Stella Pope Duarte

Doña Josefa’s signal

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Doña Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez was affectionately called la corregidora, which connected her with her husband who was el corregidor, the mayor in the capital city of Querétaro, Mexico. Her love for the Indians, who suffered gravely under Spanish rule, was well known throughout the state of Querétaro. 

Doña Josefa was a stern-looking woman whose good nature posed an opposite to her serious, dark looks. She was a generous woman, kind to all, and one who was not afraid to resist the rule of the  the native Spaniards who had plundered the indigenous populations and were in control of Mexico. They had created for themselves an elitist group, light skinned, and clear eyed, who ruled with little empathy for the dark-skinned Indians and mestizos.  

Doña Josefa lived in dangerous times, times when any resistance against Spanish rule could be viewed as treason, and imprisonment or death would follow. She became part of Querétaro’s Literary Club, which was a group of citizens who met in the chambers above the city jail to discuss art, poetry and culture. The group’s true purpose was known only in secret, and it was a single purpose conceived in urgency by the citizens of Querétaro: the overthrow of Spanish rule.

The group worked hard, led by leaders such as Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the Father of Mexican Independence, and Ignacio Allende and Juan Aldama. The group sought to put their plan into action on December 8, 1810, but was betrayed by a postal clerk who advised the Spanish of the Querétaro uprising. Doña Josefa learned of the betrayal and instantly took matters into her own hands. She immediately signaled the jailer, Don Ignacio Pérez, by stomping her foot three times on the wooden floor. This was a prearranged signal, indicating an urgent request. Hastily, Pérez came to the door and listened to Doña Josefa tell him that he must get a message to Father Hidalgo that they had been betrayed, and the revolution must begin at once! It was September 15, 1810. 

Don Ignacio Pérez rode swiftly to San Miguel (which later became San Miguel de Allende) to deliver the message to the lieutenant general of the independence movement, Ignacio Allende. In turn, Allende rode through the night to the city of Dolores to wake up Father Hidalgo and give him the message. Early in the morning of September 16, 1810, Father Hidalgo climbed the tower of his church in Dolores and rang the church bells, signaling the citizens to mass and for one other very important reason: to implore the people to follow him in a revolution against the Spanish. Himself a member of the criollos, Father Hidalgo was also prepared to plead with criollo friends he knew to join him in forging a free Mexico. The crowd that gathered at the sound of the incessant ringing of the church bells were the poor Indians, laborers and those who were enslaved by Spanish masters. “Who will follow me?” shouted Hidalgo, as he spoke to the people of his vision of a country that would truly belong to them. “Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” he cried, waving a banner of the dark Virgin. “Muerte a los gachupines! Que viva la independencia. Que viva México!” 

Father Hidalgo’s words stirred the people to action. Armed with machetes, sticks and stones, they marched to many victories until they suffered defeat. The leaders of the independence movement were eventually executed by the Spanish. 

And still, this did not hinder Mexico’s freedom, won in 1821. 

Doña Josefa’s brave act – her stomping foot – had been the signal for the creation of a free Mexico.

Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her writing career in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Her work has won awards and honors nationwide.

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