On March 9, before a crowd of over 100, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC) organized a multifaceted International Women’s Day celebration that was intergenerational, educational, and of symbolic importance for our community.
The event began with opening comments by the Director of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School, Lourdes Lugo, who passionately conveyed the historical role of Puerto Rican women in the independence movement. As part of the “100×35” campaign, Lugo also spoke on the example of national poet and leader Juan Antonio Corretjer, who supported the women’s liberation struggle in Puerto Rico, which at his time was very uncommon. Her comments were followed by a brief, but informative presentation by the coordinator of the National Boricua Human Rights Network, Michelle Morales. Morales spoke on the issue of incarceration, as specifically experienced by the female Puerto Rican political prisoners during which they suffered blatant human rights violations. Some of the audience members were visibly impacted by their story of hardship, but even more so by their unbreakable love of freedom.
The program continued with a courageous presentation by the students of the Lolita Lebrón Family Learning Center describing a project they engaged in through their Women’s History course. The project, which touched on stereotypes women face on a regular basis. A member of Batey Urbano’s coordinating collective, Janeida Rivera, stressed the need to include LGBTQ realities in the discourse of feminism, which she argued must combat not only sexism, but also heterosexism and homophobia.
Along with presentations, the IWD event also featured several cultural acts, the first of which was several scenes from the new play, “Crime Against Humanity.” These scenes, preformed by young Boricua women, brought further to life the experiences described by Michelle Morales.
Another highlight was the hilarious and entertaining performance by local Puerto Rican poet, Johanny Vazquez Paz. She recited works from her new book, Old Streetwise Poems, which is a collection of poems based on her migration to the US and her experience living in Chicago’s Puerto Rican community. In addition, Judy Diaz recited two poems by Juan Antonio Corretjer as homage to his centennial and commitment to the women’s struggle.
The final portion of the Sunday morning event was a walk to the Adalberto Methodist Church. At the church, Emma Lozano, president of Centro Sin Fronteras, gave a powerful account about the deep solidarity between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, particularly as expressed by the longstanding relationship between activists from the PRCC and CSF. Following her, all present were moved by sincere words of Flor Crisostomo, who is currently living in sanctuary at the church because of the broken immigration laws of the US. Crisostomo, who has picked up the torch after Elvira Arellano was deported last August, provided a touching account of her experience as an undocumented indigenous woman and the impact of NAFTA on Mexico. She concluded her comments to a standing ovation by all present.
International Women’s Day on Paseo Boricua proved to be a historic moment for participants and the organizers who hope to continue to make this community event part of the annual events in our community.