Feminist Hero Friday: Blanca Canales, Puerto Rican Revolutionary

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by Abaki Beck

Blanca Canales was a Puerto Rican revolutionary who helped organize the Jayuya Uprising against the United States in 1950. Canales was born in Jayuya, moving back after college to work at a local school. In 1931, she joined the Nationalist Party. The same year, she helped found Daughters of Freedom, the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.

Throughout the 1930s, there were increasing hostilities between Puerto Rico and the United States. In 1948, the Ley de la Mordaza (gag law) was approved  by the Puerto Rican Senate that made it illegal to print, publish, or exhibit any materials in protest of the Puerto Rican government. It was similar to the anti-communist Smith Law in the United States. People who were found in violation of the Gag Law faced up to ten years of imprisonment. Nationalists, including Albizu Campos (a politician and leading figure in the Puerto Rican independence movement), argued that the Gag Law was in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Soon after, nationalists staged uprisings in several towns across Puerto Rico - including Jayuya. Canales, Elio Torresola, and Carlos Irizarry led a group of nationalists into Jayuya. Canales led a group to her house, where she had arms and ammunition. Now armed, she and her group attacked the police station and occupied it. Soon, they had occupied the post office, cut off phone lines, and raised a Puerto Rican flag at the town plaza, which at the time was outlawed. The Nationalists held the town for three days before surrendering. This protest against the United States and imperialism is known today as the Jayuya Uprising.

Canales was arrested for killing a police officer and burning down the post office, and was sentenced to sixty years in prison. However, after seventeen years she was fully pardoned by the Puerto Rican governor. She continued to be an advocate for justice until her death in 1996. Today, the house she was born in is a museum in Jayuya. She is also recognized in a memorial plaque in Mayanguez, Puerto Rico, that honors women Nationalists.

This Friday, we celebrate her as an unsung hero in resistance to United States’ imperialism. Her story - and the story of other revolutionary women like her throughout the world - must continue to be told and celebrated. Because of them, we are here.