Gabriel Figueroa (1907-1997) Memorias

Memorias - Figueroa - a synopsis of material pertaining to Esperanza

Gabriel Figueroa’s book Memorias was put together with taped interviews and published after his death. There is barely a word about Esperanza’s death. There is nothing about her accident or her rescue from the psychiatric institute that is in Poniatowska’s book. It is a celebration of Gabriel Figueroa's extraordinary life and career.

Gabriel Figueroa’s mother died in childbirth when Gabriel was born in 1907. He had an older brother Roberto (1905). Soon after his wife died, Gabriel’s father began drinking, died, and the two brothers were orphans. They moved in with their father’s sister Sara and went to a good school. They lived and were close to Elena Lopez Mateos and her 4 children, Mariano, Elena, Adolfo and Esperanza. Elena and Figueroa’s mother were cousins, not sisters, making Esperanza second cousins with Gabriel and Roberto (Figueroa doesn’t say this). Gabriel says Elena was a beautiful woman of great culture and friendliness. She was a widow.

Aunt Sara died when the boys were teenagers and barely able to fend for themselves. At this point, Figueroa says, the only family they had were the Mateos on his mothers side including Aunt Elena. Roberto was a good student, a mathematician, got a job with Telefonica Mexicana and rose after a few years to be an accountant.

Esperanza, says Figueroa, was “my fourth mother, the one who awakened in me the social conscience”. She was adopted, says Figueroa. Her father was Don Gonzalo de Murga y Suinaga, Marquis of Alcazar and Viscount of Mondragon (I hope I have that right). In other words, Spanish nobility living in Mexico. His wife was English nobility. They had two children, Clara and Blue. Murga and his wife divorced. She left the country taking with her the boy Blue. Murga did not want or was unable to raise Clara, so he begged Elena to take the child. Elena agreed on condition that Murga give up all parental responsibility and never pay a cent for the child’s care. Elena renamed the child Esperanza, because she had lost a child by that name. Figueroa does not have many details and we know now this is not how it happened. He also does not say anything about Adolfo.

Esperanza grew and flourished, receiving a first class education. She studied English and French. She studied nursing and went to work early because of the economic hardship of the family. Esperanza worked at the English hospital as anesthesiologist and administrator. She eventually left the hospital because the chloroform made her sick. She began translating from French and English, and became a parliamentary stenographer. She got a job working at the Ministry of Public Education.

Esperanza and Roberto married. Gabriel about the same time began working in the movie industry. Gabriel say Esperanza was a “beautiful person with an unusual intelligence and a great culture.” She had great energy and worked with the socialists especially Vicente Lombardo Toledano. Gabriel was introduced to Lombardo through Esperanza and he began working with him making documentaries.

While looking for subjects for new films, an associate of Figueroa’s suggested the book "Bridge in the Jungle" by Traven. Esperanza was working in publishing, and they asked her to write Traven and open a discussion of getting film rights. Esperanza wrote the publisher, Alfred Knopf, who forwarded the request to Traven. Traven said no, he did not think the Mexican film industry was developed enough to make the kind of film he wanted. Esperanza then sent another letter to Traven proposing that she translate the book into Spanish. Traven said no again. A woman, he said, could not bring the necessary strength to the book. Esperanza replied, I will do it, you decide, if you do not approve, you have not lost anything. Traven accepted. The manuscript was prepared, mailed, and Traven not only agreed to publish, but asked Esperanza to be his representative in Latin America.

From this beginning, Esperanza was allowed to meet Traven. She introduced Traven to Figueroa. This is Mauricio, she said. Later she told Figueroa that his real name was Mauricio Rathenau. His father had been the powerful and rich leader of the German Allgemeine Elektrizitats Gessellschaft. Traven began to depend on Esperanza and Figueroa, staying at their house when he was in Mexico City. His home was in Acapulco, a 7 acre plot of jungle with 30 dogs and no electricity. He drove an old 1926 Chevrolet. Even while he still lived with Esperanza, Figueroa already had bought a nice home in Coyoacan that Traven used.

In 1951 Figueroa and Traven are planning to make "Bridge" into a movie and looking for river locations in Chiapas. They were in San Cristobal de las Casas visiting the Franz Blom Museum. Gertrude Duby, Blom’s wife, took Figueroa aside and said she would introduce him to the real B. Traven. She brought him into a room with Frans and said, there he is. B. Traven, Figueroa’s friend, had stayed outside.

Esperanza and Figueroa were both aware that Traven had been Ret Marut in Germany. They both felt like they had his confidence and trusted his stories. Long after Traven died, about 1990 Figueroa said he had documents that proved that Traven had been Mauricio Rathenau in Germany. He revealed the information in an interview to the paper Liberation in Paris. He tried to tell Traven’s widow, Rosa Elena Lujan, through her daughter, as he felt like they did not know that story. After some back and forth, and looking at his documents of proof, Malu, the daughter, said, yes we know that.

Figueroa said his relationship with Rosa Elena ended when she told a jealous falsehood about Esperanza. He does not say what that was.

Esperanza made a trip to New York. Figueroa says she was mysterious and did not say what it was about. When she came back she told them that she was there to donate funds from B. Traven and to raise more for the establishment of Israel. The ship Exodus was in New York and ready to sail for Israel. The head of the political effort was Dov Gruner who asked her to move to Israel and help establish the country. My life is in Mexico, Esperanza told him. After her death the Jewish community in Mexico named a school for her.

In 1950 Esperanza became involved with a miners strike against American Smelting. Esperanza took food and provided medical help for the miners and their families, crossing and confronting military authority. When the miners and their wives marched to Mexico City to ask the government to intervene, she put up the families in her own house.