Remembering Petra Herrera, the Unsung, Cross-Dressing Heroine Of the Mexican Revolution

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History is not short on patriarchal injustices, and the Mexican Revolution was no exception. While women played an integral role in releasing Mexico from the grip of Porfirio Díaz, their role remains unrecognized in history and only celebrated in the romantic imagination of corridos.

One victim of patriarchy was Petra Herrera, a Mexican soldadera who dressed up as a man and called herself Pedro to fight alongside Pancho Villa’s troops. Herrera, like many other Mexicans, felt inspired to join the revolutionary forces because of Porfirio Diaz’s corrupt and elitist government. But unlike her male counterparts, Herrera couldn’t fight in Villa’s armed forces. Although women could join the army, they couldn’t enter battle. Instead, they mostly worked as nurses, cooks, and babysitters. But Herrera, not satisfied with these expectations, resorted to dressing in men’s clothes to join the ranks of battle.

Petra Herrera became Pedro Herrera as she entered the Villista troops in 1913. She quickly became a celebrated fighter and leader, well-known for her strategic style that often involved blowing up bridges. As a famed member of the Villistas, Herrera decided she was in deep enough she could get away with revealing her true identity. But sexism proved bigger than her heroism and she found herself ousted from the armed forces. Other women in Villa’s battalion were expelled for the same reason, but Herrera decided their fight was not yet over.

Close to 400 women joined Herrera in creating an all-female troop, which played an important role in winning the Toma de Torreón in 1914, in which Villa’s forces took one of Porfirio Diaz’s main military bases. The soldaderas later dissolved,  after General Castro, a leader of the revolution, did not allow Herrera to rejoin the Villista troops. Afterward, Herrera allied with Venustiano Carranza in 1917 as a spy. She worked as a bartender in Jimenez, a city in the northern part of Mexico, until she died of three gun shot wounds at the bar.

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Tell me about some women you look up to. Whether real or fictional, historical or currently alive, reknown or humbly working in the background— tell me about the ladies that light your heart or your spirit on fire. Tell me their names, tell me what you love about them. 🦋 There’s been no shortage of world-changing girls throughout human history, although unfortunately we usually don’t hear about them as much as we hear about boys’ accomplishments. 🌺 A handful of old and recent obsessions off the top of my head: •🌸Revolutionary PETRA HERRERA, pretty much the Mexican Mulan ✊🏽 •🌸Goddess KUAN YIN because we all urgently need more compassion 🙏🏽 •🌸Activist ANGELA DAVIS for fighting for civil rights ✊🏽 •🌸Tribe leader HUSHAHU YAWANAWA, first modern female shaman ✨ •🌸Conservationists SYLVIA EARLE and JANE GOODALL and LU ZHI for helping the rationals understand our place in the web of things 🌍 •🌸Mystic and artist and scientist HILDEGARD VON BINGEN for her brilliant creations 🎼 •🌸Fictional rebel AEON FLUX because “..i’m not skirting the edge. i AM the edge” 😜 •🌸Mathematician ADA LOVELACE who invented computing (outta da way Steve Jobs!) 📠 •🌸Transcendentalist poet MARY OLIVER for expressing the wonder and divinity in the nature around us ✒️ •🌸Rocket scientist KATHERINE JOHNSON who calculated how to get us to the moon 🚀 •🌸Sumerian priestess and poet ENHEDUANNA, the first ever recorded human to sign her name in writing ✍️ •🌸my mamma ZHONG XIAO PING because if you knew her story, you would be floored by her resilience 💝 🌷 … There are so many more!!!! I want to learn ALL of their stories to tell them to my grandchildren 😫😍 🌾 Who are some real-life women or legends from your lineage that should not be forgotten? Say their names! Tell their stories! Let’s help spread their messages and their wisdom. 👸🏻💪🏽 . 💜✊🏽 #heroines #superheroes #FestaDellaDonna #妇女节#HexThePatriarchy #InternationalWomensDay #WomensDay2018 #InternationalWomensDay2018 #PetraHerrera #Mulan #KuanYin #AngelaDavis #HushahuYawanawa #SylviaEarle #JaneGodall #LuZhi #HildegardVonBingen #AeonFlux #AdaLovelace #MaryOliver #KatherineJohnson #Enheduanna #WonderWoman #Themyscira #IWD2018 #donkey

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Herrera remains widely unknown or remembered in history books. Even Pancho Villa supposedly denied her existence and contributions in the Toma de Torreón. Still, Herrera is considered the inspiration behind the corrido “The Adelita,” which many scholars note doesn’t accurately describe her valor and place in the revolution. “Y si Adelita quisiera ser mi esposa / y si Adelita ya fuera mi mujer / le compraría un vestido de seda / para llevarla a bailar al cuartel.”

Although Pancho Villa saw Herrera as a liability to his militia’s success, Herrera saw herself as a hero and that was enough for many to keep her memory alive.