Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Lolita Lebron

Call her a hero or call her a terrorist. But as the leader of a Puerto Rican nationalist group that stormed the U.S. Capitol in 1954 — shooting and injuring five Congressmen — Lolita Lebron, who died Aug. 1 at 90, will likely be remembered as both.

In 1940, Lebron migrated to New York City as a young adult in search of opportunity. There she would find a cause so attractive that she was willing to kill and be killed for it. With that romanticized notion burning in her heart and a letter in her pocket that read, "My life I give for the freedom of my country," Lebron and three others stormed the House chambers and started shooting. She then unfurled her one-starred red, white and blue flag and screamed, "Viva Puerto Rico libre!" in protest of her nation's designation as a U.S. commonwealth only two years before.

Her punishment was a 56-year prison sentence, of which she served 25. She then embarked on a lecture tour of Puerto Rican population centers in the U.S. in an attempt to further her cause. Yet in each of the three plebiscites held since 1967 on the island's status, independence garnered no more than 4.4% of the vote.

A recent House bill proposing another referendum, supported by Puerto Rico's pro-statehood governor Luis Fortuño, doesn't foretell a realization of Lebron's dream. So the struggle to determine the island's future continues. Hopefully in peace.

Frances Romero

This text originally appeared in the Aug. 16, 2010 issue of TIME Magazine.