By John Brown, published 04/05/02
Evita Peron was born in 1919 to an unwed mother in a small Argentine village. Her mother was very poor, and Evita was of course considered of the lower class. Her ascent to the ruling class was nothing short of incredible. She was loved by most, but also hated and feared. Her legacy lives on today, both in Argentina and around the world.
Evita grew up impoverished, but she did seem to enjoy her early life. She spent most of her time playing with her sisters and her dog. She was very quiet and unassuming. This would change in the future.
By the time that she was fifteen, Evita had made it to Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. There she became an actress, and landed some minor parts in movies. This was when she first got her taste of the public spotlight, and she apparently loved it. It was also in Buenos Aires that she met Juan Domingo Peron, who she would eventually marry.
Peron was like Evita in that his personality has been controversial in history. Some said that they were both very kind and generous, others have said that they were tyrants. It seems to depend on whose side you were on during the revolution. He took power by force, but he was extremely moderate when compared to many Latin American dictators.
Peron took power in 1945, and Evita quickly became just as well known as her husband. Evita seemed very compassionate in some ways, and seemed interested in taking care of the lower classes and the women. She founded the Eva Peron Foundation, which was a very complicated endeavor. It was not really a charity, nor was it a corrupt organization to benefit the Perons. It was basically a response to the poverty problem of Argentina. But it lacked any clear goal, because the goal was constantly being changed. It seems though to be well-meaning and a real attempt to help.
In 1947 Evita made a trip to Europe, which was unheard of for a woman to do at this time period. She visited Spain and also helped make Argentina. Evita was treated very well, except for a few traditionalists who did not like the idea of a woman having such privileges. She also met with the queen of England.
Evitas health began to falter at this time. Many of the people of Argentina loved her, and wanted her to run as Vice President behind her husband, who was running as President. She met with a large number of her supporters, who were cheering her on and wanting her to run. She had to inform them that she couldnt, much to their disdain.
Evita died in 1951. When she died, she was the most popular figure in Argentine politics, easily overshadowing her husband, Juan Peron. Peron feared a revolution and actually hid her body and initially the fact that she had died from the Argentine people. Her death was clearly the end of an era, not just for Argentina, but for all of Latin America.
Evitas political style was very progressive for her time. She was considered a feminist in her day, but probably would not be seen as too great of one today. Her political style was moderate and she cared about the common people. One of the reasons she cared about the common people is because she was born one herself. She had struggled to make ends meet as a child, and this had a huge influence on her style.
Many said that Evita was also very kind to those who agreed with her, but could be cruel to those who did not. This could be due in part to her career as an actress. The glamourous lifestyle led by actresses often encouraged them to become self observed to some extent. This probably added to this attitude.
Being an actress probably also made her enjoy the lime light. Most accounts indicate that Evita loved to be the center of attention, and this added to her charm and popularity. Evita was very charismatic and likable. Being an actress did not hurt these features.
Evitas lack of a father might have also left her with a void in her life. This could explain her interest in helping people: she wanted to be loved. The fact that she was on her own by the time that she was fifteen probably only added to this void and caused her to want to be loved. This also led to her relationship with Peron, and her getting involved with him prior to her marriage. Their marriage seems to be a marriage of convenience in some respects. Clearly they both benefited from it, socially and politically. They may not have even gotten married had Peron not come to power. This likely also added to the void and caused her to want even more to be loved.
There is no doubt that Evita was a very charismatic person, and was a people person. This helped many people to love her and to relate to her. She also worked hard to improve the roles of women, which gained her the support of women. Though women did not have many rights then, they did have some sway over their husbands.
Evita was also very attractive and was an almost ideal woman. She was very beautiful, but she was also gracious, intelligent, and personable. She had natural leadership ability. Had women had more rights, she probably would have become president of Argentina.
Evita also lived the ideal life: she was in a position of power, loved by millions, had gone from very poor to very wealthy. She got to travel to foreign lands. All in all, its a similar lifestyle to what most Hollywood actors and actresses live, and why so many people all over the world love and idolize them: They want to be like them.
Love for Evita wasnt simply due to shallowness. Evita was generally a very kind and compassionate person. She started the Eva Peron Foundation, which, though not well organized, was, by all accounts, well meaning. She was very open to the public and not a prude as many people in high ranking positions are. She never forgot where she came from.
Evita and Perons vision for the New Argentina also gained them much support. They were pushing the idea of equality, and wealth. They also said they were friends of democracy, which most of the common people wanted for their nation.
On the other hand, there were also those who hated Evita, and saw her as nothing more than an arrogant and self-centered woman who simply looked out for her own interests. Some of this was rooted in the ideas of the time, one of which was that women had no place in government. This was still a prevalent opinion in most of the world, and Argentina was no exception.
Some people were also no doubt jealous of Evita. There were many reason for this. Of course, it is natural for people to resent those who have it better than they do. Evita certainly led a colorful and lavish lifestyle, which was in stark contrast to the simple lives led by most Argentines of her time.
Also at this time period, some did not consider being an actress to be an honorable occupation. For much the same reason that some Americans did not trust President Ronald Reagan because of his past acting, some did not trust Evita.
Some of the upper class of Argentine society did not like her because she was from a lower class (though she tried to hide it). Being from a lower class never sits well with certain members of the affluent, and its often impossible to overcome your birth.
Evitas husband, Juan Peron, was also seen as a tyrant by some. This likely also effected the publics perception of Evita. Some saw him as a Nazi or Fascist, so Evita was given the classic guilt by association.
Of course, there is also always doubt placed on those in positions of power. Evita claimed to be for the common person, but many did not believe her. They though she was only doing it to gain support to gain her own ends. Many were also skeptical of the aforementioned Evita Peron Foundation, which was difficult to understand. Some suspected it of being corrupt, and that her and Peron pocketed the money they made (they did not). As is usually the case when someone in power claims to represent the interests of the commoner, Evita was met with skepticism and mistrust.
My personal feelings on Evita are that she did indeed care about the commoners and about women, but she also was an opportunist to some extent. I dont mean that to be disrespectful, because almost everyone is an opportunist to some extent. She definitely accomplished many good things for her country.
Peron no doubt used the popular and much loved Evita to gain support for his own means. Evita, being intelligent, no doubt was fully aware of this and obliged. She was a good actress and was able to talk for hours without saying anything, as has often been used to describe those who can give good speeches and are hard to nail down or get actual answers from. Evita was clearly a good politician.
Evitas skeptics were right in at least one regard: Evita was fake in some ways. She refused to write anything negative about herself, and did not want a book about her to mention her lower class past. We cannot judge her too harshly for this though, because she was merely doing what probably ninety-nine percent of people would have done. To come from a lower class was a curse, doubly so to be born out of wedlock. Its unfair, but it was true at the time. So we can hardly blame Evita for wanting to hide this, though it does show she was a bit deceitful.
On the other hand though, Evita did do much good for Argentina. If nothing else, she gave the people someone to believe in, someone they could love and trust in the government. I do believe she tried hard to help people, and did care for her countrymen. The Eva Peron Foundation, which Ive mentioned several times, was a good program. It meant well, though it was probably mismanaged and lacked clear objective.
During Evitas life, Peron was not nearly as cruel as many dictators were. This probably had something to do with Evita, because after her death, he became more tyrannical. Evita likely represented the people to him, and many times convinced him to go easier on them. In this respect, she was a great friend of the Argentines, because she protected them from Peron, who had the potential to be a real tyrant, but was not so long as Evita was around to keep him under control. It appears as though the Argentine people realized this too: When Evita died, Peron feared revolution and did not release the information. Though the revolution might have been due to their love of Evita, it was probably also would have been at least in part due to their disdain for Peron. Thus they only tolerated him so that they could have Evita, whom most of them loved.
One of the greatest things Evita did, which reveals her true character was the way she continued to appear in public and did not let her failing health keep her from serving her people. She had to be worried that she was not well. Some might suggest that she didnt continue for the people, but in an effort to ignore her problem, but I dont think so. I think she really did put the people ahead of herself in this case, and for that does deserve some respect.
So, after reading Evita, I can say that I have gained a new respect for Evita that goes beyond Dont cry for me, Argentina, and Madonna fame (I never saw that movie, though I should have). Evita was the idealized leader much like John F. Kennedy was in the U.S., though Evita actually did accomplish some things to warrant such a high opinions of her people. Theres no wonder why so many people in Argentina loved her and were offended when Madonna played her in the movie.