Filmmaker María Agui Carter discusses the Women & Girls Lead film Rebel, race, and the exclusion of women in national history. Rebel is the story of Loreta Velazquez, a Confederate soldier turned Union spy. She was dismissed as a hoax for a hundred and fifty years, but new evidence shows Loreta, a Cuban immigrant from New Orleans, was one of an estimated 1000 secret women soldiers of the American Civil War. The documentary premieres on the PBS series Voces on May 24, 2013 (check local listings).
Loreta Velazquez, a Confederate Soldier turned Union spy, did not change the course of the American Civil War. Why would this one woman’s story, out of the three million Americans who fought in the Civil War, matter today? She was one of hundreds of women and thousands of Latino Civil War soldiers whose stories remain outside of the national narrative of history. While the US only recently lifted the ban on women in combat, she was fighting 150 years ago.
Latinos have emerged as the nation’s largest ethnic group, while, according to a Hill and Knowlton study, 1/3 of Americans believe Hispanics are recent immigrants who have come here illegally. Few know that over 10,000 Mexicans fought in the Civil War, entire regiments who spoke only Spanish joined in battle, and that Spanish surnamed soldiers, from South Carolina to New York, joined the ranks. Loreta’s rebellious and daring character, the tragedies of her life – and her refusal to be defeated by them – made her a riveting film subject, but it was the fact that she had been erased that propelled me to make Rebel.
As Walter Benjamin has said, history decays into images. But our society has not always deemed women and minority history worthy of documentation, I had only one, not even authenticated, photo of Loreta. But her memoir and a trove of recently discovered archival documentation about her allowed me to bring her to life, using voiceovers, recreations, animation, and contemporary storytellers.
I am interested in the tension between national narratives and community histories and in the politics of gender and race in the creation of stories about the American past. In Loreta’s lifetime, proponents of the Lost Cause rejected Velazquez for her frank criticisms of the South, and for the fact that, as a Hispanic and as a woman soldier, she disturbed their carefully crafted portrayal of the Southern soldier in the Confederacy. Continue reading