Remembering the Self-Taught Mexican Scholar, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

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Google Doodle 2017 Guest Artist Rachel Levit / rachellevit.com

Juana Ramírez de Asbaje, also known as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, “The Tenth Muse,” “The Phoenix of America,” or the “Mexican Phoenix” was a philosopher, poet, Hieronymite nun and a feminist of the New World, that defy the patriarchy to become a self-taught scholar. Today, November 12, we — including the Google Doodle — celebrate her 371st birthday and remember all her contributions to the Mexican literature and to the broader literature of the Spanish Golden Age.

We all understand that feminism is the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, but Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz added more to the equation. At twenty years old, she lends her life to the service of the Church, and for over a decade she wrote poetry and prose about love, feminism, and religion.

Feature Sor Juana de la CruzHer style of writing wasn’t well seen by her male counterparts; Therefore, the then Bishop of Puebla Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz asked her to focus exclusively in religion and leave secular matters to men. To our luck, Sor Juana wasn’t interested in letting men hold the power, and as an answer to the bold request, she wrote La Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz (A Response to Sor Filotea de la Cruz). In her manifesto de la Cruz made sure to defend all women’s right to education and included an Aragonese poet quote that reads that “one can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.”

Without support, her criticism against men became a nightmare, and she was forced to sell all her writings as well as all musical and scientific instruments, and solely focus on charity towards the poor. In 1695, the bubonic plague hit the convent and Sor Juana died from the disease around the age of forty-four.

Despite being considered as a controversial figure in the seventeenth century, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is remembered as a good influence and her legacy still lives. The Mexican government honored her by inscribing her face in a gold medallion on the wall of honor in the Mexican congress. Sor Juana is also pictured on the 200 pesos bill and she appears on the 1000 pesos coin. Ironically, in the same convent she lived, wrote most of her work and was later strained from doing it, is today the University of the Cloister of Sor Juana. As a last token of appreciation, Mexico also renamed Sor Juana’s hometown from San Miguel Nepantla as Nepantla de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.