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Petra Manjarrez — the lost insurgent

6 September 2010

And speaking of newswomen….

Although Sinaloa’s role in the struggle for Mexican independence was relatively minor, it too had its heroes… and heroines.  The latter are nearly unknown, although historians Rina Cuellar and Giberto López Alanís hope to rescue one from obscurity.  The two were interviewed by Graciela Gaxiola of El Debate (Culiacán, Sinaloa:  01/09/2010) about their preliminary research into a forgotten heroine, which I have shameless plundered for this post.

According to Cuellar, Miguel Hidalgo dispatched an aide –A priest native to El Rosario, Francisco de la Parra and a miner from Hermosillo, José María González.  González’ compadre, José Fructo Romero joined the expedition, bringing along a printing press, and his new young bride, Petra Manjarrez.

Little is known about Petra.  José was from Guadalajara, but Petra – who was probably 17 years old in 1810 – had family in Sinaloa, which may have been the reason the couple joined González and de la Parra.  And, because José’s business was mining.  He owned a press, but Petra was the printer and typesetter.

And, more importantly, the two scholars believe Petra was carrying – hidden in her petticoats – the revolutionary and highly illegal anti-royalist writings of Miguel Hidalgo for eventual dissemination in what would be the first independent newspaper in Sinaloa.   Produced on the run, and appearing irregularly, “El Despertador Americano” was quite literally a “small press publication”.  The pages were only 20 by 25 cm., perhaps having as much to do with the problems of obtaining paper for a clandestine operation as with needing to make the forbidden propaganda easy to hide.

Petra managed to print and distribute seven issues of El Despertador before she was arrested in 1811.  The press was seized, and used to print royalist propaganda, but we know very little about what actually happened to Petra:

“…Manjarrez was put on trial, pursued as an insurgent newspaper editor, but even very prominent women’s lives were not well documented.  What happened is that histories written in the 19th and the first part of the 20th century has neglected to record even the names of women involved in historical events,” said López , General Director of the State Historical Archives.

What we know is that after El Despertador Americano was suppressed, José moved to his native Guadalajara where he founded another newspaper, Correo Político Económico.  Since his business was primarily mining, presumably this was Petra’s newspaper and — after José died in 1819 — she presumably stayed on as publisher.

Alas, with the lives and careers of women being even more anonymous than the anonymous-by-choice bloggers of the 21st century, we know little enough about our forefathers. and nothing about our foremothers, in the alternative media.

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