How Personal Was the Political? Magda Portal and the Break from APRA, 1945–50

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM
Old Town Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Ivonne Wallace Fuentes, Roanoke College
Magda Portal was a Peruvian poet and revolutionary, the only woman founder and member of the Executive Committee of the anti-imperialist political party, APRA.  After twenty years of militancy, Portal broke with her Party in 1948, soon after APRA launched a failed insurrectionary naval revolt.  In this paper, I want to explore how Portal came to interpret the end of her political career in APRA, which the aprista faithful considered an act of treason.  She countered that the Party leadership were the traitors because they had betrayed APRA’s revolutionary roots and failed to make room for the organic participation of women as equal participants.  But there was a more intimate force pushing her away from her political identity.  A year earlier, her only child committed suicide, and Portal came to see this wrenching loss as intimately connected with her political life.  She had once seen her revolutionary militancy as a vehicle to escape the pain of her emotional life, where the comradeship of the revolutionary struggle could heal the wounds of her failed first marriage.  Now, however, her reduced influence in the Party and her growing suspicion that her revolutionary fervor and consuming political work had influenced her daughter’s suicide meant that her identity as an aprista leader no longer offered psychological refuge.  I argue that this emotional conflict, not just her political differences with the party leadership, ultimately drove her to such a public, decisive, and dramatic break with APRA.  Analyzing these reasons why Portal broke with her identity as a leading public political intellectual and militant, an identity that she considered the most meaningful of her adult life, gives us another avenue to explore the gendered constraints on the political projects of the urban populist movements of the mid twentieth century.
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