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‘Ellas’ and How They Represent Puerto Rican Women

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

Even though Women’s History Month is over, we must always commemorate women all year round; those who have stood out and left their mark by doing what they loved, while at the same time defying societal expectations. 

In an effort to help fill the apparent void of outstanding boricua women in our history, Editorial Destellos published a book called Ellas: historias de mujeres puertorriqueñas. The book, illustrated by Mya Pagán, highlights the short biographies of 65 chosen women, written in both Spanish and English. 

Ellas is made by Puerto Rican women and dedicated to “all the girls and women who (have) fought and continue to fight for equality.”

Although there are many recognizable names in the book, here are five lesser known Puerto Rican women that deserve the spotlight as well:

Amanda “The Real Deal” Serrano

Amanda Serrano is a Puerto Rican boxer who is (as of now) the only boxer in the world that has won nine titles in different weight divisions. Her wins have surpassed those of world-famous boxers such as Miguel Cotto and Tito Trinidad. Her sister, Cindy Serrano, inspired her to get into boxing. Right now, they are the only sisters in the history of boxing that have won world championships at the same time. Recently, Serrano, who is also a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, became triple world featherweight champion.

Carmen Zorrilla

After a medical professor told her not to study medicine because she would be taking up a man’s spot, and a conversation with her first-grade teacher who reminded her she had to make the most of her potential, Carmen Zorrilla decided to become a doctor. While she was pregnant and working at UPR’s Medical School, the doctor collaborated with other colleagues in a study about pregnant women diagnosed with HIV. Her contributions to the investigation and the medical field as a whole led to the confirmation of the study results and helped reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission rates. They also managed to offer free HIV testing for pregnant patients, along with establishing the first universal detection program in the world.

Felicitas “La Prieta” Méndez Gómez

This young woman born in Juncos, Puerto Rico, managed to end racial segregation in Californian schools! Her kids, along with others, were being discriminated because of their skin color and Latinx heritage at their schools. Felicitas Méndez Gómez organized a group of families to file a lawsuit against the state of California for racial discrimination. The Méndez V. Westminster case won in Méndez’s favor; ending, for the first time, school racial segregation in a state.

Gisela “Macha Colón” Rosario Ramos

Even though Gisela Rosario Ramos grew up listening to really famous artists like Madonna or Prince, she did not feel represented by any of them. As an Afro-Latina and queer woman, and because of the lack of representation she perceived, she created the persona of Macha Colón. This woman who celebrates life is outspoken, lives freely without remorse, and is conceived in a way that we can all relate to as fellow boricuas. In Rosario Ramos’s work with filmmaking, editing, and producing, her film Mi Santa Mirada was the first Puerto Rican short film to compete at the Cannes Film Festival for The Palme d’Or, one of the most prestigious awards in the filmmaking industry.

Herminia Torres García

Daughter of Ana Jacobina García, who became a free woman in 1873 after the abolition of slavery, Herminia Torres García became the first female practicing lawyer and first judge in Puerto Rico. Torres García formed part of the second class of University of Puerto Rico’s School of Law. She dedicated her career to defending incarcerated women’s rights. She continued her job as a judge by protecting human rights, especially those of many marginalized communities.

Julia de Burgos, Ileana “iLe” Cabra Joglar, Felisa Rincón de Gautier, Luisa Capetillo, Lola Rodríguez de Tió, Martha Ivelisse “Ivy Queen” Pesante, Mayra Santos Febres, and Rita Moreno also stand among other recognizable women that are part of this book. Their stories need to be shared as a reminder that Puerto Rican women just like us have been doing incredible deeds and achievements since forever. 

Ellas stood out for doing what they believed was right and creating a path for future generations. Ellas represent what the Puerto Rican woman can achieve when we believe in ourselves. Let’s aspire to be like ellas someday.

Laleska is majoring in journalism at the UPR Rio Piedras Campus. Loves travelling, fashion, reading books and sleeping. You can always find her with a smile on her face!