She was born out of wedlock, grew up in poverty, and ran away to Buenos Aires to become an actress. She married a rising political star, and became the beloved leader of the poor and the workers. She died of cancer at 33, but her legacy lives on as a symbol of hope and defiance. She was Eva Perón, or Evita, the most influential illegitimate child in history.
Evita was the fifth and youngest child of Juana Ibarguren and Juan Duarte, a wealthy rancher who had a second family with his mistress. Evita’s father abandoned them shortly after her birth in 1919, leaving them in dire straits. Evita had to work as a servant in nearby ranches, where she dreamed of becoming a famous actress.
At 15, she eloped with a musician to the Argentine capital, where she struggled to find work in the theater and film industry. She eventually became a successful radio actress, and caught the eye of Colonel Juan Perón, a rising star in the government. They married in 1945, and Evita became his most loyal and influential supporter.
Perón ran for president in 1946, and Evita played a crucial role in his campaign. She appealed to the masses, especially the poor and working-class, who were called the descamisados or “shirtless ones”. She spoke on their behalf, and promised them a better life under Perón’s rule. She also advocated for women’s rights and suffrage, and founded the first female political party in Argentina.
After Perón’s victory, Evita became a powerful figure in his government. She ran the Ministries of Health and Labor, and created the Eva Perón Foundation, a charitable organization that built hospitals, schools, orphanages, and homes for the needy. She also traveled abroad as an official envoy, and met with world leaders such as Franco, Pius XII, and Churchill.
Evita was adored by millions of Argentines, who saw her as their spiritual leader and protector. She was also hated by many others, who saw her as an ambitious and vulgar upstart who threatened their interests and privileges. In 1951, she announced her intention to run for vice president alongside Perón, but faced fierce opposition from the military and the elite. She also suffered from cervical cancer, which had been diagnosed a year earlier.
Evita withdrew her candidacy, but continued to work until her health deteriorated. She died on July 26th, 1952, leaving behind a grieving nation. Her body was embalmed and displayed in a public wake that lasted for two weeks. She was given a state funeral, usually reserved for heads of state. Her body was then hidden and moved around for 16 years, until it was finally returned to Argentina in 1974.
Evita’s life and legacy have inspired countless books, films, songs, and even a musical. She remains a controversial and iconic figure in Argentina’s history and culture. She is revered by some as a saint and a martyr, and reviled by others as a tyrant and a fraud. But no one can deny that she was one of history’s most influential illegitimate children.