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Margarita Maza (29 marzo 1826 – 2 enero 1871)

2 January 2023

A rough, dranatic (and relatively short) life is hardly would you would have expected for the pampered daughter of a wealthy Oaxacan hacienda owner in the early 19th century. Señor Maza certainly didn’t expect, when he hired a zapoteca servant, Josefa Juárez García.

Josefa’s parents having died, and her uncle who’d taken in her youngest brother, had been teaching the boy Spanish, and recognized what little education he or his community could offer was limited. Packing 12 year old Benito off to his sister in the “big city” of Oaxaca would open some other opportunities than his limited prospects as a shepherd and “go-fer”. For a few years, Benito lived with his sister, running errands for the Mazas (and…. according to legend, once serving as a waiter when General Santa Ana came to dinner), eventually finding a job with a book-binder… who, a religious man… though Benito might have a good future (and a secure one) as a priest.

Meanwhile, Josefa had been promoted… from maid of all work, to nanny for the Maza’s newest baby, Margarita. Benito was never really cut out for the priesthood.. he liked girls — more than a priest really should — for starters. He studied law, practiced mostly bankrupty law and defending poor clients, taught in the law school and went into politics. Along the way, he managed to father at least one child. But, having gone from peasant shepherd to up and coming poolitician… and behind every successful man (and all that), he was looking for a wife.

That he was an “Indian” … albeit one that had managed to claw his way into the upper middle class… there was something unusual in marrying his one time boss’ daughter.. including that he was 37 and she was 17. Then again, this was 19th century Mexico.

Despite the age and cultural differences, the marriage worked. Margarita would have five children of ther own, as well as raising one of Benito’s “natural” daughters as her own… while Benito was busy trying to overthow Santa Ana, serving as governor of Oaxaca during the US “intervention” (and doubling the number of schools in the state despite the on-going warfare). She had to move the kids and herself several times during their various exiles, including to New York during the French invasion… where she came into her own as a politican in her own right… an unofficial, but recognized representative of the Mexcian Republic. Officially, through the Republic’s Washington Ambassador, Matias Romero, and unofficially through correspondence with Secretary of State Seward, General Grant, preparing and sending pro-Republican propaganda to the American press (a sort of “influencer” of her time), while keeping her husband’s government apprised of US policy and public sentiment during the American Civil War. All while on a miserable income that meant less than ideal housing, and the death of two of the children during a particularly cold New York winter.

Still, she charmed the American public, as a “good will ambassador” and… in a bold diplomatic move, traveled to Washington to publically make a condolence call on Mary Lincoln following Abe’s assassination. Seward made certain the press was informed of the visit, and that the Empress Carlota’s letter of condolence was returned unopened.

All while also having to outwit Santa Ana.. living in slightly more posh digs out on Staten Island… who in one of his more hare-brained schemes, planned to kidnap her and the children… the ransom to be used to help finance a coup against the Republic. Under the protection of the US Army, she, the children and the embalmed remains of the two who had died, were taken by train to St. Louis, down the Mississippi to New Orleans by steamboat, put on a Coast Guard cutter and sent to Veracruz in the waning days of the “Empire”. She was greeting as a national heroine, making her way to Mexico City while the rump of the Imperial Army was beating a hasty retreat to Queretaro. Finally reaching Mexico City in July 1867 (Maxmillian had only be executed a couple weeks earlier, effectively putting the kibosh on the whole idea of monarchy), would hardly be the end of the difficulties, nor did it mean she could just settle into a quiet life of a 19th century wife and mother.

Juarez was campaigning for a second term, and despite women not having the vote, she could take some part in that… pushing “Republican austerity” (shades of Lopez Obrador), stripping the national palace of its monarchal pretentiousness, although in high Victorian style, charming the visiting pols and foreign ambassadors, while pushing, always pushing, Benito to pay more attention to public education, was a more than full-time job.

If Juarez’ re-election would mean she could finally relax, there were the occasioal coup attempts to keep them up at night… and her health was mysteriously declining. But 1870, it was clear something was terribly wrong. Although undiagnosed, it was probably some form of cancer, passing away the 2nd of January in 1871, and although the funeral … as was the custom in those days… was a family affair, thousands lied the streets to Panteon San Fernando… where Benito would also be buried (with great pomp and ceremony) a year later.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 January 2023 9:28 am

    Richard, thanks for pulling all that together. Hope you two are well! During the f-ing still ongoing pandemic, I wrote a sequel to Playing for Pancho Villa. You ought to see it in Amazon in the not too distant future. You know I had a stroke two and a half years ago? Feliz Año Nuevo. Abrazos a ustedes. Sterling

    • 3 January 2023 5:50 pm

      Yes… I knew about the stroke, and was quite worried about you. Glad you’re better, even if limited to surfing the internet and not the waves.

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