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Emiliano Zapata, Prince Albert of Monaco and the gay caballero

12 September 2009


Fact checking can lead down some strange paths.  Editorial Mazatlan is working (overtime) to get a book ready for press:  The Mexican Revolution: Day by Day (more on that later), Ramon Acosta’s exquisitely detailed chronology of the 1910-20 Revolution (with major events before and after those dates) , an amazing work of scholarship, and an invaluable tool for researchers and historians.

Ray’s research is solid, but that doesn’t mean we stint on fact-checking … even for relatively minor matters, like the full name — apallido paterno and apallido materno — of a minor figure like Ignacio de la Torre (de la Torre y Mier, as it turns out).  But, as with most research, it is the journey, not the goal, that is the reward.

De la Torre y Mier is a troublesome figure, one that pops up in the unlikeliest of places, and deserving to be considered more than I did, as two footnotes in Gods, Gachupines and Gringos.

Malcolm Forbes once wrote that the surest way to become very rich is be born rich.  Ignacio de la Torre y Mier was born  — in 1866 in Mexico City  (during Maximiliano’s reign — very rich.  His father was the Mexican partner to the notorious Monsieur Jecker, the Swiss banker who — with his other partner, Napoleon III’s half-brother, the Duque de Morney — held the loans that bankrupted Mexico and provided France with a plausible excuse to invade, and then occupy, the country.   Ignacio was heir presumptive not just to the banking fortune, but to ten haciendas.  With sugar production from Cuba falling after 1880 due to guerrilla wars on the island, de la Torres’ land in Morelos would make him even richer.  And even more pretentious.

In short, the perfect villain for a revolution.  A dime a dozen…

But, Ignacio is the villain who made Emiliano Zapata a leader, in part began the movement for gay and lesbian rights in Latin America.  Not to mention doing his bit for the future of Monaco.

albert_monaco220Although the Mexican Empire would not last, young Don Ignacio who –as eldest son — was head of the De la Torre family following his father’s death.  I don’t have the exact date for Isadoro de la Torre y Gil’s death, but by the 1880s, he was head of a family which still had its royalist pretensions.  He apparently was a competent businessman, using his social connections to build up the family sugar fortune and shopping for dynastic connections.  Successfully, he married off his sister Susanna to Count Maxence Melchior de Polignac.  Maxence and Susanna’s son, Prince Pierre would marry the illegitimate (and later adopted) only child of Prince Louis II of Monaco.  The throne of the mini-state could not pass to a female child, so Prince Pierre (who was somehow related, as all European royals are) became the consort-apparent.  Both Prince and Princess were rather shady characters (the Princess eventually ran off with an Italian jewel thief) but they did have a couple of children, the eldest son being Prince Rainer III.  Rainer rescued the magic principality’s reputation as an sunny place for shady people, married Grace Kelly and spawned a new generation of royal gossip-fodder, including the reining prince, Albert.

While the rich have always been different than you and I, and it’s good to be king (or at least reining prince), Albert owes a small debt to his great-great uncle Ignacio.  No one today would presume to force a gay  an allegedly gay**man like Prince Albert to marry, as Ignacio was.  And did.

“Gay” and “straight” and “bisexual” weren’t part of 19th century vocabulary, nor has occasional same-sex activity been particularly viewed as all that unusual in Mexico, so Don Porfirio may not have realized how much misery he was inflicting on his favorite daughter, Amada Díaz Ortega, when she and Ignacio married in 1888.  Mexican historian Sara Sefchovitch (La Suerte de la Consorte, Oceana, 2002) writes that father and daughter were deeply hurt when Ignacio proceeded to “scandalize society with his licentious habits.”

Amada was obviously not going to present Porfirio with any grandchildren to dote upon, and he turned more and more to his nephew, Felíx, the son of his long dead brother who had been lynched after desecrating a church back in Oaxaca. Felíx — among other favors bestowed on him by his uncle — was Mexico City’s police chief in 1901, when on November 20 of that year police arrested 42 men who may have just been cruising, but — with several in drag and apparently making speeches — seems to have been an early gay rights demonstration.

felixdiazFelíx took advantage of his uncle’s regime, not only in finding himself lucrative positions, but in using the other machines of dictatorship for his own benefit. The “Valle Nacional” in Oaxaca, a rich tobacco-growing region, functioned as a sort of gulag for political prisoners… the tobacco growers needed cheap labor, the cheaper the better. Not feeding workers cut down on overhead, and — besides — they were prisoners. Felíx regularly supplemented his income cleaning out the city jails — and, when he needed extra cash — rounding up vagrants or other “inconveniences” to ship off at five pesos a head.

One of the 41 men rounded up, only 41 were sent to the Valle.  While Igancio was not, in our sense of the word, closeted, he was never charged with anything (nor were the others), and he was never shipped off to the death camp.  To this day “41” is Mexico City slang for a closeted gay man.

mariconesThe “scandalous and licentious” acts of the very rich and well-connected have always been overlooked, but the importance of this raid (and the fate of the 41 less well-connected victims) have haunted the consciences of Mexicans ever since.  Of course, gays continued to be shaken down, beaten up, or arrested on bogus charges by Mexico City police but never with the same enthusiasm — and the well-heeled gay man was more likely to be left alone.

Ignacio did not get off entirely scot-free.  While under continual surveillance by his father-in-law’s secret police, his occasional weekend parties at his hacienda in Cuatla might be reported, but — as long as he stayed in Cuatla — he was left alone.

I can’t find a photo of the guy (and I’ve been looking), but maybe it’s enough to say that he liked to show visitors his “library”  — meaning his extensive clothing and shoe collection.  He’s described by a pseudonymous biographer in the gay literary journal, Enkidu Magazine (“Juana la loca*”) as tall and slim, well known and popular (at least with his buddies from Mexico City).

“Juana” probably doesn’t read Edwin Arlington Robinson, but the lines from Richard Corey fit: We the people used to look at him/Clean favored and imperially slim.

Not too many people in Cuatla were likely to have a lot of fashion sense.  They were more likely to appreciate that Ignacio was spending his spare time raising horses.  And, as every horse breeder in Morelos knew, the “go to guy” for training was Emiliano Zapata.

Emiliano_zapataZapata began working for De La Torre in 1906, but, responding to complaints from other landowners about the horse-trainer’s  annoying habit of demanding rights for the local peasants — and protesting land grabs — he was drafted into the army in 1908.     As Ray Acosta uncovered, De La Torre used whatever credibility he had with his father-in-law to arranged for Zapata’s discharge in March 1910 in return for agreeing to work as De La Torre’s groom.

The two had an unlikely relationship beyond the business relationship.  Perhaps Zapata — a snappy dresser himself — was one of the few people to appreciate those suits and shoes.  Perhaps De la Torre just had a taste for good looking working class guys.  We don’t know, but, the fact that Zapata was friends with an obviously gay man was used after his death to attempt to discredit his political followers, and his memory.

In the early stages of the Revolution, De la Torre protected Zapata, even passing along Zapata’s messages to Don Porfirio during the 1910 election.  Porfirio wrote “Nacho (Ignacio) is a continual headache.”

Naturally, though, as a rich guy, not to mention as a relation of Porfirio, he was going to end up on the wrong side of the Revolution.  Although his land was seized, Zapata did release De La Torre from prison, when he briefly controlled Mexico City in 1914.

Personal friendship aside, the enemy of your enemy is my friend.  Both De La Torre and Zapata had a common enemy in Venustiano Carranza, and he was protected during his time in Morelos, until 1917, when he was again arrested.  This time, he fled to the United States where he died (under anesthesia during a hemorrhoid operation) on April Fools´Day, 1918.

*  For those not familiar with Spanish, or Spanish history, the name is a double pun.  ¨Loca” is often used for an effeminate gay man — a “screaming queen”.

Juana la Loca, the mother of Carlos I (Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) was briefly Queen of Castille.  She was the only surviving child of the greatest power couple of the time, Ferdinand and Isabella.  However Ferdinand was only King of Aragon, not of Castille.  Juana made the mistake of actually loving her husband, Philip the Handsome (I love those Spanish royal nicknames!).  In the middle of the power struggle to control Castille (which was quickly becoming Spain), Philip died, and Juana — either a depressive or a schizophrenic — got a little funny in the head, eventually being locked up until the teenaged Carlos could be put on the throne.  And then, neglected and abused the rest of her short life… became a tragic figure in Spanish literature and history — and, literally, a screaming Queen.

** Prince Albert “allegedly” married South African Charlene Whitstock (is she really gonna be called “Princess Charlene” and will the footmen be able to keep a straight face?)… something I knew nothing about until I started getting a few hundred hits on this post over this weekend.  (2-july-2011).

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 September 2009 5:20 pm

    Prince Edward too (UK, youngest liz kid)

    • 12 September 2009 5:45 pm

      Not that I’m a royal watcher, but wasn’t Edward married (to a woman) for a time and “de-royalize” himself (whatever you monachists call it when royals become normal people with normal names)? The only thing I remember about him was an interview on the U.S. National Public Broadcasting radio, about a documentary he was producing, where he The reporter asked him if he should be called “the producer formerly known as ‘Prince’.” Unlike Queen Victoria, he was amused.

      • 12 September 2009 5:58 pm

        He married some Sophie, but she’s a beard.

        (‘Beard’ in UK gayslang = makes him look like a man..i dunno if these terms are international).

  2. laredo permalink
    16 February 2012 11:29 pm

    The number “42” is incorrect. The correct number is “41” and connotes more than a closeted gay man. In general it is considered “bad luck” for a straight man to get the number “41” on anything, as it may be a curse that “turns him” gay.


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