Robles Fights in the Mexican Revolution Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Carmen Amelia Robles, who preferred the name Amelio Robles and chose to live as a man, joined Emiliano Zapata’s revolutionary army and not only fought in the Mexican Revolution but also led male troops in battle.

Summary of Event

The Mexican Revolution Mexican Revolution was a bloody civil war that began in 1910 with the overthrow of dictator Porfirio Díaz and lasted for more than one decade. Women participated in this conflict, and those who fought as soldaderas Soldaderas, definition of (female soldiers) did so for a variety of reasons. Some had strong political beliefs, others wanted to accompany a significant other, some had been assaulted during the war and fighting was a self-protective response, while some thought fighting was an opportunity for adventure they would not have under normal circumstances. A number of the soldaderas led battalions, were promoted to the rank of officer, and a few were later decorated by the Mexican government. [kw]Robles Fights in the Mexican Revolution (1912-1924) [kw]Mexican Revolution, Robles Fights in the (1912-1924) [kw]Revolution, Robles Fights in the Mexican (1912-1924) Transgender men Mexico;and transgender persons[transgender persons] [c]Transgender/transsexuality;1912-1924: Robles Fights in the Mexican Revolution[0230] [c]Military;1912-1924: Robles Fights in the Mexican Revolution[0230] Robles, Amelio

While there is little information on most of the women, researchers have begun to “rescue” some of them from the dustbin of history. Among those now remembered are Dionisia Villarino, Margarita Neri, Maria de la Luz Espinoza Barrera, Eucaria Apresa, Petra Ruiz, and Carmen Amelia Robles, who preferred to be called Amelio and to live as a man.

Biographical sources on Robles provide varying and sometimes conflicting accounts of her life, of why she joined the revolution, and why she preferred to pass or live as a man. Robles was born Carmen Amelia Robles on November 3, 1889, in Xochipala (state of Guerrero). She was the daughter of a middle-class rancher who died when Amelio was three. As a young child, she preferred to ride horses, shoot guns, and engage in other cross-gender activities.

After her mother remarried, Amelio found herself at odds with her stepfather. In 1912, she joined the Ejército Libertador del Sur, Emiliano Zapata’s Zapata, Emiliano army. While her (or his, as she was likely living as a man by this point) motives for joining the army are not clear, they perhaps came out of the conflicts with her stepfather. One source suggests that her mother encouraged her to join so that she would be less vulnerable to the sexual violence that was part of the war. Scholar Gabriela Cano quotes Robles as saying that the military life drew her because it provided a “feeling of complete liberty.”

Robles had been a fierce fighter and a skilled horseback rider who served in the cavalry. She fought in various battles, including Chilpancingo, Tixtla, and Chilapa, and was wounded several times. She was known for a quick temper and once shot and killed a drunken coronel (colonel) who insisted on slapping a painful leg wound she had sustained. She was placed in command of male troops on more than one occasion. Coronel Esteban Estrada, who also fought in the revolution, remembered that Robles had come down from the mountains in 1918 at the head of a battalion of three hundred men.

After serving in Zapata’s army until 1918, Robles returned home, but several years later, she rejoined the revolution and did not retire until 1924. She provided researcher Olga Cardenas Trueba with a list of seventy military encounters in which she had participated, but Cardenas thought that the true number was greater. After her retirement, Robles continued to dress in male attire and dedicated herself to ranching. She also served as an advocate for local townspeople, worked against logging interests, helped to build a local highway, and advocated for veterans of the Mexican Revolution. She had one last military “hurrah” when she joined an uprising to protest voting fraud in her district in 1940.

Robles insisted on being treated as a man. Her hometown at first rejected her cross-gender behavior, so she moved to Iguala, where she found a more tolerant climate. She returned to Xochipala in her later years to live with her nephew. Robles’s long-time companion was identified by Cano as Angelita Torres. Cano notes that Robles and Torres raised an adopted daughter together. Several photographs of Robles exist; in one photo she is wearing boots, a hat, trousers, and a gun and holster. In another photo taken by Agustin Victor Casasola, Casasola, Agustin Victor two women dressed in military attire and posing with male soldiers are identified as Amelio and Carmen Robles. One source explains that this identification is in error and that Carmen Amelia is one person and the other woman’s name is unknown.


Amelio Robles’s gender identity provides a rich subject for those interested in the construction of gender. Some would say Robles was a male-identified transgender person who might have chosen to be transsexual (and thus have reassigned her gender) had she had the opportunity to do so. Some lesbians might argue that she was a woman who identified as a man so that she might do the things that men could do, including “courting a girl.” Others might argue that she identified outside the stereotypical standards of her day and chose to express herself as freely as possible without support from social movements or academic theories. Some Mexican feminists claim her as an independent woman who defied cultural expectations but who ironically (for them) denied her female self.

Over the years, Robles had granted a number of interviews. Some who wrote about her saw her as a curiosity, while others sang her praises as a brave woman who refused to fit into the gender expectations of her culture.

For several decades, Robles petitioned for a pension and the recognition of her rank as a coronel. Gabriela Cano suggests that Robles received some form of pension or payout, but that her rank of coronel went unacknowledged by the Mexican government. She died in 1984, and her last wishes were to be accorded the honors due to a soldier and to be buried in a dress to make peace with God. A museum in her honor was later established in Xochipala. Transgender men Mexico;and transgender persons[transgender persons]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cano, Gabriela. “El Coronel Robles: Una combatiente zapatista.” Fem, April, 1988, 22-24.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cárdenas Trueba, Olga. “Amelia Robles y la revolución zapatista en el estado de Guerrero.” In Estudios Sobre el Zapatismo, edited by Laura Espejel López. México D.F.: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Linhard, Tabea Alexa. Fearless Women in the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Salas, Elizabeth. “The Soldadera in the Mexican Revolution: War and Men’s Illusions.” In Women of the Mexican Countryside, 1850-1990: Creating Spaces, Shaping Transition, edited by Heather Fowler-Salamini and Mary Kay Vaughan. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994.

November 11, 1865: Mary Edwards Walker Is Awarded the Medal of Honor

c. 1899: Transgender Reporter Covers Spanish-American War Revolts

November 17, 1901: Police Arrest “Los 41” in Mexico City

November, 1965: Revolutionary Cuba Imprisons Gays

November 21, 1966: First Gender Identity Clinic Opens and Provides Gender Reassignment Surgery

1969: Nuestro Mundo Forms as First Queer Organization in Argentina

1975-1983: Gay Latino Alliance Is Formed

October 14-17, 1987: Latin American and Caribbean Lesbian Feminist Network Is Formed

January 21, 1989: Death of Transgender Jazz Musician Billy Tipton

1996: Hart Recognized as a Transgender Man

June 19, 2002: Gays and Lesbians March for Equal Rights in Mexico City

April, 2003: Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil Unions

January, 2006: Jiménez Flores Elected to the Mexican Senate

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