Streets Alive: Mother, Spy and Revolutionary

Who married a man 12 years older than her, had twelve children, spied against her country’s government, was imprisoned, refused to serve as “dame of honour” in the empress’s court and was heralded as a heroine of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain? The answer is enshrined in the name of a street in the El Centro part of Puerto Vallarta. It is Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez. She was quite the lady!

Born in 1768 but orphaned at an early age Josefa was raised by an elder sister. In 1791 she married Miguel Dominguez, a widower with two children and a very well respected attorney in the viceregal government. In 1802, Miguel was appointed by the Viceroy of New Spain to the office of “Corregidor”, chief legal and financial administrator, in the city of Querétaro.

Although they were both on the top of the upper social crust in Mexico, Miguel soon found that the conditions of the workers in the city were horrendous and, over the next few years, he and Josefa decided that things in Mexico had to change. The political chains from Spain had to be broken and the living conditions of the factory workers and the peasants improved.

In Queretaro, in early 1810, Miguel and Josefa met with like-minded friends who were priests, landowners, lawyers and men in the Mexican militia to discuss fighting for independence from Spain. They were soon in touch with the leaders of the movement in Guanajuato; the priest, Miguel Hidalgo, and the militia officers Allende, Abasolo and Aldama who were planning an armed uprising, in October 1810, against the Spanish-based government.

A month before the planned date someone snitched and the plot was discovered. On 14th September the authorities moved against the plotters in Queretaro and Miguel Dominguez, in order to avoid suspicion and to ensure his co-conspirators were unharmed by the royalists, arrested his friends and confidantes and jailed them. Meanwhile, Josefa, at great personal risk to herself and her huge family, was able to get a message to the leaders of the revolution in Guanajuato that their plans had been discovered .

As soon as he received the message from Josefa, Father Hidalgo raised the banner of revolt, in his parish of Dolores. Within days, Hidalgo was joined by thousands of poor Mexicans who responded to his call for revolution but the rebels were met by a well trained Spanish/royalist military machine and within nine months the revolt was crushed and the leaders executed.

On the night of September 16, when Hidalgo began the independence movement in Guanajuato, a minor official in Querétaro arrested and imprisoned both Miguel and Josefa. The next day a higher official intervened and released Miguel, who was returned to his post as corregidor. However, Josefa, no doubt because of her emphatic support for independence, was not released until a week later. At the time, she was pregnant with her 13th child, Magdalena.

But Josefa, and to a lesser extent her husband, never wavered in support for independence and without Josefa’s actions on the night of 14th, the achievement of Mexican independence from Spain would have been postponed for many years.

Even though Hildalgo, Aldama and Abasalo were caught and executed in 1811, Josefa continued to fight for Mexican independence. She was arrested again in 1813 and 1815. In 1821 Spain relinquished power over Mexicoand Augustin Iturbide, an ex-royalist military officer, seized power and took the title of “Emperor”. His wife invited Josefa to be her “dame of honour” to which the imperturbable revolutionary invited her to put her invitation “where the sun don’t shine”.

Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez has been memorialized by numerous plaques in churches, convents, government buildings, schools and private residences in Mexico City and Querétaro and an imposing statue of a seated Josefa Ortíz de Dominguez graces the beautiful colonial Plaza of Santo Domingo in the capital. They are all fitting tributes to one of the most remarkable women in Mexico’s history.

On the PV street are two of my favourite places to eat. The Chocolate Museum is just a few metres east of the Malecon and provides a history of this favourite food group, lessons in working with it and a cafe. A few blocks further and we come to Melissa’s, one of the best fish restaurants in town and run by a delightful family. Both are well liked by Trip Advisor reviewers.

John Warren on Email
John Warren
John Warren is in charge of Publicity for the International Friendship Club (IFC). His articles describe the programs and charities that IFC supports, the sources of income of IFC and the social experiences, lectures and classes that members can enjoy.
He splits his time between Puerto Vallarta and Lethbridge, Alberta. In the winter months he writes for the IFC, this summer he’s focusing his writing on the environment.