This modern-day list of Latina sheroes may be familiar; mention Evelyn Cisneros, Sonia Sotomayor, Antonia Novello, Lisa Fernandez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and people will almost immediately recognize the names. Many women have contributed to society, making a difference in culture, arts, sports, medicine, politics, and other areas.
Growing up, my generation was not as fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about females that impacted society in meaningful ways. Instead, we were considerably deprived of the accomplishments of others that looked like us; though it may not have been intentional, ignorance took a major role in the cover-up.
Sylvia del Villard is one of the numerous silent pioneers that paved the way for those that came after her. Unfortunately, she was an unsung Boricua shero that did not get the kudos deserved for her contributions as one of the best representatives of the Afro-Puerto Rican culture.
The native was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, in 1928 and lived a life of worthwhile celebrated success. Her accomplishments began at a young age. She graduated high school with a college scholarship awarded by the Puerto Rican government for her elite efforts. She chose to study at Fisk University in Tennessee, majoring in Sociology and Anthropology. Still, the pressures of an anti-black population and discrimination in the South forced her in a different direction. The native Boricua returned to her homeland to complete her studies at The University of Puerto Rico.
These were only the initial stages of a life full of adventure and education. De Villard traveled back to the States post-graduation. This time she landed at The City College of New York, where her passion for Africa was awakened.
Tracing her roots back to the Yoruba people of Nigeria opened the door to a deeper understanding of who and where she came from. The song and ballet group “Africa House” consequently gained its latest member and brought her to new heights of artistic expression. Eventually, she went on to start The Afro-Boricua Coqui Theatre, an institution that stands among the highest authorities of Black-Puerto Rican culture.
The Fundación Nacional para la Cultura Popular celebrated the activist, dancer, choreographer, actress, labeling her as “one of the greatest spokespersons for Afro-Puerto Rican culture.” She was widely known as a fierce and knowledgeable defender of her roots, fighting for equal rights by lending a voice for Afro-Black Puerto Ricans artists. Stepping up for those who did not have a voice became her gift, from speaking out against her people’s injustices to calling an end to bias casting methods such as blackface.
There are plenty of nameless sheroes walking our earth, but it does not make them any less powerful or heroic. Our responsibility as citizens of the world is to educate ourselves and others to continue promoting inspiration for our cultures.