Maria Remedios Del Valle
Who but a strong, free and patriotic woman would enlist to be a soldier after having lost her husband and sons in battle to continue the fight for the independence of Argentina? Only a valiant heroine, an Afro-Argentine, who was dedicated to the fight for the independence of her country, and who was given the honor on the battlefield as “Madre de la Patria” (Mother of the Country) for her grit and courage for the cause.
Maria Remedios del Valle, born free, sometime between 1766 and 1767, in a port town that grew very quickly that by 1776 it was renamed Buenos Aires, the capitol of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata – a Spanish territory. Argentina had not begun their battle for its independence until 1810. As early as the 1500’s, Africans were brought in as slaves to work as laborers and service workers. The economy began to grow and opportunities for change were evident with slaves who began to buy their way out from their owners since restrictions on ownership of slaves were more flexible than in North America. They also had the opportunity to volunteer in the fight for independence from Spain to gain their freedom. Yet others were conscripted into service, which eventually led to the emancipation of all slaves to be able to build the army that was needed to win the fight for independence from Spain.
Maria Remedios del Valle was a true fighter for that independence, not because she wanted her freedom, because she was born free as well as her decedents, but because of her true patriotism as she was native to this land. She showed that she had the will to engage in the battle whatever way was needed so she could stay close to her family. She traveled to Potosi (present day Bolivia) with them. She began by taking care of the needs of her family while they fought in the battlefield, however, they did not survive. She remained insisting they let her join in battle. Maria became a caretaker of injured soldiers while she continued to solicit a position as a soldier. She was then enlisted as a carrier of information across the battlefield – a spy and as a solider. After being caught she was sentenced with nine days of public lashes. Yet, she continued helping her fellow soldiers while she was recovering from her own wounds. Once healed she would return to the battlefield in which she fought with soldiers in two important battles at Tucumán (September 24, 1812) and in Salta (February 20, 1813), in which her fellow soldiers named her the “Madre de la Patria” (Mother of the Country) seeing her strength and solidarity and being a true rebel.
Her fellow soldiers commended her for her bravery, for not giving up but growing stronger in her leadership. General Belgrano a hero of the independence, who led these battles recognized her strength and passion. He gave her the title of “Capitana,” Captain, with her own army to continue marching on in battle. Maria was also at the battle of Ayohuma (November 14, 1813) along with a few other women dubbed The Girls of Ayohuma for their bravery fighting during this very fierce battle. By 1816, the battles were over with Buenos Aires now part of a freed territory with the founding of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. The Spanish army was gone and it was the last time anyone saw Remedios del Valle until she reappeared years later.
In 1826, ten years later, she reappeared in Buenos Aires to petition the government for her commission as captain to claim a pension for her contribution as a ranking soldier in military service. Since the end of the period serving in military, she was a poor woman with no healthcare, with no home, and even had to beg to feed herself. Her petition and in testimonials that were submitted for review stated and confirmed that she had served in the military being paid a salary, that she had participated in battles in Upper Peru as Staff of the Auxiliary Army of Peru as captain, that she had been taken prisoner receiving lashings in public and, also was wounded in battle with six bullet wounds with scars to prove and more importantly, that the color of her skin not be judged in receiving what she rightly earned in service. Many generals gave their testimonies supporting her request with supportive stories that demonstrated her valor. The testimony of Dr. Tomas M. de Anchorena who served with General Belgramo, confirmed the title of captain that was bestowed on her by General Belgramo because “she was the only [woman] who had the power to follow” (Pg. 368-369). * This testimony was so descriptive that the officials accepted the petition and documented on March 15, 1827, that she would receive her pension as of the date the petition was first started. It was also proposed and approved that “a biography be printed and published in newspapers and that a monument be made in her memory (Pg. 369). *
It took three more years before Remedios del Valle began to receive her pension by 1830 at the age of 63 and was also included in the military registry as Captain of Infantry with the salary of her class. She continued to collect her pension until her death on November 8, 1847.
Though Maria Remedios del Valle was born a free woman, she had to fight for her freedom by working alongside those who worked as slaves to provide for herself and her family because the color of her skin still did not offer her an easier life. She had to struggle until her final fight in the courts for the right to her military pension. Though she earned her title as Mother of the Country a very long time ago, it was only in 2010 that Argentina included Afro-Argentines and Indigenous people in their census. A rebirth of Maria Remedios del Valle began in 2013 among local Afro-Argentines, Argentines, and foreigners with communities celebrating her valor by the government proclaiming November 8, as a national day for Afro-Argentines and Afro culture. Contests have been promoting drawings of what she may have looked like since no portrait exist of this Afro-Argentine heroine, born in Buenos Aires, Staff of the Auxiliary Army of Peru as captain, and Mother of the Nation.
A contest was sponsored by the government of Argentina and revealed the winners in early 2021 with the bronze statue by Alex Minkiewicz and a painting selected to represent Maria Remedios Del Valle, Mother of the Nation.
Erika D. Edwards, Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2020), 36.
Florencia Guzman and Erika Denise Edwards, As If She Were Free, A Collective Biography of Women and Emancipation in the Americas. (Cambridge University Press, 2020).
Sculpture by Alexis Minkiewicz,