It was the last months of 1998 and through the wide streets of the Bronx, in New York City, endless gusts of breeze were running like unbridled steeds, announcing the arrival of an inclement winter, which would precede the autumn, in full swing in those days. A group of terrified passersby, coming from the farthest reaches of the Dominican border, were rushing towards the facilities of Hostos Community College, a prestigious New York academic center that would serve as a refuge, if I may use the term, in a first stopover upon their arrival from the airport.
Most of them, newcomers to these climatological matters, stampeded into the facilities of the hospitable -and warm- house of studies and, after mitigating cold and hunger, thanks to the diligent help of the hosts, from that moment on and over the course of the following days, the newcomers concentrated on the development of a marathon series of events in which meetings followed one after the other, exhibitions, round tables, debates and approaches in search of support for the communities of the Dominican-Haitian border and in the demand for measures and legislative provisions that would contribute to the socio-economic development of that impoverished and forgotten region, located to the west of the Dominican Republic, where the Homeland is born.
The heterogeneous group in question was made up of a hard-working and experienced battalion of social, cultural, peasant and community activists, writers, lawyers, educators, journalists, folklorists and artisans. In short, an army ready to raise up the most positive expressions of their region and, above all, ready to denounce, before the Iron Babel and the world, the needs and misfortunes suffered by the humble people of the border due to the indolence and lack of official support, mainly from the Dominican authorities and the business community.
Loaded with belongings, archaeological samples of the extinct Taino race, jars and other clay utensils, ‘jumiadora’ lamps and an endless number of household items for domestic use in the rural area, but driven by an unbending conviction, we saw her, on that occasion and for the first time, carrying a motley display of handicrafts, made by the people of the border. For his incessant action, he resembled an imperturbable worker ant; or, rather, a bee, one of those that work all day long to sweeten the life of humanity. Then I discovered that, besides being strong-willed, she was tough and imposing. Tough and invincible like the Candelón or the Campeche, so common in her native land.
And, overcoming the capacity of astonishment, before the dozens of students and general public that swarmed in the classrooms and corridors of the academic center, participating in the exhibitions and lectures and knowing the benefits of the distant Dominican border region, that unbendable woman of whom I speak, without pompous surnames, academic titles or bureaucratic positions, taught us all, the true love and attachment to the cultural and family roots that characterize us as a nation.
Without stopping to think about obstacles, he managed to whip up an aromatic roasted coffee, strained in a rustic strainer and served to the public; live and direct! With his own hands, he made palm cane “macutos”, mats, ropes, hats and other utensils for rural use -among other minutiae- and, to the delight of some Dominican students from Monte Cristo who were enjoying the cultural show, he made some fearsome “fuetes” (the kind used in the carnival of the city of El Morro), The “fuetes” (those used in the carnival of the city of Morro, in the representation of the Bulls and Civilians) that, resounding throughout the august academy with their shrill clicks, became the main attraction -and letter of introduction- of the border delegation, in the course of the following days.
That unforgettable woman I am referring to was called Antonia Pérez de Solano; but her imprint, her actions, her entrepreneurship and work capacity, together with her virtues and her proverbial character, made her known in the course of her profitable life as Dona Nena.
That North-Border Fair in New York at the end of 1998 concluded successfully, to the satisfaction of its organizers and, among other things, left as one of the main achievements the approval of Law 28-01 that gave way to the creation of the Special Border Development Zone, covered by a series of incentives and tax facilities for the installation of agro-industrial companies in the border region, recently renewed in the National Congress, with the new name of Law 12-21.
Like the rest of the members of the delegation, Nena Solano returned to the community of her dreams, there in Palo Blanco, on the border between the provinces of Monte Cristi and Dajabón, to continue fighting for improvements for the benefit of her region and her homeland.
Because, it is worth mentioning that the one I am talking about, accumulates in her record a whole history of courageous actions in defense of her people that, at times, have even bordered on recklessness: being just a young girl of rural origin, but of imposing character, gallant and determined, as her children remember her, she was able to tell the fearsome dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, with all determination, bluntly and to his own face, that in Palo Blanco, there was no school ‘because the government officials were not in their own business’. And, in response, the ruler appointed her, ipso facto, to the post of teacher, so that she could execute, by herself, what she was demanding tooth and nail for her community.
(The construction of the school building, the purchase of school supplies, uniforms, food, and other minutiae, not only for the infants but also for adults in the literacy process, would be taken care of by herself in the course of the next decades, using her creativity, tenacity and great capacity for convincing. But that is another story).
Nena was a passionate activist for peasant causes and in defense of landless day laborers, in the style of the agrarian leader and martyr Florinda Soriano -Mama Tingó. She conceived, managed and achieved the construction of the school, church, Mother’s Center, tubular well to obtain water, neighborhood road and an endless number of works for the benefit of her community, in whose walls and spaces the sweat and the efforts of this hardened woman are reflected.
As a mother and wife, together with her husband Rafael Solano García, she developed a large family of 10 children (2 females and 8 males), whom she encouraged and supported in the cultivation of knowledge, moral values and learning and who, at present, are excellent professionals and good men and women who fill the family and their community with pride.
In short, by her actions and her dedication to work for the benefit of humble people, Mrs. Nena Solano became, without realizing it and without intending to, a paradigm and role model of what a true noroestana woman should be: Striving, honest, family forger and fighter for the benefit of her people and her community.
Following a tradition that is already the norm in the region, these days work is progressing for the celebration, in the city of Dajabón, of the 3rd Binational Fair of Commerce, Eco-Tourism and Production, ‘Frontera Viva’, sponsored by the Agency for the Economic and Territorial Development of Dajabón -ADETDA-, the Institute for the Development of the Northwest -INDENOR- and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce -MIC-.
This event constitutes an embrace of solidarity and a stimulus to the agro-business development of the people on both sides of the border (that is why it is binational), in which we will have the exhibition and sale of agricultural and handicraft products made by micro-entrepreneurs of the region. We will also see offers from entities dedicated to the promotion of ecotourism, presentation of local artists, pictorial exhibitions, evenings and lectures by writers, folklorists and other representatives and promoters of art and regional culture.
Making use of the duty to give honor to whom honor deserves and in attention to the abundant merits of the distinguished lady from the northeast of whom we speak, in a fair and wise measure, ADETDA decided to dedicate this 3rd fair as a tribute to Antonia Perez de Solano -Dona Nena-, In memoriam, which fills us with joy and satisfaction.
In the course of this event, to be held from August 26 to 29, different aspects of the life of this combative woman, who died in 2016, who made an apostolate of the needs of the humble people, will be reviewed. Among other things, a mural with her image will be unveiled in the premises of the Mothers’ Center of her community of Palo Blanco, which, from now on, will also bear her name.
I think that the best way to honor and venerate this community leader of the Northwest Line is to know her history, with the intention of emulating her and following her example.
I hope that the people of Dajabon and the surrounding towns will participate massively in this binational fair, in support of the socioeconomic development of our towns and in just and warm remembrance of Dona Nena.