You want an awesome woman? Here you go…someone who is the very embodiment of the word, finally rescued from obscurity:
They called her the Female Che Guevara. Her name was Micaela Feldman, although she preferred to be called Mika Etchébère, her nickname and married name. Ignored by history, she was the only Argentinian woman who fought in the bloody Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and now she’s the protagonist of a new book. The Spanish writer Elsa Osorio rediscovered her, and defines her as the owner of a “victorious personality” in her novel, La Capitana, which will be published by Seix Barral.
Osorio portrays Micaela as a “fully free woman who wanted to change the world”, and that she bowed down to no one, not even the men in her orbit. In a recent interview with Revista Ñ, Osorio stated that Micaela “said that places had to be occupied, and there she was, in the front lines of battle, but also giving out spoonfuls of cough syrup to all the men in her troop, a widow, because her husband, Hipólito, was killed at the beginning of the war.”
Micaela was born in 1902 in Moisés Ville, a colony of Russian Jews in the Argentine state of Santa Fe, and from her teens, her political passions inclined toward the Marxist left. At 18 she went to study odontology at the University of Buenos Aires, where she met her fellow revolutionary, Hipólito Etchébère, whom she later married. They travelled together to Europe, to join the workers’ movement. After the assassination of her husband, just before the Spanish Civil War, she was elected by the United Marxist Workers’ Party (POUM) as their leader. She accepted with pleasure, and from that moment was known as La Capitana.
The co-religionists of Generalissimo Franco knew very well who this Argentine was, “the woman who gave the orders in the house of POUM”. “There was no political event in which she did not get involved, which did not provoke her lucid reflections,” says Elsa Osorio. “Anarchist, Communist, Trotskyist, left-wing opponent of Stalinism, of the group Que Faire, of the POUM, I learned that beyond a fleeting classification, you couldn’t pigeonhole her in any party, but she was always against fascism,” the author emphasized.
Micaela never abandoned her militancy. After the Republica defeat and the “Stalinist purges”, she was captured, rescued, liberated, and helped in crossing the Spanish border clandestinely. She took refuge in France, from where she also had to flee back to Argentina, due to her Jewish origins. During that time she because friends with such luminaries as Alfonsina Storni, André Breton, Julio Cortázar and Silvina Ocamp.
According to Osorio, once back in Argentina, Micaela published articles in the magazine Sur, with extracts from her book, My War in Spain. She returned to Paris to take part in the revolutionary events of 1968. In the 1970s, she participated in demonstrations against the Argentine military dictatorship, and was very angry when some Argentine exiles celebrated the outbreak of the Falklands War. She died a decade later, at 90 years of age, sure that she had not left behind any battle of liberation.
The Spanish Civil War was notable for its female participation, at least on the leftist Republican side, as well as for its internationalism. Micaela Feldman was certainly not the only woman revolutionary to come from afar to fight back against the encroaching fascists. From Canada came over 1500 volunteers of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. Most were male, but among them Jean “Jim” Watts Lawson, a close friend of the poet Dorothy Livesay. Like Mika, these two women were definitely of the antifascist left, which was full of struggles and internal contradictions in those days, and it was not unusual for anyone to shift between two or more conflicting leftist ideologies, often with great difficulty deciding which one was best. Dorothy Livesay stayed home to make a life with her husband, Duncan Macnair, in British Columbia; “Jim” Watts eventually came home from Spain, only to enlist officially in the Canadian armed forces at the outbreak of World War II to complete the fight against fascism in the way that she had not been legally permitted to do just a few short years before. Like Mika, they remained largely forgotten revolutionaries, though they were committed to leftist, feminist, pacifist and democratic causes for the rest of their lives.
A full generation later, female antifascist guerrillas fought to victory in the Cuban Revolution; among them was Aleida March, already a committed guerrillera who smuggled bombs under her full 1950s skirts even before she met the Argentine who became her husband. You may remember him. His name was Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, but he was known to the world as Che.