Bogota, a city full of nuances and unforgettable characters, has witnessed throughout its history the presence of eccentric figures that have become part of its folklore and protagonists of its streets. One of these iconic characters is “La Loca Margarita,” whose name has transcended time and remains alive in the collective imagination of the Colombian capital.
Margarita, the person
Margarita Villaquira Aya, known as “La Loca Margarita.” Very little is known about her biography, but it is believed she was born in Fusagasuga in 1860. Little is known about her origins and family, but some accounts mention that she lived comfortably on a hacienda and worked as a teacher. She was closely linked to the Liberal Party and was often seen wearing red carnations, passionately advocating for her liberal ideals and becoming a well-known activist for that political thought.
However, her life changed drastically in 1902 during the defeat of the liberals in what is known as the Thousand Days’ War. In this civil war, which pitted conservatives against liberals, her husband, Sub-officer Nemesio Gutierrez, was killed.
It was a time of great political strife, and the reprisals against the families of the defeated forced her to burn down her house and leave the town, along with her 20-year-old son Miguel. She fled to Bogota.
Liberal Activism in Bogota: Shaping the Character
In the capital city, she built a house on a lot inherited from her late husband. It was a modest house, and Margarita filled the garden with red roses. It is believed that it was around this time that she started experiencing mental health problems. She always dressed in red or white with red flowers, and carried a bag with the deeds to her property. In Bogota, she continued her political activism, supporting General Rafael Uribe Uribe, who was the only liberal senator at the time. These were tumultuous times, and death would return to Margarita’s life as Uribe was assassinated on the Capitol’s stairs in 1914.
During those years, she began wandering through the neighborhoods and squares of Bogota, developing a unique personality that set her apart from the rest. Known for her eccentric appearance, colorful outfits, and unusual hairstyles, “La Loca Margarita” caught the attention of all those who crossed her path. Many wondered about her life and her apparent madness, but few took the time to discover the truth behind that facade.
In the Bogota of that time, marked by social inequality, the life of marginalized people like Margarita was particularly challenging. The streets became her home and the stage for her peculiar behavior. However, beyond her extravagance, “La Loca Margarita” was a human being yearning for affection and understanding.
“La Loca Margarita,” the Construction of a Character
Her presence on the streets of Bogota also revealed the lack of attention and care for mental health at that time. Society stigmatized and mocked her without considering the circumstances that led her to that situation. The lack of adequate public policies to assist people with mental disorders left her helpless and at the mercy of the dangers she faced on the street.
Despite the challenges she faced, “La Loca Margarita” also found a kind of “family” among the people of Bogota, who welcomed her with affection. Many fondly remembered her. She was a kind person, capable of brightening the day of those who knew her. Moreover, her unique presence enriched the city’s diversity and made it a more tolerant and compassionate place.
Over time, “La Loca Margarita” became an emblematic figure of those years in Bogota. Her image appeared on postcards and souvenirs that tourists took as a memento. She was also mentioned in stories and urban legends that spoke of her kindness and mystery. Her figure was one of the famous “four crazies” of the capital back then, alongside “Pomponio,” “el Negro Chivas,” and “el Bobo del Tranvia.”
Margarita Villaquirá passed away in Bogota in early January 1942, at the age of 82. The Liberal Party, which she supported throughout her life, took care of the funeral expenses and burial at the Central Cemetery in Bogota.
“La Loca Margarita,” On Stage
Her story reached the theater, thanks to Constanza Gutierrez, who not only directed the play but also portrayed her on stage. The narration begins on June 8, 1928, when Margarita wakes up with memories of the lost war that took her husband away. Full of sarcasm and humor, the character revives different aspects of the nation’s life that marked her own life. Appearances of her deceased husband and the assassination of liberal leader Rafael Uribe Uribe are part of the play.
The Memory of a Bogota that no longer exists
Despite the passage of time, the memory of “La Loca Margarita” endures in the collective memory of Bogota. She is part of the past of a city that no longer exists. That Bogota of barely 330,000 inhabitants has given way to a great metropolis with over 8 million people. Customs and ways have changed.
However, her life and struggle are reminders of the importance of providing support and empathy to those who suffer from mental disorders. It reminds us not to judge people based on their appearance or social status.
Currently, Bogota has made significant progress in recognizing and addressing mental health, establishing programs and services to assist people in situations similar to that of Margarita Villaquira. However, there are still challenges to overcome in terms of inclusion and combating stigmatization.
“La Loca Margarita” was much more than an eccentric character on the streets of Bogota. Her life reflected the society of her time. Her memory today forges empathy and solidarity, fundamental pillars for building a fairer and more respectful society.