“The key thing was, she sounded like such a modern heroine to me. Someone who dared enter that last bastion of maleness: war. And someone who dared to go beyond the expectations for women of her time.”
‘REBEL’ cinema: Story of female Cuban immigrant who fought in Civil War to screen in Seneca Falls
by David Wilcox
The Citizen in Auburn, NY
March 27th, 2014
Central New York audiences are accustomed to hearing the Civil War stories of William H. Seward and Harriet Tubman.
This weekend at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, a much lesser-known — but perhaps equally important — Civil War story will be told.
Filmmaker Maria Agui Carter will screen “REBEL,” her new documentary about Loreta Velazquez, a Cuban immigrant who fought in the war under the guise of a man. While in Seneca Falls, Carter will also celebrate a partnership with the National Park Service that will see a short film she made about Velazquez, “Secret Soldier,” screened at more than 30 sites around the country, including the Seneca Falls park.
I talked to Carter about the inspiration for the film and the lessons of Velazquez’s story:
Q. What was it about Loreta’s story that led you to make “REBEL”?
A. The key thing was, she sounded like such a modern heroine to me. Someone who dared enter that last bastion of maleness: war. And someone who dared to go beyond the expectations for women of her time. Her character itself was so exciting to me, and what she spoke about — the corruption of wartime society — I thought that was very modern. And finally, the fact her story had been erased and forgotten for more than 150 years. It’s exciting because exploring the reason why it was forgotten was a way of talking about the politics of national memory, so that was exciting.
Q. As you researched her story, what was the most surprising thing you discovered?
A. She grows up in the South, she’s a southern woman — an immigrant who wants to be part of society in New Orleans pre-Civil War, a plantation society. And so she, naturally, when the war breaks out, she joins the Confederates. She follows her husband to war. What’s most surprising is she became a Union spy. The incredible stuff I found out about her activities spying for the North. The documents I found were her pay for spying for the Union.
Q. What was it that led to her defecting?
A. That’s the film (laughs). That’s what’s so exciting about the film. It’s a detective story about all these twists and turns in her life. It’s an exploration of her, and the historical context of the memoir that she writes.
Q. For audiences today, what do you think are the important lessons to take away from Loreta’s story?
A. I think a number of things: She’s a Latina woman at the center of one of the most pivotal events in American history. We had been there but were oftentimes forgotten, so that’s an exciting takeaway. Another is that race and gender are social constructs and her story is so illustrative of that, that they are not these biological things — that identity is what you choose.