Ramirez, Sara Estela (1881–1910)
Ramirez, Sara Estela (1881–1910)
Mexican poet, teacher, journalist, political activist and feminist who helped lay the political groundwork for the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Name variations: Sarita Ramirez. Pronunciation: Rah-MIR-es. Born Sara Estela Ramirez in 1881 in the Mexican state of Coahuila; died in Laredo, Texas, on August 21, 1910; parents undocumented; attended school in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, and graduated from Teachers' College, ateneo Fuentes, at Saltillo, Coahuila; never married; no children.
At age 17, moved to Laredo, Texas, and began publishing poems, essays, and literary articles in local newspapers, La Crónica and El Demócrata Fronterizo, and was hired to teach Mexican children at the Seminary of Laredo (1898); joined Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM), the party working for the overthrow of the Mexican dictator (1901); founded the radical daily newspaper La Corregidora (1904); was a journalist for Vésper, and prominent member of Regeneracion y Concordia and Club Redención; acted in play Noema in Laredo, Texas; founded the literary periodical Aurora in Laredo (1910).
In 1876, Porfirio Díaz ascended to the presidency of Mexico, beginning a dictatorship that would last for 34 years. Díaz favored the wealthy minority, and amidst the extreme sociopolitical oppression that marked his rule, the economic gap between rich and poor became so great, according to Evangelina Enriquez in La Chicana, that "it is estimated that by 1910, half of Mexico was in the hands of 3,000 families and the real wages of a worker were about one quarter of what they had been in 1800." Out of these conditions arose the Partido Liberal Mexican (the Mexican Liberal Party, or PLM), a group of revolutionaries whose main goal was to awaken the people of Mexico to the idea of political change and to organize communities to act against the Díaz regime. One of the group's early members was Sara Estela Ramirez. Through her poetry, journalism, and political activities, she helped to sow the seeds of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, which would erupt only three months after her early death. Deeply aware of the difficulties faced by Mexican women, Ramirez also helped to establish a firm basis for the emergence of the contemporary Chicana feminist movement, and thus is considered one of the founders of Mexican feminism. While Mexican women had been involved in the struggle for national liberation in the 19th century, it was only around the turn of the 20th century that the liberation of women themselves emerged as an issue complementary to, but separate from, the liberation from oppression of all Mexicans.
Ramirez, known among her close friends as "Sarita," was born in the Mexican state of Coahuila in 1881, only five years after Díaz came to power. Little is known about her early life, except that she was the eldest of two daughters and that she was still quite young when her mother died. Thereafter, she shouldered the responsibilities of caring for her younger sister María and for her father, who was frequently ill. At age 17, she moved to Laredo, Texas, where her poetry and essays soon began to appear in the local Spanish-language newspapers La Crónica and El Demócrata Fronterizo. That same year, she accepted a position teaching Spanish to Texas-Mexican children at the Seminary of Laredo. With a teacher's salary that approximated the paltry daily wages of a household servant, she got by on little money, studied English, and observed the miserable living conditions of her students and their families. A caring and articulate teacher, Ramirez soon began to realize the importance of the struggle for freedom to her students' futures, and to voice her concerns about the unjust political situation in Mexico, declaring that the effort to bring about change "begins within the walls of the school."
[O]ur souls like diamonds give out light.
—Sara Estela Ramirez
"The first powerful 20th-century anarchist organization developed around the Liberal Party led by the Flores Magón brothers," writes John Hart. "In the years 1901–10, Flores Magón and the Liberal Party posed the only serious challenge to the Díaz regime and they became a symbol of that resistance." Ramirez was 20 when she joined the PLM in 1901, and soon became involved in developing the party's platform. According to Shirlene Ann Soto , by 1906 "provisions for the protection of women and children, including the granting of rights and privileges, to illegitimate children" were included in the platform. The addressing of such "women's" issues is thought to show the influence of teachers like Ramirez. Other early issues included efforts to guarantee improved working conditions and job safety for Mexico's workers. The PLM's activities had not gone unnoticed by the Díaz regime, and all members, both men and women, faced the confiscation of their printing presses, imprisonment, exile, and even assassination.
Among the party's core of women leaders, Ramirez served as one of two contact persons authorized to receive funds for a group of Magónistas in exile. In February 1904, a group of these exiles, including Ricardo Flores Magón, met in Laredo at Ramirez's home, which became the local PLM headquarters. As one of Magón's principal contacts in Texas, Ramirez traveled frequently to and from Mexico, despite the danger involved and much pressure from her family to withdraw from the struggle.
The PLM's most prolific letter writer, Ramirez corresponded with Ricardo Flores Magón from 1901 to 1906. Her letters show her concern for the unity of the group, as she urged members to transcend personal differences in service of the common vision. Unlike Magón, who perceived the working class as frequently unwilling to commit to change, Ramirez had faith that the people would understand and make themselves heard. In September 1903, she wrote:
We need to educate the people and awaken their energy. Our race is a race of heroes, a worthy race, and it will know how to make itself respected. Let us struggle faithfully for the triumph is ours. We are passing through a crisis that we should undergo with calm, in order to begin again the grandiose task of regeneration.
Magón supported Ramirez's literary efforts, negotiating the sale and publication of a volume of her poetry which he later counted among his favorite books. While Ramirez was an active leader in the PLM, her most striking contribution to the fight for freedom was through her writings, which span the period from her arrival in Laredo in 1898 until her death. In 1904, she founded La Corregidora (The Magistrate's Wife), a radical paper which she edited until 1910. The paper was named in honor of Josefa Ortíz de Dominquez, one of the heroes of the 1810 Mexican War for Independence; this was also, according to Ramirez biographer Inés Hernandez Tovar, "one of the few times that women heroines were honored in such a way." Printed and distributed daily out of Mexico City, San Antonio and Laredo, La Corregidora called for organized resistance against the Díaz regime through mutualism. In a published speech delivered to the Society of Workers of Laredo, Ramirez described mutualism as the underlying principle which should govern social relations, stressing basic principles of solidarity, cooperation, and goodwill.
Ramirez also wrote for the radical paper Vésper, founded by Juana B. Guitérrez de Mendoza , which had a weekly circulation of 8,000. She established close friendships with Mendoza, Elisa Acuna y Rossetti and Dolores Jimenez y Muro , all of whom established periodicals that addressed important sociopolitical questions of the times and are, like Ramirez, considered founders of Mexican feminism and intellectual precursors of the Mexican Revolution. Ramirez was a prominent member of two groups they founded, the feminist organization Regeneracion y Concordia, formed to combat the Díaz dictatorship, and Club Redención, an arm of the PLM that challenged the Roman Catholic Church's encouragement of the training of women exclusively for roles as good wives and mothers. Redención also evaluated issues related to the role of the church in controlling education and the political participation of clerics.
In 1910, Ramirez founded the literary journal Aurora, which became an outlet for her writings as a revolutionary poet and humanist. The journal was named in honor of the daughter of her cousins Jose E. García and Margarita P. de García . Attesting to the esteem Ramirez attained from her audience during her lifetime, Aurora was glowingly received by La Crónica, which praised its "beautiful and select literature, … dispersing brilliant light on the foreheads of its readers." The paper went on to note, "We find this teacher, Miss Ramirez, struggling always against adversity, every day more resolved and more firm in her position, sustaining the virtue and the merit of her beautiful productions."
Ramirez never married, and some of her poetry evokes a yearning for a spiritual and emotional complement, and the sorrow of unrequited love. In "The Blank Page," she writes, "That page was for you or for no one; You did not write? … let no one touch it," reflecting a lover's rejection and her continuing love. Her Black Diamonds For Yuly (on her day) was dedicated to a young orphaned woman with whom Ramirez felt a connection through their common forms of suffering. She does not hide the truth about how difficult Yuly's life will be, but offers the young woman the consolation "that our souls, like diamonds give out light." For Ramirez, faith that good would come from misery was always a strong theme.
As teacher and friend to young Yuly and her students, Ramirez reaffirmed her conviction that their circumstances were the central issues of the revolutionary struggle. They were the inspiration for her to continue the fight against injustice, which she did until her death in 1910 from unknown causes, at the early age of 29. Three months later, the Mexican Revolution for which she had worked began, heralding the demise of the Díaz regime and decades of turmoil that would end, finally, in a nascent democracy. Ramirez's legacy of works, part of the poetic tradition that had long existed within the Mexican-American community, has earned her a reputation as a precursor of both the revolution and of Chicana feminism. In her last published poem, entitled "Rise Up!," and dedicated "to women," Ramirez wrote, "Only action is life; to feel that one lives is the most beautiful sensation."
Hart, John M. Anarchism and the Mexican Working Class, 1860–1931. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1978.
Mirandé, Alfredo, and Evangelina Enriquez. La Chicana: The Mexican American Woman. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
Mora, Magdalena, and Adelaida R. del Castillo, eds. "Sara Estela Ramirez: Una Rosa Roja en el Movimiento," in Mexican Women in the United States: Struggles Past and Present. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, 1980.
Sanchez, Rita. "Chicana Writer: Breaking Out of the Silence," in La Cosecha: Literatura y la Mujer Chicana. Edited by Linda Armas (special issue of De Colores: Journal of Emerging Raza Philosophies, Vol. 3, no. 3, 1977, pp. 31–37).
Soto, Shirlene A. The Mexican Woman: A Study of Her Participation in the Revolution, 1910–1940. University of New Mexico dissertation, 1977. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilm International, 1980.
Tovar, Inés Hernandez. Sara Estela Ramirez: The Early Twentieth Century Texas-Mexican Poet. Houston, TX: Houston University Press, 1984.
"Sara Estela Ramirez: A Note on Research in Progress," in HEMBRA: Hermanas en Movimiento Brotando Raíces de Aztlan. Austin, TX: Center for Mexican American Studies, University of Texas, 1976.
Zamora, Emilio, Jr. "Chicano Socialist Labor Activity in Texas, 1900–1920," in Aztlan: International Journal of Chicano Studies Research. Vol. 6, no. 2. Summer 1975, pp. 221–236.
Rocío Evans , Chicana feminist writer, Cambridge, Massachusetts