For Puerto Ricans she was our Rosa Park and Fannie Lou Hammer, our Mother Jones and our Mother Teresa. She was a warrior, an activist, an educator an organizer while also being a Leader of a powerful community organization. She was a mother for her children and a mother for many of us who were lost children. She understood us, care for us, pushed us to be strong, provided support and contributed in so many ways to the sucess of many, many people. She was Evelina Antonetty.
There are individuals in our history that deserves volumes written about their lives, accomplishments, people they touched, institutions and organizations they helped built and other experiences. Such was the life of Evelina Antonetty, a Puerto Rican Woman that was one of my mentors, my friend, my second mother and my sister in struggle.
First you must know that Evelina was an exceptional organizer. We all now know the power of community organizers but Evelina was one of the first in East Harlem and the South Bronx.
Her best asset as an organizer was her personality. She was kind, understanding and compassionate. To move people from passivity to activism was her talent. As a person, she was strong and understanding. At the same time, Evelina was compassionate and when necessary, calculating. She was always a real ‘peoples’ person. Evelina’s concerns were for both the cleaning man and the bank president. She treated everyone with dignity and humility.
I first met Evelina during the 1975-1976 Struggle to Keep Hostos Community College open. As a result of a fiscal crisis, the City declared that the only bilingual college in the South Bronx would be closed. We rejected the “Budget realities” and began a massive protest movement.
When we took over the college for 20 days, Evelina and United Bronx Parents were our main supporters. They provided food, volunters and helped with day care. Evelina believed in “creative civil disobedience” and used it often. One of her mentors was Vito Marcantonio from East Harlem
I later participated with Evelina in takeovers of a public library that was slated for closing and a abandoned building which later became “La Escuelita”.
As an organizer Evelina understood the importance of food and nutrition. She was instrumental in establishing the Free Lunch program, the school meal program and other nutritional services. These programs also provided jobs for the community. Many young Puerto Rican activist began their employment with United Bronx Parents.
While fighting for these programs she understood the importance of meals as a way of people coming together to discuss strategies and develop alliances. A
good plate of rice and beans with pernil often stimulated creative tactics.
One of Evelina’s first campaigns was focused on the issue of community control of the Schools. She was a valiant woman in that struggle which actually resulted in Community School Boards(later eliminated). The whole concept of community control in the 60’s was a progressive empowering one..
Evelina learned her organizing skills as a young person working with Congressman Vito Marcantonio. She had the ability to communicate with people of all kinds and was very sucessful in building alliances. She used all kinds of tactics to advocate for her community-from the outrageous to more traditional apprencties. She gained the respect of many City Governments by providing excellent services to the community.
There are so many Evelina stories to tell. I am inviting all my readers to tell me their stories
I remember representing a group of tenants in East Harlem who were protesting lack of services. In a dispute with police, I was arrested for “iniciting a riot”, I was released just before midnight and arrived home very late. There on my answering machine was a message from Evelina and Lolita Lebron. After spending decades in prison for her fight for the indepence of Puerto Rico, Lolita Lebron, spent one of her first days of freedom with Evelina who shared her concerns for my safety and ecnouraged her to call me. Evelina was always there when you needed her. She deserves books, volumes, films, yearly memorials and everything else due to a heroine.
Its time for those thousands who were touched by Evelina to step up to the Plate. Time to let the future generations know who this woman warrior was. LETS START WRITING