By ERIN ALLEN
With a national theme of “Heritage, Diversity, Integrity and Honor: The Renewed Hope of America,” the Library celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 through Oct. 15) with a number of special events. The centerpiece of the celebration was a reception hosted by he Library’s Hispanic Cultural Society. In addition to ethnic food tasting and music, the Oct. 7 event featured a lecture by Angela Zavala, president and CEO of TIYM Publishing Co., Inc. (See story below.)
To highlight collections about Hispanic Americans and their contributions and accomplishments, the Library of Congress, along with the National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum launched an online resource page at www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov.
Speaking to an audience in the Library’s Whittall Pavilion on Oct. 7, Hispanic Yearbook (Anuario Hispano) publisher Angela Zavala discussed the role of notable Hispanic women in history.
“Despite the fact that a woman, Isabel of Castile, successfully ruled Spain during the discovery of America in 1492, all that did not help to diversify the feminine role in the Spanish-American Empire,” said Zavala. “It was only during and after the onset of the South American countries’ independence movements at the start of the 19th century that Hispanic women’s roles became more visible.”
According to Zavala, it was during that time that the political Hispanic woman was born. She discussed three notable examples: Manuela Sáenz, Manuela Rosas and Maria Sanchez de Thompson.
Sáenz, who was Simon Bolivar’s lover, acted as his principal adviser during one of the most important periods of northern South America’s liberation. Rosas, or Manuelita, was the only daughter of the Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. Following the death of her mother in 1838, Manuelita was thrust into a new political role—first lady.
“She was a devoted and obedient daughter who, on occasion, pled for the mercy of her father on behalf of too few of his enemies,” said Zavala.
Sanchez de Thompson was a patriot from Buenos Aires widely remembered in her country because the Argentine national anthem was sung for the first time in her house on May 14, 1811. During the rule of Juan Manuel de Rosas, she went voluntarily to exile in Montevideo because her son Juan was among the opposition to the government.
“Again and again she helped the dictator’s enemies to escape when they were forced into exile, at the risk of her own safety,” said Zavala.
While the names of those three women might be unfamiliar, two of their 20th-century counterparts—Victoria Ocampo and Eva “Evita” Perón—are more widely recognized.
Ocampo was best-known as publisher of the legendary literary magazine Sur. In 1953, she was briefly imprisoned for her opposition to the regime of Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón.
“She was a woman full of fire, spiritual and passionate, profoundly cultured, an owner of a universal culture, a discoverer of talent national and foreign, a dynamic manager, a doer, not a passive witness,” Zavala said.
While Ocampo was perhaps the archetype of the South American female intellectual, Evita was instead the archetype of the political woman of the 20th century, Zavala speculated.
“Twenty years before Indira Gandhi and long before Margaret Thatcher, Evita discovered her ambition at the side of a frustrated military officer, Juan Perón, who, thanks to her influence, became a successful politician,” she said. With his wife’s support, Perón, was elected president of Argentina in 1946.
“She followed, perhaps unknowingly, the ghost of Manuela Sáenz and her own passion and instincts, because she had an immense capacity to identify with the masses of her country—her dear ‘descamisados’ (“shirtless ones”)— who will be forever grateful and loyal to the Peróns.”
Evita has been credited with gaining for Argentine women the right to vote. Adopted in 1947, the law allowed Argentine women to vote for the first time in the 1952 election. This new voting bloc no doubt contributed to the re-election of her husband as president. Shortly thereafter, Argentina’s first lady died of cancer at the age of 33.
According to Zavala, Hispanic women today have more opportunities for themselves and their families.
“You can be sure that the contribution of the Hispanic woman to new agendas will be as decisive as it has been in the other fields in which she has been treading,” Zavala said.
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Library’s Office of Communications.