The latest news about the return of the famous Broadway musical Evita with Ricky Martin in a starring role has driven the entertainment press crazy. Yet many of us still wonder who Evita is, what she did, and why she deserves her own musical.
María Eva Duarte de Perón (1919-1952) was the second wife and political companion of President Juan Perón (1895’1974) of Argentina. It is also popularly known by the affectionate Spanish diminutive Evita, which translates as “Little Eva”. Despite being a very popular figure in Argentina and a world icon due to the books, movies and musicals based on her life, many consider her comparable to another world superstar, Princess Diana of England. Here we analyze the similarities and differences of both women to see if the comparison is justified.
It is fair to say that both Evita and Diana, despite living almost 50 years apart on different continents, had similarities;
– Both married powerful men, Diana with Prince Carlos and Evita with Colonel Juan Perón. They met in 1943 when Perón had assumed the position of Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare in the military government that had recently come to power. Two years later they were married in 1945 when Evita helped Perón get out of jail after his imprisonment by the military opposition. Perón’s presidency in 1946 took over shortly thereafter, and Evita’s close relationship with Perón gave her access to a lot of power.
– Both Diana and Evita shared an affinity for the poor and the sick; During the 1946 presidential campaign, Evita directed her efforts toward the “descamisados” (shirtless poor) and her efforts for women’s suffrage saw the passing of laws in 1947 that allowed women to vote in the 1951 elections for the first time in the history. He also spent several hours every day meeting poor people and visiting hospitals, orphanages and factories. In addition, he oversaw the newly created Ministry of Health, which built many new hospitals and established a successful program to combat different diseases.
– Like Diana, Evita was a figure constantly in the public eye. As a result, she, like Diana, was immensely fashion conscious. His clothes and hairstyle were eagerly studied, discussed and copied.
– Both women died young, Evita of cervical cancer at the age of 33. In both cases, there was great public distress. All activity in Argentina ceased; movies stopped playing; restaurants were closed and customers were heading for the door. The crowd outside the official presidential residence after the announcement of his death was so dense that the streets became congested for ten blocks in each direction. The streets of Buenos Aires were overflowing with flowers piled up in huge piles, and the day after Evita’s death, all the florists in Buenos Aires had sold out.
– Just as Diana’s legacy and reputation have endured after her death, Evita’s death does not seem to have stopped her international fame. In 1980, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Timothy Rice’s musical “Evita” won a major award and started the ball rolling to increase its popularity. After a production delay of nearly 20 years, Madonna was cast in the title role of the film version, bringing Evita as a figure into the international public eye more than 50 years after her death.
However, despite the similarity, Diana and Evita shared some fundamental differences;
– Born into a single family of 5 children, Evita’s background was humble to say the least. His father left his mother a year after he was born and as a result of the impoverishment that followed the loss of his subsistence income, the family moved to the poorest part of their city. In order to support herself and her children, Evita’s mother sewed clothes for the neighbors. The family was stigmatized for the abandonment of the father, especially since Argentine law disapproves of illegitimate children.
– Evita’s strong political involvement during most of her public life significantly distinguishes her from Diana. Despite using it as a platform for humanitarian agendas, it also opened it up to criticism, as Perón’s administration was viewed by many as fascist and ruthlessly repressing political opposition from an authoritarian centralized government.
– Diana was well known for raising money for charitable causes, as was Evita, but questions surrounded the money that Evita raised for some causes. Many claim that she extracted large sums from wealthy entrepreneurs through intimidation. She was also accused of saving amounts for her own purposes, buying jewelry and dresses. Her 1947 European tour, a highly publicized event in which Evita visited various heads of state, was ridiculed by some as an excuse to deposit funds into a Swiss bank account, some of which were supposed to be earmarked for charitable donations.
Regardless of the comparisons, Evita certainly stands out as a unique historical figure who managed to achieve near sanctity and phenomenal popularity among the Argentine lower classes; Visitors to Argentina can still see Evita’s lasting effect on the country. It is said that in many homes, the image of Evita is on the wall next to the Virgin Mary. On July 26, 2002, the 50th anniversary of the death of Eva Perón, a museum in her honor called “Museo Evita” was inaugurated in Buenos Aires. The museum, which was created by her great-niece Cristina Álvarez Rodríguez, houses many of Eva Perón’s clothes, portraits and artistic representations from her life.