Isabel Freire de Matos
Biography of Isabel Freire de Matos
Isabel Freire de Matos was a writer, educator, journalist, and activist for Puerto Rican independence. Freire de Matos was the author of several children's books and the wife of Francisco Matos Paoli, a high-ranking member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.
Freire de Matos (birth name: Isabel Freire Meléndez) was born in the town of Cidra, Puerto Rico. There she received her primary and secondary education. During her years as a child she became interested in juvenile literature and poetry. After graduating from high school she attended the University of Puerto Rico where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in education.
During her years as a student at the university she became interested in the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and an advocate for Puerto Rico's independence. She continued her postgraduate studies in the UPR and moved to Paris, France for a year to study comparative literature at the Sorbonne. There she met Francisco Matos Paoli, a fellow independence advocate who in 1942 became her husband.
After she returned to Puerto Rico, she began to work in the public and private school systems of the island. She co-authored a children's book titled El libro Isla para niños (The island book for children) with her husband.
The written work of Freire de Matos's husband was influenced by the political situation going on the island at the time. On May 21, 1948, a bill was introduced before the Puerto Rican Senate which would restrain the rights of the independence and nationalist movements in the island. The Senate at the time was controlled by the PPD and presided by Luis Muñoz Marín approved the Bill. The Bill, also known as the "Ley de la Mordaza" (gag Law), made it illegal to display a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic tune, to talk of independence, and to fight for the liberation of the island. The Bill which resembled the anti-communist Smith Law passed in the United States, was signed and made into law on June 10, 1948, by the U.S.-appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero and became known as "Ley 53" (Law 53). In accordance to the new law, it would be a crime to print, publish, sale, to exhibit or organize or to help anyone organize any society, group or assembly of people whose intentions are to paralyze or destroy the insular government. Anyone accused and found guilty of disobeying the law could be sentenced to ten years of prison, be fined $10,000 dollars (US) or both. According to Dr. Leopoldo Figueroa, a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, the law was repressive and was in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees Freedom of Speech. He pointed out that the law as such was a violation of the civil rights of the people of Puerto Rico. In 1949, the Nationalist Party held an assembly in the town of Arecibo and named Paoli Secretary General of the party. Some of his duties as Secretary General of the party included the presentation of patriotic speeches. Due to Law 53, these duties placed her husband on a collision course with the U.S. government.
In September 1950, her husband traveled to the towns of Cabo Rojo, Santurce, Guánica and Lares, where he participated in Nationalist activities. On October 30, the Nationalists staged uprisings in the towns of Ponce, Mayagüez, Naranjito, Arecibo, Utuado (Utuado Uprising), San Juan (San Juan Nationalist revolt), and Jayuya (Jayuya Uprising). On November 2, 1950, the police arrived at their home in Río Piedras and searched for guns and explosives. The only thing they found was a Puerto Rican flag but, due to Law 53 (the Gag Law), this enabled them to arrest and accuse her husband of treason against the United States. The evidence used against him was the Puerto Rican flag in their home, and four speeches he'd made in favor of Puerto Rican independence.
On the basis of this "evidence" her husband was fired from his professorship at the University of Puerto Rico, and sentenced to a twenty-year prison term, which was later reduced to ten years. In jail, her husband shared his cell with Pedro Albizu Campos. Campos suffered from ulcerations on his legs and body caused by radiation, and her husband tended to his needs.
Her husband wrote patriotic poems on scraps of paper which were smuggled out of the prison by Freire de Matos. She tried to get them published and even though they were inoffensive, the context of the "Gag Law" and its intended effect, to silence all opposition made the poems take on a different meaning.
Her husband was released on probation on January 16, 1952. However, on March 2, 1954, after the Nationalists attack of the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. government ordered the wholesale arrest of Nationalist Party members including her husband, who was not involved in the incident.
In 1954, Freire de Matos founded the "Escuela Maternal Hostoniana" (Maternal Hostonian School) named after Eugenio María de Hostos". On May 26, 1955, after ten months in jail and in poor health, her husband was finally pardoned by Puerto Rican Governor Luis Muñoz Marín.
Freire de Matos continued to teach and write. In her college she established a creative experimental method in which she explored the balance between freedom and nature among individuals. She hoped that with her methods her students would develop positive attitudes and love for education. She hoped that her students had would fully develop their talents.
Among her written works are the following:
La poesía en la escuela elemental, (Poetry in elementary school) 1962
Poesía menuda, (Poetry menuda) 1965
ABC de Puerto Rico, (ABC of Puerto Rico) 1968
La casita misteriosa y otros cuentos, (The mysterious house and other stories) 1979
La brujita encantada y otros cuentos, (The enchanted little witch and other stories) 1979
Juego para los dedos, (A finger game) 1980
Isla para los niños, (An island for children) 1981
Eugenio María de Hostos para la juventud, Eugenio María de Hostos for the young) 1989
Ritmos de tierra y mar, (Rhythms of the earth and sea) 1992
La poesía y el niño, (Poetry and children) 1993
El teatro y el niño, (Theatre and children) 1995
El pajarito feliz, (The happy little bird) 1996
Los derechos del niño, (The rights of children) 1996
El cuento y el niño, (Story telling and children) 1997
Liza en el parque de las palomas, (Liza in the Park of the pigeons) 2000
In 1968, Freire de Matos collaborated as a co-author with Rubén del Rosario, in the publication of Antonio Martorell's "ABC de Puerto Rico". The publication is used in Puerto Rico's elementary schools. On 1971, she also collaborated with the publication of Fe Acosta de González's "Matemáticas modernas en el nivel elementa" (Modern Math at the elementary level.
Francisco Matos Paoli died on July 10, 2000 in their home in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. Freire de Matos died four years later on September 30, 2004. They were survived by two daughters, Susana Isabel and María Soledad, and four grandchildren.
There is a plaque, located at the monument to the Jayuya Uprising participants in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, honoring the women of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Freire de Matos' name is on the sixteenth line of the third plate.
My Love Reveals Objects
My love reveals objects
concealed in his fingers
splash me with stars
night shines like lightning
under the fingers of my love