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Sor Juana: Rebel with A Cause

By Mamie Spiegel

A rebellious nun living in New Spain (colonial Mexico) in the 1600s who spent her time proclaiming the rights of women? Unthinkable. Learn about that feisty nun from me on Tuesday, January 26, at Bellas Artes auditorium at 6pm.

PEN series
Sor Juana: Rebel with a Cause
Tue, Jan 26, 6pm
Bellas Artes Auditorium
Hernández Macías 75
100 pesos

My fascination with Sor Juana comes naturally to this history buff. Since I moved to San Miguel in 1998, I have been hooked on San Miguel colonial history, Sor Juana, and David Siqueiros. My 2005 San Miguel and the War of Independence, now sold out, is soon to be replaced by a new, revised edition.

The circumstances of Sor Juana’s life, what she wrote, why she was such a passionate feminist, how she was able to break the rules, why moderns should care—all are topics for my slide-illustrated talk.

Every Mexican, whatever his or her education, knows that Sor Juana was an important poet. However, she did more controversial things than write poetry. The 1600s were a time in New Spain when the Catholic Church was almighty, and Jesuits made sure that nuns remained silent and subservient, obedient, and pious. It’s a wonder Sor Juana got away with what she did. Not only did she write feminist tracts, but she also wrote secular songs and plays and weighed in on philosophical issues that only men were allowed to debate. A woman expressing herself on any subject would have been poorly tolerated—but a nun?

Juana was a child prodigy, famous for her brilliance. Though she came from a poor family, it was not long before the wife of the viceroy (the Governor of New Spain) invited her to live in the royal palace and be one of her maids-in-waiting.

Why did this brilliant, beautiful teenager, living in the lap of luxury, decide to confine her entire life to a convent and become a nun, instead of looking for a rich and powerful husband? Clearly to have more freedom—to learn, to read, to write, to celebrate culture.

Radical individuals generally call forth radical opposition, and in New Spain a trio of deeply misogynous ecclesiastics, outraged by Sor Juana’s blatant assumption of male roles and her utter and alarming unwillingness to be silent, set out to oppose her. Sor Juana battled fiercely against the forces that attempted to mute her, making her a fit subject for the PEN series, since International PEN supports writers and journalists throughout the world who live under regimes that abrogate their freedom of speech.

The 100 peso admission benefits San Miguel PEN and includes a free glass of wine with dinner after the event at Vivali, across the street from the Bellas Artes at Hernández Macías 66. Tickets are available at Ticket Central in the Biblioteca or at the door. For more information, contact


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