Peregrina: Love and Death in Mexico
University of Texas Press
In the Yucatán, they never forgot Alma Reed. She arrived for the first time in 1923, on assignment for the New York Times Sunday Magazine to cover an archaeological survey of Mayan ruins. It was a contemporary Maya, however, who stole her heart. Felipe Carrillo Puerto, said to be descended from Mayan kings, had recently been elected governor of the Yucatán on a platform emphasizing egalitarian reforms and indigenous rights. The entrenched aristocracy was enraged; Reed was infatuated—as was Carrillo Puerto. He and Reed were engaged within months. Yet less than a year later—only eleven days before their intended wedding—Carrillo Puerto was assassinated. He had earned his place in the history books, but Reed had won a place in the hearts of Mexicans: the bolero “La Peregrina” remains one of the Yucatán’s most famous ballads.
Alma Reed recovered from her tragic romance to lead a long, successful life. She eventually returned to Mexico, where her work in journalism, archaeology, and art earned her entry into the Orden del Aguila Azteca (Order of the Aztec Eagle). Her time with Carrillo Puerto, however, was the most intense of her life, and when she was encouraged (by Hollywood, especially) to write her autobiography, she began with that special period. Her manuscript, which disappeared immediately after her sudden death in 1966, mingled her legendary love affair with a biography of Carrillo Puerto and the political history of the Yucatán. As such, it has long been sought by scholars as well as romantics. In 2001, historian Michael Schuessler discovered the manuscript in an abandoned apartment in Mexico City. An absolutely compelling memoir, Peregrina restores Reed’s place in Mexican history in her own words.