This week seems to have a theme of Mexican women who are in the arts born in the early 19th century. Rosario Castellanos was a poet, activist and author who became associated with the “Generation of 1950”, a poet’s group that gained popularity following the end of WWII.
Rosario was born in Mexico City on May 25, 1925 to a family of ranchers in the state of Chiapas, so she grew up in Comitán. During the years before her birth, landowners in Mexico had a hold on the power structure. Her family was of mixed heritage and had indigenous servants. She was an introverted child and found herself at odds with her family. She didn’t care for the way the indigenous people were treated, and her relationship with her mother was estranged after she proved to favor her brother.
When she was 9 years old, President Lazaro Cardenas passed and enacted the 1934 Agrarian code which redistributed land from the wealthy elite and changed the social-political makeup of Mexico. It also effected Rosario’s family, as much of their property was confiscated. The country had spent much of its recent history with the power being in the hands of wealthy landowners, and the redistribution of land broke up that power hold.
When she was 15 she moved to Mexico City with her parents. Unfortunately, within a year, both her parents had died, leaving her and her siblings orphans. She enrolled in the National Autonomous University of Mexico, studying literature and philosophy. She also joined the National Indigenous Institute, developed by President Cardenas, to help promote literacy in impoverished sections of the country. She also began writing for the newspaper Excélsior.
It was while she was at the school that she met Ricardo Guerra Tejada, a fellow academic and philosopher. The two married in 1958. The two of them had one son, Gabriel, born in 1961. Rosario suffered from depression and fertility issues and would have no more children. She and Ricardo divorced in 1971 after Ricardo’s infidelity came to light.
In 1960, she published Ciudad Real, a collection of short stories that focused on the differences between selected groups. It dealt with both racial and gender related bias. She also became the press director for the University a year later. She also taught at the university and had visiting professorship in various universities across North America. In 1963, she wrote Oficio de tinieblas or in English as The Book of Lamentations in one translation and The Office of Darkness in another. The story recreates a native rebellion in a more modern time period. The struggle of native people was an influence over much of her work. She was inspired by also by two Catholic authors as well, including Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, who I profiled several weeks ago.
Rosario’s work was varied. She was dedicated to improving literacy and women’s rights in Mexico. She also served in several governmental positions, culminating in being assigned in 1971 to be Mexico’s ambassador to Israel in 1971.
Rosario died on August 7, 1974. She was 49 years old, and her death was an electrical accident. She left behind a body of work that showcased the idea of feminism in Mexico as well as better treatment for indigenous people. She holds a high spot in Mexico for both her literary and governmental pursuits. Two of her works were published after her death, as well.
Most of the sources of information about her that appear in English online appear to just repeat the same information. There are several sites and videos in Spanish that may include information but unfortunately my Spanish is not good enough to translate that quickly. I’m also sure offline there is more information, if you are interested in learning more about Rosario and her works. Amazon has several of her published works in Spanish.
Wikipedia: Rosario Castellanos
Wikipedia: Cardenista Land Reform 1934-1940
Encyclopedia Britannica: Rosario Castellanos
Rosario Castellanos was one of Mexico’s greatest Poets – Constance Grady (Vox.com)
Rosario Castellanos – Beth Miller (2012)