CHRONOLOGY 100 YEARS
Rafael Viera: the Forgotten Founder
Little is known about the first three years of the weekly La Prensa, beyond the fact that its founder, Spaniard Rafael Viera y Ayala, published the first issue on Oct. 12, 1913. Viera was born in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, in 1880, and arrived in New York via Havana in 1910. According to a document from the Spanish Embassy in Washington, Viera founded a newspaper calledArte in Cuba. With La Prensa, he set out to counteract “the bad doctrines published in several Spanish-language anarchist newspapers in New York City.” After a rough beginning, Viera gave up on the newspaper in less than four years. The earliest editions that have survived date to 1917. By then, Chilean journalist Alfredo V. de H. Collao was the president and managing editor. In 1920, Rafael Viera co-directed another Spanish-language weekly in New York, La Gaceta, with Puerto Rican nationalist Vicente Balbás Capó. That venture was also short-lived. Over the next few decades and up to his death in New Orleans in 1972, La Prensa and its successor, El Diario/La Prensa, did not reflect the role of Viera y Ayala in Hispanic journalism in New York.
The Jones Act and Puerto Ricans
On March 3, 1917, La Prensa reported the passage of the Jones Act, which granted U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans. The space dedicated to this news in the weekly was small, as the paper was focusing on the war in Europe, the Mexican Revolution, the revolt in Cuba and the problems of the recently inaugurated Panama Canal. However, this would turn out to be a seminal event for New York’s Latino community because it ensured the continuous arrival of Spanish speakers over the next few decades, regardless of immigration restrictions. With the U.S. takeover of Puerto Rico in 1898, numerous Puerto Ricans moved to New York, mainly to Brooklyn. In 1917, the migration of Boricuas accelerated and concentrated around the Jewish area of East Harlem, where the Puerto Rican enclave known as Spanish Harlem began to develop. The first election in which Puerto Ricans in New York were able to vote was the mayoral election of 1917. A group of Puerto Ricans led by nationalist Julio J. Henna supported the re-election of Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, who lost to Democrat John Francis Hylan.
Hispanic Institutions Thrive
La Prensa was born during a decade when Hispanic cultural and artistic institutions flourished in New York. The three most important ones survive to this day: the Hispanic Society, founded in 1909 by philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington in Washington Heights; the Hispanic Institute, founded by Federico de Onís at Columbia University in 1920; and the American Association of Teachers of Spanish, founded by Lawrence A. Wilkins in 1917, which became the first in the country dedicated to the study of a modern foreign language. Its foundation coincided with growing interest in the language that emerged when the United States strengthened its trade relations with Latin America during World War I. The classes were so successful that a 1916 New York Herald article claimed that in the city, “everyone speaks Spanish.” As La Prensa reported in 1918, Mayor Hylan said that Spanish “should be the first foreign language studied by our youth.” La Prensa tried to make the most of this trend: In 1917, it advertised language lessons in its pages, billing itself on the frontpage as “The best medium to practice Spanish.”
La Prensa Becomes a Daily
In 1917, José Camprubí, a Spanish engineer with Puerto Rican roots, bought the weekly. Camprubí was president of the Unión Benéfica Española (UBE), one of the city’s main Hispanic organizations, which was founded in 1914 and sponsored by the Spanish government. In November 1917, he moved La Prensa to what would be its headquarters for half a century: 245 Canal Street. On June 4, 1918, La Prensa became a daily — back then, the only Spanish-language one in the United States. Shortly thereafter, it would have its own printing presses. Camprubí invested almost $150,000 in the company, but he didn’t completely dedicate himself to running it until 1921, when he left the UBE. Collao remained the president and editor until 1920, when he moved to Santiago, Chile to head La Prensa’s South American office. Over the next few decades, Camprubí consolidated La Prensa as the country’s most important Spanish-language daily, distributing it internationally. However, he was unable to accomplish some of his most ambitious projects, like building a Spanish hospital in New York—a dreamed-of project for the UBE that had the support of King Alfonso XIII—or building a Hispanic development in Lakewood, New Jersey.
La Prensa and World War I
The first mission José Camprubí had was helping Hispanics drafted into the army to fight the Great War in Europe. In May 1917, the Selective Service Act established a mandatory draft for all military age men. As Camprubí explained years later, “Many hundreds of Spaniards, Cubans, Mexicans, etc. went to jail as deserters or were taken by force to camps.” The Unión Benéfica Española opened a legal services office, the Spanish Local Law Board, to help with those cases. “So many people came that it became impossible to take care of them and they had to give them a number and tell them they would get a call. Because of that, a newspaper became necessary and I bought La Prensa.” Thanks to its defense of immigrants, La Prensa established its reputation for community service. This reputation grew in October 1918, when it reported daily about the devastating San Fermín earthquake in Puerto Rico. Bernardo Vega, one of the great chroniclers of the early Puerto Rican experience in New York, praised La Prensa for its work. However, other Puerto Rican activists, like brothers Jesús and Joaquín Colón, often criticized the paper for not supporting the Puerto Rican community.
Artists of la Raza
On Oct. 12, 1917, La Prensa organized the first Fiesta de la Raza at the Astor Hotel to commemorate the discovery of America. Until then, only Italians had celebrated Columbus Day, which soon became one of the year’s big Hispanic events. In May 1919, La Prensa sponsored another very memorable event: the Juegos Florales at Carnegie Hall. The writers who received awards were Spaniard Jesusa Alfau and Dominican Manuel Florentino Cestero, both contributors of the newspaper. Puerto Rico’s first elected governor Luis Muñoz Marín, who back then was a young poet, received an honorable mention. Events like the 1916 worldwide premiere of the first opera in Spanish at the Metropolitan Opera House, “Goyescas” by Enrique Granados, contributed to the peak of Spanish culture in the city. Its success opened the doors of Broadway for Spanish composers like Quinito Valverda and the Quintero brothers. Other renowned artists of the time were dancers like La Argentina and siblings Elisa and Eduardo Cansino (the father of Hollywood star Rita Hayworth), and singers like Hipólito Lázaro from Spain and Carmen García Cornejo from Mexico. In 1915, promoter Jacinto Capella founded a zarzuela company in New York. But it wasn’t until 1918 that actor Manolo Noriega established a permanent company.
New York, Center of Latin American Power
In the late 19th century, New York became the center of operations for Caribbean patriots José Martí and Eugenio Maria de Hostos. Later, it continued to have a great influence on Latin America. From the pages of La Prensa, Dominican Manuel F. Cestero denounced the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916-1924) and the military government of Captain Knapp. Cestero and Puerto Rican Vicente Balbás Capó, member of the Caballeros de La Raza de José de Diego organization, requested support from Spain to counteract the Monroe Doctrine of U.S. domination over the hemisphere. Two of the main figures in the struggle to regain Dominican sovereignty, Ambassador Francisco J. Peynado and Juan Bautista Vicini Burgos (provisional president from 1922 to 1924), were journalists. In New York, they led Las Novedades, a weekly rival of La Prensa from 1914 to 1918. Latin American politicians have always been active in the city. In 1916, New York was home to more former Latin American presidents that at any other time in its history. Among them: General José Manuel “El Mocho” Hernández and General José Cipriano Castro Ruiz (Venezuela); General José Santos Zelaya (Nicaragua); General José María Maytorena, Pedro Lascuráin, Francisco Carbajal and Roque González Garza (México); and Juan Isidro Jimenes Pereyra (Dominican Republic).
Anarchists Arrested in East Harlem
In the early 20th century, there was a large Spanish community in New York. They were concentrated in Lower Manhattan’s Cherry Street neighborhood, south of Brooklyn Heights in Brooklyn and mainly around the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on West 14th Street, in the area once called Little Spain. On that street, the Casa Bancaria Española of Jaime Vilar Lago opened in 1917. Vilar also built a library and a barber shop. Like in other cities in Latin America, Spanish immigrants founded charitable, regional and recreational associations. The Sociedad Española de Socorros Mutuos “La Nacional,” founded in 1868, is the oldest. Later on, others like La Cosmopolita (1903), the Centro Vasco-Americano (1913), the Centro Andaluz de Brooklyn (1918), the Centro Nacionalista Catalán (1920) and the Casa Galicia (1926) were founded. Most Spaniards were sailors, blue-collar workers and cigar makers. Many were anarchist sympathizers. The most famous case involved 14 anarchists arrested in East Harlem in 1919, accused of conspiring to murder President Woodrow Wilson. One of them was José Grau, editor of a radical newspaper called El Corsario. They were all released a few days later without being charged.
Pro-Santo Domingo Hispanic American Board
On March 8, 1922 the creation of the Pro-Santo Domingo Hispanic American Board was announced at 164 St. Nicholas Avenue, headquarters of the Dominican political and labor leadership in the city. This group’s goal was to exert pressure throughout Latin America toward an end to the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic since 1916. The proclamation of the Board came two weeks after a celebration of Dominican Independence on February 28 at the Hotel Majestic turned into a protest act against the occupation. In an interview with La Prensa on March 1, the Colombian jurist Dr. David Gomez Diaz said: “The military occupation of the island of Santo Domingo is not justified economically, culturally or politically.” U.S. troops did not withdraw from the Dominican Republic until July of 1924.
The economic crisis that followed the end of the First World War was used to introduce a series of policies restricting immigration. In 1924, the Johnson-Reed law was approved, establishing an immigration quota of 2% for each country according to the number of residents of that nationality registered in the 1890 census. Based on this, the law favored the entrance of Germans, for example, and drastically limited the arrival of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. The law came as a harsh blow for the vibrant Spanish community of the time, which in 1924 saw more people depart from New York than those who entered as immigrants. La Prensa opposed this law and pointed out that the Ku Klux Klan supported it. This cartoon published in 1923 shows the position of the newspaper and Spaniards in the country. For 40 years, the law signed by President Calvin Coolidge prohibited the entrance of Asian immigrants and its quota system heavily restricted the entry of Latin Americans.
Spanish Charitable Union Moves to 14th Street
On September 15, 1924, the new headquarters of the Spanish Charitable Union was inaugurated at 239 W. 14th Street. The institution founded in 1914 moved a few blocks from its former headquarters at 24 W. 16th Street to the heart of what was then known as “Little Spain” in Manhattan. The main businesses of the Spanish community were also located in the area. Before becoming the owner and editor in chief of La Prensa, Jose Camprubi was president of the Spanish Charitable Union, whose activities were always tied to the newspaper. The Union integrated a series of groups created in the city, among them the Spanish Center-Spanish Benevolent Society, founded in 1868 at 151 Bowery Street. In the following decade, its name would change to Spanish Charitable Society and would fuse with other groups, such as Asturian Center. In the 30’s, it was changed to La Nacional/The National, which remains today at the same address on 14th Street as the last vestige of Little Spain.
Hispanic Soccer and the La Prensa Cup
In the 1920s, soccer became the sport of masses throughout the world and in New York, soccer clubs began to flourish. They reflected different immigrant communities, such as Italians and Germans, who competed in the Metropolitan League. Various Hispanic teams, which mainly represented different Spanish regions, made their mark locally and throughout the state. The most popular was Hispanic F.C., founded in 1921 and recognized as the “14th Street Team.” It included a number of Costa Rican players. Other recognized teams were the Calpe American and the Galicia Sporting Club, which was the first Spanish team to win the Southern New York State Association Cup in 1926. Between 1922 and 1928, a Hispanic League was formed and composed of 18 Spanish-speaking teams. In 1925, La Prensa organized a tournament with its own cup, designed by the sculptor Alberto Rexac. In addition to the three aforementioned teams, the New York teams that competed were Barcelona F.C., Galicia S.C., Segura F.C. and Vasco F.C.
Theater, Singers and Bulls
This 1925 page of La Prensa’s theater section reflects the vibrancy of the New York Hispanic theater scene in that era: within the same week, the Opera Company of Mexico performed at the Hippodrome, the play “Don Juan Tenorio,” which featured Spanish actors, premiered at Daly’s Theater, and there were presentations by the Spanish Company of Zarazuela and another company. These theaters no longer exist, but there were many Latino shows in concerts halls and venues that remain standing, such as The Apollo and the United. In addition to the leading company of Manuel Noriega emerged several Spanish theater groups, including a Galician one. While Spanish artists such as Xavier Cugat, Andres Segovia and Conchita Piquer were popular, so were Latin-American rhythms such as the tango or rancheras from the Typical Mexican Orquestra. The Spanish community also followed in La Prensa the adventures of one of the most popular bullfighters, Juan Belmonte. Nevertheless, they were not able to enjoy an authentic Festival of the Bulls: in 1923, a much-announced Spanish festival in Madison Square Garden ended up becoming an authentic fiasco that provoked indignation of the paper.
Exposición de Sorolla en la Hispanic Society
Since its inauguration in 1902, the Hispanic Society of America on Broadway and 155th street has become one of the major collections of art and literature from Spain and Latin America in the country. In its inaugural year, the museum of magnate and philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington exhibited the work of Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923). The New York public responded so well that Huntington commissioned the Valencian artist to paint in 1911 a series of large panels representing the different Spanish regions. The works were delayed because of the World War and other setbacks, so the murals arrived in 1922. The official opening of the “Sorolla Room” was did not take place until January 1926, three years after the death of the artist. Although in those days there were delays and waits, the impressive Spanish prints remain open to the public today.
Riots in East Harlem
In July 1926, a series of racial riots took place that shook the growing Puerto Rican community in El Barrio. Groups of unemployed Jews attacked bodegas and other Hispanic establishments with stakes and even beat a piraguero in the area. Provoked by a growing rivalry between the businesses of both groups, the “Harlem Riots” profoundly affected the Puerto Rican community, which, in the words of pioneering activist Bernardo Vega, survived a “baptism of fire.” As a result, many of the scattered Puerto Rican associations that had been formed in previous years, led by the Puerto Rican Brotherhood and its president Blas Oliveras, convened at the Harlem Casino to establish the Liga Puertorriqueña e Hispana (the Puerto Rican and Hispanic League). In the following years, this was an influential organization that for the first time in New York City represented the entire Latino community.
At the Vanguard of Hispanic Literature
La Prensa dedicated extensive coverage to the visits of Spanish literary figures to New York, such as Ramon del Valle-Inclán, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Jacinto Benavente and Federico Garcia Lorca, in addition to Latin American intellectuals who established residency in the city, including poets like Gabriela Mistral and Juan Jose Tablada. Owner and Publisher Jose Camprubi, who was the poet Juan Ramon Jimenez’s brother-in-law, launched various initiatives to promote the Spanish language in the United States. During four years, La Prensa organized an essay contest with the American Association of Teachers in Spanish. A yearly grant of $3,500 was awarded to students and academics from all over the country and the winning entries were published in the educational section of the paper, “The Echo of the Classrooms.” In 1927, a little known Puerto Rican professor of Columbia University, Antonio S. Pedreria, won second prize for his essay, “The Personality of Eugenio Maria de Hostos”. Pedreira won $150, seven years before his essay, “Insularism”, would convert him into a major figure in Puerto Rican literature.
Hernandez Music Store
This 1929 advertisement shows the presence of the Hernandez Music Store in El Barrio, on Madison Avenue by 115 Street. The store was founded in 1927 by Victoria Hernandez, sister of the famous Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernandez. According to musicologist Frank M. Figueroa, inside the store was a room where Victoria gave instruction in piano and her brother Rafael and fellow musicians would play tunes and songs. It was there that he composed the famous “Lamento Borincano.” By then, the majority of Puerto Rican music was recorded in New York, where Manuel Jimenez “Canario” recorded his plenas. In the 1920s, the pages of La Prensa frequently included advertisements announcing new albums that would arrive from Spain, Mexico and Cuba. The first Latin music store in the city was possibly that of Spaniard Daniel Castellanos in Lower Manhattan, which opened in 1922. He also introduced his own record label.
End of a Dream: The Pan-American Hospital
In 1927, local Hispanics accomplished a long dream to open a hospital for the community. The Pan-American Hospital, founded at 159 E. 90th Street by the Pan-American Medical Association and the Hispanic Medical Center, embarked on a mission to serve 200,000 Latin American immigrants in the city. The project, however, lasted only a couple of years because of financial and administrative problems. In August 1929, the “Panamericano” was moved to a few rooms in Brad Street Hospital (today Downtown Hospital), where it failed to prosper. A little after that news, it was reported that Spanish banker Jaime V. Lago was sentenced to prison after his business went bankrupt. Lago was the owner of a popular bank established in 1917, a book store and travel agency on West 14th Street. These were two major blows to the services and morale of the community. Weeks later, the stock market crash that provoked a worldwide crisis would take things from bad to extremely worse.
The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
In 1930, La Prensa blared the headline “Puerto Rican Mother of Seven is Innocent Victim of Prohibition,” which reflected the local community’s sentiment toward the national ban on producing and selling alcohol. While the story describes how Fernanda Diaz de Matos produced liquor illegally, La Prensa defended the law-breaker. Throughout the 1920’s, La Prensa editorials were increasingly critical of the federal law. The depression that followed the Stock Market Crash of 1929 drove many Hispanics into the underground economy, whether it was to the production of alcohol or the illegal gambling game known as “La Bolita” (“The Little Ball”). A long national campaign brought Prohibition to an end in April 1933, which, in turn, brought in once impossible ads, as those for Spanish wines in 1934.
Hispanic Baseball League inaugurated
The 1930’s marks the elevation of baseball as a favorite sport among Latinos, mainly among the most recent arrivals from the Caribbean and Mexico. On April 11, 1931, the “Hispanic-American Baseball League” was inaugurated with the clubs Centro Fraternal Mejicano (Mexican Fraternal Center), Tampa Alligators, Royal Base Ball Club, Antillas Sporting Club, Piratas (Pirates) and Borinquen Base Ball Club. Meanwhile, boxing continued awaking passions. While in the 1920’s the boxer many Latinos followed was the Argentine Firpo, in the 1930s, Puerto Ricans of New York found their idol in Pedro Montañez, “El Torito de Puerto Rico” (“The Little Bull of Puerto Rico”). During that period, the interest in Hispanic soccer leagues began to decline, although one of the major sporting events of the decade was Barcelona FC’s tour through the United States in 1937. The Barcelona, distanced from Spain’s fields because of the Civil War there, played two games in the packed Commercial Field of Brooklyn, where they beat the Hispanic FC and the American Soccer League’s team.
Diego Rivera and the Rockefellers
La Prensa was at front of the famous clash between renowned Mexican painter Diego Rivera and the Rockefeller family. Once he completed a giant mural at Rockefeller Center, tycoon Nelson Rockefeller asked Rivera to remove from the work a portrait of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. After declining to do so, Rivera was fired and his work was never shown to the public. The controversy was highlighted on the frontpage of La Prensa’s May 11, 1933 edition, which included an interview with Rivera. A group of supporters protested at Rockefeller Center, chanting “We Love Rivera.” The artist responded, saying that “if the public demands that my work continue, I will return.” But Rivera was also adamant about his integrity. “I believe, however, that a solution to what has happened cannot be found because I am not willing to cede my artistic points of view,” he said at the time. A week later, La Prensa reported that Rivera participated as “red” speaker in a communist demonstration at Columbia University. The artist soon left the city and reconstructed the mural that caused so much stir in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
Gardelmania in New York
In 1934, the theater Campoamor, before known as Mount Morris, was inaugurated on 116th Street and 5th Avenue. The entrepreneur behind the theater Campoamor, Marcial Flores, announced in La Prensa that the motto of the house would be “order and morality,” and warned that he wouldn’t tolerate those “used to starting quarrels, consuming alcoholic beverages or intoxicating herbs.” It was inaugurated on August 10th with the premiere of the movie “Cuesta abajo” (“Downhill”) and the presence of Argentine tango idol Carlos Gardel. The theater was packed with 1,500 people, but another 3,000 stood outside without being able to enter, which caused conflicts with the police. It was the first outburst of what would become known as “Gardelmania”. The adoration of New Yorkers for the singer was so great that after his death in an airplane accident in Colombia, his remains were transferred to the city before his burial in Buenos Aires. Thousands of fans paid a last tribute from January 7 to 14 of 1936 in the Hernandez Funeral Home, two blocks away from Campoamor Theater, which today is a church.
Uproar over comments by Eleanor Roosevelt
Following an official trip to Puerto, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt passionately reported the miserable working conditions for the Puerto Rican woman to the American Women’s Association of New York. After describing the high level of tuberculosis on the island, she claimed that it was “as high as that which prevails in the Puerto Rican colony here,” of which she graded as “the worst of the city”. She also said: “You may not place any of these people in your homes or your factories, but your child… could visit them and tuberculosis is very contagious.” The Puerto Rican and Hispanic League protested the speech for planting alarm in the city and putting thousands of Puerto Rican workers at risk of losing their jobs out of fear of contagion. Although Mrs. Roosevelt did not want to recant her statements and received the support of the Puerto Rican government, the incident would go down as one of the many occasions in which the Puerto Rican community had to defend itself, even from those who may have been well-meaning.
La Prensa Against Trujillo City
After Rafael Leonidas Trujillo secured his dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, a community of exiled dissidents emerged in New York City. The tyrant had no borders. In April 1935, in a failed attempt to assassinate opposition leader Angel Morales, a gunman hired by the dictator killed politician Sergio Bencosme in Washington Heights. La Prensa denounced the dictator, but it was the proclamation that Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic, would be renamed Ciudad Trujillo (Trujillo City) that resulted in a bigger outcry. On January 14, 1936, an angry editorial on the front page announced that La Prensa did not recognize the name change and that it was not going to reflect it. The paper’s position triggered an avalanche of letters of support from readers that were published during the following weeks. The next year, La Prensa widely reported the formation of a left-wing Dominican opposition group in the city Joven Trinitaria.
War in Spain and at La Prensa
The military uprising of General Franco in Spain unleashed a flood of news about a war that would consume Spain and fill La Prensa’s pages for three years. Surprisingly, nearly two weeks passed before La Prensa, lead by Spaniards, would address the war in an editorial. On July 30, 12 days after the uprising, Editor in Chief Jose Camprubi announced the resignation of Assistant Editor in Chief Jose M. Torres-Perona out of ideological differences. Camprubi defended the legitimacy of the government of the Republic while Torres-Perona supported Franco’s revolt. In the following years, La Prensa reflected the majority support that existed in the city for the Republican cause and the emergence of different anti-fascist groups. After Franco’s victory in 1939, La Prensa received the president of the Spanish Republic in exile, Don Juan Negrin, upon his arrival in New York from Mexico.
Ponce Massacre felt in New York
The “Ponce Massacre” in March 1937, in which police shot at a group of protesting nationalists in Puerto Rico, reverberated in New York, where a demonstration took place only four days later. Among the speakers at the rally in Park Palace was East Harlem Congressman Vito Marcantonio, the Italian-American politician who advocated for Puerto Rican New Yorkers and also for the independence of the island. Marcantonio was also one of the many leaders from New York who sent messages of support to Pedro Albizu Campos, the leader of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, when he was incarcerated in Atlanta, Georgia. Albizu Campos was serving a 10-year sentence for conspiring to gain the independence of the island. In the following years, demonstrations for the liberation of Albizu Campos would take place in the city, like this one on the first anniversary of his imprisonment.
Oscar Garcia Rivera: One of Ours
In November 1937, the re-election of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, one of the first local politicians who actively sought the support of Puerto Ricans, was accompanied by the election of Oscar Garcia Rivera to the New York State Assembly. He was the first Puerto Rican to be elected to public office in the continental United States, a historic event that was celebrated in Harlem and on the editorial page of La Prensa. Garcia Rivera, protected by Congressman Vito Marcantonio, ran as a Republican with coalition support. This put pressure on the Democratic Party, typically favored by Puerto Rican voters, to run Boricua candidates. As a person interviewed by La Prensa stated, “Puerto Ricans already know to vote by candidates and not by parties.” Garcia Rivera had a troubled relationship with the Republican Party, from which he was accused of communist sympathies, but was re-elected and served until 1940 in the Assembly, where he was instrumental in the drafting and passage of the Unemployment Insurance Act.
Union of Puerto Rican Societies
One of the most consistent efforts of the La Prensa Editor in Chief Jose Camprubi was around the union of Hispanic societies in the city. His greatest achievement occurred in the summer of 1938, when the Confederation of Puerto Rican Societies was formed at the offices of the paper. Jose M. Vivaldi presided over the confederation, which included scores of groups from Brooklyn and Manhattan. But not all Puerto Ricans were in agreement. The activist Joaquin Colon Lopez, who accused the newspaper of being “public enemy number one of Puerto Ricans in New York”, rejected the confederation, which he considered reactionary and an attempt to manipulate the Puerto Ricans into not re-electing Congressman Vito Marcantonio. He was not the only enemy of La Prensa. In 1934, a Spanish group called “Revolutionaries of New York” called for a boycott of the paper, accusing it of being “at the service of capitalism and the bourgeoisie.”
Puerto Ricans Take on the Press
The decade had barely opened when the city’s Puerto Rican community found itself mobilizing in response to denigrating media coverage. In March 1940, Scribner’s Commentator published the article “Welcome Paupers and Crime: Puerto Rico’s Shocking Gift to the U.S.”, by Charles E. Hewitt Jr., in which he reported the miserable conditions on the island and went on to define the population, and its migrants to the United States, by its “moral degradation.” Numerous Puerto Rican groups in the city joined together and formally initiated a protest committee. The community’s outrage even triggered a response from the author of the article that was published La Prensa and in which he assured that his intention was to help Puerto Ricans. Relations between the community and the press continued to be tense. In 1947, a demonstration was organized in front of the New York-World Telegram, a daily, to protest an insulting article against Puerto Ricans migrants to the city.
Spaniards Find a Refuge
Although the Spanish Civil war between fascists and republicans ended in 1939, the effects of the conflict were felt for many years. Hundreds of Spanish refugees began to arrive in New York, many of them fleeing from the recently initiated World War II. Many exiles traveled on to Mexico, but others remained in New York, where they established all kinds of institutions, like a club of Jai Alai (a Basque game) in Brooklyn. La Prensa reported extensively on the activities of the exiled Spanish-republicans in New York and in the rest of Latin America. In March 1940, false news about refugee camps in France provoked a riot in front of the French Embassy on Fifth Avenue. In 1943, the Spanish Worker Club, with headquarters on Madison Avenue and 102nd Street, announced a campaign to collect funds for Spanish refugees. In May 1946, La Prensa covered for several days a series of meetings in New York of the Spanish Republican government in Exile.
The War Effort
In December 1941, the United States officially entered World War II. La Prensa reported not only on military movements, but also on the situation in New York, where air raid sirens, the scarcity of food, and notices on how to darken windows at night to avoid enemy planes, or on what to do if a bomb fell on a residence, became common. Many Hispanics were recruited by the Army and the newspaper published the names of those who were deployed to the frontlines, as well as those who died in battle. La Prensa also encouraged its readers to contribute to the national effort by buying war-bonds and organized a committee in New York for this purpose and also a Pan-American concert to collect funds. One of the city’s Hispanics landed great recognition for his help: Mexican caricaturist León Helguera for his famous Uncle Sam poster promoting national security.
Triumphs in Baseball and Soccer
In October 1941, the Chicago Cubs announced the arrival of pitcher Hiram Bithorn, the first Puerto Rican baseball player to join the Big Leagues. The new Boricua idol was one example of the ascent of Hispanics, whose presence was long reflected in the city across the local baseball leagues and among the “New York Cubans”, who won the Negro League World Series in 1947. The 1940’s were also good for soccer because of the victory of the Hispanic F.C., known as “The Red Devils” at a national level. Although it had to overcome attempts by the American Soccer League to change the team’s name, the Hispanic F.C. was in 1943 the first Latino team to win the National League. In 1944, for the second time, it won the National Challenge Cup. Towards the end of the decade, La Prensa announced a “rebirth” of the love for soccer in the city, thanks to the victories of the Galicia F.C.
Death of a Publisher
José Camprubí, owner and publisher of La Prensa for 24 years, and a major figure of the New York Latino community in the first half of the century, died at the age of 63 on March 12, 1942. But his name and legacy would not disappear from the newspaper for two more decades, as he was succeeded as owner and publisher by his wife, Ethel Leaycraft and his daughters, Leontine and Inés. Julio Garzón became editor in chief. The newspaper went forward with several changes, but it continued some of the most popular initiatives of its late-publisher, such as charity festivals and the Christmas Fund to collect gifts for children. Oddly, in the final winter of Camprubí at the helm of the paper, two Latin American dictators donated to the Christmas Fund: Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista and the declared enemy of Camprubí, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic.
Theater in the Time of War
In spite of tragic war news, the lights of the theaters did not go dark, as the newspaper’s March 1942 entertainment section shows. La Prensa highlighted the success of a young singer Bobby Capó in the popular Hispanic Theater of Harlem. Next to the story, the paper features the Spanish ballerina Argentinita, a popular figure in the New York scene and who the Metropolitan Opera House dedicated a statue to following her death in 1949. In that era, Hispanic New Yorkers flocked to places like the Cabaret Havana-Madrid and the Latin Theater. The decade of the 1940’s brought to New York the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, with figures such as Pedro Armendáriz and Jorge Negrete. Latin Jazz emerged during the same era. A 1949 article recounts how Machito and Mario Bauza took the jazz scene on Broadway by storm, and to the reporter’s surprise, the public was going not to dance, but to listen.
Gabriela Mistral: a Source of Pride
Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, who made New York her home for extended periods, gave to the Latin American community in 1945 its first Nobel Prize for Literature. The following year, upon her return to the city from Europe, La Prensa interviewed Mistral at her Park Avenue apartment, where she passionately defended the Spanish language. Mistral had much more of a relationship with New York, where she published her first book of poems in 1922, “Desolación”/Desolation at the Institute of the Españas — the same place where La Prensa covered a 1924 tribute in her honor. Mistral collaborated many times with the newspaper, as in this 1931 article about Santo Domingo, published immediately after a devastating hurricane there. Mistral always remained close to New York. She died in 1957, spending her last years in the town of Roslyn, Long Island.
‘Bogotazo’ felt in New York
In April 1948, Colombia experienced a violent insurrection in the capital of Bogota after the murder of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a presidential candidate from the Liberal Party. The “Bogotazo” was followed very closely in New York and La Prensa immediately interviewed Colombian ex-president Eduardo Santos (great-uncle of the current president, Juan Manuel Santos), who at that moment was at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The former president himself and other Latino leaders organized a pro Colombian Summit, which managed to raise thousands of dollars for reconstruction efforts needed after the damages caused by the disturbances. The murder of Gaitán led the country to a bloody decade of civil war known as “The violence”/La violencia. One of its consequences would be a massive migration of Colombians to the United States starting in the 50’s and 60’s, which would lay the foundation for the Colombian enclave in Jackson Heights, Queens.
The Birth of El Diario
On September 15, 1948 El Diario de Nueva York was published as the first serious competitor to La Prensa. It was located on 378 Adams Street in Brooklyn, at the old offices of the former “Brooklyn Eagle“, and barely a block away from the current headquarters of El Diario/La Prensa. El Diario was founded by Dominican-national Porfirio Dominici with financial contributions from El Universal of Caracas, and Arturo Lares served as editor in chief. With a focus on New York’s Puerto Rican community, El Diario recruited outstanding Puerto Rican journalist Luisa Quintero and intellectuals such as Pedro Juan Soto. The populist profile of El Diario was defined in 1949, when it was involved in a campaign to prevent the execution of Jorge Luis Monge, a Puerto Rican World War II veteran who appeared on about a dozen front pages. At the end, the life of Monge was not saved, but the newspaper earned a strong reputation as an advocate for New York’s Puerto Rican community.
The Puerto Rico-NY Connection
The election of Luis Muñoz Marín in 1948 —the first governor democratically chosen by the Puerto Rican people in the history of the island— had a strong impact in New York. Both editors in chief of El Diario, Arturo Lares, and his rival in La Prensa, Julio Garzón, attended the governor’s grand inauguration in San Juan, in January 1949. Muñoz Marín had lived many years in New York, where he played an important role on behalf of Boricua workers, and he also had a long relation with La Prensa. In 1919, the newspaper celebrated the “Floral Games,” and granted an honorable mention to Muñoz Marín for his poem “Yo soy tu flauta” (I am your flute). And in 1923, as a then-journalist, the future “Vate”/Poet (nickname for Muñoz Marín) wrote a series of articles in this paper about the convention of the American Federation of Labor, in his section ”Vida Obrera”/The Life of Workers.
Boricuas in Korea
The 50’s began with another war, this time with Korea. During the summer, President Harry Truman ordered the recruitment of thousands of soldiers, including the famed 65th Regiment, made up of Puerto Ricans. During the next three years, both Spanish-language dailies in New York alternated reports between news about the developments in the war and the fear that the conflict could provoke a new world war, as shown in this warning about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack on the city. The news from Korea continued to get worse and the soldiers of the 65th Regiment were submitted to a controversial court martial for disobeying orders, although ultimately they were granted clemency and they were received in NY with a “fiesta jíbara” celebration. The end of the war in July 1953 also brought the liberation of many Puerto Rican prisoners of war, who reportedly had been tortured.
Growing Political Clout
In the municipal elections of 1953, the Hispanic vote was more important than ever and Democrats, as well as Republicans, took notice. The Latino vote was decisive in electing Puerto Rico-born Felipe N. Torres as an Assemblyman representing the Bronx, and also the Democratic Mayor Robert F. Wagner. Aware of this growing power, Wagner created a Committee for Puerto Rican Affairs in the Mayor’s Office and even made a trip to San Juan to ask for more Puerto Ricans to relocate to New York for work. In the following years, some Hispanic political achievements would materialize. In 1954, Puerto Rican Antonio Mendez was appointed Democratic District Leader in Manhattan, becoming the first Latino in the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party in the city. In 1956, the Association of Hispanic Voters was formed in New York with the goal of registering new voters. In 1957, Manuel Gomez became the first Puerto Rican judge in the continental United States when he was appointed to the Court of Magistrates of New York.
Julia de Burgos is gone, “The Oxcart” arrives
Julia de Burgos, a leading figure in Puerto Rican poetry, died in Harlem Hospital after being found unconscious close to her home on 106 Street and Fifth Avenue. She was buried as an “unidentified person” until family and friends were able to track her body. The Puerto Rican Society of Journalists covered the cost of the exhumation and transferred the poet’s remains to Puerto Rico. The sad news came just a few weeks after the New York premiere of the Puerto Rican stage classic “La Carreta”/The Oxcart, by René Marqués, on May 7 at the San Sebastian Auditorium on 24th Street in Manhattan, starring a teenage Miriam Colón. The Puerto Rican author Pedro Juan Soto, who by that time had also written about the Puerto Rican migration to New York in his influential book of short stories “Spiks”, wrote the review for El Diario.
Assault on Congress and Repression in Harlem
The 1952 proclamation of Puerto Rico as a Commonwealth of the United States was followed closely in New York and the island’s Governor Luis Muñoz Marin always kept a close relationship with the Boricua community here. However, the violent resistance to the new political status of the island was also felt in New York. On November 1, 1950, coinciding with a nationalist revolt on the island, a Puerto Rican resident in the Bronx, Oscar Collazo, attempted to assassinate President Harry Truman. Explosives were detonated at the offices of the Puerto Rican government in Manhattan. As a result, several people were detained in Hispanic neighborhoods. Violence erupted again in 1954, when four nationalists fired shots in the Capitol, injuring five congressmen. When it became known that the attackers had connections in New York, Mayor Wagner came out in defense of the Puerto Rican community, but the FBI launched an investigation of up to 300 suspects. The police even warned of an alleged plot to attack city officials. In the end, about 75 people were detained, including the local nationalist leader Julio Pinto Gandía.
Gangs of New York
The 50’s was the decade of youth gangs in New York, many of them Hispanic, that would serve as inspiration for the “Sharks” in the musical “West Side Story”. In 1955, an incident would mark the Puerto Rican community: a member of “The Navajo”, Frank Santana, 17, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing William Blankenship, 15, who he mistook as a member of a rival gang. The crime reverberated in local media, and as an editorial in El Diario later denounced, was used to unfairly attack the defendant and the Puerto Rican community. This controversy recurred in 1959, when Salvador Agron, known as “The Capeman”, killed two young people. This would inspire another Broadway musical four decades later. Hispanics also demanded police protection from crime and violence, as evident in La Prensa’s March 1957 edition, which followed the death of a Puerto Rican Korean War veteran in a Williamsburg bar.
From the Hispanic Parade to the Puerto Rican Parade
A long aspiration of the Latino community was fulfilled when the first Pro-Hispanic Unity parade was held on April 15th, 1956. It was a difficult process plagued with setbacks, but finally some 700,000 people attended the parade down Fifth Avenue between 86th and 116th, in defiance of the rain. The goal of Latino unity was short lived. In 1957, conflict erupted between parade organizers and some Puerto Rican leaders, who created their own parade on May 4th, 1958. The Puerto Rican Day Parade, with Mayor Wagner at the head, went up Fifth Avenue, this time from 62nd Street to 96th Street. Interestingly, the 1959 route began at 20th Street and ended at 70th. The two parades were held separately over the next few years, but the Hispanic Parade could not compete with the Puerto Rican event, which was becoming one of the largest mass events in the New York.
The Galindez Case
The terrorizing regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo was assumed to have claimed another victim —this time, a columnist for the newspaper. Spanish writer Jesus de Galdinez was last seen in Manhattan on March 12th, 1956, shortly after giving a class at Columbia University. Galindez, a great promoter of community initiatives such as the Hispanic Parade and the Floral Games of New York, was a representative of the Basque Government in Exile, and lived for several years in the Dominican Republic, where he had a falling out with Trujillo. At the time of his disappearance, he was preparing a book about the crimes of Trujillo’s regime. The publisher of El Diario, Stanley Ross, reported the disappearance to the FBI, and offered a $500 reward for any information. Ross subsequently reported that violent threats were made against the newspaper. The Galindez case had a strong international impact, but was never resolved. According to some accounts, Galindez was taken to the Dominican Republic, where he was personally tortured by Trujillo before being murdered and thrown to sharks.
Celia Cruz Debuts in the Bronx
The long connection between Celia Cruz and New York began in April 1957, when she made her debut in a concert that also headlined Panchito Riset, Vicentico Valdés and a female Mariachi, among other artists. Interestingly, the Guarachera of Cuba did not debut in Manhattan, but at the Puerto Rico Theater on East 138th Street and Brook Avenue, in the Bronx (now converted into a church). For decades, this theater was one of the main centers of entertainment for the Hispanic community. But it was not the only Latino theater in the Bronx: in 1956, the Borinquen Theater also opened on 745 Westchester Ave. to serve the growing Puerto Rican population in the borough. The Puerto Rican prevalence among Latinos in the city was apparent in the names of two other theaters in upper Manhattan: the San Juan Theater at 165th Street and Broadway (where Cruz also sang), and the Boricua Theater at Lexington Avenue and 107th Street, where the spectacular rumberas Tongolole and Olga Guillot debuted.
The Great Paper Wars
The success of El Diario de Nueva York, which converted to a tabloid format a decade before its rival La Prensa, forced the latter to struggle to keep up with the competition. Clashes and tensions between the two newspapers were frequent, as seen in this editorial from El Diario following the Galindez case, and this of La Prensa in 1957 in response to an insinuation by its rival about the paper’s charity fund. In 1958, La Prensa made a drastic change to embrace the city’s new demographics. It hired Francisco Jose Cardona as its first Puerto Rican publisher. In the same vein, it hired two prestigious Puerto Rican journalists: Carmen Marrero and Luisa A. Quintero, who until then were employed by El Diario. Both newspapers would merge five years later, but the change had a great payoff when Quintero began her daily column “Marginalia.” For decades, she had the most influential byline of the Hispanic press in New York.
Fidel Castro at the Bronx Zoo
At the end of the 1950s, the Cuban Revolution made global headlines and both Spanish-language newspapers focused on Fidel Castro, who even before overthrowing Fulgencio Batista was reaching mythical status, as this article from La Prensa shows. El Diario was presumed to be the first newspaper in the world to endorse Castro. The leaders of the “July 26th Movement” personally thanked publisher Stanley Ross, who was invited to Havana in January 1959. Ross even praised the executions of the “batistianos”, convinced that Castro would bring democracy to “all people of the Caribbean.” The subsequent visit of Castro to New York in April 1959 was received with great enthusiasm at the United Nations. El Diario also warned of plans to assassinate Fidel in New York, reported of a failed attack, and photographed the bearded revolutionary next to a tiger at Bronx Zoo.
The “Kastrovich” Show
The second New York visit of Fidel Castro was very different from the year before. This time, Castro presented himself with his new ally, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, to address the United Nations, and had a very controversial reception. El Diario de Nueva York, which the year before was first to defend Fidel, assured now that it would be the first to criticize him, and referred to the leader as “Kastrovich.” There was even an anti-Castro demonstration in front of the newspaper’s headquarters. The year after, during the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion supported by the United States, an office in Times Square recruited Cubans to fight in their homeland. Throughout the entire decade, the name of Castro provoked violence in the city —from domestic disputes to a series of bombings by anti-Castro groups. However, Cuban exiles in the city also promoted peaceful initiatives, such as a program of trading prisoners for tractors, assembled a government in exile, and held tributes such as Cuban Journalist Day.
Day of the Dominicans
The assassination of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo had an immediate impact in New York. When the news broke, a group of newly organized exiled Dominicans stormed the Dominican Consulate and ripped up the dictator’s picture as they searched for proof of the infiltration of Trujillo’s spies in the country. The consequent political instability in the Dominican Republic also had lasting effects on New York. If Trujillo’s political opponents converged in New York before, now those who favored the old regime began to appear in the city. However, the main effect of the 1961 crisis, coupled with the United States invasion of 1965, was a general exodus of Dominicans who began to settle in the area of Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. In the late 60’s, the community had grown considerably and branches of Dominican political parties were even created in New York. In 1968, Mayor John Lindsay proclaimed the Day of the Dominicans in New York, and in 1969, Governor Nelson Rockefeller made an official visit to the Caribbean nation.
The deplorable conditions for thousands of Hispanic workers in the city, mostly Puerto Ricans, triggered many campaigns by the two Spanish-language daily newspapers. In 1961, La Prensa reported on a “concentration camp” of Puerto Rican farm workers in Newark, NJ, followed by a series of similar allegations in a campaign called “Operation Dignity”. During this time, the newspaper “rescued” dozens of “enslaved” Puerto Ricans in different parts of the country, which had a significant political impact. Throughout the decade, the advocacy of El Diario/La Prensa for improving housing and the quality of life in Hispanic neighborhoods had an important effect in the war against poverty. The community responded to the newspaper’s support with surprising signs of confidence. In those years, for example, it was common for wanted criminals or army deserters to surrender to the newspaper, rather than to the authorities.
The Birth of El Diario/La Prensa
On April 8th 1963, a year that coincided with the 50th anniversary of La Prensa, the first issue of El Diario/La Prensa was distributed. The merger of New York’s principle Spanish-language dailies was the product of magnate O. Roy Chalk. Chalk bought El Diario in 1961 from its founder, Porfirio Domenicci. He then acquired La Prensa in 1962. At the time, the paper was owned by Fortune Pope, who purchased it from the Camprubí family in 1957. Chalk headquartered the new daily at 164 Duane Street, which was the location of El Diario de Nueva York. The most popular sections of both papers, such as Luisa Quintero’s column Marginalia, were maintained. However, in subsequent years, El Diario/La Prensa would lose two of their most beloved writers: in 1968, the outstanding journalist Carmen Marrero, who returned to Puerto Rico, and columnist Babby Quintero, who died the same year, a few months after she had been publicly honored.
The Right to Vote
In 1961, the increase in Puerto Rican population and influence in the city inspired La Prensa to conduct a survey to choose the “Mayor of Boricua New York”. It included a symbolic ceremony at the Mayor’s office. The community had an opportunity to experience something close to reality with the historic elections of Herman Badillo in 1965 as Bronx Borough President and Carlos M. Rios as councilman. The other great Puerto Rican political victory of the decade was the struggle to abolish the “Literacy Laws”, which illegally barred Puerto Ricans and others from voting. In 1965, the Puerto Rican National Association for Civil Rights was formed, led by Gilberto Gerena Valentin, to campaign for the law’s abolishment as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson Civil Right’s Act. After many setbacks, and partly in thanks to the strong support of El Diario/La Prensa, the right to vote without a literacy test in English was ultimately enacted in 1966.
Puerto Rican Idols: Tito Puente and “Chegüí” Torres
In the 1960s, the entire city was dancing to the beat of Latin music not only coming from abroad, but also created in New York. In 1961, we first heard about the “Pachanga” rhythm, driven by Charlie Palmieri and Johnny Pacheco, who later founded the Fania Music label. Over the course of the decade, artists like Celia Cruz, La Lupe and Willie Colon triumphed in the city, but it was always clear who was considered the king – Tito Puente. The conductor and master percussionist born in Spanish Harlem received the Key to the City from Mayor John V. Lindsay. The beloved Puerto Rican idols of the time also included boxer Jose “Chegüí” Torres, who in 1965 became the first Latino to become Light-Heavyweight Champion in a fight against Willie Pastrano at Madison Square Garden. Torres remained connected to the readers of El Diario/La Prensa and in 1983 began to write regularly in its pages, until shortly before his death in 2009.
The Transformation of Queens
The predominance of Puerto Ricans among the Hispanic community in New York City was discussed in this article about botanical and Afro-Cuban culture and this chronicle about the history of El Barrio. However, Hispanic diversity would significantly increase because of immigration reform under President Johnson. The new law eliminated quotas established in 1924, and favored the entry of immigrants through family ties in the United States. As a result, there was increased immigration from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The pages of El Diario/La Prensa reflected this change in reporting about groups such as the New York Ecuadorian Committee, the Uruguayan Association of Residents of New York, the Argentine Cultural Center and the Proclamation of “Mexican Week” by Mayor Lindsay. The new immigrants mainly migrated to Queens, where they had an important center of entertainment at the Plaza Theater in Corona. The newspaper adapted to the diversity of the community, as shown in this 1968 issue, with specific sections for Dominicans, Colombians and Puerto Ricans.
El Diario in Vietnam
The North American intervention in the Vietnam conflicts was felt deeply in Hispanic homes citywide. The number of Latino soldiers deployed to Indochina was so large that El Diario/La Prensa prompted its readers to subscribe to the newspaper for the troops. Daily stories were published about the soldiers in Vietnam and written by reporter Mario Gonzalez, who was able to publish a book with his reports. The majority of the soldiers were of Puerto Rican descent, such as the twin sons of a marine from the Bronx. War casualties reached every neighborhood. There were also numerous exiled Cuban soldiers, along with Dominican New Yorkers, who wanted to fight against communism. Some soldiers in Vietnam used the newspaper to contact their family members, while mothers would submit poems for their sons. The newspaper also lost an ex-employee, Daniel Mattei, who died in the frontlines in 1968.
The Rise of Hispanic Theater
One of the most outstanding moments of the decade was the triumph of Broadway and Hollywood star Rita Moreno in “West Side Story”. But beyond Broadway, Hispanics were building platforms for the theater and the arts. In 1968, actress Miriam Colon, founder of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, assumed a leadership role in the community when she denounced discrimination against Puerto Rican artists to the State Commission of Human Rights. That same summer, Cuban theater workers Gilberto Zaldivar and Rene Buch presented the play “La Dama Duende”, which was the beginning of Spanish Repertory Theater/Repertorio Español. During this time, Max Ferrá founded a theatrical group called international Arts Relations, Inc. (INTAR); Abdon Villamizar funded the International Theater Arts Institute (IATI), and the Latin Critic’s Association (Latin ACE) began to present its awards to the best Hispanic artistic productions. From humble beginnings, all of these artistic institutions remain today.
The importance of access to quality education was the priority of a generation of Latino pioneers and leaders like Antonia Pantoja, who in 1961 founded the youth leadership agency ASPIRA. The activism of students in New York drove massive protests against U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam and also the fight to open the City University of New York (CUNY) to African Americans, Hispanics, and the poor. The student protests led to the creation in 1969 of the SEEK program for students without economic resources. The program began in Queens College and soon after was extended to other CUNY campuses in Brooklyn and Manhattan, where violent clashes between students and the authorities would erupt. These disturbances triggered the temporary closure of different campuses and the resignation of City College President Buell Gallagher. The confrontations lasted about two weeks and had a huge impact. Students were successful in obtaining an open admissions policy for minority students and in spurring the creation in 1970 of the Department of Puerto Rican Studies of CUNY.
The Young Lords Take the Streets
The decade dawned with news of the occupation of the First Hispanic Methodist Church in El Barrio by the militant Puerto Rican group the Young Lords. Inspired by guerrilla movements in Latin America, the Young Lords Party advocated for Puerto Rican independence and became very popular in neighborhoods long-neglected by the city when they distributed food to the poor and stood up to police abuse. In 1971, they expanded throughout several cities, from Philadelphia to Boston, and also opened an office in Puerto Rico. Although the group was losing strength, it had an extraordinary influence on the Nuyorican cultural movement and its leaders became significant figures in the media (Geraldo Rivera, Juan Gonzalez, Pablo Guzmán) and in community-building and social justice (Iris Morales, Richie Perez). In 1977, some former Lords were involved in one of the most memorable Puerto Rican actions in the city: the “taking” of the Statue of Liberty to protest the long incarceration of the nationalists Lolita Lebron and Rafael Cancel Miranda.
Boricuas in Congress
In 1970, former Bronx Borough President Herman Badillo became the first Puerto Rican to be elected as congressman to the House of Representatives. Badillo served as congressman until 1978, when he was appointed deputy mayor of New York City. Another trailblazing leader, Robert Garcia, succeeded him. However, Badillo did not succeed in his later efforts to become the first Puerto Rican mayor of the city. Another Boricua politician with great political clout was Ramón S. Vélez, who controlled the Hunts Point Multi-Services Center in the Bronx and was considered to be a controversial powerbroker. Mayor Ed Koch once called Vélez a “poverty pimp.” Velez, who was president of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, was elected to the City Council in 1973 and ran unsuccessfully for Congress. At the end of the decade, the influential Olga Mendez became the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected New York State Senate. She represented El Barrio and was re-elected to that post for the next 26 years.
Educational Struggles and Victories
In 1970, Hostos Community College began to offer classes. It was the first major educational institution in the continental United States to bear the name of a Puerto Rican – that of the renowned educator Eugenio Maria de Hostos — and it extended the City University system to the South Bronx. Hostos moved to a more spacious location in 1972, where it still stands today after overcoming numerous challenges. At the beginning of the decade, other prominent Latino educational institutions were founded, such as Boricua College and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, which also remain today. The other big educational news of the decade was the expansion of bilingual education in schools. The first federal law of bilingual education dates to 1968, but it was expanded in 1974 thanks to the efforts of Congressman Herman Badillo and the legal victory of the ASPIRA, which sued the NYC Board of Education on the grounds that the city schools did not serve the needs of Puerto Rican students.
The Birth and Growth of Cultural Institutions
Founded in 1969, El Museo del Barrio became one of the lasting legacies of the Nuyorican movement and was one of many Hispanic cultural institutions in the city that were developed in the 70’s and remain in operation today. In 1970, also in El Barrio, El Taller Boricua/The Puerto Rican Workshop was founded. The same year, artistic director Tina Ramirez established the school and dance company Ballet Hispanico. In the following years, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe was founded on the Lower East Side, where poets and playwrights such as Pedro Pietri and Miguel Piñero became big draws. As for theater, there was a flourishing of groups like New Faces,Jurutungo Theater Company and the Bilingual Puerto Rican Theater. In 1973, The Spanish Repertory stabilized itself with a permanent home at the Gramercy Theater and in 1977, the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater made a former fire station on West 47th Street its home. Hispanic theater continued to develop throughout the boroughs, as the case in 1977, when actress and director Silvia Brito founded Thalia Spanish Theater in Queens.
“Our Latin Thing”
This December 1972 article traces the emergence of the Cheetah, one of the most emblematic New York City salsa clubs. Located at 52nd Street and 8th Avenue, the Cheetah Club’s inaugural concert featured hit artists of Fania Records, such as Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe and Cheo Feliciano. The filming of it became the movie “Our Latin Thing” (1973), which helped salsa reach an international audience. In the following years, salsa became a mass phenomenon that made Madison Square Garden its main stage. Other notable venues of that era were the Chateu Madrid on 58th Street, where Celia Cruz performed regularly, and the Caborrojeño Club in Washington Heights, which suffered a fire in 1978. At the end of the decade, the Latin nightlife scene began to change. Disco clubs surged and many spots closed. Nonetheless, the Latin “rumba” did not lose its vitality.
Farewell to Roberto Clemente
The tragic death of baseball player Roberto Clemente on New Year’s Eve 1972 deeply moved the country and especially New York. The idol of the Pittsburgh Pirates, much loved for his humanitarian work, died in a plane crash off Puerto Rico while trying to transport aid to the victims of a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua. After his death, Clemente was selected as the first Latino to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and President Nixon offered words of praise for the player. Despite the fact that Clemente did not play for any Major League team in New York, the outpouring was enormous, with a mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral taking place and silent processions held in Harlem and the Bronx.
A Crisis That Hit Hard
With inflation uncontrolled, the economic crisis in the 70’s was felt throughout the city. Latino neighborhoods were disproportionately affected and budget cuts to community programs and services provoked frequent protests, like the one in 1973 in front of El Diario/La Prensa. The living conditions in buildings abandoned by owners and infested with rats were worse for undocumented immigrants, who suffered persecution. In response to this neglect, numerous community-support groups emerged, such as Casita Maria in the South Bronx, and NENA in Lower East Side, as well as programs for women in prison and war veterans. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter paid a visit to the Bronx, which became a worldwide symbol of urban decay. In 1978, columnist Reginaldo Atanay came to wonder if the city was headed for destruction.
An NJ State of Mind
In the mid 70’s, growing attention to the Garden State became more apparent in the pages of El Diario/La Prensa. The Hispanic population exploded in the late 60′s in Bergen County where many Cuban, Puerto Rican and South American immigrants found refuge from rising crime in New York. The Annual Convention of the Puerto Rican Congress began taking place in Newark, and in Paterson, where a large Peruvian community was concentrated, the Hispanic-American Parade of New Jersey was initiated. El Diario/La Prensa was attentive to this Hispanic population growth on the other side of the Hudson. In 1974 and the following years, the second page of the newspaper was reserved for the “Newark Hispano” section, and in 1978, the paper promoted subscriptions for home delivery in the state.
Franco’s end, and Decline of the “Little Spain”
When General Franco died in November 1975 after four decades of absolute power, little remained in New York of the large Spaniard population that had given impetus to La Prensa and that convulsed with the Civil War of the 1930’s. El Diario /La Prensa, the successor of the newspaper that in the first half of the century devoted much of its contents to Iberian news, just found a handful of Spaniards in the city that commented about the story and all of them lamented the death of the dictator. From the vibrant Spanish enclave of 14th Street several decades earlier, there were few traces left, such as the society La Nacional, which by that time had marked more than 100 years of history. Even so, there was still a significant Spaniard community that in the following years received the visit of King Juan Carlos, and there was a Commission to present the new Spanish Constitution in 1978.
Bomb Attack on El Diario
Beginning in the early 60’s, bomb attacks by exiled Cuban groups were common in the city. In October 1978, El Diario /La Prensa felt their wrath after leading a campaign of dialogue with the Castro regime to release Cuban prisoners. Following the initiative, the newspaper received several threats that culminated in the explosion of a device in the editorial building and claimed by the group Omega 7. The attack, which caused no casualties, was vigorously denounced by the Latino community and authorities. But not only Cuban groups terrorized New York. The Puerto Rican Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) was responsible for the explosion of hundreds of bombs in the United States. Among them, the 1975 attack on the historic Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan, which caused four deaths and 60 injuries, and other explosives in banks, police offices, and the New York Public Library.
The Decade of the Hispanic?
The decade of the 80’s began with such optimism that the expression “The Hispanic Era” was used widely to define it. Immigration and high birth rate indexes propelled the demographic growth of Latinos in the entire country, and it was expected to translate into a rise in political power. Throughout the decade, articles touched upon the “awakening of the giant”, a metaphor for the Latino vote. In 1984, El Diario/La Prensa changed its slogan from “The Champion of Hispanics” to “In the Era of Hispanics”. With time, however, the illusion and promise gave way to frustration due to the havoc of drugs and AIDS in the community, the cutbacks of programs for minorities and the rising xenophobia and “English Only” laws in the country. By the end of 1989, an editorial of EDLP sadly announced that the Hispanic decade never occurred.
From Mariel to Manhattan
In April 1980, thousands of Cubans gathered at the Peruvian Embassy in Havana to petition for political asylum. It was the beginning of what would come to be known as the Mariel Boatlift, where tens of thousands of Cubans emigrated by sea to reach the Florida coast. The crisis was followed intensely in New Jersey and the New York area, where the exiled community held solidarity demonstrations in front of the Cuban Mission and the United Nations. The arrival of the “Marielitos” had an impact on the entire country and for years they were in a legal limbo situation until they were granted residency. Many established themselves in New York and some of them had a huge influence on the intellectual atmosphere of the city, like writer Reinaldo Arenas. In 1980, the poet Heberto Padilla also fled Cuba. His political persecution in 1971 probably converted him into the most famous intellectual Cuban dissident. For years, Padilla was an assiduous contributor to El Diario/La Prensa as a columnist and reporter covering topics ranging from literature to local news.
Here Comes Gentrification
A column by the influential reporter Luisa A. Quintero announced to readers the new popular word among social analysts: “gentrification.” She described the process as “the displacement of large segments of impoverished areas … through the most ruthless means” to “rehabilitate and raise the rents of housing units, and then offer them on a silver platter to speculators and well-to-do people, the majority of who are white North Americans”. A glance at the dailies of the decade did all but confirm the argument: a combination of cutbacks to social programs for minorities, the deterioration of housing, and the increases of rent for both residences and small businesses, along with mass evictions, were squeezing the working poor. In the second half of the 80’s, the word “gentrification” became a war cry in Hispanic neighborhoods that feared losing their identities and homes, as in Washington Heights during a 1987 demonstration for rent control.
NY Loves Us?
In 1980, the film “Fort Apache, the Bronx” triggered strong protests when the community considered it an attack on the dignity of Puerto Ricans. It was only the first of a long list of controversies that unfolded in 1984. In January of that same year, labor union leader Jackie Presser made insulting declarations about Puerto Ricans and immigrants and had to apologize, although “only half heartedly.” In February, the iconic tourism campaign “I Love New York” did not include one single Hispanic, which provoked criticism from Hispanic artists such as actor Raul Julia. That same summer, Hispanic leaders protested the change of “Avenue of the Americas” to “Sixth Avenue.” The next target of the protests was The New York Times for an editorial that stated that the city did not need to honor the Americas. This wasn’t the only English-language paper that provoked the ire of Hispanics. In 1987, Dominican groups protested over an article in the Village Voice, and in 1988, they accused the Daily News of prejudice against Latinos.
The Explosion of Breakdance and Novelas
This 1984 article reflects the passion of Latino youth for hip hop culture, which developed in New York during the 70’s. In the 1980’s, the phenomenon of telenovelas also exploded. When they were broadcast, these televised, drawn-out stories about romance and drama would bring life to a halt in Latino communities. The decade also saw the stagnation of the Latin rhythm and dance that New York exported to the world – salsa – after the collapse of the Fania label. The Hispanic theater scene continued to prosper thanks to the appearance of alternative spaces like El Caney del Barrio and Pregones Theater Company in the Bronx. The New York Latino Festival was a major Hispanic cultural event in the country, and its director, Joseph Papp, was instrumental in the presentation of Hispanic stage works like “La Trilogia de la Puta Vida”, which featured a young John Leguizamo. Finally El Diario/La Prensa noticed another novelty: the surge of high-end restaurants in the city that announced the arrival of “Nuevo Latino” cuisine.
Politics: Sticks and Flowers
A long unwritten rule that restricted Hispanic media from criticizing Latino politicians was abandoned in the 80’s. In 1985, EDLP launched an investigation against the real estate agencies of Assemblyman Angelo Del Toro, and his family in El Barrio, after a disagreement between Del Toro’s brother and reporter Luisa Quintero. This wasn’t the only confrontation with Latino politicians. In 1986, former Councilman Ramon S. Velez called ELDP “Judas” for its criticisms. In 1984, another scandal had emerged when the city’s first Hispanic Chancellor of Schools, Anthony J. Alvarado, had to resign after charges of professional and financial misconduct. However, the decade left a long list of Latinos that occupied posts of power, like Irma Vidal, the first Puerto Rican woman to be named judge of the Supreme Court of New York, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and the Colombian Jorge A. Rod, the first Hispanic Assemblyman of New Jersey. Community leaders such as Amalia Betanzos had a big impact and in 1989, Dennis Rivera was named president of the powerful Local 1199, the health and hospitals workers union.
Immigration Reform: Amnesty with a Heavy Price
With the increasing number of undocumented immigrants in the country came deportations and calls to establish some sort of immigration reform. The Simpson-Mazzoli law of 1986 granted amnesty to millions of undocumented persons that entered the United States before 1982, but it also implemented harsh penalties to businesses that employed them and made the lives of many immigrants difficult. Many Hispanic leaders opposed that new federal measure, while in New York, a proposal was presented to convert the state into a sanctuary for refugees of the conflicts in Central America. El Diario/La Prensa reported that the most repressive measures were being applied to undocumented immigrants, even before the new reform was enacted. It denounced an anti-immigrant campaign by law enforcement agencies that blamed the undocumented for drug trafficking. At the end, while the reform put three million immigrants on the path to citizenship, it was also accompanied by a host of penalties and punishment.
Against Cowboys and Crack
In 1986, El Diario showed skepticism with the police’s “hysterical reaction” against the crack epidemic in the city. But in the following years, the newspaper played a leading role in the fight against the drug. Editor-In-Chief Manuel De Dios Unanue initiated a series of reports that uncovered drug trafficking in Hispanic neighborhoods. The campaign began in 1987, when two people were machine gunned in front of a nightclub called Matecaña in Queens. The investigations of the newspaper noted the presence of the principal Colombian cartels in Jackson Heights and sparked the arrests of prominent community figures. In this column titled “I am fed up”, Unanue joked that his friends were scared to be around him. The week before, he had publicly exposed Jose Santacruz Londoño, of the Cali cartel, as the “baron of drugs” in Queens. Five years later, in 1992, Londoño ordered his assassination.
In 1987, batter George Bell became the first Dominican to be named Most Valuable Player of the Major Leagues, when he scored 40 homeruns with the Toronto Blue Jays. The milestone reinforced the ever more the major Hispanic presence in baseball and brought pride and celebration in the growing Dominican community in Upper Manhattan, where Bell walked in the footsteps of idols such as Jesus Rojas Alou. The Dominican population growth was also reflected in the creation and expansion of institutions such as Alianza Dominicana, Dominican Parade, the Dominican Civic Center, and the appointment of Dominicans to important administrative positions, like Eduardo Cuesta to the cabinet of Governor Mario Cuomo in 1983. While at the time Washington Heights was often associated with the drug epidemic, El Diario/La Prensa dedicated numerous reports recognizing the economic and cultural achievements of Dominicans in the area.
A political alliance between the Hispanic and African American communities, a long goal of some leaders and activists, appeared to have been shattered in 1985, after a conflict between Herman Badillo and African American leaders. This tension, however, diminished in 1988 as enthusiasm grew for the presidential aspirations of Jesse Jackson and his “rainbow coalition.” His campaign counted on the unconditional support of Hispanic politicians and El Diario/La Prensa, and the announcement of the arrival of Jackson at the offices of the newspaper attracted a crowd that welcomed him in front of the building. Ultimately, Jackson did not win the candidacy for the Democratic Party, but he received the most votes in New York State, thanks in part to the Hispanic vote. The following year, the support of EDLP and Hispanics was critical in David Dinkins becoming the first African American Mayor in the history of the city. The Mayor acknowledged this in a column for El Diario/La Prensa, in which he expressed his gratitude.
The Tragedy of Happy Land
One of the biggest tragedies in the history of New York took place on March 25, 1990 when a disgruntled man set the Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx on fire, killing 87 people, mostly Hondurans. It was the largest mass murder in the city before the September 11 terrorist attacks. The massacre triggered tougher fire safety rules and enforcement and made a sad introduction to the city of the little-known Garífuna community, a mix of African and indigenous people from Central America. Compounding the pain of the families of victims was the threat that immigration authorities would not allow people who lost loved ones to travel to their native Honduras for the burials. The issue with immigration was resolved, and the murderer, a “marielito” named Julio Gonzalez, would receive a sentence of 4,350 years in prison, the longest in the history of the state. The survivors have since commemorated each anniversary of the tragedy with a ceremony near the site, where a monument was built in remembrance.
The Assassination of Manuel de Dios Unanue
On March 12, 1992, the city woke to the shocking news of the assassination of Cuban reporter Manuel de Dios Unanue, editor-in-chief of El Diario/La Prensa between1981 and 1988. Unanue, 48, had launched the magazines Cambio XXI/Change XXI and Crimen/Crime, from which he carried out his aggressive reports about drug trafficking, which were further exposed in the book “Los secretos del Cartel de Medellin”/The Secrets of Medellin’s Cartel. The execution was carried by an unknown teenager and it was ordered by Colombian drug dealer Jose Santacruz Londoño, “El Chepe”, who died in 1996. The assassination shocked the entire world, and the investigative journalist received a posthumous distinction from Colombia University. The street that bears his name is in front of the restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens, where he was gunned down. His aggressive style left an enormous footprint at El Diario, reflected on by current publisher/CEO Rossana Rosado in an editorial published a few days after his death. Nevertheless, Unanue also gained enemies at the newspaper — for example, his former colleagues Reginaldo Atanay and Alejandro Masferrer.
The Three Congress Members
The victory of President Bill Clinton in 1992 brought to the national stage three Latino delegates to the House of Representatives: Jose Serrano from the Bronx, first elected to Congress in 1990, Nydia Velazquez from Brooklyn, the first Puerto Rican woman in Congress, and Bob Menendez from New Jersey. The two representatives from New York have maintained their positions and Menendez was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2005. The decade also brought a large Latino presence in city politics. In 1993, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s first appointment was of Puerto Rican activist Ninfa Segarra as deputy mayor. In 1994, the popular musician Willie Colon entered the political arena in a failed bid for Congress. In 1996, Roberto Ramirez was named president of the Democratic Party in the Bronx, the first Puerto Rican county leader of a major political party in the nation. Two prominent Dominican figures also made history: Guillermo Linares became the first Dominican councilman in New York in 1991 and Adriano Espaillat became the first Dominican elected to the State Assembly in 1996.
Disturbances in the Heights
In July of 1992, the fatal police shooting of Jose Garcia sparked outrage in the Dominican community of Washington Heights. The police officer involved said that he acted in self-defense in a supposed drug-related assault, but the community saw the incident as an escalation of police brutality against Latinos. The protests turned into street riots when a second man, Dagoberto Pichardo, died in a police chase. While asking the Dinkins Administration for calm and sensitivity in handling the matter, El Diario described the police as acting “like an occupying army” in Latino neighborhoods and singled out the 34 precinct. The recent riots in Los Angeles over the acquittal of police in the beating of Rodney King increased alarm. In the years following, Northern Manhattan began to resurface economically and socially, and the Dominican community gained national visibility with achievements by high profile stars, such as baseball’s Sammy Sosa, and the increasing popularity of bachata music.
Goodbye Clemente Soto Velez, Hello CSV
The death of Clemente Soto Velez in Puerto Rico was felt in New York, where the Puerto Rican poet and political activist lived a large portion of his life. A month and a half after his death, novelist Edgardo Vega Yunque announced in the pages of EDLP the initiative to dedicate a cultural center in memory of the author of “Caballo de Palo.” That is how the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center was born in an old school on the Lower East Side where the company Teatro La Tea was already established. CSV was one of the various large Latino cultural centers that surfaced in the 90’s, along with the Julia Burgos Cultural Center in El Barrio, the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture in the Bronx, and the Cervantes Institute. The new institutions reflected the revitalization of Latino neighborhoods, driven by citizen initiatives such as the community gardens movement. In 1999, the gardens were saved after pressure on the Mayor’s office to throw out a plan to auction them.
Ilka Tanya Payan, A Brave Face on AIDS
The large and tragic impact of AIDS in the Hispanic community was documented in El Diario/La Prensa in a series of articles published in 1983. In general, it was treated as an anonymous disease and painted over with alarming headlines that provoked rejection and marginalization. This changed when Dominican actress, lawyer and activist Ilka Tanya Payan emotionally announced at a press conference and in a letter to EDLP readers on October 15, 1993 that she was HIV positive. In the 70’s and 80’s, Payan stood out as an actress and subsequently developed a section about community topics in EDLP. After revealing her condition, Payan became a powerful national symbol in the fight against AIDS and would speak at the United Nations on World AIDS Day. At the time of her death in 1996, the then-president of the Latino Commission of AIDS Dennis De Leon said that no one ever raised awareness in the community about the epidemic like she did.
Balseros, Yolas and Remittances
After numerous uprisings in Cuba, Fidel Castro on August 13, 1994, announced that his coast guard would not stop a group of Cubans that wished to leave the island. Thousands of balseros/rafters took to the sea and President Clinton ordered an interception and transfer to the Naval Base of Guantanamo. The crisis moved New Yorkers and Representatives Jose Serrano and Charles Rangel had a war of words with Cuban exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa over U.S. policy towards the Cuban nation. The names of more than 30,000 refugees in Guantanamo were published in El Diario/La Prensa before they were allowed into the United States. This wasn’t the only immigration crisis of the decade. In the Dominican Republic, thousands of people risked their lives in precarious trips on yolas/small boats headed to Puerto Rico. In Mexico, after the signing of the Free Trade Agreement of 1994, and the armed uprising in Chiapas, the influx of immigrants accelerated. Some settled in Puerto Rican enclaves in New York, such as El Barrio. Subsequently, immigration raids and fraud became common. Remittances to Latin America also grew.
From Selena to J.Lo
The death of the Tex-Mex singer Selena Quintanilla in March of 1995 shocked the entire country. The mourning by millions of Latinos was followed by outrage at taunts by shock jock Howard Stern, who wound up apologizing in Spanish. The following year, the filming of a movie about the singer caused controversy because it did not star a Mexican actress in the lead role, casting instead a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent that was “too skinny” – Jennifer Lopez. Latino New Yorkers suffered great losses, especially those of singers La Lupe in 1992 and Hector Lavoe in 1993. Only two days before reporting about the crowded funeral for Lavoe in El Barrio, El Diario had taken notice of the new local star who would take over Latin music — Marc Anthony. Our pages also featured the New York debut of Shakira, the success of Juan Luis Guerrra and Ricky Martin, and the triumph of a radio program that would give the entire city something to talk about — “El Vacilón de la Mañana.”
Lower Crime, More Police Brutality
In 1996, the Giuliani Administration announced with pride that crime in New York City had dropped to the lowest level since the 1960s. The trend continued in the following years, as the city became a safer place to live. Nevertheless, police brutality reigned, as El Diario reported throughout the decade. The tension between the Mayor and El Diario was so great that Giuliani’s re-election campaign in 1997 tried to have columnist Gerson Borrero excluded from a debate. The protests over police brutality reached their most visible boiling point in the torture case of Abner Louima in 1997, and the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999. El Diario/La Prensa also faced the Mayor’s Office on other issues where Hispanics were adversely affected, such as education, and pointed out everything from the overcrowding of schools, to cases of racial discrimination. Towards the end of the 90’s, more challenges emerged, including concerns about the increase in asthma and lead poisoning in homes.
Broadway and Pulitzer: Lights and Shades
The musical “The Capeman”, by Paul Simon and Derek Walcott, based on the life of the gang member Salvador Agron, premiered in January 1998. It was the first Broadway play since “West Side Story” to depict the Latino community in the city and featured a stellar cast that included Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades and Ednita Nazario. Latino pride gave way to disappointment because after receiving harsh reviews, the musical closed after only 68 performances, becoming one of the biggest flops in Broadway history. It wasn’t all bad news. That same year, John Leguizamo conquered Broadway with his one-man show “Freak” and Latino actors such as Luis Guzman and Rosie Perez garnered wider recognition. The literary scene was also energized when Cuban-American Oscar Hijuelos became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1990 with the novel “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love”, inspiring other local authors, such as Julia Alvarez, Esmeralda Santiago, and Junot Diaz.
9/11 and Flight 587
At the time of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, El Diario/La Prensa’s headquarters were on Hudson Street and it was the only major daily newspaper located in Lower Manhattan. With the area closed off, most employees could not reach the building. Despite this, the editorial team put the paper out. In the days and weeks following, El Diario would report on hundreds of Hispanic victims, some of who were undocumented and did not appear on official lists. Only two months later, Flight 587, destined for Santo Domingo, crashed into Belle Harbor, Queens, leaving 265 dead. The tragedy devastated the Dominican community and the mourning was compounded by a litany of legal issues with burials, life insurance and visas. In the following years, El Diario covered the emotional anniversaries of both tragedies and also how the heroic first responders of Sept. 11 were falling ill. In 2006, El Diario reported on the memorial built for the victims of Flight 587. It was designed by Dominican artist Freddy Rodriguez.
Celia and Tito: The Loss of Music Royalty
In the early decade, Latinos mourned the loss of two giants. On July 22, 2003, thousands of people solemnly followed the carriage on Fifth Avenue that transported the remains of Celia Cruz to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The “guarachera” from Cuba died in New Jersey on July 16 and her remains were flown to Miami before being returned to New York to be buried in the Bronx. Only two years before losing the Queen of Salsa, the Latinos bid a final farewell to Tito Puente in June of 2000. The casket of the “King of the Timbales” was paraded through El Barrio, where a segment of 110th Street was named in his honor. Interestingly, it rained during both of the funerals of these music legends. Throughout the decade, popular new figures emerged who, like Tito and Celia, internationalized Latin music: from the leaders of the reggaeton genre who joined together in Madison Square Garden in 2005, to the rise of bachata group Aventura, who conquered the world from the Bronx.
Victory for Vieques
On May 1, 2003, the U.S. Navy withdrew from Vieques, Puerto Rico after six decades of conducting military practices there. The celebration extended from Puerto Rico to New York. The demilitarization movement took force after the death of a man in a bombing exercise in 1999 and the municipality became the center of frequent protests. In 2000, Nuyorican actress Rosie Perez and others were arrested in a demonstration in front of the United Nations and activist Tito Kayak was arrested for hoisting the Puerto Rican flag on the Statue of Liberty. In the same year, the Spanish Repertory Theater presented the play “Vieques.” The following year, New York political leaders Al Sharpton, Adolfo Carrion Jr., Jose Rivera and Roberto Ramirez, known as “The Quartet of Vieques,” were arrested in the municipality in what became one of the more famous trials around civil disobedience. El Diario hailed the withdrawal of the Navy. It was a different tune from 1941, when La Prensa saluted the construction of a naval base as good news for Puerto Rico. But it’s also worth noting that EDLP in 1973 had applauded the end of military practices in the neighboring island of Culebra.
From Pedro Pietri to Oscar Wao
In March of 2004, New York’s Puerto Rican community mourned and honored two of its most beloved figures: the activist Richie Perez and the poet Pedro Pietri. A co-founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café in the Lower East Side, Pietri’s poem “Puerto Rican Obituary,” stands as an epic tribute to the dignity of Boricua workers. A former Young Lord, Perez was at the forefront of citywide organizing for police accountability and was highly skilled at building multi-racial coalitions. But the 2000’s also was a decade of great artistic triumphs. In 2003, Nilo Cruz was the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Anna in the Tropics”. In 2008, Junot Diaz received the Pulitzer for Fiction for “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”, and Lin-Manuel Miranda won three Tony awards, including for Best Musical on Broadway, for his ode to Latino neighborhoods in “In The Heights.” The cultural scene was also enriched with events such as the TeatroStageFest, Latino Cultural Festival of Queens, the Flamenco Festival and Celebrate Mexico Now, and the NY Latino Film Festival. And in 2005, Pregones Theater opened its own space in the Bronx.
Omar Minaya Makes History
When Omar Minaya took the reins of the Mets, he became the first Hispanic to hold a general manager position in the Major Leagues. During his six years at the front of the team, this Dominican from Queens bet on Hispanic players such as Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez. This trend went far beyond Minaya and the Mets: While the percentage of Latino players in the Major Leagues in the 1990’s was 13%, in the 2000 that number rose to 30%, attributed mostly to the arrival of Dominican players. Today, Quisqueyanos represent at least 10% of players in MLB. Meanwhile, in the Yankees, in the footprints of greats like Reggie Jackson rose the talent of Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez.
Ferrer, Bloomberg and Hispanics
In November of 2005, Mayor Bloomberg was comfortably re-elected against Puerto Rican challenger Fernando Ferrer and a bid that could have made him the city’s first Hispanic mayor of the city. While there was great disappointment in the Latino community over the loss of a historic opportunity, some well-known Latinos had supported Bloomberg, including Herman Badillo, Margarita Lopez and Willie Colon. Four years prior, in the Democratic primary for mayor held after Sept. 11 attacks, the Ferrer camp accused the elected candidate Mark Green of dirty campaigning. Disgusted with Green, many Latinos defected and went with Bloomberg, who had the support of El Diario then. Once in the mayor’s office, Bloomberg made a number of overtures towards Latinos: from a commission chaired by Jennifer Lopez to an executive order to protect immigrants. The “Hispanic strategy” helped Bloomberg, who gained a third of their votes. However, Latinos could celebrate the election of Adolfo Carrion Jr. as Bronx Borough President and Albio Sires as the first Hispanic President of the Assembly of New Jersey, both in 2002.
A Day Without Immigrants
On May 1, 2006, the traditional International Workers Day was converted into a national strike and protest that showed the solidarity of millions of people around immigrants. The mass concentration in New York and other cities was one of the major pro immigrant actions in a decade in which deportations increased. Another key event was the Torch of Guadalupe, organized by the Tepeyac Association, a pro-immigrant relay race between Mexico and New York that culminates annually at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In 2003, thousands of people arrived in New York to push for immigration reform in a “Caravan of Liberty.” The decade also included campaigns against violent hate attacks and anti-immigrant commentators like Lou Dobbs. The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 came in part thanks to the Latino vote, after promising immigration reform on the campaign trail. In his first term, he failed to deliver and increased deportations, but in 2012 he approved a temporary legal status “Dreamers,” which helped earn him the support of millions of Hispanics voters for his re-election.
Sotomayor Reigns Supreme
In August of 2009, Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed by the Senate, making her the first Hispanic justice in the history of the Supreme Court. The Puerto Rican judge from the Bronx became the third woman to reach this position and a symbol of the aspirations of Hispanics across the nation. To do, the “wise Latina” had to overcome a tough nomination process and Republican opposition. The following year, Sotomayor was enthusiastically received in the Bronx, where the name of a housing complex was dedicated to her, and delivered a speech at Hostos College. A Hispanic appointment to the Supreme Court was a long goal for Latinos. In 1993, El Diario recommended to President Clinton seven possible candidates for the vacancy left by Justice Byron White, and the following year also campaigned for a Hispanic replacement for Harry A. Blackmun.
Violence and Tragedy
In 2009, the city dedicated the corner of Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn and Kossuth Place in the name of Jose Sucuzhañay, an Ecuadorian immigrant brutally murdered the year before. Another corner in the same borough, in Jackson Heights, bears the name of Edgar Garzon, who was killed in an anti-gay attack in 2001. They were among the most brutal cases of assault in the city in a decade that saw a significant increase in hate attacks and crimes against Latino immigrants. Racial tension worsened in areas such as Farmingville, Long Island, after the attempted murder of two Mexican day laborers in 2000. In those years, several streets in the city were also named in honor of Hispanic soldiers killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2000, a negative spotlight was shined on the National Puerto Rican Day Parade and NYPD after a crowd of men harassed and sexually assaulted women. There was also increasing alarm over the arrival of “maras” (juvenile gangs) rooted in Central America.
Controversies at El Diario
In June of 2010, veteran El Diario columnist Vicky Pelaez was arrested on charges of spying for Russia. The newsroom was stunned by the arrest and revelation that her husband, known as “Juan Lazaro,” was in fact a Russian named Mikhail Anatolyevich Vasenkov. Pelaez was eventually expelled from the United States and returned to her native Peru, where she writes for the newspaper, “The Moscow News.” There were other controversial episodes and scandals. In 2003, Editor in Chief Gerson Borrero resigned after the paper’s new owners, Knight Paton Media, killed a column he planned to publish by Fidel Castro. In 2004, EDLP joined with La Opinion of Los Angeles to form ImpreMedia, the same year in which a huge circulation scandal erupted at Hoy. Until then, Hoy had been undercutting El Diario. Also in 2004, Noticias del Mundo, the third major Spanish-language paper in the city, closed. In 2007, Hoy was acquired by ImpreMedia, which brought several major Hispanic publications into its fold.