About Peregrina, Love and Death in Mexico
Alma Reed was a journalist, human rights activist and arts patron. While on assignment for the New York Times Sunday Magazine in the 1920s, she fell in love with Yucatán governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto, a progressive leader who worked to improve the lives of the Mayan people, one of the main indigenous civilizations of Mexico and Central America. The Mayan working class had been enslaved by the Spanish before the Mexican Revolution and remained subjugated by the “divine caste” of landowners on the haciendas. A week before their planned marriage, the governor, members of his family and political associates were executed by agents of the landowners.
Reed made her mark as a champion of human rights by writing in defense of a Mexican teenager in California who was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to inflated charges in a language he did not speak. The State of California passed a law prohibiting the execution of minors, partly because of her work.
Alma Reed found her way into an assignment to cover the Carnegie Expedition to explore Chichen Itza, a classical Mayan city. On that journey, she learned that the landowner, an American explorer had been gathering treasures pulled from the ancient city’s sacred well and shipping them secretly to the United States. Her reporting created an international incident which led finally to the repatriation of some of the stolen treasure.
The 1920s was the beginning a blooming social period called the Mexican Cultural Renaissance. Back in New York, Alma Reed became a patron of Mexican artists including muralist José Clemente Orozco.
After her death in 1966, the manuscript for Alma Reed’s autobiography disappeared. It was rediscovered in 2001 in Mexico City by historian Michael Schuessler who edited and published the book. Mr. Schuessler will be joined in the discussion by writer and editor Álvaro Enrigue.
Alma Reed remains a popular figure in the Yucatán. Her love is remembered in the popular song, “La Peregrina” which you can listen to in this article.
|Mexican Cultural Institute
27 East 39th Street, 2nd Floor (between Park & Madison Ave)
October 18, 2012