Thursday, May 1, 2008

"For the Love of Freedom" a Puerto Rican VOICE~

My interview with Melissa Montero, emerging filmmaker…

When I told a friend that I was writing a novel about women who start a revolution, he immediately told me about a young woman who was working on a film about real life revolutionary heroes.

The moment I saw the clip of the documentary, I knew her name would be one to remember.

Melissa Montero, aspiring Latina filmmaker, lives in Queens, New York and is of Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian heritage. She arrived to my home for the interview and my first impression was that she seemed shy, though once she started to speak; I knew she was a force to be reckoned with.

She's incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about social and political issues, particularly the inclusion of women in history. She stressed the importance of sharing knowledge about significant roles women have played in Puerto Rican history.

The working title for her latest project is "Our Women, Our Struggle."

Melissa shared that her biggest influences are her parents and grandparents because they kept the culture so alive in her family. She recalled being sent with her brother and sister to Puerto Rico every summer. Other major influences are the women in her documentary as well as, Don Pedro Albizu Campos and Esperanza Martel, a life long political activist in the community, who she considers to be a mom, mentor and major influence.

Exposure to the specific women in her film wasn't until her college experience where she says: "it's where my political transformation started."

However, she remembers being very passionate about injustice even in elementary school, saying, "I was always against injustice, I remember having similar views, but it was in college where I really became more radical."

"Our Women, Our Struggle" will be a compelling hour-long documentary that chronicles the lives of three Puerto Rican revolutionaries who dedicated their lives to the independence movement. They were women who fought to end social injustice. The documentary is based on the lives of Isabel Rosado, a 98 year-old member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, Lolita Lebron, long time Nationalist, now in her eighties, and Dylcia Pagan, former member of the defunct Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN).

Melissa is extremely proud of this project, telling me that what she hopes to achieve is basically telling their story – "a story told through their eyes." She wants the public to learn about the legacies these dynamic women have left, by having the stories told in their voices.

About the women and the film, she tells me, "they're each very interesting, conflicted and complex" but that it's also a love story… "It's a love story between these women and the island of Puerto Rico, a love for their nation."

Melissa shares her impressions of the three women: the first is Dona Isabelita. Melissa says "There really isn't much on her that can be found. There's nothing on her role in the independence movement or her life. I felt an urgency to do this - - people are starting to pass away."

She stressed the importance of gathering the facts of our history before the elders are gone - - elders who hold the key to our past, which are necessary, for us to unlock the doors to our future. Melissa really loved her time with Dona Isabelita saying that, "she reminds me of my great grandmother who past away when I was five. So strong, so open, such great personality. She told me a story about going to her house last summer. "Her hands are really strong, she has a real strong grip it felt painful when she shook my hand and Dona was laughing – I was like OMG – she's 99."

On Lolita, she says, "here's another great woman with a strong character. These are all women who are warriors and fighters." Melissa told me that Lolita is very sweet and that what she loves most about her is "that after all these years and through her transformation… her stand on Puerto Rico has not changed" that even in 2000 she got arrested for civil disobedience for Vieques.

When she told me about Dylcia, she shared how much fun she had with her. She brought Dylcia to her university to speak to the students and they ended up hanging out one night until 3:00am. "These women invite everyone to their homes, are accessible to the community and they are phenomenal women."

We talked about why she feels this is an important story to tell.

"When I started to really learn about the Puerto Rican independence movement, I read more about the contributions of men, which of course included the great Don Pedro who is one of the most prominent leaders and one of my heroes."

She respects and pays homage to the men, but was very curious as to where women fit into history, "a history where they have been excluded."

Melissa wants to bring to the forefront, the women that were involved but not documented or credited for their heroic acts.

"I have seen some documentaries on Puerto Rico but nothing that really focuses on the women."

She tells me that what she enjoyed most about this entire process were the interviews with the many people during the research for the film.

"I loved meeting historians and writers who shared bits and pieces of history which I didn't know. What I loved the most about this project was learning. Overall, what I loved the most was the learning process."

I asked her what she learned from each woman:

"What I took away from each woman: from Dona Isabelita is her passion to live, her passion to stay alive. She's going strong and she'll be 100 next month. She's just so alive. In one of her interviews she says, "yo quiero decir que yo naci hoy - - que yo naci ahora – para poder segir luchando siempre!" which translates to "I want to say I was born today - - that I was born now – so that I can keep fighting forever!" From Dylcia, it's her youthful spirit. She's a bug out. She can get down with anyone at any age. From Lolita, it's her strength and conviction."

For now, Melissa hopes to complete this film.

"I want to share, unfold and tell this untold story in a way that sparks inspiration and starts a conversation. I would love to reach people who don't have any idea or know anything about our history."

What she wants the audience to take away from the film, is the human side of these women. Melissa believes that when people think of nacionalistas or revolutionaries, they don't think of them as human beings who are regular people with hearts.

"There's more to them than picking up arms. These are real people - - who love freedom and that's what they fight for! I want people to see them as human, to see their character. It's not so much about whether or not your pro Puerto Rican independence - - it's more about the story of these women and their personal journeys."

If you are interested in donating you can reach Melissa at or

For more information or to make donations please visit:

We talk a lot about wanting to hear our stories told… here we have someone walking that talk.

Lets support her~


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