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Enriqueta Vasquez: Eminent Historian for “The Women of La Raza”

“The Women of La Raza” by Enriqueta Vasquez is both a treasure and a living codex.

I am going to go out on an (academic) limb and call The Women of La Raza by Enriqueta Vasquez both a treasure and a living codex.

I will also say this about Enriqueta herself: Vive en la sabiduria — she lives in wisdom, wisdom of an elder, wisdom of the elders, an elder who also leaves footprints and also walks in beauty.

Her words and generational knowledge are gifts to us, and I will say that her epic book is a must-read, especially for those interested in the history of Chicanos in general, but even more specifically, the history of Chicanas in this country. More than that, her book documents the untold history of Indigenous women in North America, from the pre-Columbian era, to resistance against Spanish colonialism, participation in the Mexican Independence Movement against US imperialism, in the Mexican Revolution, and finally, in the Chicano and the later feminist-based Chicana Movement. She does this while taking down names, or more appropriately, providing us names that had previously been obscured by history or historians.

Enriqueta’s work is especially invaluable because she was present and documented the foundational events of the Chicano Movement as an active participant of that movement. On top of this, she has ancestral knowledge that she has gathered through the years as a warrior woman, a woman of Indigenous traditions.

Vasquez is an organic and authentic Xhicana writer, artist and historian. I have previously (2007) written about her earlier book: Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement, a compilation of her Grito del Norte columns, 1968-1972. More than anything, that book chronicled the role of Chicanas in the Chicano Movement, and also the beginnings of what became the Chicana Movement. At that time, she told me that she had another companion manuscript, but that no one would publish it: The Women of La Raza.

Part of the beauty of this book is that the opening is a compilation of creation, origin and pre-Columbian migration stories, almost told in storytelling fashion, as opposed to a strict academic format. And once relayed, then the book is a virtual encyclopedia of Indigenous resistance by Indigenous Mexican and then Xhicana women warriors, taking part in virtually every resistance movement since the arrival of Europeans to North America.

My forte is not Chicana history, and thus I learned a lot of names, especially that of pre-Columbian women rulers and prominent women, such as Lady Kanal-Ikal, ruler of Palenque; Lady Bacab, a Yachilan Princess; and Lady Cahal of Bonampak. During the era of Spanish invasion, just as there were men making history, women warriors were there every step of the way, yet most were invisibilized by male historians. Here, I will simply mention several that rival any male warrior memorialized in history.

During the initial resistance against the Spanish, led by Cuauhtemoc, the “last defender” of the Aztec-Mexica, married Princess Tecuichpo, daughter and heir of Moctezuma, who had been brutally raped by Spanish soldiers and left for dead. She was with Cuauhtemoc when his feet were burned, and she too was present when he was hanged. Not incidentally, Malinche, Cortes’s translator was also present. Because her role is better known, I will skip her larger story; she is neither traitor or heroine, but someone whom history has chosen to condemn as the sole person responsible for the triumph of the Spaniards. But back to Tecuichpo’s story.

After Cuauhtemoc was killed, Cortes forced her to marry a Spaniard to carry on the Moctezuma royal line. A short time later, her husband died. The same thing happened four more times. On her deathbed, she confessed to poisoning all five of them. “I die happy for I alone have done what no other warrior has dared to do. I have killed more of the enemies of my father than the greatest of warriors.”

Also, during the resistance against the Spanish, the name Erendira, a Purepecha princess, bears special mention. After defeating the Aztec-Mexica, the Spaniards moved against the fiercely Independent Purepecha. In one attack against the Purepecha, the Spaniards with Indian allies were defeated and lost a white horse in the process. Erendira took the horse, and when the Spaniards attacked again, she attacked fiercely the Indian traitors, killing many of them, including one Nanuma, whom she considered the main traitor. When the Spanish attacked again, her father, Chief Timas, who had vowed to resist ’til death, was killed. Story goes that Erendira was last seen fleeing on her white horse into the forest, never to be heard from again.

While the book was self-published, this is part of the story. If mainstream publishers do not view it as worthy of being published, minimally, it is an invaluable primary document as these invaluable seeds have been planted for further research.

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