Hispanic Online
September 15, 2004

Puerto Rican nationalist honored in Chicago

EFE News Services

The Puerto Rican community of Chicago hosted an elderly pro-independence militant - a heroine to some and terrorist to others - to dedicate to her the renovation of one of the city's most prominent murals.

Located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, the colorful mural "Unidos para triunfar/Together We Overcome" was touched up by its designer, U.S. artist John Weber, and "re-dedicated" Tuesday to Lolita Lebron.

The Puerto Rican Cultural Center invited Lebron, 85, to the ceremony, held exactly 25 years after she was released from prison.

"Lolita's presence is very important because it represents a chapter in the history of Puerto Ricans," said Jose Lopez, executive director of the center.

He said this mural, five meters (16 feet) high and 14 meters (46 feet) wide, and others painted in Chicago in the early 1970s depict the history of Puerto Ricans in the United States, "their struggles, achievements and needs."

An estimated 15 percent of Chicago's Hispanic population is of Puerto Rican origin.

Lebron was one of four pro-independence militants convicted of leading a March 1, 1954, armed attack on the U.S. Congress to protest what they claimed was U.S. "colonization" of Puerto Rico. Five legislators were wounded in the attack.

She was imprisoned until 1979, when she was pardoned by then-President Jimmy Carter.

"I'm not going to cry because I refused to cry during 25 years in prison to show that I was not defeated," Lebron said during the ceremony.

The mural had been restored and modified once before in 1974, when a coffin was added as a posthumous homage to Puerto Rican community activist Orlando Quintana, who died in a clash with police.

According to Weber, the only change in the second renovation was to add a word to the phrase: "Housing is the problem," so that it now reads: "Housing is still the problem."

Although neighborhood gentrification has pushed Puerto Ricans out and attracted more affluent whites, Weber said he still found support for the project.

Weber, an art professor at the University of Elmhurst, is considered one of the leaders of community art in Chicago.

Last year he contributed to murals painted in the entrance hall of the Roberto Clemente High School, also located in the Puerto Rican community. jm/jg/mc

Copyright (c) 2004. Agencia EFE S.A.