Filmmaker Explores 'Our Women, Our Struggles' for P.R.'s Independence
By Robert Waddell
Filmmaker and reporter Melissa Zoe Montero comes to history with a fresh eye where many of her subjects are still alive. She has seen close up the power of Puerto Rican women who have fought to be free. Her latest film project, “Our Women, Our Struggle,” depicts the trajectory of the independence movement and the struggles of some of its most dedicated women.
Montero also documents how the United States worked hard to suppress, silence and surveill the independence movement. She concentrates on historical Puerto Rican women because, in Montero’s view, women have been a powerful liberating force in the struggle for Puerto Rico’s freedom. There is more women warrior than post-feminism here, but Montero brings a clear sense of her subject while being sensitive to the complexity of Puerto Rico’s unique and rich history.
“This is an hour-long documentary on Puerto Rican revolutionary women specifically Dona Isabellita Rosado, Dona Lolita Lebron and Dylcia Pagan and we’ll also be including different historians, writer, professors,” Montero said.
The time periods that all three women lived through will be discussed and analyzed in Montero’s documentary. She wants to put the women and the history into perspective.
“I know that there are so many women,” Montero said, “but Dona Isabellita is one of the women still alive and it was key to speak to her since there isn’t much video on her. It’s time for someone to document her.”
Of course in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence, Lolita Lebron is key and for more recent history, Pagan represents New York Puerto Ricans, but there’s a continuity of history and of the island to the mainland.
“I wanted to connect the island born with New York born Puerto Ricans,” said Montero who grew up in Long Island City, Queens and attended Hofstra University.
Fortunate for Montero’s project is that her historical subjects are still alive. There’s also a connection between the filmmaker and her subjects.
“These women are my mothers and my grandmothers and sisters,” she said. “As a young boricua woman, I’m also half Ecuadorian, sitting there researching. I wanted answers. And the more I met people, the more intrigued I was,” she said.
Montero wanted history to come alive because she found there were several films on Puerto Rican history and the independence movement. She cites Rosie Perez’s independent film “Yo Soy Boricua Pa Que Lo Sepas,” but Montero wants to speak about the movement and the roles of the women. Montero also wants to concentrate on the theme of the surveillance of these women and the Puerto Rican independence movement.
Before George W. Bush’s anti-terrorist domestic surveillance programs, she said, the Puerto Rican independence movement could have historically been used as a testing ground for intelligence, counter intelligence and the watching of American citizens.
“It connects to what happens today in the U.S,” Montero said. “Puerto Rico has always been under surveillance so FBI surveillance is nothing new but this can connect to average Americans and the Patriot Act. It’s like Puerto Rico was a guinea pig for a lot of things.”
Montero is obviously not an objective observer or documentarian because her political ideas align with the women in her film. However, she is careful that no history or idea be lost in the translation from interviewee to film. She wants to be as truthful to her subjects, actual events and history as possible even though her politics bend in the direction of the independentistas. She also believes that she is filling that deep gap from public schools where students are not taught Puerto Rican history.
She states that her film will pick up the historical and educational slack by showing, “details of certain stories, specific feelings that were felt and talking with writers and telling of what hasn’t been seen or heard before.”
Without a doubt Montero will include the influence of nationalist Don Pedro Albizu Campos, but she is especially concentrating on women’s contributions to the cause of Puerto Rican independence in the already 20 plus hours that she has shot. Montero will have her documentary completed in the next year, but still looks for necessary funding, the biggest challenge of putting this film together.
Montero looks into the commitment and sacrifice of these political women and sees heroes bent on making Puerto Rico better for themselves, their families and for all Puerto Ricans. As she speaks, Montero is visibly moved and inspired by the subjects of the film who serve as role models and heroes for her life.
“When you have a child,” said Montero, “there’s a different connection than a man. When you’re separated from your child and don’t get to raise him or your children die while you’re in prison, can be torture for those women…These women are courageous because they sacrificed their child for the cause.”
To support Melissa Zoe Montero’s film “Our Women, Our Struggle,” interested parties can donate money for her film project to Women Make Movies.com and can visit Montero’s website at www.ourwomenourstruggle.com.
Robert Waddell is a Bronx-based journalist who contributes his writings to Puerto Rico Sun.