Sor Juana, Girl in a Coma and Other Cool Mujeres in Chicago

By Daisy Hernandez Jun 10, 2009

The National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago is hosting its annual Sor Juana Festival, celebrating la famosa first feminist of the Americas—the 17th-century Mexican poet and Catholic nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The festival’s line-up of amazing women performers includes the group Girl in a Coma (pictured here) and actresses of the comedy show Ni Princesas Ni Esclavas. This Friday, the festival is also sponsoring a platica, a community conversation with emerging Latina leaders. “It’s about bringing these women together,” says Jorge Valdivia, director of performing arts for the museum, who adds that the festival is a powerful way to introduce people on the side of the border to Sor Juana’s legacy. Since the festival started 15 years ago, it’s expanded to several cities in Texas including Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, and there’s talk of taking the festival to New York and Los Angeles. Sor Juana’s reputation has grown along with the festival and with increasing research on her literary work and her life. “There’s definitely been a boom in Sor Juana studies,” says James Nicolopulos, a Spanish professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who is an expert on the poet’s work. Although Sor Juana is considered to be the last great poet of what’s known in Spanish literature as the “Spanish Golden Age,” those who are familiar with her name know her mainly for her defiance of the Catholic church. Sor Juana advocated for a woman’s right to an education at a time when that was largely considered taboo. In fact, she kept a considerable large library and even wrote her thoughts on theological matters. She was also rumored to be a lesbian. While patrons protected her from retribution by the church, Nicolopulos says it finally wasn’t enough. Sor Juana penned her theological ideas on the greatest contribution of Jesus and was then forced to renounce her pursuit of literature and knowledge. She signed the agreement with her own blood. She then committed herself to doing charity work until the end of her life. The poet was a great inspiration for the artist Frida Kahlo and she’s now a regular subject of study for feminists.