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Black History Month: The forgotten Black Heroes of Latin America Pt. 2

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In commemoration of this year Black History Month and in the vein of last year's thread of forgotten lore in how much Black people have been set aside in our latinoamerican and hispanic history lessons. If you miss last year topic or want to revive it here's the link:


Now, with no further ado.

Amelio Robles Ávila

A.K.A. Colonel Amelia Robles Ávila

(i bet you didn't expected that)

The story of Col. Amelio Robles Ávila, whom Frida Kahlo probably never met, is another impressive instance of self-design. 'Hiere are few sources on his life. Most of what we know comes from the laborious work of a few researchers. A modicum of additional information can be obtained at his mu-seum/house in Guerrero. Its visitors are rewarded with a well-preserved memory of the landmarks of the colonel’s life; but the thrill and contradictions that marked his history are, by and large, absent from its halls. In 1912 Amelio Robles joined the Zapatista army. His military ability was rewarded with the admiration of his peers and the respect of his superiors. He served under different revolutionary leaders until he obtained the command of his own troops. In November 1919, after Zapatas assassination, he surrendered— along with 315 men under his command—to the military chief of Guerrero to become part of a new, unified military structure. In 1920 he fought alongside the Obregonistas in the rebellion of Agua Prieta that ended Carranza’s government and signaled the full integration of the previously outlawed Zapatistas into the formal structure of the postrevolutionary state. By 1923 be was once again in the battlefields. This time he was recalled to fight de la Huerta’s uprising alongside troops loyal to President Obregón. In 1974 the Mexican government recognized his decade of military revolutionary service and awarded him a medal as a veteran of the revolution. At some point in his life, he adopted a girl with his compañera, Angela Torres. Both his daughter and Ángela would end up estranged from him.
**Excerpt from Culture and Revolution: Violence, Memory, and the Making of Modern Mexico
By Horacio Legrás

Amelio Robles Avila was a colonel during the Mexican Revolution. He was born a woman with the name of Amelia Robles Ávila on November 3, 1889 in Xochipala, Guerrero. His father was named Casimiro Robles and his mother Josefa Ávila. His father was a wealthy farmer who owned 42 acres of land and owned a small Mezcal factory.

- Usted nació con un astro; ninguno nace
con el dios de la guerra.
Usted va a ir a la guerra [...]
Usted va a triunfar pero con mala suerte.
- Y es cierto, todo lo que me ha ido,
mala suerte, mala suerte, mala suerte...

Amelio Robles Ávila was born on November 3, 1889 in Xochipala, a town located approximately 42 kilometers north of Chilpancingo and 60 south of Iguala, in the municipality of Zumpango del Río, Guerrero.

Daughter of Casimiro Robles and Josefa Ávila, she had two older brothers: Teódulo and Prisca.

His father was a wealthy ranchero, owner of 42 hectares of work and agostadero, who had a small factory, apparently of mezcal, and during some time worked like assistant of the commissary of the place.

When her father died when she was three years old, her mother later married Jesus Martinez, a ranch worker who tended cattle. From this second marriage were born Luis Concepción and Jesus Martinez Avila.

The first years of elementary school studied in Xochipala and Zumpango del Río, and in Chilpancingo the fourth and fifth, having to leave school when the Revolution broke out, when it was 21 years old.

Educated in the Catholic religion, she was part of the Society of the Daughters of Mary of the Miraculous Medal.

As his classmate Julita Escobar recalled, Amelia performed the tasks that any young girl learned at home and at school: washing, ironing and sewing.

However, she soon became fond of some activities that were not properly developed by girls of her sex. Thus, from an early age he learned not only to ride, but to tame horses and to lazar, and then to handle the guns.

She was also fond of milking, a task in which she liked to compete with ranch workers. (eleven)

These activities already showed a certain subversion with respect to the role assigned to their gender. According to Isidro Olivares, a native of Xochipala, Amelia "was by itself average man."

His interest in learning how to handle guns had a lot to do with his hatred for his stepfather, whom he twice planned to kill.

It is very likely that the difficulties with him and his own mother have influenced him to decide to leave his home and join the revolutionary movement.

From 1913 until November 1918, when she gave up her arms, Amelia Robles participated in the Zapatista ranks. During that period he acted under the command of the chief revolutionary leaders of the state: the generals Jesus H. Salgado, Heliodoro Castillo and Encarnación Díaz.

It is difficult to pinpoint the stages where Robles was at the command of each of them, as well as the dates on which their military ascents were verified. However, some indications have allowed us to make approximations.

More difficult has been the task of specifying the armed actions where he participated and the exact dates.

Although among her personal papers Amelia left a written list with her handwriting, which we will take as her campaign log, in which 70 armed actions are registered, we do not have the absolute certainty of their effective participation in all of them; What we can affirm is that the list does not include all the actions in which it took part.

For example, the Puebla campaign of July 1915 is not registered.

In 1924, Amelio supported General Alvaro Obregón against the Delahuertist rebellion under the command of General Adrian Castrejón, where the Delahuertista general Marcial Cavazos died and Amelio was hurt. It was here when he decided to adopt a new identity and assumed the name of Colonel Robles. He always showed a masculine appearance and an openness with his sexual preference. During this time is when he met Angela Torres in Apipilulco and raised his only daughter Regula Robles Torres.

Due to his courage and bravery, he won the title of lieutenant, major and then colonel. He made sure to never allow anyone to call him coronela.

Following the military phase of the Revolution, Robles supported revolutionary general Álvaro Obregón, president of Mexico 1920–1924, during the 1924 rebellion of Adolfo de la Huerta and in 1939 supported Almazán in the presidential election.

Toward the end of Robles's long life, Robles received various decorations acknowledging distinguished military service: a decoration as a veteran of the Mexican Revolution and the Legion of Honor of the Mexican Army. In 1973, Robles received the title of Mérito revolutionario.

On his deathbed Robles made two requests, that he received honors for his military service and that he was dressed as a woman in order to commend his soul to God.

Robles died December 9, 1984, aged 95.

More indepth info about her and her campaings here: http://www.bibliotecas.tv/zapata/zapatistas/amelia_robles.html AND translated here: http://bit.ly/2kstKIb

La Coronela de Zapata que lucho para ser reconocida como Coronel

He did not want to be a soldadera (and Adelita as colloquialy known). She refused to take care of children and to comfort the revolutionaries sexually. His plans were not to prepare food in the barracks. Amelia was born a woman, but in the end she lived as a man.

On November 3, 1889, in Xochipala, Guerrero, Amelia Robles Ávila was born. She was the youngest of three siblings. He learned to read and write with the Daughters of Mary, and, like any rich little girl in town, to embroider, cook, and have impeccably starched men's house shirts.

But the "Güerita** Amelia," as her neighbors remembered her, was always a capricious young woman whose rebellious character could not be tamed by the gentle nuns. She was an orphaned father as a teenager and the arrival of her stepfather was not a happy event. Something must have happened to make the girl hate her mother's new husband so much.

Then came the revolution and its luck changed. It is not known for certain under what circumstances the young woman joined the Southern Liberation Army, led by Emiliano Zapata, but some said that it had been Josefa, his mother, who had given her to a guerrilla in exchange for protection. From then on, his life was radically transformed.

He did not want to be a soldadera, but a colonel.

Amelia did not want to swell the ranks of the soldaderas. She did not want to take care of anybody's children, nor did she want to comfort her partners sexually; Nor was it among his plans to prepare the barracks or the food of the militia. No. Amelia decided to go much further and be something else.

So she cut her braids, changed an "a" for an "o" and became what she had always wanted to be, a man. A real man.

His new identity did not require aesthetic surgeries or hormonal treatments. All he had to do was use an imaginary scalpel to cut down all the prejudices of a bunch of big mustachoed and sombrero wearing machos who were making the revolution.

She was skilled at taming, tying, and riding horses, as well as handling weapons and firing shots. With every gesture he proclaimed his manhood every day and won the respect of his own and strangers.

So that there was no doubt that he was more man than many, soldier Amelio was sent to make a studio photograph where he appeared with a pistol in his waist. He was under the command of the chief revolutionary leaders of his region.

Among his personal files, he left a handwritten log in which he recorded the more than 70 military actions in which he intervened between 1913 and 1918, the year in which he delivered the weapons.

On the battlefield, he was one more soldier. He stood out for his bravery and was recognized with three stars by the same general Zapata, who had great esteem.

Built the desired body

Amelio Robles was handsome. Many women liked his gallantry and natural elegance. He maintained relations of with several but it was with Angela Torres with whom he married and adopted a girl named Regula.

He never doubted his male identity. It is said that when someone called him Señora or Doña Amelia, he would take out his pistol and demand that he be called a colonel. Only his most intimate friends, already past drinking, allowed themselves to be told "my coronela" without fear of being shot.

Winning his place costed a lot. In his essay “Inocultables realidades del deseo. Amelio Robles, masculinidad transgénero en la Revolución Mexicana" historian Gabriela Cano reports that, on one occasion, she was assaulted by several men who tried to humiliate him by discovering her body secret. It did not occur to them that the colonel was going to draw his gun and shoot them without hesitation.

Some managed to flee but Amelio killed two, so he went to prison in Chilpancingo. "The incarceration must have led to the additional humiliation of being held in the women's section," says Cano. The researcher of the Colegio de México states that "the most arduous battle that Colonel Robles fought did not take place on a cross-country, had no smell of gunpowder," was rather "a cultural battle, a silent and slow struggle, whose great victory Was to become a male, denying his body anatomy as a woman."

Recognition as a Veteran of the Mexican Revolution

Far from the military life, Amelio was dedicated to agriculture, livestock and agrarian organization. At the age of 66, he began to carry out paperwork before the Secretariat of National Defense to be admitted as a male veteran, not a woman veteran of the Mexican Revolution.

Although his original birth certificate indicated otherwise, his personal file in the military archives included a false document, provided by himself, certifying that he had been born as a "child."

Amelio Robles and Esteban Estrada, ca. 1942 (Photo of Gertrude Duby, Na Bolom Museum, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas)

Twenty years later, he was granted the appointment of Veteran of the Revolution. Thus, she became the first transgender person to be recognized by the Mexican State.

During his long life, he built the desired body. He battled like no one else to win the respect and acceptance of others. Without having other examples or models to imitate, he fought every day to live as he had wanted.

After his death on December 9, 1984, it was rumored that, at the last minute of his life, Colonel Amelio Robles Avila had asked for two last wishes: to be fired with honors for his military merits and to wear it Woman to stand before God. The latter is not absolutely confirmed.




Have a great Black History Month


In today's lesson we will travel away from Mexico to the caribean, more specifically to Cuba.

«El que intente apoderarse de Cuba, recogerá el polvo de su suelo anegado en sangre, si no perece en la contienda».

Lt. General José Antonio de la Caridad Maceo y Grajales

(June 14, 1845 – December 7, 1896) was second-in-command of the Cuban Army of Independence.

Fellow Cubans gave Maceo the sobriquet of the "Bronze Titan" (Spanish: El Titan de Bronce), which was a reference to his skin color, stature and status. Spaniards referred to Maceo as the "Greater Lion" (El Leon mayor). Maceo was one of the most noteworthy guerrilla leaders in 19th century Latin America, comparable to José Antonio Páez of Venezuela in military acumen.

Maceo was the son of a Venezuelan farmer and dealer in agricultural products, Marcos Maceo, and an Afro-Cuban woman of Dominican descent, Mariana Grajales y Coello. His father when still a young man, fought for the Spanish against the forces for independence led by Simón Bolívar, José Antonio Páez and others. In 1823, he moved from Caracas, Venezuela, to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, after some of his comrades were exiled from South America.

An important aspect of the historical significance of the son of Marcos Maceo and Mariana Grajales – and of his particular charisma – is, however, his background. Antonio was the member of a black family that lived in Cuba’s eastern region. We shouldn’t forget that the first war of independence was begun and led, for the most part, by people of certain social standing – estate owners, lawyers and others who were mostly white. Their sacrifice is doubtless worthy of respect, even in the case of those who took up arms without first freeing their slaves. It is also undeniable, however, that a man like Maceo had to be truly exceptional to stand out in this context.

**Havana Times

José Antonio Maceo y Grajales was born June 14, 1845, in the town of San Luis, in the Oriente Province outside Santiago de Cuba, in a farm known to locals as Jobabo. Although his father taught him skills in the use of arms and management of their small properties, it was his mother, Mariana Grajales, who inculcated in him a sense of order. This maternal discipline would be important in the development of Maceo's character and would be reflected later in his acts as a military leader.

At the age of sixteen, Maceo went to work for his father, delivering products and supplies by mule. He was a successful entrepreneur and farmer. As the oldest of the children, he inherited his father's leadership qualities and later would become a decorated general. Maceo developed an active interest in the political issues of his time and was initiated in the mysteries of Freemasonry. The Cuban Freemasonry movement was influenced by the principles of the French Revolution - "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" - as well as the Masons' main guidelines: God, Reason, Virtue.

Approximately two weeks after the October 10, 1868 revolt led by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes against Spain known as "The cry of Yara" ("El grito de Yara"), Maceo, together with his father and brothers joined the war. Mariana Grajales, followed her family members into the manigua (the woods and most thick countryside) in order to support the mambises, as Cuban rebels were known in the 19th century. The Maceos enlisted as privates when the Ten Years' War (1868–78) began. Within five months, Antonio Maceo was promoted to Commander (or Major), and within a matter of weeks after that he was again promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Later, a promotion to Colonel followed, and five years later he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General because of his bravery and ability to outmaneuver the Spanish Army. Maceo participated in more than 500 battles. However, the humble origin of Maceo and the colour of his skin, delayed his raising to the Major General degree, due principally to the racist and class exclusiveness tendencies of several other patriots of an aristocratic or bourgeois origin. Men under Maceo's command began to name him “The Bronze Titan”, because of his exceptional physical strength and resistance to bullet or blade injuries. He recovered from more than 25 war injuries over the course of some 500 military battles, and none of Maceo's wounds diminished his willingness to lead his troops into combat.


His plans for meeting with Gómez and the Government in Arms never took place. On December 7, 1896, in the vicinity of Punta Brava, Maceo was advancing into the farm of San Pedro, only accompanied by his personal escort (two or three men), the physician of his Headquarters, the Brigade General José Miró Argenter and a small troop of no more than twenty men. When they attempted to cut a fence for facilitating the march of horses through those lands, they were detected by a strong Spanish column, which opened an intense fire. Maceo was hit by two shots, one in the chest and another that broke his jaw and penetrated his skull. His companions could not carry him because of the intensity of the firefight and Maceo's size. The only rebel who stayed by him was the Lieutenant Francisco Gómez (known as Panchito), son of Máximo Gómez, who faced the Spanish column for the sole purpose of protecting the body of his general. After being shot several times, the Spaniards killed Gómez with machete strikes, leaving both bodies abandoned, not knowing the identity of the fallen.

The corpses of Maceo and Panchito were picked up the next days by Colonel Aranguren, from Havana, who ran immediately to the battle scene after hearing the news. They were later buried in secret in the farm of two brothers who swore to keep the burial place in secrecy until Cuba would be free and independent and the correspondent military honors could be given to the hero. Nowadays, the remains of Antonio Maceo y Grajales and Francisco Gómez Toro lie in the Monumento El Cacahual south of Havana, close to the limits of the former farm of San Pedro, and the site is one of pilgrimage by Cuban people. Scholars say that Maceo's death was as traumatic to Cuban patriots as Marti's.[2]


In addition to his role as a soldier and statesman in the Cuban movement for independence, Maceo was an influential political strategist and military planner, and José Martí is among Cuban leaders who were inspired by Maceo. Being a member of masonry, in his correspondence one can read more than once his credo base on "God, Reason and Virtue". He was quoted as having a strict motto: "My duties to country and to my own political convictions are above all human effort; with these I shall reach the pedestal of freedom or I shall perish fighting for my country's redemption." (November 3, 1890). Martí, speaking about him, said that "Maceo has as much strength in his mind as in his arm."
Antonio Maceo Monument in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

Of democratic political adherence, he expressed many times his sympathy for the republican form of government, but insisted on seeking for the formula of "liberty; equality and fraternity", recalling the well-known but almost never applied principles of the French Revolution and defining a policy on the search for social justice. Being in a dinner meeting in a very short visit made to Santiago de Cuba during the "Fruitful Truce", he was invited to make a toast and a phrase was said by a young man for a wish to annex Cuba to the United States and turn Cuba into "...another star into the constellation of the United States...". His answer was: I think, young man, that this would be the only occasion in which I would place my sword at the same side with the Spanish ones." And foreseeing the growth of North American expansionism, (he was absolutely convinced of the inevitable victory of Cuban Arms), he expressed in a letter to a friend of arms: "That (country) which attempts to seize Cuba, will gather the dust of its ground soaked in blood, if he does not perish in fight."

Naturally, such an exceptional person was to achieve an unparalleled popularity among the independence combatants out in the field, a popularity that would also naturally spread among all honorable Cubans.

He earned for himself the nickname of “Bronze Titan” with every heroic deed that inspired his men and frustrated his enemies. The nickname became popular as a reflection of the unshakable and lofty willpower that guided his actions in life. But it also made reference to the natural color of the alloy, dark like the skin of men like Maceo and his brothers, and other glorious heroes of equally humble backgrounds, like Guillermo Moncada and Quintin Banderas (and others that are less renowned).

Had Antonio Maceo been a white hero, his nickname would merely have been “The Titan”, just as Ignacio Agramonte’s was simply “The Major”, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes’ “The Father of the Homeland” and Jose Marti’s the “Master” or the “Apostle.” All are lofty, admirable and admired figures. Since they were white, their heroic nicknames didn’t include something which was considered natural.

Maceo’s case had to be different in a society where slavery made racial discrimination take root. Of course, stubborn forms of racism haven’t been able to resist the temptation of besmirching the image of this renowned black man some. It is said that, at a certain point in history, some false erudites sought to whiten Maceo, since it was unthinkable for a black man to…well, you get the picture.

At any rate, more than one history textbook shows images of the Bronze Titan that seem to have been dipped in bleach. I think it’s safe to assume that, had Mariana Grajales been white, she would have been proclaimed the “mother of the homeland.” No other woman is as deserving of such a title as she is, to be sure.

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