Juana Colón was born on March 27, 1886, on a coffee plantation in the Río Hondo sector of Comerío. She was the daughter of former slaves and experienced discrimination for her skin color and African descent. She made a living by washing and ironing clothes. She was never able to go to school, so she was illiterate her entire life. That did not stop Juana from developing a class awareness that led her to defend workers in Comerío who, like her, lived in poverty. She was influenced by the anarchist and socialist ideas that were catching on in the early decades of the 20th century. Along with hundreds of tobacco workers, she struggled for fairer salaries and better working conditions, militantly facing off against the large tobacco companies from the United States that were operating in Comerío. She played an important role in the big tobacco strike of April 1919. At that time, she became a true combatant and there were several attempts to kill her. She was arrested on several occasions, accused of rioting, and given large fines. For her efforts, she became known as the “Joan of Arc of Comerio.” She actively participated in politics, becoming an important leader in the Socialist Labor Party of Puerto Rico. From her position in the party she defended the rights of women to participate in public affairs and demanded suffrage for that sector of the population. In the 1930s, she was a true leader, actively campaigning among the tobacco workers to get them to recognize their right to vote.

She was an accomplished public speaker and spoke from various Socialist Party stages, where she used colloquial language of her class to attack and harangue the Puerto Rican sectors that abused their economic and social power. She was an outstanding folk healer, with a strong knowledge of natural medicine, and cured wounds on various parts of the body. She never charged for this work. In 1949, she participated in a grassroots movement that demanded school transportation for students in Comerio. She died in her hometown of Comerío on January 17, 1967.

Along with Luisa Capetillo, Juana Colón is considered one of the most outstanding women of the 20thcentury in defending the cause of Puerto Rican workers. Her combativeness in favor of just causes places her as an outstanding representative of popular resistance.

In recognition of her efforts, and in a grassroots movement that began at the Cirilo W. Meijers Cultural Center in 1985, the only academic high school in Comerío was named for her (1993). In memory of her life and work, the Juana Colón House was created in Comerío, and is dedicated to addressing the problems of women in the municipality from a perspective of gender.

Author: Wilson Torres
Published: June 17, 2015.

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