Archival Research

In August of 2009, I successfully defended my dissertation, Claiming the Discursive Self: The Rhetoric of Mexican Women Journalists, 1876 – 1924. Since my defense, I have been active in scholarship on Mexican women journalists. My research into Mexican women journalists has contributed to the addition of a Mexican woman rhetor, Laureana Wright de Kleinhans (1842-1898) in an collection on women rhetors be soon released by Jacqueline Jones Royster. I have also been approached by Dr. Jennifer Speed from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio to contribute a chapter on the Mexican women revolutionary of Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza for an edited collection titled, Revolutionary Women: Portraits and Essays, to be released in 2011. Also, in March of 2010, I presented a paper titled, Laureana Wright de Kleinhans: Constructing a New Feminine National Identity at the international conference V Coloquio Internacional de Historia de Mujeres y de Genero in Oaxaca, Mexico. I look forward to other future presentations and publications.

Pictured on the right are photos of my research adventures, and of the primary documents I uncovered on several trips to the public library archives Lic. Jose I. Gallegos Caballero in Durango, Mexico (Fig. 1). I traveled to Durango, Mexico because one of the women central to my research, Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza, was born there. I went to see what evidence of her I could find. To my surprise, I found several historical gems!

Field Research: Archive Digging in Mexico

On my first trip to Durango, Mexico in December of 2006, I traveled with the Rodriguez family and stayed with them in their home. Celia Rodriguez Ramírez, at the time a student at the University of Texas at El Paso, invited me after I asked if she could conduct some research in the archives for me. Instead, she invited me to travel to Durango with her and her family.

On our visit to the Instituto Cultural de Durango (Institute of Culture), (Fig. 2) we were invited by the director to travel to San Juan del Río, Durango, the small town where Juana Belén was born in 1875. When we arrived, we were greeted by the mayor and other city representatives. (Fig. 3) After our visit, I was interested in locating the birth records of Juana Belén. Celia, my trusted research assistant, suggested we try looking into the church’s records. At the time Juana Belén was born, the Catholic Church still controlled the birth, marriage, and death records of many communities in Mexico.

We walked across town, up and down old cobble stoned roads, (the pueblo of San Juan del Río, Durango was established in 1572) and entered into the records office of the church. We asked the nun working behind the counter if she could pull the baptismal records from1875. (Fig. 4) First, she looked through the pages and declared that the name Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza was not to be found. (Fig. 5) After some convincing, she allowed Celia and me to look through the records, and on the second page of the same record book, we found Juana´s name. I am certain the record we found was Juana’s because of the documented names of the mother and father, Porfiria Chávez and Santiago Gutiérrez, and also because the date January 27, 1875 matched those from the historical records found in her autobiography. (Fig. 6)

Juana’s baptismal document is significant because we now know that her given name was not Juana Belén, but Maria Juana Francisca Gutiérrez Chavez. We can also now speculate as to why she took on the name Belén. Many revolutionaries took on names that expressed their rebellious nature, a desire to form a new identity. A perfect example of revolutionaries changing their names is Pancho Villa. Born in 1878 in San Juan del Río, Durango, Pancho Villa’s given name was Doroteo Arango Arámbula. Revolutionaries wanted names that had significance, or that would easily be remembered. One of the main prisons in Mexico City was Belén prison. Mexican journalists or government dissenters were arrested and thrown into the Belén prison, where Juana Belén spent a 10 month sentence.

I speculate that Juana Belén, in her desire to be recognized as a revolutionary journalist, added Belén to her name. What better way to mark one’s rebellious identity than by taking on the name of the prison where journalists are locked up for speaking out? Juana Belén didn’t need a tattoo; her published name of Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza inscribed her as a rebel, a revolutionary.

La Bandera Roja y Las mujeres de Zitácuaro

On that same trip, Celia and I spent several hours in the public library archives. (Fig. 7) There we found a newspaper, La Bandera Roja.

From La Bandera Roja, dated 1900, I found an editorial congratulating Juan Belén for her protest newspaper, Vésper: Justicia y Libertad, published in Guanajuato, Mexico against Porfirio Díaz, the Mexican dictator. The editorial cites Juana Belén´s letter that she wrote to La Bandera Roja, congratulating them for their efforts in the liberal movement spreading across the country. (Fig. 8)

In the same newspaper, I found a manifesto written by several women, who were part of a liberal political club called “Josefa Ortíz de Dominguez y Fracisca Carallio.” They also called themselves Las mujeres de Zitácuaro, which I refer to them as in my writings. The article directly above the manifesto “La mujer se amancipa de las opresoras cadenas del clericalism” [Women are emancipated from the oppressive chains of the cleric] introduces the women to the newspaper’s readership. (Fig. 9)

The entire manifesto consists of twelve points the women were arguing. They argued for the freedom from the church´s will of cloistering women in monasteries, and that the time had come for women to be treated and considered as human beings. (Fig. 10) The names of 45 women who participated in this political movement appear at the end of the document. (Fig. 11) Chapter 3 of my dissertation, “Recovering Lost Rhetorics: The Feminist Manifesto of Las Mujeres de Zitácuaro,” looks closely at the manifesto through a rhetorical / sophistic lens.

Why research Mexican women journalists?

In the summer of 2005, just before entering the Rhetoric and Writing Studies doctoral program at the University of Texas at El Paso, I began researching the role of women in the Mexican Revolution. Initially, I had intended to write a young adult novel on Latina identities set on the Mexican / America border at the high school from where my mother, Sandra Gonzalez, and my grandmother, Ramona Gonzalez, graduated: El Paso High School. The book would tell the story of how young Latino/a adults struggle with their cultural identity. Ramona, the main character’s Mexican grandmother, and a veteran of the Mexican Revolution, was to be the voice of cultural consciousness. She was to move into Sandra’s room after her grandfather passed away in Mexico, which would have added to her teenage and cultural identity crisis.

While searching for a historical model of the Mexican grandmother character, I could not find representations of women in main stream historical accounts of the Mexican Revolution. Deepening my research, I stumbled upon Shirlene Soto’s Emergence of the Modern Mexican Woman: Her Participation in Revolution and Struggle for Equality 1910-1940. The book spoke in detail of women’s civil involvement and participation in the revolutionary struggle, but more poignantly, Soto´s research painted a picture of the brave women who wrote and constructed an identity centered on that struggle. The exploits, successes, battle scars, and political actions of Mexican men are well documented, but those of women fell by the wayside. In the aftermath of the revolution, men in politics did not want to legitimize women’s involvement in the revolution for fear of women losing their femininity and their role as house wives. Soto details women’s lives who were politically and socially active. Each chapter concludes with sketches of significant women journalists from the turn of the century in Mexico.

Several women in Soto’s book stood out as trailblazers, revolutionaries, and activists who, through their writing, shaped the realities of Mexican citizens caught in a government dictatorship, and an even more oppressive patriarchal structure. Soto writes of many women, but those who caught my attention were Laureana Wright de Kleinhans (1846 – 1896), Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza (1875 – 1942), Dolores Jiménez y Muro (1848 – 1925), and Hermila Galindo (1885 – 1954). They were all female writers and social feminist activists, who were writing and speaking during a time when women´s voices were not to be heard beyond the boundaries of the kitchen or the lines where the clothes hung to dry.

In looking for more on these women, I found books like Ana Macías´s Against All Odds: The Feminist Movement in Mexico to 1940, and Joel Bollinger Pouwels's Political Journalism by Mexican Women During the Age of Revolution, 1876 - 1940. I also found a compilation of Juana Belén´s writings and documents in a book edited by Angeles Mendieta Alatorre, Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza: Extraordinaria precursora de la Revolución Mexicana (1983). But access to this book is limited to those who can read Spanish. Having read Macias and Pouwels, it seems that Mexican women rhetors have been drowned out by a traditional Mexican patriarchal society, past and present.

The Mexican women journalists fit the profile of voices that rhetorical scholars have been calling for in the past two decades. One of the first calls for rediscovery of rhetorical texts came from a panel discussion at the 1988 Conference on College Composition and Communication (4Cs). A panelist of key rhetorical scholars such as James Berlin, Susan Jarratt, Jan Swearingen, Nan Johnson, Richard Enos, and others discussed the importance of expanding rhetorical history beyond ancient male rhetors, such as Plato and Aristotle. One of Jan Swearingen’s statements resonates with my scholarship. I for one am not comfortable with the idea of leaving a group of women, philosophers, or sophists, or whatever the excluded group is, just lying there unresearched, unknown, on the grounds of a modern ideology that says history is fiction.

There have been notable strides in rhetorical research of women from scholars such as Karlyn Campbell, Cheryl Glenn, Krista Ratcliffe, Shirley Logan, and many more. However, scholars, such as Hui Wu, have focused on the gap in scholarship on women from areas not situated in Western culture. She says, The positive trend of feminist historiography has had little, if any, impact on women’s rhetoric in non-EuroAmerican traditions. Feminist ethno-rhetorical historiography, particularly of Third World women, remains largely an uncharted territory (81). In the past decade, there have also been calls from Victor Villanueva, Damián Baca, and Jaime Armin Mejía for voices and research that centers on Latin America that investigate how their writings have shaped the culture and identity of our present times. My research into Mexican women journalists answers these calls.


(Click to enlarge)

Figure 1
Figure 1. Me on the steps of Durango's public library Lic. Jose I. Gallegos Caballero

Figure 2
Figure 2. Celia González Ramírez and I at the Institute of Culture in Durango

Figure 3
Figure 3. From the left - Maestra in San Juan del Río, Durango, Prof. José Luis Santillano Romero, Me, Pres. Municipal (Mayor) Luna, Maestra in the city

Figure 4
Figure 4. The nun retrieving baptismal records

Figure 5
Figure 5. The nun searching the records

Figure 6
Figure 6. Certificate of authenticity of Juana Belén´s baptismal record

Figure 7
Figure 7. Public library archives

Figure 8
Figure 8. Editorial about Juana´s newspaper

Figure 9
Figure 9. Las mujeres de Zitácuaro's manifesto

Figure 6
Figure 10. The entire manifesto

Figure 11
Figure 11. Names of the women who signed the manifesto

Laureana Wright de Kleinhans
Laureana Wright de Kleinhans

Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza
Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza

Dolores Jiménez y Muro
Dolores Jiménez y Muro

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