Coloquio Online Spanish MagazineBaltimore's Inner HarborBaltimore Buisness Journal

La Revista electrónica de la comunidad hispana del area metropolitana de Baltimore-Washington DC
The Electronic Newsletter of the Hispanic community of Baltimore-Washington DC metropolitan area

subscribe to:
unsubscribe to:

Javier Bustamante

13th Celebration in Baltimore of Queen Isabella's Birthday. City Hall

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Dr. Jorge Giró is well known to a great many of us. He is a full-professor of Spanish Language and Literature at Towson University where he has been a professor since 1966 at the graduate level in the Modern Languages Department. He served as chairperson of the Department for 22 years, from 1977 until 1998. He has been always involved in the studies of language and Spanish literature. He has chaired many conferences and delivered many lectures in those topics at schools throughout the Baltimore Washington area.

Dr. Giró has a Law degree from Jose Martí University and Villanueva University in Havana, Cuba and a Master Degree in Science in Secondary Education from Indiana State University, in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Dr. Giró is an active member in many committees of the University and at the community level. He has received many awards and recognitions for best outstanding teacher and also has been recognized by the Governor of Maryland for his involvement with the Spanish community. Dr. Giró is also a collaborator in "El Mensajero", a monthly Spanish newsletter published in the State of Maryland.

Adela Zamudio (see the Spanish version)

Biography is undoubtedly, the most difficult and dangerous of all literary genres. This is so, particularly if the biographer is not totally familiar with his subject. Biography is, in fact, the antithesis of the novel. In a novel a writer creates his characters and imbues them with personalities and fictional personas. In a biography he must be truthful. "A biographer must give his readers the truth above all else". He must be loyal, impartial, dispassionate, and he must not avoid the errors and foibles of his subject.

Walt Whitman used to say about biography that "some day you will write about me. Try to be honest and, regardless of what else you do, do not aggrandize me"

Today's presentation represents the culmination of much research on the life of Adela Zamudio and, to achieve this I had to dedicate many hours to the task. But patience and the opportunity to present such a remarkable individual to you today encouraged me to pursue the assignment.

I'll do my best to discover to you such a delectable and respected author as Adela Zamudio.

Adela Zamudio, writer, playwright and teacher was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia on October 11th, 1854 and died there on June 2nd, 1928. She was the author of a vast and varied literary work characterized for her thoughtful insights, her clarity of prose, her poetic inclination and her incorruptible moral integrity. She is widely considered one of Bolivia's foremost literary voices of all times. She achieved an unheard of recognition for the ethic as well as the esthetic value of her work and for her absolute dedication to her education, something totally denied to women or her time. Her birthday October 11th is now celebrated in Bolivia as the "Bolivian Woman Day"

Her poetry wasn't only recited by the upper crust of fashionably dressed damsels and romantic dandies; it also reached the populace who treasured the profound resonance of the people's soul in it stances. Her influence grew with time as its poetry matured with the passing of the years.

Gabriela de Villareal, one of Adela's passionate but impartial biographers, follows Adela's life through the years and speaks of her vast work as a polemicist, a liberal leader in her time for her progressive ideas; her work as a teacher and as a painter; but above all, she speaks of her poetry which permeated her lonely and lonesome existence.

One needs to read extensively about Adela's life to grasp the curiosity, rebelliousness and exactitude of thought of this outstanding teacher, poet and writer. She did not subscribe, as so many in her time, to closed fanaticism; to the contrary, she eschewed mysticism and superstition, ideas that oftentimes controlled secret and thinking minorities just as they flamed the excesses of the ignorant masses.

From an early age, Adela had a passion for literature. Barely 15 years old, she published locally her poem "Two Roses" which she signed with the pseudonym "Loneliness". Despite her precocious creativity, more than twenty years passed before she published the first volume of poetry titled "Poetic Essays" (Buenos Aires, Imprenta y Litografia de Jacono Pausser, 1887). Critics and readers alike received its publication with unanimous praise. Such reception brought self-confidence to Adela who, heretofore had labored intensely on her own to develop her cultural and literary skills.

It also brought the author many honors and awards, among which was the title of "Honorary Member" of the La Paz Literary Circle in 1888. This honor alone gave Adela public recognition of her skills as a writer. Encouraged by her growing prestige, she published, in 1890 "Violet or the Blue Princess" a work of poetry composed in the scarce free time she enjoyed while studying to reach the cultural and professional levels required to become a teacher. It was the same year that Adela achieved her dreams and became a teacher in the school of San Alberto in her hometown of Cochabamba. She became so good in her profession that in less than five years she earned the title of director of the "Liceo de Señoritas" where she valiantly embarked on a course to eliminate the hurdles and reactionary prejudices dragging the academic and spiritual learning of young Bolivian women.

Insisting on the right of women to obtain a first class education, Adela Zamudio saw the need to introduce secularism in the national academic programs. She also advocated liberal ideas of her time like civil marriage, separation of church and state, free and secular education, and the ending of "patriarchal primitivism" and the widespread exploitation and domination of women. She advanced with her efforts the development of feminist thought. In 1921 the magazine "Feminiflor" appeared in the town of Oruro, written and managed by women advocating women's liberation. In 1923, was founded the first independent women's organization fighting for political rights, named the "Feminine Atheneum".

In 1926 she publicly supported the divorce law later enacted in 1932, and continued advocating for democratic reforms and the separation of church and state. During this period women joined the union movement, forming their own union the "Feminine Labor Federation".

These ideas, disseminated in the classrooms of the "Liceo de Señoritas" and in many articles and educational essays published in several media, brought her much controversy from the most reactionary elements of the conservative Bolivian political and religious establishment. One of these controversies involved Father Pierini, promoter of an ultra-conservative movement named "Liga de las Señoras Catolicas" or Catholic Ladies League designed to defend the archaic legal and fiscal privileges of the Catholic Church in the educational system of the country. In the middle of this controversy, the combative writer wrote provocative essays such as follows:
"I believe in human morality, immutable, the one which recognizes virtue whenever it finds it, humble, unknown, and the one which condemns errors regardless who commits them no matter how high they are in the social scale"

In 1914 at 60, Adela Zamudio had not lost any of his liberal ideals and kept her full capacity to confront the reactionary segments that continued opposing the human and intellectual development of women in Bolivia. That year, Adela wrote and published a controversial article titled "Pedagogical Topics" in which she clearly expressed her revulsion and indignation for the practice that stopped young Bolivian women from reaching third grade in Elementary school, as the educational system in place at the time envisioned no possibility for girls to go on to higher grades.

This strong character -so clearly reflected in her literary work- she maintained to the end of her days and it made her into one of the most representative figures of Bolivian education. In her honor, the "Liceo de Señoritas" which she directed for many years was renamed "Liceo Adela Zamudio".

While engaged in such a distinguished educational career, Adela developed a substantive body of work which while embodied in several short stories and poems was not however published again until 1906. That year in Cochabamba she published "El Castillo Negro" (The Black Castle), a children's short play. In 1913 she published the novel "Intimas" (La Paz, Imprenta Velarde, 1913) the first example in an independent book of her gift of narrative, which she had already shown many times in her short stories and children's tales.

Among these, published in an anthology compiled by Gustavo Adolfo Otero 15 years after her death and entitled "Short Tales" (La Paz, Edicion La Paz, 1943), there are some jewels of the Bolivian narrative such as "La Razon y la Fuerza" (Reason and Force), "El Diamante", "Vertigo", "Happiness", "The Unknown One", "Rendon and Rondin", "Violin and Guitar", and "The Pure One's Veil". In general, Adela Zamudio's tales are some times planted in the most pure romantic tradition, some times in the later esthetic realism, but they are always testimonial tales seeking to reflect on paper, facts and events of everyday life. This is also true even of those touched more by her fantasy and imagination, which very often appear throughout her prose.

With respect to her celebrated poetic creations, we must add that besides her "Poetic Essays" she published "Rafagas" (Wind Drafts) 25 years later, a book of poems in which Adela Zamudio wrote some of her most beautiful lyrical compositions such a "Quo Vadis?" and "To be born a man", previously published in newspapers and literary magazines. "Rafagas" confirmed the first class literary prowess of Zamudio. This was true even at a time when the new modernism of Ruben Dario and other Latin American writers had already influenced the literary world and made the romanticism of Adela and other writers an ever more thing of the past.

The Cochabamba poet signed her poems with the pseudonym "Soledad" (Loneliness), to avoid the prejudices of the time and to express the isolation she felt as a woman. She condemns loneliness just as did Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, one of her heroes and, at the tender age of 30 Adela was considered a spinster. She was faithful at all times to the romantic esthetics of the great European masters like Lord Byron, Alfred De Musset, Jose Espronceda, Jose Zorrilla, Gustavo Adolfo Becquer. Following in the path of those the masters she exhibited an extraordinary poetic vein, which did not hide the radical disposition she often showed in her public appearances as well as in her other literary compositions. Her verses made a profound analysis of the surrounding reality often reflecting bitterly about moral prejudices, societal conservatism, political chicanery and the hypocrisy of the church:

The Rome in which your martyrs learned
How to die in horrible, cruel, pain
Has become an elegant repository
Of pleasure, like the Caesars dreamt

and, indeed, of all social, cultural and spiritual hurdles that oppose the free development of the human spirit. Aware of the value and reach of the poetic word, she knew her verses would not disappear after her death. She wrote her own obituary, which is written in her cemetery stone:

Today I fly to an unknown star
Now free from tribulations of all life
I will wait for you there, follow my path
You can cry for my absence, not my strife

Latin American literary critics consider Adela Zamudio's literary production, as the largest and longer lasting of Bolivian romanticism. In her poem "To Be Born A Man" she uses irony to express implacable hardness in a true Feminist Manifesto that denounces women's second-class citizenship and demands equality of civil and political rights with men.


To be a woman in those days was momentous. She, ironic and incisive, tirelessly fought injustice and pointed out the need for feminine emancipation, political rights and equality at home…The cutting irony of this poems reminds the reader of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz in her famous poem "Stupid Men":

"Men of ignorance that accuse
women, without any base"

The stanzas of "To Be Born a Man" are the first accusations of the Bolivian feminist campaign that sought civil and political rights, equal rights under the law, and other levels of equality in many social spheres. She opened the first salvos of a fight that lasted 50 years before it echoed her valiant struggle in favor of equality under the law and equality in marriage. She wanted respect for women and social equality.

Please direct you attention to the program and the poem I am about to read

What hard struggles she endures
To correct mistakes and clumsiness
Of her husband in the home
(let me appear very surprised)
So inept and so conceited
He remains the head of household
'cause he is a Man!

If some poetry is crafted
It must be about some good
'cause she only writes poor verses
(let me appear very surprised)
If one of them is the poet
Who do you think is the one?
'cause he is a Man!

A superior woman can't
Even vote in an election
Yet the worst offender can
(let me appear very surprised)
All he needs is learn to sign
and to vote, an idiot can
'cause he is a Man!

He stumbles, and drinks or gambles
And in a bad turn of fate
She suffers, begs and struggles
(let me appear very surprised)
that we call her the weak being
while we call him the strong sex
'cause he is a Man!

She must forgive him, regardless
Of his very unfaithful ways;
But he can take his revenge
(let me appear very surprised)
that in similar situations
he can, with impunity, kill her
'cause he is a Man!

O, you the privileged one
You, whose name and reputation
Is guaranteed all your life
All you needed to deserve this
Was to be born a man.

The response to this poem, as noted by writer Alfonsina Paredes, one of Adela's biographers was righteous indignation. She was accused of being an anarchist and an atheist. She actually believed in God but was no prude. Women of her time looked upon her with indifference and only the new generations replaced political action for perplexity.

Other famous poems of the author such as "Quo Vadis?" And "My Epitaph" predates such other splendid works as "Sadness" and, especially "Iron Madwoman" where Adela fulfilled her enormous literary capacity. In 1926 the Bolivian government officially recognized Adela Zamudio, two years after her death, for her human and literary values.

Life hurts for Adela Zamudio. She walks alone because in those days there were no "we, sisters". She lived in Bolivia where military dictators fought for power, the Indians were not citizens and people died of measles. She was the daughter of a family involved in ranching and mining and learned to read under stern teachings at the school of San Alberto "acquiring, as the great Bolivian writer Augusto Guzman points out, the most important tool in her life".

Please see your program for the following poem Quo Vadis?

Alone in this desolate, wide world
Alone with my terrific pain
I see how, with a huge, deafening din
A soft blue light appears in a swirl

He, who appears in the blinding light
With a white and beatific face
Advances, his hand covering the blight
In a gesture of blessing at the earth

I kneel before him with a grimace and in pain
Trembling with fear and a bit of tenderness
And cry to him with a sobbing in my voice
Where are you going o, my Lord?

The Rome in which your martyrs learned
How to die in horrible, cruel, pain
Has become an elegant repository
Of pleasure, like the Caesars dreamt

There is Peter the Fisherman, who one day
Exhorted all to poverty and humility
Now covered with luxury and, today
Showing off his power and his majesty

Merciless imitator of the pagan
The Holy Inquisitor has dared to burn
In your name, many brethren of his own
Where are you going o, Lord?

There, in the temples where prayer reigns
What's at the bottom of it all? Profit, vanity
How few are those, who with true faith deign
Believe in you with true spirit and sincerity

The world after all these years of spilled blood
Twenty centuries after your ordeal
Is today more perverted, has more glum
Is more pagan than in the times of Caesar

In the altar of Mamon, and false deities
Lacking idealism, youth today
Fights the true love that comes from their own souls
Proclaiming pleasure the only virtue, the true way

Old and long lasting monstrosities persist
Changing only their names as years pass
Slavery and torture still exist
And the grossest lies are those that last

Always engaged in struggle, mighty and weak
On one side fortune, power and history
On the other side, all miseries and horrors
All is unequal, today and for eternity

Today and always the countries of the Earth
Keep arms prepared to conquer and to fight
And is the specter of war, and all its dearth
That shows the flag of horror and of fright

Blind and lost humanity now teeters
In the brink of vices and errors of its own
And doubts itself to the point of tears
Where are you going o, my Lord?

This poem contains 13 strong, resounding and burning stanzas, which directly accuse the Catholic Church of cruelty, hypocrisy and perversity. Cochabamba reels, astounded. Everyone was scandalized. Ladies of the aristocracy who had recently visited the Vatican and had come away impressed by the Pope Leon XIII's modesty and accessibility, cried in pain reading the lines "There is Peter…showing off his power and his majesty"

Literary interpretation of this work finds human desperation, a lonely heart sinking under the failure of the Christian spirit to stop human inequality, wars, and human pride and vainglory. She denounces existing inequalities and the despair of an impotent rebellion.

Demetrio Canelas, an excellent journalist published, at 32 a serious and sincere analysis of Adela Zamudio's work. His is one of the most important critical judgments on the author.

All of Adela's work is built over the pedestal of "Sadness" which in turn is really a sweet sadness covered by a thin veneer of poetry, with a sharp irony and cries of despair. But even in these last instances the rebelliousness of her soul is tempered by the harmony in her inspiration.
Her poems reflect pain but she believes in beauty. That sense of beauty decreased considerably over the years while her poetry becomes more and more a song of despair and spite.


In her mature years, Adela Zamudio organizes a society of distinguished ladies and engages in practical charities. She raises funds with performances, raffles and auctions and rapidly collects a not inconsiderable amount of money with which she buy sewing machines to distribute among poor women in the city. She considered these poor women -the heroines of some of her short stories- veritable saints. These were the women of the low and lower middle classes, always asking for work and retreating into the all-encompassing poverty. These women, hardly eating or sleeping, spent their lives working to support disabled or drunken fathers, small brother or abandoned children.

This state of affairs led her to consider and profoundly love education as one of the greatest charities. She founded and maintained in Ayacucho Street the Academy of Drawing and Painting when she was 50 years old. Zamudio's work in the pictorial arts is mostly lost but reveals a great artistic temperament and an outstanding dedication.

This part of her life was very painful punctuated with family tragedies. Her brother Mauro dies and shortly thereafter another relative dies as well. Within a year's time, in 1899, her other brother Arturo and her mother, Doña Modesta die too. Her father follows in 1904 after several years of good care by Adela who followed the tradition of caring for her father as all spinsters did. She showed great courage and a good heart accepting these life events, which she so well reflected in her writings.

She had already renounced to have children but developed great interest in pediatrics and the art and sciences of children's education, particularly girls. After her Academy floundered in 1901 she began to write children's stories. She alternated poems and prose. Her first story, "Violin and Guitar" appeared in 1901. Her stories are not only examples of great literary structure but also show human nature in its two faces of the positive and negative. She delights in giving feminine characteristics to all manner of virtues applying them to the social condition of women of the times. Two volumes of her stories were first published two years after her death in 1941.

Example of "Violin and Guitar"

This is truly an accomplished love story with scenes of summer life in the countryside of Calacala and Queruqueru. The end is ironic. A passionate gentleman goes to summer camp in Calacala and loses his lover's attentions when he overstays a meeting in Queruqueru playing the violin and gambling at "michi-morongo" till late hours of the morning. His guitar-playing rival takes advantage of his absence serenading the lady and so the guitar triumphs over the violin.

In all her stories she uses elements of real day-to-day life, experienced by her or others. This is one reason Zamudio's stories deserve high placement among the most authentic and idiosyncratic works of her time.


Adela's last days were very sad. She died of bronchitis at the end of a pulmonary infection that kept her in bed for a long time. She needed the type of elder care she could not afford. She died on the 2nd of June, 1928 at the age of 73.

I have learnt from my research and studies of Adela Zamudio, two points that I wish to emphasize:

Among the anecdotes Augusto Guzman noted in his excellent biography of Adela was the case of a disabled child whom Adela found at the school door when she was the Director of the Young Ladies School. Lost and homeless, he inspired her to start an act of charity among her pupils. She asked them to start a collection with their disposable entertainment funds to buy the child some crutches. This experience disappointed her, as she found that the lower classes gave more generously than the upper students.

Another interesting aspect of Adela Zamudio was her preoccupation with fashion. She was traditional and held old prejudices. She would not allow the girls at the school to wear high heels, make up, tight dresses, open blouses and short sleeves or skirts. She would scold the lawbreakers, sometimes in front of their peers and she would send them back home. In her article "The Mission of Women" she argued that modesty was relative and conventional, finding what would have been scandalous in other times, now mere whim and right on fashion.

In closing, I'd like to quote Sonia Montaño in her article "Adela Zamudio: Absent but not lost"

"Zamudio, who signs her poems with the pseudonym "Loneliness" rises against the prejudices of her times. With her word she challenges clericalism, the oligarchy, the terrible dictatorships that burdened Bolivia but, above all, she bursts unstoppable, denouncing women's subordination. She leaves vivid portraits of street life but also of the frivolous parties in the salons of the aristocracy.
She touches the periphery of politics with her poetry and journalistic prowess and chastises injustice with her liberal education proposals."

End of the Presentation.

Home | Calendar | Past Issues | envelope icon E-mail this page to a friend