Lydia Collazo Cortez, step-daughter of Oscar Collazo, and her two teenage sisters were alone in their Bronx apartment, their mother, Rosa, incarcerated in a prison cell. Every day they visited with her, taking her food and fresh clothes and feeling angry at the injustice of her confinement. Thanks to the generosity of a local Jewish grocer, they managed to survive.
Rosa Collazo, Lydia's mother, served eight months in a federal prison in New York merely for being the wife of Oscar Collazo at the time of his 1950 attack on Blair House. She describes her arrest: "I remember as if today, when they knocked on my door. I opened it. More than twenty FBI agents entered.... They showed me a photo of Oscar on the ground and told me they had just killed him.... I said that if he died, he died for the cause." Actually, Oscar survived and was himself imprisoned. Once released, Rosa continued her work with the Nationalist Party, helping gather 100,000 signatures to save Oscar from the electric chair. She worked also (unsuccessfully) for the release of Ethel Rosenberg, who had been her cell-mate.
At the time of the Nationalist's attack on Congress, Rosa was again accused of complicity in a conspiracy and was committed for seven years at Alderson Prison, West Virginia. There she met with Lolita Lebrón and Blanca Canales. "No one will ever pull me out of the struggle!" she avows. "For this I want to live until we are free."
In Lydia's youth, her family was in contact with other liberation movements all over the world, including Ireland, India and Israel. It was during the McCarthy period, when North Americans were struggling to shake off government persecution in their own homeland.
Lydia frequented the Catholic Worker, and had many friends there, mostly pacifists. "Their support in our struggle can never be paid in full," Lydia tells us. "We will be eternally grateful."
Though born in New York, the Collazo family were always patriotic Puerto Ricans. Lydia, through the influence of her family, developed an awareness of the Puerto Rican struggle for independence. She came to know Pedro Albizu Campos who, when released from the hospital, occupied an apartment below theirs, so that he could regain strength to return to Puerto Rico. Always an enthusiastic teacher, he taught her about the political and economic situation in Puerto Rico.
Lydia went to Puerto Rico as a promising young artist, finding her subjects in scenes of contemporary life, and of the political struggle. This had to provide her with a livelihood until her search for a job was successful. This was not easy. Independentistas then, as now, were looked upon with suspicion. Thousands of Nationalists were serving prison sentences. But her talent, vivacity and determination won her a post as a public school art teacher.
Lydia and her mother now live in a comfortable apartment, surrounded with beauty and culture: records of Sephardic Jewish and Puerto Rican music, Lydia's art work, and an extensive library. They hold on to their convictions with a minimum of harassment.
As for her mother, Rosa, a commemoration for her fifty years of patriotic work was held in 1984 in the Bar Association Building. Recognition was given for her efforts towards the commutation of her husband's death sentence.
Recently, now in her eighties, Rosa marched with us the full length of a pro-independence, anti-militarism demonstration. She proudly called out, as we walked, that we were Yankees in support of independence.