NEW BOOK DEPICTS LIFE OF PUERTO RICAN HEROINES

In Nationalist Heroines: Puerto Rican Women History Forgot 1930s-1950s (N.J.: Markus Wiener Publishers, Inc., 2016, 347 pp.), Puerto Rican historian Olga Jiménez de Wagenheim not only reminds her readers of the fact that Puerto Rican women were not (and still are not, allow me to add) invisible to our oppressor in the course of our struggle for independence from Yankee imperialism, but also guides us by the hand through a profusely and adequately documented exposition that provides a panoramic view of our most recent political history.

The book pays tribute to sixteen women, fifteen of which were persecuted and incarcerated for having participated or just seeming to the Invader to have participated in the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico’s 1950s armed struggle, plus one who heroically survived the 1937 Ponce Massacre. Regarding that self-imposed limitation, Jiménez de Wagenheim says she is “aware that other Puerto Rican women have been imprisoned for their political ideals since the 1950s and also merit an in-depth study of their deeds and contributions to the cause of Puerto Rico’s independence” and adds: “Regret not being that scholar.” In addition, she provides a brief and vivid introduction with a much needed account of the objective conditions that led to the 1950 insurrection against U. S. tyranny.

Although the title indicates that it is about Nationalist women, she justifiably includes one who was not: pacifist Ruth M. Reynolds, from The Black Hills of the Lakota natives, who played a very important role in our struggle, but was not a member of the Nationalist Party ―a point Jiménez de Wagenheim does make clear. On the other hand, the book’s subtitle, Puerto Rican Women History Forgot 1930s-1950s, invites a semantic analysis, for it could be argued that these compañeras were not forgotten by History, insofar as the Peoples, their leaders, and their historians are the ones who forget. Furthermore, most of them seem to have been forgotten, not all of them.

Jiménez de Wagenheim, for long a member of the Puerto Rican diaspora who, although in the monster’s belly, has held fast to her own family surname and even to its graphic accent, is no newcomer to these endeavors, having published books and articles on other aspects of Puerto Rico’s political history, including our rebellion against the Spanish empire. Above all, she has done so with utmost care and respect for historical facts, a methodology some authors and even some critics seem to shun. For this book, she availed herself of primary sources such as public documents, most of them only recently made available, written testimonies, and tape-recorded as well as personal interviews with sources which, contrary to some authors, she duly identifies.

However, although evidently quite fond of details, Jiménez de Wagenheim avoids mentioning meaningful events if only, in this particular case, at least in bibliographical notes. Such is the case of the Rhoads scandal ―very likely one of the reasons the Nationalist party resorted to armed struggle―; Albizu’s claims of exposition to radiation ―which Carmín Pérez and Isabel Rosado mention in their interviews as does Rosa Collazo in her memoirs―; and the insanity diagnosis governor Muñoz Marín ordered specially for the Nationalist leader in order to counter those claims.

On the other hand, this book’s abundance of biographical data is such that, despite my having conversed now and then with nine of the women here portrayed and having interviewed most of them decades ago, there is an array of facts I have come to learn only from reading the meticulous narrative it contains.

Despite its use of the verb “assassinate” in reference to the attempt by freedom fighters to execute President Truman and to assertions regarding Albizu’s state of health while in the U.S. that can be refuted on the basis of the historical record, Nationalist Heroines: Puerto Rican Women History Forgot 1930s-1950s is a reliable source of knowledge about our plight under U.S. imperialism. Written in English, it not only will tend to strengthen even more the cultural and political ties between Puerto Ricans in our motherland and those in the U. S. and elsewhere, but also will illuminate other readers who are just beginning to learn about our existence as a subjugated Caribbean nation.

Based on experience, one can reasonably expect the Puerto Rican Independentist Party to go out of its way to make sure that it is widely distributed throughout the Island.

Leave a Reply