What’s The Deal On Leona Vicario Street?

This street, which runs through the entire town, ends at the mall

Leona Vicario is a street named for a heroine of the Mexican independence war who married Andrés Quintana Roo. There’s a state, (think Cancun),  named after that guy, while Leona only got a street and a small town. She supported with all her means the independence from Spain cause, exposing herself to great dangers and misery.

Leona was the daughter of a Spanish merchant, and was a creole born in Spain in 1789. (A creole is a native-born person of mixed European and African ancestry who speaks a French orSpanish dialect.)

Leona became an orphan at a very young age, and was put into her uncle’s care, a very important lawyer, Agustín Pomposo. Thanks to her family’s position and an inheritance from her parents, Vicario acquired a  lot of education, and became interested in science, arts, painting, singing and literature. Science and literature were still considered for men, so we are safe to say she was a rebel. Her uncle had published several papers demonstrating his preference for the Spanish monarchy in Mexico, and the Mexican’s interest in independence from Spain was really testing his limits, as he thought the separation of “the new Spain” (Mexico), was very dangerous.

Leona Vicario was a virtuous and educated woman, but with a wild, rebellious and free spirit, as described by her biographers. She would not detour though any lesson that would stop her development (I’m guessing she refused the “lady” lessons that were customary back then,  and referred to her readings and books as her friends. There was an intern at her uncle’ office, who she fell in love with while they worked together, when she was full of enthusiasm in favor of a protest against the Spanish. Starting in 1810 she passed along messages for the rebels who were plotting independence: She gave refuge to outlaws, sent money and medicine to the war front, and leaked information she got from the royal courts.

Leona was an avid rebel supporter, and by the end of 1812 she had convinced some Spanish arms makers to turn over to the dark side. Or, if you prefer, the rebel side. Under her spell, the men were instructed to build rifles “as perfect as the ones in London”. After a while the authorities caught on to her, and spied on her mail, which gave away her betrayal and she was followed and watched closely after that. At this point she was brought to the royal security and order board, where they decided to put a stop to this nonsense. She had a very long trial where bits and pieces of information kept surfacing, exposing her as guiltier and guiltier. One of her worst charges was trying to turn over to the rebel side. Imagine her uncle, who was a proud monarch supporter and who had taken her in when she had nobody.  He was outraged. And even more so, when she was ordered to be locked up in a detention house for women which later became known as one of the most feared prisons in the country. As she endured the interrogation, she held up courageously, more than many of the rebels of the period.

She stayed in there until her beloved Andres Quintana Roo and a crew of armed men sprung her out. He kept her safe and hidden for a couple of days, until he forced her to leave the capital, disguised as one of several men who were carrying pulque, (an alcoholic punch). Leona and other women wore black clothes and had their faces and arms painted black to avoid detection. The containers the pulque was supposed to be carried in, were actually filled with black ink, so they would have supplies to start a rebel newspaper. She arrived at a camp near the middle of the country, a couple of days later.

She kept working along with Quintana Roo, always for the rebels, until she reached Oaxaca and found more of her rebel friends. She kept moving for three more years, along with her now husband, and they kept rejecting letters that promised their crimes would be forgiven if they gave themselves up, until she was caught in a cave in 1817, right after giving birth to her daughter. Wow. From rich lady to living in a cave.

This is when Quintana Roo wrote a letter to the vice king pleading for his wife’s liberty, which was granted with the promise that he give himself up! Wow. That’s love. Or maybe he just didn’t want to change diapers. The family was reunited and retired in 1820 to Toluca, just north of Mexico City. Sort of retired. She found more stuff to protest.

Once the independence was won, Leona Vicario and her family went back to Mexico City, where they had lost everything. But, oh happy day! Congress decided to give her compensation for losing all of her riches in pursuit of the cause that won, and she got plenty of gold, pulque, livestock and three houses around the city. In 1827, she had a town named after her, and she was hailed as the “brave woman of the independence”. She and Quintana Roo popped a second daughter and kept writing for a newspaper that rattled the new government’s cage. Wow, you know how some women are never satisfied?

In 1831 some secret policemen broke into her house to intimidate her, which only made her write pissed off public letters to the current president, telling her story, which started a media war with three local newspapers, all shedding light on their own opinion regarding Leona Vicario. Her signed letter showed great patriotism and beautiful concepts of love, where she also spoke openly about women’s passions, not carnal, but that they could also have the great love for the country.

Leona Vicario passed away at the age of 53, surrounded by her daughters and husband. Right up to her death, she was a woman who kept sharing her opinion and writing, frequently attending literature and political events that she also helped organize, as an important part of high society. She also gets credit as the first woman journalist in the country.

Now you know. Think of this firebrand when you drive down her street.