Chavela Vargas

           Chavela-Vargas

[A photograph of Chavela Vargas in later years]

The name Chavela Vargas is an instantly recognizable one across much of Latin America and amongst admirers of the ranchera genre of music most commonly associated with México. Born Isabel Vargas Lizano in Costa Rica in 1919, Chavela Vargas left her home country at the age of fourteen to live in México, her adopted home where she stayed for the next eight decades of her life.

To those who do not know much about rancheras, a woman singing them might not stick out as anything remarkable. Yet rancheras are a genre that is traditionally supposed to be sung only by men, for an audience of mostly other men. These songs are spaces where men were customarily allowed to express themselves emotionally, albeit so long as they were confined to particular patriarchal rules of behaviour with an assumed heterosexuality. Therefore to have a woman, and moreover a lesbian woman, sing these songs was a radical and subversive act.

Chavela Vargas was known the world over for not only her singing talents, but also for her affairs with women (including the likes of Frida Kahlo, María Félix, and Lola Beltrán) and her alcohol-fueled partying. She often dressed in “men’s” clothing, smoked cigars (a supposedly “masculine” past time), and partied harder than you can imagine. For a period of fifteen years, Vargas disappeared almost completely, leading some to believe she had even died. She was, however, recovering from alcoholism. Although many people knew she was a lesbian, she did not publicly affirm this until the age of 81 in her autobiography Y si quieres saber de mi pasado (2002).

Vargas continues to be a treasured cultural icon across the Americas, and is a key figure in queer Mexican and Central American history. She is important in broader queer history as often queer people of colour, and especially queer people of colour from outside of Canada and the United States, are marginalized or entirely erased from the broader study of queer history. Chavela Vargas passed away at the age of 93 in 2012. Her last words were “I leave with México in my heart.”

~ M

Bibliography

Garsd, Jasmine. “Chavela Vargas, Legendary Ranchera Singer, Dies.” NPR, August 5, 2012. Accessed on November 12, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2012/08/06/158166344/chavela-vargas-legendary-ranchera-singer-has-died

Moser, Benjamin. “Postscript: Mexico’s Majestic Lesbian Chanteuse, Chavela Vargas.” The New Yorker, August 17, 2012. Accessed on November 12, 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/postscript-mexicos-majestic-lesbian-chanteuse-chavela-vargas

Vargas, Chavela. Y si quieres saber de mi pasado. Madrid: Aguilar, 2002.

Chavela Vargas

Prudencia Ayala

A photograph of Prudencia Ayala
A photograph of Prudencia Ayala

Today’s Historical Hottie is the revolutionary, beautiful, and total bad ass Prudencia Ayala. Born in 1885 in Sonzacate, El Salvador, Ayala was a voracious self-taught reader, writer, and activist. Often going unrecognized in Anglophone post-secondary institutions of education, Ayala was the very definition of a groundbreaking feminist.

Forced to drop out of school due to her family’s lack of financial resources, Ayala taught herself how to read and write, along with learning the craft of being a seamstress (which she worked as for a time). Ayala also claimed to be able to predict the future, with her prophecies being published in the newspapers of Santa Ana. Her predictions included the large scale events such as the entry of the United States into the First World War.*

Ayala was well-known in her time as an activist that concentrated her efforts on anti-imperialism, feminist issues, and Central American solidarity especially in the face of United States imperialism in Nicaragua and other parts of Central America. She continued to struggle for social justice throughout her life, even at the cost of her own safety as in 1919 she was imprisoned for her critical newspaper writing. Despite women not having the vote in El Salvador until 1939 and not being legally allowed the right to stand for election until 1961, Ayala ran for President in 1930. It was due largely to Ayala’s agitation that a larger feminist movement grew in El Salvador, leading to the 1939 decision granting women the right to vote. I can only dream of the wonderful things Ayala could have accomplished as President!

Thank you to Prudencia Ayala and all the other women of colour, Indigenous women, or otherwise marginalized women across the Americas who have struggled + continue to struggle for social justice in their own ways. We here at Historical Hotties have the utmost respect for Prudencia and all the other women like her.

~ M

* According to Prudencia’s own lived experiences, she was able to foretell the future. Therefore we here at Historical Hotties wish to respect her authority and will not be engaging in any discussions over whether telling the future is “real” or not.

Bibliography

“Central & South America Suffrage Timeline.” Women Suffrage and Beyond: Confronting the Democratic Deficit. Accessed October 16, 2015. http://womensuffrage.org/?page_id=109.

“Biografia Prudencia Ayala.”  Concertación Feminista Prudencia Ayala. Accessed October 16, 2015. http://www.concertacionfeministaprudenciaayala.org/quienes-somos.php.

Prudencia Ayala