Julia Tello Landeta, “Tellito” (1920-2016)

June 10, 2016

Palmira Julia Tello Landeta, immortalized as miliciana on a magazine cover in wartime Spain, passed away in early 2016.

Tellito on the cover of Estampa

Tellito on the cover of Estampa

She was born in Madrid on September 2, 1920. Once she had joined the militia, at the very beginning of the war, she went by the name of Tellito. But she became Amaya in the spring of 1939, when she had to suddenly leave Madrid after a warning from a friend whom she ran into on her way back to her house in in La Coruña Street from Cuatro Caminos, where she worked as a seamstress. “Tellito! What are you doing here? Get out immediately! They wouldn’t stop asking about you at the police station. This morning they released me and now I’m sure they’re watching me. Get out!” It was Commissioner Conesa’s agents who were looking for her at the time, and detaining young women friends of hers, of whom they would end up executing 13—the Thirteen Roses—along with 43 men, on the morning of August 5 at the walls of the East Cemetery.

On October 31, 1936 her image is passed from hand to hand in Madrid because she is the young, impassioned woman speaking to the people from the cover of the illustrated weekly Estampa. The magazine reporter had managed to catch the moment in which the girl, after jumping onto a truck, vigorously addressed the people gathered in the plaza. The days just piled up during those first furious months of the war. Tellito’s image inspired war posters but also ended up on the covers of books like Mary Nash’s Women and the Labor Movement in Spain, 1931-1939 (Fontamara, 1981).

Palmira Julia Tello Landeta, immortalized as miliciana on a magazine cover in wartime Spain, passed away in early 2016. 

Palmira Julia Tello Landeta, Tellito, then marries Ernesto Niño—”We were married by the captain of the unit”—who is immediately sent to the front, killed ten days later, and buried in Quintanar de la Orden. Tellito, the miliciana, leaves Madrid for Valencia, joins in the Battle of Guadalajara and works with the International Brigades, with the Thaelmann Brigade to be precise, now in the region of Albacete. She passes through the towns of Toledo, Ciudad Real and Jaén. She later recalled: “I used to walk from town to town along a route set by the Committee. Sometimes they took me by truck and left me behind, alone and unarmed. I held speeches to people in the plazas, the words coming directly from my soul. Mothers heard me ask them to allow their children to enlist for the front. They could have jumped on me, I was defenseless. But no one ever laid a finger on me. And I had come to drag their sons off to battle!”

Back in Madrid. From Madrid to Valencia. And from Valencia to Alicante, in a last-ditch effort. After the war she returns to the capital–still only 18, but battle-worn–where she starts working as a seamstress. Then she turns up in Zaragoza, as Amaya. There she meets the love of her life, the painter Ciriaco Párraga, who portrayed her in two important canvases: We lost the war (to which Blas de Otero dedicated a poem) and Maternity 1940. Later, in Bilbao, the painter’s home town, he registers her transformation, in canvases like Home Leisure, Woman Reading, and Interior, as she got older and the circumstances of her life changed, moving between the seamstress’s needle and her books, groceries and cleaning, her two children and the kitchen. Meanwhile she continued to be politically involved, supporting the clandestine struggle against the dictatorship.

By the time her children had left the home and her husband passed away, a deepening solitude brought increasing isolation. But she kept going. In 1985 she moved to El Casar de Talamanca (Guadalajara), where she lived until age 92 and is perhaps still remembered as the old woman with the white dog who, for many years, walked up and down the hill from El Coto to the village and back for groceries. Always silent, always devoted largely to reading, as was her habit. In September 2015, aged 95, she entered a hospital for the first time in her life. She did not return home. She died at the Infanta Sofia Hospital on January 16, 2016.

Gregorio Párraga Tello is the son of Palmira Julia Tello Landeta.

Translation by Sebastiaan Faber. A version of this text appeared in El País on Feb. 1, 2016.