Peregrina: Love and Death in Mexico

Peregrina: Love and Death in Mexico

Peregrina: Love and Death in Mexico

Peregrina: Love and Death in Mexico

Synopsis

In the Yucatán, they never forgot Alma Reed. She arrived for the first time in 1923, on assignment for the New York Times Sunday Magazineto cover an archaeological survey of Mayan ruins. It was a contemporary Maya, however, who stole her heart. Felipe Carrillo Puerto, said to be descended from Mayan kings, had recently been elected governor of the Yucatán on a platform emphasizing egalitarian reforms and indigenous rights. The entrenched aristocracy was enraged; Reed was infatuated--as was Carrillo Puerto. He and Reed were engaged within months. Yet less than a year later--only eleven days before their intended wedding--Carrillo Puerto was assassinated. He had earned his place in the history books, but Reed had won a place in the hearts of Mexicans: the bolero "La Peregrina" remains one of the Yucatán's most famous ballads.

Alma Reed recovered from her tragic romance to lead a long, successful life. She eventually returned to Mexico, where her work in journalism, archaeology, and art earned her entry into the Orden del Aguila Azteca (Order of the Aztec Eagle). Her time with Carrillo Puerto, however, was the most intense of her life, and when she was encouraged (by Hollywood, especially) to write her autobiography, she began with that special period. Her manuscript, which disappeared immediately after her sudden death in 1966, mingled her legendary love affair with a biography of Carrillo Puerto and the political history of the Yucatán. As such, it has long been sought by scholars as well as romantics. In 2001, historian Michael Schuessler discovered the manuscript in an abandoned apartment in Mexico City. An absolutely compelling memoir, Peregrinarestores Reed's place in Mexican history in her own words.

Excerpt

I remember Alma Reed well: during the 1950's and 1960's we would often share the elevator going up to the editorial offices of The News, a U.S. daily associated with the Mexico City newspaper Novedades. She used to sing to herself during the ride up from the first to the third floor, keeping her eyes closed, and only opening them when it was time for both of us to get off the elevator. She wore old-fashioned dresses, always covered with lace and frills, and when she wore black, she looked quite lovely, because her face was quite pale and the dark apparel made her seem still more distinguished. Some mornings I would happen to ride up standing in between Alma and Yucatecan poet Rosario Sansores. They seemed to be engaged in a duel of hats, and theirs were always covered with veils, flowers of all sorts, and even stuffed birds. I regret that I never spoke to Alma, because there was always a smile fluttering on her lips, but as she was always singing quietly to herself, I didn’t dare interrupt. Now that I know how important Alma Reed is, I am astonished that Novedades did not pay more attention to her. I never heard any comments regarding her articles, nor did anyone mention that she was a good journalist. Fernando Benítez, the director of the supplement México en la Cultura, never asked anyone to write an article about her. in a way, they treated her in the same disdainful way they did Rosario Sansores, who was considered gaudy and passé. Rosario had come from Cuba as the chronicler of Sociales for Mexico. No one mentioned her poem “Sombras,” which was made into an emblematic song for the Yucatecan trova. Rosario Castellanos once wrote that she felt very grateful to her son, Gabriel, because he was the only one who never confused her with Alma Reed. Like Sansores, Alma Reed did not belong to the Mexican intellectual establishment; the only women who had access to such elite groups were Frida Kahlo, Elena Garro, and, naturally, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

If I ever knew that Alma Reed had written José Clemente Orozco’s first biography and supported him during times of hardship in New York, I forgot. If someone ever mentioned to me that Alma had written such important books as The . . .

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