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The Women of Regeneración: An Incredible History of Organizing, Defying and Empowering

Olvera Street was pivotal in the Regeneración of the early 1900s. Learn more by watching "Artbound" S9 E4: Variedades - Olvera Street

Faces of determination and voices of protest call out from every corner and wall of the spacious exhibit floor of the Vincent Price Art Museum, located in Monterey Park on the East Los Angeles College campus. Some appear against brightly painted red walls in the form of front-page news and sepia family photographs dating as far back as 1912, along with compelling color and black-and-white images from community meetings and demonstrations during the ’60s to the ’90s, and even as official government documents on FBI letterhead from 1943. Others appear in intricately drawn and inked portraits on magazine covers from the ’70s, or prose and poetry in zines and other printed matter, and personal correspondence from daughters and wives to their fathers and husbands who were incarcerated — all carefully placed in glass cases, important pieces of history to be treated with the utmost care. Above another area of the space, they can be seen and heard expressing their views in archival video of public performances in a warehouse in Highland Park and other parts of the city. That they are Chicano and Mexican women of all ages featured in the exhibit Regeneración: Three Generations of Revolutionary Ideology,” which represents a century of transnational resistance against oppression in its many forms, from the mistreatment of the Mexican people in the early 1900s by dictator Porfirio Díaz across the border to sexism in the workplace and within the activist community here in the States.

This exhibit should be visited more than once, just as the idea of regeneración was: first, as a political newspaper published from 1900 to 1918 in Mexico City and later Los Angeles, founded by Mexican brothers Enrique and Ricardo Flores Magón of the anarchist Partido Liberal Mexicano, the PLM, as a voice for the resistance. Then from 1970 to 1975, Regeneración was published by Francisca Flores, a prominent community organizer and journalist inspired by the brothers’ work, as a journal rooted in Chicano feminism and focused on women’s issues. About two decades later, they would continue to influence a new generation of Chicano activists, musicians Zack de la Rocha of the band Rage Against the Machine and Rudy Ramirez, founded Regeneración / Popular Resource Center (PRC) as an experimental arts space that brought together musicians, artists and organizations concerned about the political climate of the time and its impact on their lives and the indigenous communities across the border. Women played key roles in each iteration, shaping their mission and activities, often expanding on them, and in some cases even departing to set their own courses.

The director of the Vincent Price Museum, Pilar Tompkins Rivas, felt it was important to shine a spotlight on the women involved these different political movements because they were always present even if the history books or the press failed to acknowledge them: “If you think about the Mexican Revolution, you [might] think about guys on the back of horses like riding into town but, that’s not exactly how it happened. It’s women that would get together and organize too.”

These are just some of the figures highlighted in the exhibit to serve as a starting point to explore this rich history of feminist activism and youth empowerment, with so many of these leaders beginning to organize and speak out as teenagers. 

The “Attractive Señoritas”: Lucille Norman and Mercedes Figueroa

Among them were Lucille Norman Guidero (also known Lucía), stepdaughter of Regeneración cofounder Ricardo Flores Magón, and Mercedes Figueroa, daughter of MLP member and Regeneración editor Anselmo Figueroa. The women made national headlines many times during the trial and later imprisonment of their fathers, who organized against the Díaz regime, a neutrality violation. One included a front-page article in the Los Angeles Times reading “Girls’ Alleged Threats Halt Court Proceedings: Attractive Senoritas Arrested on Charge of Intimidating Witness Against Their Fathers …” that is blown up for visitors to read in the exhibit. After their anarchist fathers were convicted, the two also led a protest with hundreds of people when the men were being escorted from the courtroom to the jail. And they were arrested for doing so. It is worth noting that the works of American anarchist Emma Goldman also inspired their fathers’ work.

Accused of Threatening to Shoot Witness Against Fathers, from Los Angeles Times, 1912 | Courtesy of El Archivo Electrónico Ricardo Flores Magón
Accused of Threatening to Shoot Witness Against Fathers, from Los Angeles Times, 1912 | Courtesy of El Archivo Electrónico Ricardo Flores Magón

“We wanted to play up the role of family,” says Tompkins Rivas, referring to how pictures of the wives and daughters of MLP members and Regeneración founders are very much present in the exhibit. As was the case with Lucille and Mercedes, other female family members became political agitators themselves, assuming various roles in the organization to continue the work of their fathers, spouses, or brothers while they were incarcerated or after they died.

The Revolutionary: María Talavera

Tompkins Rivas calls individuals like Ricardo Flores Magón’s companion and Lucille’s mom, Maria Talavera as “caretakers but also revolutionaries.” Years earlier, Talavera, while Flores Magón was in jail (where he’d later die), helped mobilize more than a thousand people to gather in the plaza in downtown L.A., along with her daughter, Figueroa, and PLM members Francisca Mendoza and Concha Rivera, to continue to spread Ricardo’ teachings and raise money for legal aid for their arrested comrades.

María Talavera Broussé disembarks the train that transported the remains of Ricardo Flores Magón from El Paso to Mexico City, at a stop in Aguas Calientes, Mexico, 1923 | Courtesy of La Casa de El Hijo del Ahuizote, Photographic Collection
María Talavera Broussé disembarks the train that transported the remains of Ricardo Flores Magón from El Paso to Mexico City, at a stop in Aguas Calientes, Mexico, 1923 | Courtesy of La Casa de El Hijo del Ahuizote, Photographic Collection

“One of the things that the great-grandson of Enrique Flores Magón, Diego, was telling us was that you think of the idea of ‘Revolution’ with a capital R and this big historic thing,” says Tompkins Rivas, “but in this case with these particular figures that were part of the Mexican Revolution, it’s a family story.” By email, Flores Magón noted that “liberal, socialists and anarchist men and women participated in the movement at different stages (and also at the same time). Anarchists synthesized their thinking by declaring State, Church and Capital their enemies. Anarchist women who were part of the movement would add another term to the three ultimate sources of oppression, that of the pater familias.” Patriarchy. Mendoza in 1912 put it like so: “Women, the slave of the slave.”  He adds, “If the story of Mexican anarchism has been excluded from hegemonic narratives, so much more have women in the movement. There were many.” 

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The Feminist Icon: Francisca Flores

The journey of the publisher of Regeneración in the 1970s, Francisca Flores, to becoming a prominent Chicano activist came about in a very unique manner. Her fighting spirit was awoken during her ten-year-stay in a sanitarium, where she entered at age 15 to recover from tuberculosis, which took the life of one of her brothers. There, through conversations with female veterans of the Mexican Revolution and the introduction to political literature including the radical writings of the Flores Magón brothers, Flores became committed to making fighting against injustice her life’s work by the time she left. “Flores wanted to organize specifically for the Mexican American women, people that had either fought in the Revolution, or had been the wives of people that fought in the Revolution,” says Tompkins Rivas.

Francisca Flores addressing the First Convention of Women from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, Mexico City, 1961. Image from the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional Archives (CEMA 30) | Courtesy of CEMA
Francisca Flores addressing the First Convention of Women from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, Mexico City, 1961. Image from the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional Archives (CEMA 30) | Courtesy of CEMA

Her many trailblazing accomplishments include founding the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional, which created the Chicana Service Action Center. She was especially invested in empowering Latinas to be successful in the workplace and providing an outlet for important Chicano voices and work through Regneración, including the art collective Asco (Harry Gamboa Jr., Gronk, Willie Herrón, Patssi Valdez). For her activism, Flores came under FBI surveillance for decades. Official documents from 1941 and 1943 in the exhibit refer to her as “dangerous” and “a key figure in the Communist Party.” One of the papers was signed by the then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

The Board: Aida Salazar and Patricia Valencia

Patricia Valencia, Felicia Montes, and Martina Estrada Melendez at the National Day of Protest Against the Massacre in Chiapas, Los Angeles, January 2, 1998. Photo by Arnoldo Vargas. Courtesy of Arnoldo Vargas Regeneracion
Patricia Valencia, Felicia Montes, and Martina Estrada Melendez at the National Day of Protest Against the Massacre in Chiapas, Los Angeles, January 2, 1998. | Courtesy of Arnoldo Vargas

Regeneración / PRC in Highland Park was an important gathering space for activists, artists, musicians, and the local community during the ’90s. As board members, artists and writers Aida Salazar and Patricia Valencia played invaluable roles in helping “The Space,” become a center for Chicano creativity and activism, with hundreds of artists coming through its doors to perform and collaborate on concerts like Red: An Observance of Human Rights (1995) and Rock Against Racism (1998), as well as the all-women shows “Caught Between a Whore and an Angel” (1996) and “Mujeres de Maiz” (1997), coproduced by the Salazar and Valencia. Photos and videos of them at PRC as well as their personal work are on display on the walls and cases at Vincent Price. “It was remarkable to see that the ephemera and some of the art that I’d held onto since the ’90s contributed to building one part of the story of the Tres Regeneraciónes,” shares Salazar by email from Oakland. “I loved so much about it: the recreation of Radio Clandestina, the video work, the photos, the art, and prints.” Her only wish was that there were more: “It would require deeper excavation and seven galleries to truly represent what we did during that time.” Just as with this article, consider this “only the beginning of telling the exciting and critical history that should and needs to be known” about the PRC’s work and the previous political movements. 

Salazar adds that this show should inspire others to continue what these incredible movements started: “I hope the next generation of artists understands that the work is not yet done, and that they can be part of its evolution. Our work needs to be more intersectional, more radical, and more artful to dismantle oppression and achieve the sort of social justice we all dream.”

Sources

Estrada, William David. The Los Angeles Plaza Sacred and Contested Space. Austin, TX: Univ. of Texas Press, 2008.

American National Biography. “Flores, Francisca.” ANB.org. http://www.anb.org/view/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.001.0001/anb-9780198606697-e-1501391 (accessed November 11, 2018).

Top Image: Teresa Arteaga de Flores Magón, Convención Nacional de Mujeres (Women’s National Convention), Mexico City, March 6, 1947 | Courtesy of La Casa de El Hijo del Ahuizote, Photographic Collection 

 

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