Elena Poniatowska is a soldadera. Like the heroes of the Mexican Revolution, her concern is with the lives of the disenfranchised. In her writing as both a journalist and a novelist, she fights for the rights of women and the poor.
Elena’s interest in the soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution is long-standing. She earned her reputation with the 1969 publication of Hasta no verte Jesús mío (published in the United States as Here’s to You, Jesusa!). Elena wrote the novel after months of interviews with Josefina Bórquez, the widow of a revolutionary officer and a woman who refused her place in Mexican society. In the book, Elena develops the style that marks her work today, a blend of fiction and personal history that critics refer to as the testimonial novel.
Elenita began her writing career for Mexico City’s Excelsior newspaper, where she wrote an interview every day for a year. This is how she first became engrossed in her country. Before that, she said “I knew absolutely nothing about my country, didn’t even know Spanish.” She was born in France to a Polish father and a Mexican mother who had been raised in France. They fled to Mexico at the onset of World War II but didn’t speak much Spanish at home. She went to an English school in Mexico before going to the United States for prep school and college.
The series of interviews was a writing experience which shaped her ideas about the politics and culture of Mexico. By sheer luck, she managed to interview all the big names of the day: Diego Rivera, Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes. Later she helped found La Fornada, a leftist weekly that remains an important voice in Mexican politics today, and Fem, a feminist magazine.
Elena remains an active dissident voice in contemporary Mexico. She has been a supporter of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas and a harsh critic of Mexico’s electoral process in the 2006 elections.