The English translation of dama cívica ( = civic lady) cannot convey the awe, the fear, the respect that that term invokes in Puerto Rico. I believe there is a formal organization called "Las Damas Cívicas", but a woman doesn't have to belong to it to be a true DC. The following description admittedly is an untrue generality, but a dama cívica will immediately recognize herself.

First, she sits on the right side of the church toward the front, if she attends Mass alone. She is well known in the town for her piety, a veritable pillar of the church. She is the keeper of public morality and is ready to punish any whose behavor is an affront to traditional values. High in her arsenal of weapons is gossip and the gentle art of shunning. On the other hand, she is the first to start a novena for the respose of souls. She is generous to her guests and to strangers.

She may feed those who work for the family, but she probably won't invite them to eat in her kitchen. Her home is always spotless even if she has to clean it herself. Contrary to the impression we get from Puerto Ricans living in the States, her home is extremely quiet and usually dark and subdued. The sun is always shut out. When she is out of the home she will carry a parasol and will frequently wear gloves. She wants to keep her skin light so that no one would say she has black blood. I have seen a grandmother rehearse her pedigree back to Spain to prove to the grandkids there isn't a taint of black in their veins.

She is the Puerto Rican repository of all that is honorable, dignified and fino. Without her, the island would have become a mere coffee republic without a heritage.

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