The Cultural and Historical Significance of Eva Peron
Evita Peron is doubtlessly one of the greatest female personalities of the twentieth century. Needless to say, Evita Peron was much more than a mere political figure. The story of Argentina's first lady is so imbued with mystery and fiction that it can easily be argued that, in popular culture, her figure acquires almost mythical dimensions. We can speak thus of the 'Evita cult', which was inspired both by the first lady's passionate and ambitious personality and her devotedness to humanitarian causes and acts of charity for the poor. Arguably, the Evita cult was alimented by the imagination of the poor or disadvantaged social classes who, during the Peron regime, were made the center of attention for the first time. Moreover, the fact that Evita herself belong to the same social class and rose to the highest standing through her ambition, nobleness of spirit and dedication. Evita is thus a national symbol and not only a historical figure of Argentina. The fame that surrounded her during her life as well as after proves her to have been a remarkable personality, passionate and devoted to the causes and the principles she believed in. What is indeed outstanding is the fact that Evita emerged as a popular cult figure herself, instead of remaining in the shadow of her husband, who was himself a great and extremely popular figure. This demonstrates the extent of Eva's influence on the Argentinean culture, as almost a saintly figure. Passing the sphere of the political sphere, Evita Peron is thus a symbol of an ideal and just cause in favor of social equality and just distribution of rights.
Evita was thus one of the few female political figures in history to have attained such a high place in the culture of a people. Both she and Juan Peron were idealists, who were a perfect match in what regarded their political dreams and aspirations. Devoted to the people and attempting radical reforms in favor of the poor, the pair of leaders remained in the heart of the people as beneficial figures who struggled for social justice and a better political climate in Argentina. It is not surprising therefore that, after Evita's death, her body was close to being put in a mausoleum and preserved as a national symbol. It was only because the Peronist regime declined soon after her death that this intention was not completed after all, and she was finally interred in Buenos Aires.
A significant part of Evita's fame is probably due also to her humble origins, which made her belong to the same class as the people she dedicated her work and her life to. Moreover, her rapid and somewhat romantic ascension to fame and even to the highest political standing also contributed to her cult image. Her poor life as a young girl and her very early death at the age of thirty one, were also great factors in promoting Evita as a national symbol. She was born on May 7, 1919 in Los Toldos, a little village in the pampas (Crassweller, 125). The village was small and very modest, accoutered with just the very few necessary institutions and dwellings, and was separated by an endless one hundred and fifty miles from Buenos Aires. Evita's parents were Juana Ibarguren and Juan Duarte, a couple which lived together for more than fifteen years without being legally married. Juan Duarte, the father, was already married and his legal family lived in a town only twenty miles away from Los Toldos. This situation, which was hardly acceptable by the moral and social standards of the beginning of the twentieth century, marked Evita's beginnings and her later evolution. Arguably, her future ascension to political fame was hardened by her poor and moreover illegitimate origins. An event which was very significant in this respect took place in 1926, at her father's death. On this occasion, Evita's mother attempted to participate in the funeral, along with the rightful family of Juan Duarte, and, because of the standards and customs of the day, she and her children were curelessly rejected: "Juan Duarte died in Chivilcoy. Dona Juana, a determined and self-reliant woman, decided her family should attend the funeral, a presumption that ran counter to all the customs of the day, a minor scandal. They arrived late and were turned away at the door, being admitted only upon the intercession of the mayor. They were allowed to view the body briefly while the guests stood aside, and then they had to wait outside in the dusty heat until they were permitted to follow the hearse to the cemetery, at a respectable distance so as not to disgrace the legal family at the head of the procession."(Crassweller, 130) This rejection remained as a landmark point for Evita's later evolution: "All her life, Evita, like her siblings, was blighted by the issue of her illegitimacy, so dramatically highlighted by the cruelty of her family's rejection in the hour of death. It was her first venture into the world beyond Los Toldos."(Crassweller, 131) Thus, for the greatest part of her life, Evita encountered difficulties in making herself heard on account of her unlawful origins and sometimes even because she was a woman and implicitly, not fit for politics by the standards of the day.
Evita did not distinguish herself at school or in any other academic department. However, it was not long before Evita found her dream career as an actress. It was only after she became involved with Juan Peron that Eva got a few breakthroughs as an actress: "Evita's acting career changed, too, but more slowly. She continued with her radio work, now for Radio Belgrano. Her new contract broke all records in this field, doubtless due to her relationship with the powerful colonel. In a tradition so devoted to the use of influence, a palanca, a lever, as magnificent as this would open any door. A movie studio now announced a contract for Evita, and a role in a new production about to begin. Again the palanca revealed its power, for Peron had helped the studio obtain an allocation of scarce film stock."(Crassweller, 133) However, the turning point for Evita was certainly her encounter with her future husband, Juan Peron. In his documentary study of the Peron regime in Argentina, Robert Crassweller emphasized that it can be said that the meeting of the future couple after an earthquake was very symbolic: "It is symbolically appropriate that the first meeting of Peron and Evita should come as the direct result of an earthquake."(Crassweller, 128) the pair had an open and almost blatantly public relationship, something which constituted almost a scandal at the time. It can be argued that the two were a perfect match, in so much as they were not united by a sexual love but rather by a platonic ideal. Both of them struggled for the same political ideals: "Arturo Jauretche, who as writer, historian, and intellectual knew both Peron and Evita from a point-of-view more favorable to Peronism than was typical of his type, concluded, "Eva, in spite of her fancy for the theatre, was a very unsexual girl. She didn't have that much interest in it.... And that was her affinity with Juan Per-n, because he too was not a sexual type. In that marriage two wills were united, two passions for power. It was not a marriage of love."(Crassweller, 133) the most appropriate comment on this situation belongs to Peron himself, who argues that his wife absorbed the knowledge from him, took over his political ideas and imbued them with her feminine passion and sensibility: "She listened to Peron, absorbed everything he said, and then infused it with her own passionate emotion. Peron was not inaccurate in his recollection of her discipleship when he said, "Evita adopted my political and social ideas, imbuing them with a feminine sensibility, to the point of creating within herself a second 'I'."(Crassweller, 135) Herein lies the secret of Evita's great historical and cultural significance: her political talent and her unlimited ambition were paired by her feminine sensibility and passion, which made her even more devoted to the cause of the poor.
According to Schneider, Evita was certainly adored and loathed by the different classes of people in society. The upper class member thus became her enemies since they resented her attempt to establish a different social order, while the lower classes adored her and saw her as a cultural icon and a 'lady of hope' who would save them and who could embody all their interests and rights: "In anthropology, the most sensitive treatment remains that of Julie Taylor (Eva Peron: the myths of a woman, 1979), who contrasted two 'myths', held respectively by upper-class respondents and working-class Argentines. For the former she represented a 'black myth', a bad woman who would assault their class interests and the established order, whereas for the latter she embodied the 'Lady of Hope',…