Juana Ines de Asbaje y Ramirez de Santillana. Oil on wood. 9 x 11.
A girl who spoke her mind.
Text and artwork by Miguel Omaña.
Female poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (as we know her today) at 15 years of age (in the year 1666). Famous for her acidic remarks against men, relationships, and gender hurdles still affecting till our times.
A girl who spoke her mind in many languages.
Since a young girl she learned not only Spanish, the official language of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (what is today Mexico and Southwestern United States) but also the classic European languages and Nahuatl (the native language once spoken by the Mexica Aztecs). Perhaps knowing Nahuatl language made her so fascinated about poetry, since it’s a very metaphoric idiom. Her cleverness and keen interest in learning led her to be noticed by the Viceroy’s court in Mexico City.
Scholars were not so thrilled of having a sassy female teenager amonsgt them.
She left the Amecameca area where she grew up, in Panoayan plantation, and headed to the big city. Scholars of the viceroy’s court were not so thrilled to have a sassy female teenager in court just by merits of her intelligence. So she was forced (and probably she agreed to make them look bad) to take a test, plain and simple. Not anyone could enter such a world, academically and socially speaking. The most important scholars of the Americas were not going to give so easy, after all Harvard was just founded some decades ago, and Mexico City was the scholarly powerhouse. But she did pass the exam, actually aced it. Allegedly to celebrate a portrait of her was made, in which I based upon to make my own.
She lived a sumptuous life — but her life were books.
She was welcomed by the viceroys to live at the Viceroyal Palace (today Mexico’s National Palace). As part of the court, the Vicereine (wife of Viceroy) not only took her into her retinue but was delighted by her. For years she lived this sumptuous life in one of the most pompous courts of the world. But she was still not happy. Even when she was surrounded by luxury she wasn’t entirely immersed in books and writing. She truly adored studying, reading and writing. And as courtly politics in 17th century go, she was expected to marry as any fine New Spain upscale damsel would do.
A stern scholar, she became a nun just for the sake of continuing writing.
But she didn’t marry, giving birth to countless stories, theories and mere gossips. Stories will float, but what we know for sure, is that she was a stern scholar. So, in order to continue studying as she wished, she became a nun. Self-secluded in a convent was her perfect life to spend days and nights studying and writing tirelessly. And boy did she wrote! Now known as Sor Juana (her name that would live to posterity) she wrote plays, stories, and poems — many survived many more lost to us now. As sarcastic as she always was in her writings, she focused on females and their sufferings in many matters. One only has to read a stanza, or a writing left by her to realize in amazement what a great feminist she was ahead of her time. In a world way before Tumblr, her writings were not so known in her time (or were suppresed). Nonetheless she was famous, and her fame became as big as the controversies of her personal life.
Poetess, accomplished writer, feminist… and oh-so pretty.
The greatest poetess of the Spanish language in the world. The greatest female writer Mexico ever had. A feminist ahead of her time. So many titles. And knowing Sor Juana perhaps she wouldn’t be so fond of my last description, but she sure was indeed one of the most beautiful writers (and artist for that matter) in history.
Her legacy: An intelligent woman with something to say.
All her life she fought to gain a place for what she was, an intelligent woman with something to say. She dedicated her life for that goal. The fact that you’re reading this, and that now she is revered in the so-called macho-man dominated society of modern Mexico speaks volumes of her accomplishments. And still, many more should know about her legacy. Today she appears in the 200 Mexican pesos bill, and has statues erected all over the State of Mexico, her home state.
If you’re interested in young woman leaving a mark for their accomplishments, you may enjoy my novel Till Stars Shut Their Eyes.
Juana Ines de Asbaje, also known as Sor Juana Ines. Copyright 2012 Miguel Omaña.