BUENOS AIRES – Norma Graciela Moure got quite a surprise when searching online for information about her great-grandmother, discovering that her long-deceased relative is the subject of a new film about Spain’s first same-sex marriage.
“This is something new for me,” the camera-shy, 61-year-old Moure said, recalling that she learned just over a year ago that the great-grandmother she thought was named Marcela Carmen Gracia was in fact Marcela Gracia Ibeas, who defied the taboos of early 20th-century Spanish society by marrying Elisa Sanchez Loriga in 1901 in the northwestern Spanish city of A Coruña.
Elisa adopted a masculine identity to get around a legal ban on same-sex marriage, but their deception was later discovered.
Both women were persecuted in their homeland and were forced to flee, first to Portugal and later to Argentina, where all trace of them was lost, at least until now.
“By chance, on June 3 of last year I conducted an Internet search using the name of my (great-grandmother) that I knew, because I wanted to put together our family tree and needed more information,” Moure told EFE.
She never could have imagined what she would find when she pressed “Enter”: more than 5 million search results, many of them related to a then-upcoming biographical romantic drama film by Spanish director Isabel Coixet titled “Elisa & Marcela.”
The results also pointed Moure to a book by historian Narciso de Gabriel titled “Elisa y Marcela. Amigas y amantes” (Elisa and Marcela: Friends and Lovers) and to a photograph of the ancestor who she knew as Marcela Carmen Gracia.
After looking it over carefully with her daughters, they all agreed that there was a close resemblance between the pioneering woman in that photograph and the yellowish old photo they had of their great-grandmother.
But Moure said that for her and her family the story of Elisa and Marcela came as a complete surprise.
“No one knew anything.”
“My mother was the one who told me what little I know of Marcela and my grandmother, but all the information there was – papers, etc. were lost in a fire,” she said.
Moure also recalled that the story she had been told about her grandmother having been born in “Castilla la Vieja” and having been taken to Argentina at the age of one due to persecution in her homeland all seemed “very fantastical, really crazy.”
She then decided to write the book’s author, who confirmed that what she had been told about her ancestor was not far removed from reality.
“I sent him my mother’s birth certificate, which listed the names of my grandmother and my great-grandmother, my birth certificate, so he could see that there really was a link and that I wasn’t an opportunist ... and I sent him the photo I had of my great-grandmother,” Moure said.
The two then proceeded to communicate by e-mail and further explore her great-grandmother’s Argentine odyssey, and in particular the story of Marcela’s daughter (Moure’s grandmother), who may have triggered the entire life-altering story.
While the version of the story depicted in Coixet’s film is that of two women who fell in love, Moure and the descendants of Elisa who live in Buenos Aires province believe that Marcela had an affair with a married man and became pregnant and that Elisa agreed to the marriage to salvage her friend’s honor.
“Elisa had told (her relatives) that they had done what they did because she had given her blessing for my great-grandmother to have a relationship with that man, and when she got pregnant and he didn’t take responsibility (Elisa) felt responsible and arranged all of this,” Moure said.
“Whether it’s was that or that (Marcela) was lesbian or bisexual, because she had relationships with men and women, who can judge?” Moure said.
Elisa and Marcela have a street named after them in A Coruña, Spain, while a play was made about these two women and the 2019 film directed by Coixet that Netflix will distribute in 190 countries on June 7 will bring their story to an international audience.