Stella Pope Duarte

What would you risk for love?

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How can you tell when you’re in love? How do you know when someone really loves you? Is it roses, candy, a diamond ring, a fluttering heart or perhaps a beautiful poem that proves love is present? For Leona Vicario, a beautiful, intelligent young woman living in Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution, it was an ideal. Orphaned at a young age, Leona was left in the care of her uncle, Agustín Pomposa, who owned a law firm in Mexico City. At that time, Mexico was split into two factions: those who claimed allegiance to the Spanish crown, which included Leona’s uncle, and those who were pro-revolutionary and sought independence from Spain. Leona dreamed of a free Mexico, disappointing her uncle and bringing upon herself the wrath of the Spanish colonists. Unknown to her uncle, Leona was also aiding the revolutionary army with funds, contributing 80,000 pesos of her own money to help fight the Royalists.

To complicate things further, a young attorney who worked at her uncle’s law firm, Andrés Quintana Roo, fell in love with Leona and asked for her hand in marriage. Leona was smitten by the handsome attorney, who would one day preside over the Constitutional Assembly, which drafted Mexico’s Declaration of Independence. Leona’s uncle refused to even consider the marriage, as he knew Quintana Roo was a liberal who was fighting on the side of the insurgency. Saddened by Pomposa’s refusal to allow the marriage, Quintana Roo left to fight with the insurgent forces, while Leona remained in Mexico City. It wasn’t long before the uncle discovered that his niece was spying for the enemy, gathering military secrets she overheard and passing on the information to Quintana Roo. In his anger over this discovery, he had her locked up in Belén de las Mochas Convent in 1813. 

While confined in the convent, Leona was not allowed to speak to anyone outside the convent walls, however, it wasn’t long before she gained the confidence of monks who understood her great love for Quintana Roo and the sacrifices she was willing to make for a free Mexico. Before long, Leona escaped the convent, disguising herself as a black woman and joining a caravan of wine merchants who had stopped at the convent. She sought Quintana Roo in Oaxaca and they were immediately married. 

Together, Leona and Quintana Roo fought the royal army, often striking at night and hiding in caves in the nearby mountains. They selected a secluded cave as a temporary home, and it was there that Leona gave birth to their daughter. Seeking to end his young family’s hardship, Quintana Roo surrendered to the enemy asking for asylum for his wife and child. This was granted, and the family was allowed to live in peace.

After her death, Leona Vicario was honored by President Lopez de Santa Anna as the “Sweet Mother of the Fatherland.” She is the only civilian woman to have received a state funeral. Quintana Roo would eventually gain fame as a legislator, author and champion of the people; and Mexico’s southern territory today proudly bears his name. Within the boundaries of Quintana Roo is the city of Leona Vicario, a tribute to the woman he loved.

The dangers, hardships and risks Leona and Andrés Quintana Roo accepted in the name of love won them the admiration and love of Mexicans and people everywhere who understand the dynamic force love can create.  Today, the couple lies buried side by side in the Independence Column in Mexico City. Overcoming all obstacles, Leona and Andrés Quintana Roo won true love’s greatest prize: immortality.  

Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her award-winning career in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Contact her at stellapopeduarte.com.

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