Latino Americans Blog

The Spirit of La Carlota Lives On

August 26, 2013 10:22 AM by Sara Monteagudo

Sara MonteagudpFor the past 200 years, solidarity among women of African, Spanish, and Indigenous backgrounds, collectively known today in the Americas as Latinas have sought to obliterate oppression whether it be with pen in hand or with a sword. One woman in particular, a Cuban freedom fighter known as La Carlota passed forward her spirit of abolition to generations that now expand two centuries.

Today, this spirit of freedom is expressed as leaders join forces to implement steadfast plans in aiding our youths in achieving the greatest form of empowerment: Critical thinking skills. School teachers, psychologists, administrators, and parent volunteers, are all present, to ensure that children in their local communities are receiving the best education possible, as this will arm them with the necessary skills and self-esteem to prosper in this fast-paced generation of global commerce and technology. And most importantly, a solid education will not only enable them to identify oppression when they experience it firsthand, but also to do something about it intelligently.

At P.S. 28, in Washington Heights, N.Y. I saw this magic take action during my time teaching there. All teachers gave 100% of themselves to the students of this struggling, working class community, having the children’s future in the forefront of their minds as they launched a new day. This collaboration among women to help the economically impoverished reach new heights is nothing new. Of course, there have been men in these efforts along the way, however, today I will speak about the women of the world who come together to make a difference.

In 1843, Cuban abolitionist, La Carlota, fought for the emancipation of plantation slaves. Even though La Carlota was of Yoruba heritage, the spirit of freeing the oppressed among Latinos has always transcended race, cultural heritage, and social class.

Carlota, a slave woman herself, went up in arms with a machete in hand to battle the oppressor face to face. It was at the 1843 slave uprising at the Triumvirato sugar mill in the Matanzas Province of Cuba that she was killed.

Around the same time that La Carlota, with her ax held up high was battling men face-to-face, an upper-class, Cuban woman of Spanish heritage, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, was publishing her anti-slavery novel, Sab in 1841. Avellaneda, (1814-1873), who was raised among slaves, was also quite vocal about her anti-slavery sentiments and she expressed these in her writings. In her novel, Avellaneda, emphasizes the arduous labor, abuse, and cruelty of the masters towards their slaves. It was clear to these 19th century women who and what they were fighting for. The wounds were physical and the enemy was the one with whip-in-hand. Then, La Carlota’s message was clear. Let my people go. Treat us like human beings, as we are just as entitled to freedom in commerce and in land ownership as the elite class is. Today’s La Carlota, regardless of the race or social class she is born into, knows that it is through the power of education that she will take the next generation of young men and women and mind-mold their way of thinking to benefit them, rather than to allow them to fall prey to those who would want to hold them down.

In the modern-day, anti-slave mentality, Young Adult novel, Cimarrona, (2013), I have linked the chain of oppression from yesterdays fetters to today’s shackles through the protagonist, Chabelis, who in the story is the daughter of La Carlota, representing her spirit that lives on. This teenster cimarrona not only represents the spirit of amazing freedom fighter Carlota that lives on, but she also speaks to our modern day youth, as they too many times must survive the trauma of violence in order to make a difference in the world without committing bloodshed themselves.

And the violence our youth experience today isn’t only physical or on the streets. They are subtly, yet quite sinisterly encouraged into a lifestyle of complacency and mediocrity as they are consumed with texting, playing video games, and watching mindless shows about zombies. Their 3-D world has become a 2-D existence when they could in fact be thriving in their communities and reaching pinnacles of success in their career paths. They aren’t making the necessary connections themselves between those freedom fighters who came before them and their current predicament of social freedom, to see the importance of keeping the spirit of fighting off oppression in the forefront of their psyches. Today, our modern-day La Carlota is the woman who battles the oppressor as it seeks to control the ideas and the actions of our youth through what is revealed and what is omitted in the media and in the educational development of curricula. She is the woman who has exchanged actions of violence in seeking justice for a solid education in the judicial field. The spirit of La Carlota is very much alive in women such as Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor and Florida’s 27th Congressional District Republican Representative, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who till this day fights for the freedom of Cuba.

Our Latino youth today must know that the spirit of La Carlota has lived on throughout the 20th century as whites and blacks marched in solidarity during the Civil Rights Movement, in a voice of freedom and equality for all. The spirit of La Carlota today is expressed through the women who have mastered the microphone as their weapon. She is alive in T.V. talk show hosts Cristina and Oprah, who have used their education as an expressive medium in reaching the oppressed in order to encourage them to rise above the herd mentality. The social media platform has also been a viable instrument in the dissemination of freedom as a way of thinking: Freedom of speech, freedom of will, freedom of choice.

Sara Monteagudo was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to a Puerto Rican mother and a Spanish(Gallego) father. She grew up in Cleveland, OH, Larchmont, NY, and in various cities of Spain. She holds a B.A. in World Arts and Cultures from UCLA and a Master’s of Science in Teaching Bilingual Education from Fordham University. She began her career path as a folklorist in 1992 under the mentorship of internationally acclaimed folkloristic researcher and dramaturg, Dr. Beverly J. Robinson, the right hand person, in Steven Spielberg’s production of The Color Purple. Sara has been identifying, documenting, and presenting Latino, African, and Asian diasporic experiences in the U.S. ever since. She soon realized that her heart was in creative writing, so she started including her folkloric findings in her screenplays and in her short stories. CIMARRONA is her first "fiction-lore" novel.

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