Adventures in Feministory: Sara Estela Ram

Called the “muse of Texas” in her 1910 obituary, Sara Estela Ramírez was a poet and activist in the politically-charged border town of Laredo, and used her words to inspire workers and women alike.

Born in 1881 in Coahuila, Mexico, she helped raise her younger sister when her mother died early on. They moved to Laredo, Texas in about 1897, where Ramírez began teaching. Although Laredo had always had a mostly Mexican population (seeing that it was part of Mexico a few decades earlier…that’s another story), when the Mexican revolution began in 1910, its population swelled as more Mexicans left the country seeking refuge and work.

Ramírez became active in Partido Liberal Mexicano (Liberal Party of Mexico), the most progressive Mexican party of the time, which opposed the Porfirio Díaz’s rule in Mexico.

The most progressive movement at the time, PLM welcomed women to its ranks, and Ramírez corresponded directly with the group’s leader, Ricardo Flores Magón. As an both a writer and activist, she was actually able to avoid the harassment other organizers faced because she was a woman. Her most effective contribution to the movement was through her writing, truly using art for social movements. Be it speeches, poems, or articles, appeared in several papers, including the Spanish-language La Crónica, El Democrata Fronterizo. She also self-published her own literary journals: La Corregidora and Aurora.

One of her most well known poems is “Rise Up!” a progressive, feminist work that appeared in La Crónica in 1910:

Rise Up! To Woman!
Rise up! Rise up to life, to activity, to the beauty of truly living; but rise up radiant and powerful, beautiful with qualities, splendid with virtues, strong with energies.

You, the queen of the world, Goddess of universal adoration; you, the sovereign to whom homage is paid, do not confine yourself so to your temple of God, nor to your triumphant courtesan’s chamber.

That is unworthy of you, before Goddess or Queen, be a mother, be a woman.
One who is truly a woman is more than a goddess or queen. Do not let the incense on the altar, or the applause in the audience intoxicate you, there is something more noble and more grand than all of that.

Gods are thrown out of temples; kings are driven from their thrones, woman is always woman.

Gods live what their followers want. Kings live as long as they are not dethroned; woman always lives and this is the secret of her happiness, to live

Only action is life; to feel that one lives is the most beautiful sensation.

Rise up, then, to the beauties of life; but rise up so, beautiful with qualities, splendid with virtues, strong with energies.

Scholar Jessica Enoch breaks the poem down:

Ramírez urges her readers to look beyond traditional definitions of woman’s place. She promises her readers that once they break from their conventional roles they will realize “There is something more noble and more grand than all of that.” …which is a life of action. It urges women to look beyond their role as passive and supportive, finding meaning and action within domestic tasks.

Enoch argues that Ramírez isn’t just redefining the passivity of women. By addressing Mexicana and Tejana women as “Goddesses” and “queens,” she’s also instilling (and self-defining) a Mexicana identity in direct opposition to Anglo stereotypes and views of Mexican women as completely submissive to men, “establishing Mexican women as respectable, respected, and involved members of their communities….neither the cloistered upper-class woman nor the degraded servant to her man but an active and revered participant in her community.” Her work, along with Maria Rentería and Astrea– two other women who wrote for La Crónica, preceded the beginning of the Chicana movement of the sixties by challenging a hegemonic view of the Mexican woman and championing empowerment.

Tragically, Ramírez died at the age of just 29 from an illness, and although her work and story is not well known, nor the effects of her work measurable, what is known about her stands testament to a self-defined, active, political woman. El Primer Congreso Mexicanista would take place the year after she died. Although she wasn’t present, her sentiments were.

If things seemed like they were getting a bit academic at the end, it’s because I got some of my information from these sources:
“Para la Mujer: Defining a Chicana Rhetoric at the Turn of the Century” by Jessica Enoch
“Sara Estela Ramírez: Una Rose Roja en El Movimiento” by Emilio Zamora

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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