Elena Poniatowska wins Mexico’s most prestigious award

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Poniatowska, 90, accepted the honor to chants of “Elena! Elena! Elena!” from all those assembled in the Senate house. Photo: Courtesy

Literary icon Elena Poniatowska was awarded the Belisario Domínguez for her seven decades of work as a journalist, writer, and activist. 

The award is granted by Mexico’s Senate and is named after Belisario Domínguez, a senator who spoke out against the dictatorship of Victoriano Huerta and was assassinated in 1913.

Past winners have included the philosopher Leopoldo Zea (2000) and Mexico’s medical community (2020) for their efforts during the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

Poniatowska was born on May 19, 1932, in France, and at the age of 10 migrated with her family to Mexico during World War II.

Elena Poniatowska has been a familiar face in Mérida, where a cultural center — La 68 Cultural Center Elena Poniatowska — was named for her. She still has family in Mérida, where she was named an honorary citizen in 2011.

In the 1950s, Poniatowska began her career as a journalist for the Excélsior newspaper under the pen name Hélène. Some of her most notable work during these years included interviews with public figures, including the painter María Izquierdo and the author Juan Rulfo.

Her most recognized work is La Noche de Tlatelolco, a collection of accounts of the massacre of Tlatelolco on Oct. 2, 1968, during which hundreds of people lost their lives to the Mexican armed forces.

Earlier: Elena Poniatowska exhibit precedes Cozumel’s 500-year bash

Blame for the massacre of Tlatelolco has historically fallen on then President Luis Echeverría, though he was never brought to justice and died at the age of 100 in July 2022. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

After gaining international notoriety in the 1970s, Poniatowska would go on to become a prolific author and translator, with dozens of works to her name; the most recent being a 2019 novel El amante polaco, or the Polish Lover. 

Poniatowska has also been the subject of several documentaries, and in 2017 voice acted the role of the grandmother Socorro “Coco” Rivera in the Latin American dub of the Disney Pixar film, “Coco.”

Throughout her career, Poniatowska has focused on social and political issues in Mexico and has earned numerous awards, including the National Prize for Arts and Sciences in Linguistics and Literature in 2013, and the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary award in the Spanish-speaking world, in 2018.

Over the decades, Poniatowska has traveled to Yucatán on several occasions, including during the 2014 FILEY when she became the recipient of the José Emilio Pacheco prize for extraordinary literary achievement.

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