For my third article of transgender veterans we travel to Mexico.
Amelio Robles (1889-1984)
was a participant in the Mexican Revolution of 1911. He was born biologically female
and was given the name Amelia. His father was a wealthy rancher and farmer, and
sometime registrar of births, deaths and marriages for Xochipala in southern
Mexico, the village where Amelio was born and raised.
Amelio had a strict
Catholic upbringing and was educated by the Society of the Daughters of Mary of
the Miraculous Medal and at the College for Young Ladies in Chilpancingo. At
first Amelio learnt the activities that girls were expected to learn – washing,
sewing, ironing. He soon began to show a fondness for other activities that
were considered more appropriate for a boy. Perhaps being raised on a farm gave
him the passion for horses – learning to ride and tame them. He also learnt how
to handle firearms.
Despite this, life on the
family ranch was not good during his childhood. His father died when Amelio was
only 3 years old and his widow remarried a ranch worker. Amelio hated his new
stepfather. He hated him so much that he planned to kill him on more than one
occasion. This may have been the biggest factor in Amelio’s decision to leave
home as soon as possible. Political events in the country provided the channel
for his future life.
In 1910 the Mexican
president, the dictator Porfirio Díaz, ran for his 8th consecutive
term of office in the country’s general election. As usual, through corrupt
practices, he won, and this was the final straw for his opponents and armed
rebellions began against him.
Almost immediately Amelio
joined the revolutionary cause. He became the treasurer of a local group who
supported Francisco Madero’s campaign to oust the president and raised funds
for him. In late 1911 he was member of a contingent from the group who went to
the Gulf of Mexico region to obtain funds from oil companies based there.
President Díaz’s government
crumbled under the armed opposition. Legendary figures emerged from this early
stage of the revolution – Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.
One of the main causes for
the revolution was Díaz’s’ policy of promoting foreign investment at the
expense of the rights of the working classes, particularly land rights. The new
president, Madero, who had been supported by the revolutionaries, refused to
change the land reforms and soon lost their support.
In 1912 the revolutionary
Gen. Juan Almazan (a supporter of Zapata), passed through Amelio’s home village
recruiting soldiers. Amelio joined the revolution. However, from interviews he
gave later in his life, it seems that Amelio’s reason for joining was not so
much from any political ideology but from the appeal of the excitement and
thrill of being a soldier. He joined the Liberation Army of the South, the
forces of Emiliano Zapata. These are often referred to as the Zapatistas.
Once enlisted Amelio began
to wear men’s clothing and insisted on being treated as a man. Women were not
excluded from joining the Zapatistas, and Amelio is just one of many women who
lived as men during the revolution. He was given command as a lieutenant soon
after he enlisted. By the end of the revolution he had reached the rank of colonel.
Being a revolutionary these ranks had no official status once the revolution
ended but Amelio used the title of Colonel throughout the latter part of his
life as a civilian.
Amelio’s first experience
in an armed conflict came in February 1913. A small group of Zapatistas,
including Amelio, was encamped at Carrizalillo on the Pacific coast of southern
Mexico, not far from his home village Xochipala. Most of these soldiers were
from Xochipala. State troops attacked the encampment, and despite being heavily
outnumbered the revolutionaries won that encounter.
In 1915 Amelio was wounded
in the leg at the battle at Apango. By this time he had around 600 soldiers
under his command and was highly regarded as a brave leader who led from the
He served with Zapatistas
until 1918 when the majority of the revolutionaries agreed to support the new
government of Veunustiano Carranza and the new Mexican constitution. Some of
the Zapatistas remained loyal to Zapatista, who had decided to fight for more
reforms and rights.
Amelio remained active in
the military and political history of Mexico right up to 1950. He took part in
the fight against the Huerta revolt in 1923, and actively supported his former
commanding officer, Juan Almazan, in his unsuccessful campaign for the presidency
in 1939. Having returned to live in Xochipala in 1926 Amelio, now calling
himself Col. Amelio Robles, was elected to the village council. He also met his
partner Angela Torres shortly after returning home and adopted a girl called
Col. Robles was recognised
as a veteran of the Mexican Revolution in 1970 with a government medal. In
order to qualify for this medal he had to change the gender his parents
registered on his birth certificate. Otherwise he would have been recognised
among the 300 or so female veterans who were also honoured. He was also
honoured with the Legion of Honour of the Mexican Army. Unfortunately, this
caused hardship in his later life when he applied for a military pension. During
his service with the Mexican army after 1918 he was still officially registered
as female, and there was no record of Amelio Robles, only an Amelia Robles
Avila, his baptismal name. His pension was refused.
Throughout his final years
Amelio gave interviews on his life as a soldier, a revolutionary, and a trans
man. Over time people forgot his earlier female lifestyle. So much so, in fact,
that even his nephews and nieces were unaware of it for some years.
Col. Amelio Robles,
Veteran of the Mexican Revolution, died at the grand old age of 95 in 1984.
Despite having lived as a man for over 60 years he was remembered in memorials
under his female name. One exception, it seems, is the Amelio Robles Award,
created in 2007 and awarded at the Festival of Gender Diversity in Monterrey,