Lolita Lebrón’s death shifts attention to her writer granddaughter

Irene Vilar met her grandmother at her mother’s funeral, she tells New York’s Diario La Prensa. Gladys, Lebrón’s only surviving daughter, had just committed suicide. It wa 1977 and Vilar was a teenager. Her first meeting with her grandmother Lolita—who had received permission to leave prison to attend her daughter’s funeral—was ephemeral, but was not their only meeting. Since 1954 Lebrón had been imprisoned after she and other three Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire in Congress and hoisted a Puerto Rican flag, crying ¡Viva Puerto Rico libre!

Two years after meeting her granddaughter, Lebrón  was pardoned by president Jimmy Carter.

 “That’s how I grew up,” Vilar told the newspaper during a telephone interview from Colorado, where she now lives. “We all have pain and sorrow, especially when we come from families active in political struggles. I grew up with that image of persistence and strength.”

Vilar spent most of her adolescence without her mother, but when her grandmother was freed she was able to spend weekends with her, periods that allowed her to become the writer she is today. Lebrón wrote poetry (she authored three collections) and she shared with her granddaughter the memories of that afternoon when she entered Congress crying ¡Viva Puerto Rico libre! VIlar began to write down her grandmother’s memoirs when she was a student at the University of Syracuse. As she wrote, Vilar realized that  the story was not only that of her rebellious grandmother but also of her depressed mother and of herself, the child who grew up without a stable female model in the midst of a family conflict encompassing three generations.

That is when she told her grandmother that her book, which she published in a996 under the title The Ladies Gallery: A Memoir of Family Secrets, would not just be her biography, but also that of her daughter and granddaughter. Lebrón questioned her decision to turn family memoirs into literature. “If you publish that, you will do damage to the movement,” Lebrón told her granddaughter. “And I am the movement.”

Lebrón was estranged from her granddaghter until 2003, when Vilar got married and her grandmother offered the toast, thereby ending three generations of family conflicts.

Vilar was not able to attend her grandmother’s funeral.

For the original interview in Spanish go to

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