Note: During the Revolution Jesusa fought alongside her husband, traveling from southern Mexico to the the Texas border, where Pedro was killed by Pancho Villa’s soldiers. In this excerpt, Jesusa describes Pedro’s burial in Marfa, her confronta tion with her commanding general, and the train station robbery that kept her in Mexico City instead of returning to Oaxaca. “I got there when it was dark and the coyotes were already of the river, not here. I’m not trying to show you up, but come eating Pedro. He didn’t have hands, or ears, pieces of his on! nose were missing and part of his neck. We picked him up and took him to Marfa, Texas, in the United States to bury him, near Presidio, and that’s where he stayed. It made me really mad that our general had gone over to the United States. I told him that since we still had weapons and ammunition he had no reason to take his ass up north. He should have ordered us to pursue the enemy until we couldn’t anymore. -Jesusa, there wasn’t any other choice. There were so many Villistas and they pushed me back here. -At least you could have given a counterorder so all of us could have come together, and not just leave us behind. My husband was killed between Ojinaga and Cuchillo Parado. He’d be here if you weren’t such a coward…Now I understand what they mean when they say your motto is “If there are a lot of them let’s turn and run, if there are few we’ll use caution, and if there isn’t anyone coming then let’s move forward, sons of Coahuila, we were born to die…!” That’s some way to fight a war, General. He bowed his head and said: -There’s no choice now. -There’s none for you, General, and we’re prisoners because of what you chose to do, but I belong on that side 04 11 Ciena [Panialow4ct TfNISIMA 1r We were in Marfa for a month, until General Joaquin Amaro asked the gringos to return us to Mexico. I said goodbye to Pedro and we crossed the bridge…. I wasn’t even eighteen years old when Pedro was shot through the heart. He always said that when it looked like things were over, he was going to kill me. He wanted to send me on ahead, ho but it didn’t happen that way. I’m still 1:lid here raising hell. I had to change trains in Mexico City to go to Tehuantepec. I handed my four suitcases through the window to a porter standing on the platform at the station. All the clothes I owned, my husband’s and mine, the shirts I had sewed for him-because in those days the wife made the man’s clothes-my pay, which like a fool I’d put in one of the suitcases, the money I’d tied up in a handkerchief, the leather boots, four suitcases full of stuff, I lost all of it. I never saw that porter again. Each of the other women took off for home, but since I’d been robbed at the Buenavista station, I stayed there alone, abandoned, in Mexico City, scratching myself with my nails. I looked like a turkey that’s lost her chicks, stretching out her neck and looking all around, crying, “Gobble…gobble…gobble…” t z z z residence there. It is 1911 and Madero has just entered Mexico City. Jesusa joins the revolutionary troops, first as a soldadera, but one who quickly becomes an active participant, breaking with the romantic legend of the submissive female camp follower whose life unfolds on the margins and revolves around feeding the troops. With Jesusa Palancares we explore the immensity of a nation in arms, in transitionjust as she is. From the battlefield to the poor neighborhoods of the capital, Jesusa never allows cynicism to take over in her relationship to her social milieu. Her stance is always one of rigorous questioning of the values, institutions and traditions of her society. Poniatowska masterfully recreates Jesusa’s critical vision of the history she has helped forge and from which she is, in the end, excluded. During the Revolution, Jesusa marries Pedro Aguilar, a 17-year-old general, and observes that a man orders his wife around in the same way that a general orders his troops. The rules of conduct in marriage were the rules of military conduct: beat or be beaten. More degrading than the blows received was the sensation of being suffocated, of living under Pedro’s constant vigilance. Only at night or when the troops rested, and Pedro read to her, could Jesusa imagine a union based on equality. Pedro would read, ask her questions, read once more and explain, with infinite patience, while Jesusa dis played the frustration, shame and shy nesswhich she only displayed on such occasionsof those who cannot read and write. The ability to read, to form and inform oneself through read ing, is one of the few things Jesusa respects unconditionally. And it seems clear in Jesusa’s mind that had she been literate, she would have been better prepared to tackle the question of vio lence, the vicious cycle of institutional, structural violence that plagued her continued on page 32 8/3/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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