A poet, Muna Lee was also a leader in the movement for women's rights in Puerto Rico. In 1928 she became the first woman to address the Pan-American Conference's plenary session (below left). That historic address included demands for a treaty guaranteeing the equality of women throughout the Americas and contributed to the creation of the still-active Inter-American Commission of Women, which has been responsible for the promulgation of a number of conventions on the rights of women in the Americas. Muna Lee's own reporting of the 1928 plenary session is available here.
Perhaps equally important to her work for women in the Americas was Lee's contribution to greater cultural understanding between and throughout this region. In this vein, she translated the work of important Latin American poets and served as a cultural affairs specialist for the U.S. State Department. In regard to her poetry translation, she stated that there is
no better way to develop friendship between the United States and Latin America than to translate and publish the literature of each region for them.Indeed, after reading her translation of Ecuador's most esteemed poet of the time, Jorge Carrera Andrade, a reader stated: "Thank you for introducing me to Andrade. We all need to know each other better, we need it badly. We need it more than anything else in the world."
I would like to take this opportunity to dedicate this post to Muna Lee and to thank her for helping us all know each other better. For those of you interested in reading more, see Jonathan Cohen's biography of Muna Lee. (Pan-Americas plaque above right, from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, is from an illustration by A. Raphael Beck)