Andrea Villarreal González and Teresa Villarreal González
Labor and Women's Rights Activists
Journalists Teresa and Andrea Villarreal González lived in San Antonio only briefly as political exiles. However, their work reflected the importance of the city’s westside as a center of organizing for the Mexican revolution. Their work also demonstrates the close connection between this political movement and the struggle for workers’ rights and women’s liberation.
Teresa and Andrea were born in Lampazos, Nuevo León. Their father, Próspero Villarreal Zuazua, helped found the Sociedad de Obreros de Lampazos in 1887, an organization that addressed labor issues. Their family, including their brothers Próspero, Antonio and Alfonso, was part of a political reform movement in opposition to dictator Porfirio Díaz. One of these reform groups, called El Club Liberal de Lampazos, was forced to close and its leaders were incarcerated. This forced the family to flee to the United States in 1904. They became part of a group of exiles associated with brothers Enrique and Ricardo Flores Magón, who had also relocated to San Antonio that year. Sometimes called “magonistas,” this group sought to overthrow Díaz. Beginning in 1900, the Magón brothers published a newspaper called Regeneración in Mexico City, where they reported on the abuses of the Díaz regime. When the Magón brothers moved to San Antonio, the newspaper resumed publication at 505 W. Nueva Street. The magonistas also supported women’s liberation. Ricardo Flores Magón wrote a special message to women, noting that they were degraded by the chains of tradition and exploited as cheap labor. Andrea and Teresa were part of a group of women in Texas, including Sara Estela Ramírez and Isidra T. de Cárdenas, who defended women’s equality along with the broader goals of the revolutionary movement.They formed several of their own clubs. In San Antonio, Andrea and Teresa raised funds and organized activities with El Club Liberal de Señoras y Señoritas, Leona Vicaro y Antonio Nava.
After a Mexican agent attempted to assassinate one of the Magón brothers they relocated to St. Louis, Missouri in 1905, joined by the Villarreals. In St. Louis they reorganized as the “Organizing Junta of the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM),” and became part of a multi-national community of political refugees, many of whom came after the city hosted the World’s Fair. In an article on September 10, 1905, the St. Louis Dispatch described this group of Chinese, Polish, Irish, German, Turkish, Spanish and Latin American political refugees. The magonistas created a party platform and revolutionary manifesto that distinguished themselves from other more moderate members of the PLM. Antonio Villarrreal served as the Secretary of the party. They continued to distribute Regeneración to subscribers throughout Mexico and the U.S. borderlands.
The next year many magonistas were forced to flee again. Antonio, Ricardo Flores Magón and Librado Rivera were arrested by immigration authorities. Teresa and Andrea began an intensive campaign for their defense, writing letters to newspapers and lawyers. On November 19, 1906, the sisters wrote in the St. Louis Republic, saying they were seeking justice. That same month the St. Louis Dispatch published the sisters’ photographs in an article “Mexican Women Who Are Fighting the Government.” On November 22, 1906, the St. Louis Dispatch published another article about the arrest of Librado Rivera. The article quoted Andrea as a spokesperson for the movement. Andrea said they would not return to Mexico because “we can’t speak the truth.” She defended Rivera, who was being pursued by the Mexican government on charges of robbery and murder. “He never murdered anyone. When he was in Mexico he was a quiet school teacher. All they want is to get him back to Mexico, where they will imprison him for a long time, as they have imprisoned other members of the junta.” Andrea also noted that they wanted to stay in the United States in the hopes of getting a fair trial.
The group managed to jump bond, but were re-captured in Los Angeles on August 23, 1907, by the Furlong Detective Agency on behalf of the Mexican government. They were charged with violating the U.S. neutrality laws and conspiring to begin a military expedition against the Mexican government. Several months later they were transferred to Tombstone, Arizona, to await trial. Andrea continued to advocate for their release through the press, and to defend the revolutionaries’ cause. The Evening Star (Washington DC) on October 19, 1907 quotes her as saying “it is natural that we are exiled now, because we defended our rights and fought for the good of the laboring classes who need our aid so much. Our people are oppressed, they work for a few cents a day and live in poverty and dirt. How can they ever be good citizens unless their conditions of life are changed. In thirty years of this so-called Mexican peace we have seen more dead people than thirty years of war could destroy. I love the revolution better than the peace which has cost Mexico so much.” In this article Andrea also explicitly challenged the racist depictions of Mexican revolutionaries: “Some charge that we are agitators because of our Indian blood. But the great Juárez, our best president, was an Indian. It was he who wrote the constitution of Mexico, which Díaz is tramping every day.” Andrea also participated in an armed uprising on June 26, 1908, in Las Vacas, Coahuila. She helped supply weapons and ammunition for the rebellion. But she was most well known for her speeches and writings. Andrea continued to contribute to other publications like Reforma, Libertad y Justicia, published in McAlester, Oklahoma, where she published an article in September 1908 called “¡Pueblo Rebelde, Adelante!”, and published this same article in El Progreso in San Antonio in November of that year.
At this point Andrea and Teresa were reestablishing themselves in San Antonio, and would continue to publish their work from here for the next three years. On August 18, 1909, The San Antonio Light called Andrea the Mexican Joan of Arc after she joined labor activist MotherJones at one of the “freedom meetings” at the tent theater on East Houston Street (though Andrea personally rejected this title). Many U.S. labor organizers continued their support of the Mexican revolutionaries, including Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs. In the newspaper Appeal to Reason, Debs wrote an editorial called “Rescue the Refugees” and called for the release of their brother Antonio and other magonistas. Andrea translated this article into Spanish for the newspaper La Estrella, published in San Antonio in 1909. Andrea also published her poetry, including “Por senderos de Gloria [Along paths of Glory]” and “El Sitio de Cuautla [the Site of Cuautla],” in La Estrella.
“It is now time for woman to become independent and for men to stop considering themselves the center of the universe and to stop oppressing her and to give her in daily life the position of comadre and companion that corresponds to her.”
— Andrea and Teresa Villarreal, Women’s Statement, Regeneración, Feb 25, 1911
“Mujeres somos; pero no hemos sentido flaquezas que nos empujen a abandonar la pelea. Mientras más punzante era el dolor que nos hería, más se acrecentaba el cariño que profesamos a la causa de la libertad.”
— Andrea and Teresa Villarreal, “¿Qué hacéis aquí hombres? Volad, volad al campo de batalla.” Regeneración, January, 1911.