because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eva Peron

By the time Eva Peron died at the age of thirty-three, she was the wife of the President of Argentina and might well have been Vice President herself had she not developed cancer. Some consider her still the "collective consciousness" of her country. And Christina Fernandez (Argentina's current President) believes that her generation has been greatly inspired by Peron's "passion and combativeness."

Still, Peron's story didn't start out that way. Born in a poverty-stricken rural area in 1919 to the mistress of a wealthy man who eventually abandoned Eva's mother and five children without any type of support, Peron was early introduced to the daily struggle to find enough to eat. The realities of her family's life gave her an early determination to move to Buenos Aires and become an actress, which she did at the age of fifteen.

Meeting and marrying Col. Juan Peron (who was twice her age) a decade later, however, was the development that moved the ambitious young in-your-face woman into a whole new arena. First, she helped her new husband be elected President by using her own experiences with poverty to appeal to poor voters, who she called "the shirtless ones." Then, instead of focusing only on what she was to wear as the First Lady, Peron stretched her spheres of influence to include pushing for worker's rights, campaigning for women's right to vote (which she was instrumental in securing), and reaching out to provide housing, medical care and education for the poor. In fact, she felt so strongly about the plight of the poverty-stricken in her country that she was once quoted as saying she wished sometimes she could hit people in the face to make them see the pain poverty causes. Speaking to the crowds of poor who gathered readily to hear her wherever she went, she cried, "You must want! You have the right to ask! You must desire!"

Not everybody loved Peron's perspectives, however. Because of her background, her passion for the poor and her willingness to meet with them personally on a daily basis to show her affection and concern, the old guard rich in Argentina rejected Evita, as the public came to call her. Other critics couldn't believe she wasn't just greedy and self-serving. Nevertheless, unintimidated by their attempts to undermine her power and influence, the in-your-face woman once barked, "If I fall, look out for the crash. There won't be anyone left standing." Either way, it hardly matters. Even today, seventy years after her death, she is still such a cultural icon in South America that one of her biographers wrote: "Evita's life has evidently just begun."

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