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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Cal Lutheran chapter.

Per tradition, the time has come for me to write another article in honor of Latinx Heritage Month. For the past three years, I’ve found joy in exploring and honoring the lives of other Latinx figures throughout history, and for my last one in this ‘series,’ I want to recognize a woman who made history long before any of us probably realized: Juana Ines de la Cruz, also known as “Sor Juana.”

Admittedly, I only recently heard of her after reading a book called Queer There and Everywhere, which examined the lives of 23 historical figures who either openly identified as queer or expressed queer qualities during their lives. (I would definitely recommend reading this book, especially if you want to learn more about queer history or history in general.) According to the book, Sor Juana was a Mexican nun who lived from about 1651 to 1695, and you might be thinking, “How could a nun also be queer – isn’t that against the rules?” Yes… technically. But before we explore that, let’s take a deeper look at how (and why) she became a nun in the first place.

Having lived during the infamous time period when women weren’t allowed to attend school, Sor Juana was self-taught in reading and writing and was sent to live in Mexico City around the age of nine, where she continued her education on her own. She not only went against gender norms through her education but also through her strong pushback against expectations for her to marry and bear children, claiming it was unappealing to her. Word about Sor Juana’s intelligence spread so far that at the young age of 16, she was presented to the viceroy, the king of Spain’s representative in Mexico, who assembled a panel of educated men to stump her intelligence – and failed.

Sor Juana essentially became a nun to escape the confinement of marriage, entering the Convent of the Order of St. Jérôme, where she stayed for the rest of her life. Though most of her time was occupied by her service, she was said to have spent her free time studying various subjects and writing. Though she wrote plays and commissioned services, Sor Juana is known most for her poetry, so much so that The National Endowment for the Humanities called her “The First Great Latin American Poet.” 

Sor Juana wrote about many things, including women’s rights, namely the right to education. After being criticized for her lack of religious-themed writing, Sor Juana wrote considerably the first feminist manifesto titled “Respuesta a Sor Filotea,” translated into “Response to Sister Filotea.” Other feminist writings of hers include a poem called “You Foolish Men,” in which she ridicules men’s arrogance and entitlement in society. She was certainly progressive for her time, though she was consequently forced to swear off non-religious books/studies, her library, and her instruments.

So, you still may be wondering, “What would make anyone think Sor Juana was queer?” Well, among the other subjects she wrote about, there was one she’s suspected of having a particular preference for: the viceroy’s wife, whom she spent most of her time with. While many historians gloss over the potential relationship they had, it’s apparent from the letters they exchanged that they were more than friends. Sor Juana even has a poem titled “My Lady” in which she declares her love: “Let my love be ever doomed / if guilty in its intent, / for loving you is a crime / of which I will never repent.” It’s possible that this poem passed as a praise for the viceroy’s wife rather than a romantic confession, so it’s more of a speculation than a confirmation.

Sor Juana’s story certainly has multiple dimensions to it, though many people aren’t aware of it. Her poetry and her suspected queerness could take up an entire article by themselves, but one thing is clear: People in the Queer and Latinx communities alike have always made history, though one aspect of their identity is often overlooked in favor of another. So often, historical icons like Sor Juana are lost in time and only resurface in the spotlight hundreds of years later. That’s just one of many reasons I write articles like these, to acknowledge people who may have lost their right to fame in the 21st century. The beautiful thing here, though, is that Sor Juana’s poetry lives forever, and my hope is that her name will do the same.

Angelina Leanos

Cal Lutheran '23

Hi! I'm Angelina and I'm the Co-Senior Editor/Writing Director of HCCLU. I'm a Senior majoring in English and minoring in Psychology. I love traveling, cooking/baking, listening to music, and writing poetry.