hit men”. Reed was out of the country buying wedding clothes when Carrillo Puerto was murdered. Heartbroken, she returned to México, writing on women’s issues and politics for the rest of her life.

Theresa Margolis, in The (Mexico City) News, gives a little more of the story, in her article on the Alma Reed exhibit at Chapultepec Castle:

“Reed believed that the people of 20th century had a moral obligation to record history so as to provoke greater social justice for all,” Rueda said.

“Her ideology was an echo of that of Carrillo Puerto, a man of socialist leanings who followed in the ranks of Emiliano Zapata during the Mexican Revolution,” he said.

“Their love was so strong that it survived beyond the grave and ignited her passion for the indigenous people of Mexico.”

24 Comments leave one →
  1. kimberly haney permalink
    23 February 2009 12:02 am

    Alma Reed was my great aunt. She was my grandmother’s sister. I actually knew her as my grandmother and I went to visit her during the summer of 1962. It was an amazing experience. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

    Sincerely,

    Kim Haney

    • Diana Palma permalink
      3 November 2009 5:30 am

      To Kim Haney:
      I recently returned from Merida’ and left flowers atop Alma’s marker, on Dia de los Muertos. I have long felt a connection to “La Peregrina”, as I too fell in love (and married) a Yucatecan. It was my mother-in-law who first told me about Alma Reed. I have since read several books about her. How wonderful that you knew her as your grandmother.
      Sincerely
      Diana Palma

    • Jorge Del Río permalink
      23 July 2010 12:41 am

      Dear Kim
      I wrote a play about six women of México included Alma Reed. We (the Company) hav learned all about Alma Reed and we admire her so much .
      I would like you reply me. We are so interested to know you.
      Thanks
      Jorge Del Río

      • kim Haney permalink
        10 September 2010 11:36 pm

        Hi Jorge,

        I just read your comment. I am sorry that I did not see it sooner. But i am happy to reply to you. How wonderful that you included her in your play. She truly was fascinating and certainly loved Mexico. Let me know if you have any questions.

        Thank you,

        Kim Haney

  2. Patricia Lee permalink
    21 February 2010 2:34 pm

    Kim,
    I knew Alma, she was a good friend of my dad, the Cuban artist Enrique Riveron. Alma stayed at our house in Kansas in the 5o’s on her way to Mexico. She was very beloved by the people there, and there is an Alma Reed Day. The last time I saw her was in NYC in 1959 at the Hotel Woodstock. She was a very interesting lady!

    • kim Haney permalink
      10 September 2010 11:41 pm

      Hi Patricia,

      How great to hear from you. How wonderful that she was close friends with your father! I have heard of her connection with your father. I know he was a wonderful artist! Do you still live in Kansas? Where is there an Alma Reed Day? I have not heard of that, I would love to know more about it. I can’t believe that you saw her in NYC in 1959! That is amazing. I’m sorry that I did not respond sooner to your post, but I did not see it. Let me hear from you.

      Thanks so much,

      Kim Haney

      • 1 November 2010 3:38 pm

        Hello Kim,
        I just now read your letter and the following are answers to your questions:
        I live in Florida. I came here in 1960 to help my dad with a gallery in
        Coral Gables (that lasted only a year). He went back to Kansas and I stayed.
        In 1964 he and mother moved to Florida permanently.
        The Alma Reed Day is in Mexico. She was very beloved there. I imagine you
        know there is a song written about her? La Peregrina. That is quite a story!

        Alma was a neat lady. I last saw her in NYC before I left for Europe.
        She was staying in the Woodstock Hotel (where she always stayed when
        she was in NY). My dad knew her since her Delphic Studios Gallery
        in the 30’s. All the Latin Artists of some repute exhibited there. I have
        some wonderful photos of some of her parties with the Tamayos, Siqueiros,
        and Orozco, among the guests. One of them was included in an exhibition at
        the Museo del Barrio last year.

        Patricia Lee

  3. Maso permalink
    26 November 2010 9:41 pm

    Como Mexico no hay dos, gracias a Dios, con uno es más que enough!

  4. 17 January 2011 3:33 pm

    I wrote: Xtabentum: A Novel of Yucatan. It is a historical fiction and Alma is one of the small personages in the book. I wanted her to be the angel of the story.

  5. Kim Haney permalink
    17 January 2011 8:37 pm

    Hi Rosy,
    How nice to hear from you! I am sure she would have loved to be an angel in your story! As you know, her story is amazing. I would love to read your book. I checked Amazon, but it looks like it is only available on Kendal, or is it Kindal? At any rate, let me know if you can. Have you read The Sacred Well by Antoinette May? It is a fictional biography about Alma and is very good. If you have any questions about Alma, just let me know. Thanks so much for taking an interest in her.

    All my best,

    Kim

    • 18 January 2011 7:59 am

      Thanks Kim. I read: Passionate pilgrim by Antoinette May and “Peregrina” (Love and Death in Mexico) by her. I will try “Sacred Well” and your book Thanks.
      Yes my book is new. I am sending it to competitions and I am trying to find an agent. So far it is doing well. I sold 124 ebooks so far!
      By the way. It is for sale at Barnes and Noble too for the Nook.
      You can download a free Kindle application for your computer if you really want to read it. I want to wait like 2 years to spend the money on printing.
      My Grandmother grew up in Merida and she was from the “La Casta Divina”.
      The book has a lot of the stories that she told me.

  6. Sharon Burr permalink
    3 March 2011 8:23 pm

    Rosy,
    I just received my copy of Xtabentum and can’t wait to read it! Where did you come up with that title? On the back cover I read that you live in the Chicago area and that your husband is in the banking industry. I live in the Chicago suburb of Prospect Heights and do tax work for a company that designs and manufactures banking equipment. I hope to semi-retire within the next two years and live in Mexico at least during the winters. I constantly search for books about Yucatan since I bought two houses there last year – one in the historical center of Merida and the other a beach house near Progreso. On my last trip I read the book Sacred Well and became fascinated with Alma May. I have since purchased the Passionate Pilgrim and Peregrina but have not yet had the chance to read them. How wonderful to have found this link to you as well as the others related to and familiar with Alma Reed.

    • Rosy Hugener permalink
      4 March 2011 7:40 am

      Great: Which one did you get? Did you get the one with the see or the one with the flowers? The back cover of the one with the sea was hard to read so we changed it. Thank you for buying the book! Xtabentum is a wild flower that grows in Yucatan. The flower is a symbol in my book. The Xtabentum story is at the beginning of Chapter two.
      Choosing the name of the book was really hard. I had: “For the love of fresh tortillas”, “Lightning flashing on machetes” ,”Eyes like the Caribbean see”. I asked a lots of friend and they voted for Xtabentum . “sh-ta-ben-tum” .
      I do live in Long Grove and if you want to meet for coffee after you read the book I will be happy to do it!.
      You will love the book. I just got a review in Goods reads and if perfect if you want to learn about the region.
      By the way Xtabentun (With n) is a liquor from Yucatan (“Makes men crazy”). I changed the n for m because I was worried of copyright issues. The word is Mayan so the sound is not exactly an “n” or an “m”. But because of the liquor almost nobody uses “m”.
      Kim: My book is out in paperback. You can buy it in Amazon and soon in Barnes and Noble (You will need to order the book there).

      • Rosy Hugener permalink
        4 March 2011 3:11 pm

        By the way my book had a lot of “English editors”. hihihi. English is my second lenguuage.:)

  7. Kim Haney permalink
    4 March 2011 12:15 am

    Hi Sharon,

    I am Alma Reed’s grand niece. If you should have any questions about her, just let me know.

    Kim

  8. 15 June 2011 7:55 pm

    I think it is wonderful that people can come here and ask questions about Alma Reed, I just heard her name on the television where I was watching a program and found great interest in her…I studied writing at SFSU and I live really close to the area I am originally from california and want to learn mroe about Alma Reed, I heard the song Peregrina and love it 🙂 yet it also made me feel sad.

    • kim haney permalink
      15 June 2011 11:29 pm

      Hi Soyla,

      I am her grand neice, what would you like to know about her?

      Sincerely,

      Kim Haney

  9. 26 June 2011 8:34 am

    Hi Everyone,
    My name is Sylvia Ponce de Leon, I am a co-owner/founder of The Yucatan Times, a newspaper dedicated to bringing the yucatecan Spanish news to the English. When I started this work I was assigned to be the general director of the Lifestyle and Culture section and through searching for sources to become more informed, I found Ms. Maricarmen Perez, one of the most famous trouvadores in Yucatan and Mexico. When she met me and began to introduce me to special people in Yucatan, she began almost immediately to introduce me as La Peregrina, I had no idea of Ms. Alma at the time and just assumed she was calling me a pilgrim, which our work with the newspaper could easily be labeled as pilgrimish, since it is the first English newspaper edited in Yucatan. I didn`t understand why the incredibly famous people she was introducing me to, with the label of Peregrina, were opening doors for me in my ventures. These high standing members immediately began writing for me and the newspaper. Finally, Ms. Perez pulled me to the side and explained to me the story of La Peregrina, what an honor! Thus, I am researching why Ms. Perez see`s this beautiful woman in me and who she really was.

    My biggest question is, was Alma considered by the Americans and people that she was writing to at the beginning of her career in Mexico, to be untethered, too passionate, criticized, even hated, was she someone that only after she changed the history of Yucatan became who she is known to be today, loved and cherished. Was each of her steps in the beginning hampered, laughed at, basically told that she was too passionate and not “grounded” like the rest of them? Or am I completely wrong and she was loved from the very beginning?

    Please write to me at sgrimes@theyucatantimes.com if you can help me in my quest….Thank you.

    • kimberly kristin haney permalink
      11 September 2019 7:58 pm

      Ha, a little late in seeing this, it is now 2019. I think that Alma was always respected. Her passion was real and who she was! That is what drove her to save the life of the Mexican boy at San Quentin! Her love affair with Felipe was also based on passion she shared with Felipe! She would have never agreed to being too passionate at any stage of her life! It is what made her and her life so special!!!

  10. G. S. permalink
    21 October 2011 5:28 pm

    Alma Reed was also the official historiographer of CEDAM, Pablo Bush Romero’s diving society in Akumal (and sometimes Mexico City). When Alma passed in the 1960’s, it was Bush who set up her memorial across from Carrillo Puerto’s.

  11. Jolie Solomon permalink
    27 January 2021 1:30 pm

    Hello to this interesting community of Alma enthusiasts. I hope this somehow reaches a few of you even though I am writing in 2021. I’m working on an article about events in Alma’s life before Mexico: her advocacy between about 1915 and 1925 for Mexican-Americans, and particularly for a Mexican American boy she saved from execution—it was this triumph that first connected her to Mexico. (As described in brief in the various biographies/autobiography).
    I’d love to be in touch with any and all of you; I’m looking especially for letters between Alma and her many friends, colleagues and family; diaries of hers or others; and for ephemera including catalogs or material on the museum exhibits about her; magazine articles, photos, , etc. Most of it will be from her later years, but if I can’t find anything dating back to the 1910s and 20s, I hope that later material will still be relevant.
    Note: Recommended: to see and write about:
    I’ve just been to the Vida Americana! show at the Whitney in NYC, about the Mexican muralists. Alma gets a tiny mention–way smaller than what she deserved as the first and main advocate for Orozco’s work; I think the hardcover exhibit book (of the same name) may have more on her. But for anyone interested in how American artists and others and the muralists and revolutionaries of Mexico influenced each other—it’s a terrific exhibit. Closing soon I think. I’ve also turned up her NYT obituary–sadly/hilariously inadequate to describe this amazing woman. Happy to send a link to anyone who wants it.
    Please be in touch if possible!
    Thanks!

    • kimberly kristin haney permalink
      28 January 2021 1:05 am

      Hi Jolie, I am Alma’s grandniece. My grandmother on my mother’s side was her sister. I spent 2 weeks with her in Mexico City with my grandmother when I was 15 in 1961. I know a great deal about her. All my best, Kim Haney kkhaney@comcast.net

  12. Kimberly Haney permalink
    27 November 2022 9:18 pm

    Hi Jolie, I hope this note finds you well. I did reply to your note in the message above, but never heard back from you. Once again, I am her grandniece and I know a great deal about her. Please feel free to contact me.

    • 27 November 2022 10:59 pm

      (From the original poster… .yup… still alive!). Is there an email address, or other way people can contact you? (

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