Camila felt her heart racing as she stood up and walked to the microphone. She walked hand in hand with her daughter Melita. It wasn’t like her to speak in public, in front of strangers. She had seen politicians using megaphones and microphones when they came to Naranjito begging for votes. They always looked so distant, so señorial. Now it was her turn.
She had to speak out. She had traveled all night and most of the morning to attend the meeting in San Juan. The governor had ordered for them to be provided with any assistance they needed but these gestures tended to be more symbolic that real. So, Camila and her daughter walked for hours to attend the meeting. She forced herself to speak.
“My husband is working in a farm in Michigán” stated Camila almost as if explaining why she was alone with her daughter. “He is doing his duty for us, for his family and his country.”
“Mario, my only son, is in Korea. He only wanted to do his duty. He is there for us, for his country. Now they tell us that he is a coward, that he refused to fight. They say the same about your sons, husbands and fathers. That is why you are here. But we know better, they are not cowards. They are our men, and they are brave men.”
The over two-hundred women in the audience nodded their heads in approval, some clapped, other said, “Sí son valientes!” A chant started to grow louder and louder. “Let them fight, let them fight.”
Camila felt Melita’ sweaty hand in hers and felt at ease.
“We rather see them dead, killed in the fields, covered in honor, than to return with the stigma of cowardice. We demand they let them return to the battlefield and prove they are not cowards!”
That was but a piece of a long speech among many. But that was the headline the island’s newspapers chose. “Preferimos verlos muertos que en deshonra.” “Mothers and Daughters of Soldiers Accused of Cowardice Demand they Are Returned to the Fight”
Two days later, the whole regiment received copies of the island’s papers. The declarations lifted the spirits of the ninety Puerto Ricans awaiting court martial for cowardice before the enemy. Some smiled and laughed, some wept.
Sargent Camacho read out loud: “Doña Camila de González from Naranjito led the meeting… Corporal González, is that your mother?”
“Yes, she is sergeant, she is my mother,” said Mario.
“She is a brave woman son, you should be proud.”
Mario was proud indeed. Camacho continued reading the paper and repeated Mario’s mother name and comments.
Mario and the other soldiers had felt isolated. They had feared they would not be looked upon as men anymore. They had feared no one would believe their story. How could they face their mothers, their wives, their children? How could they return to their communities? Communities so small and close everyone knew each other. Now they knew they were not alone. Relatives, friends, strangers, everyone was behind them. They were not alone.