El Barrio Buries Dolores Prida, a Distinctive Latino Voice

Dolores Prida

The New York Latino community bid an emotional goodbye to Cuban journalist, poet and playwright Dolores Prida, who died suddenly on January 20 of unknown causes, just hours after attending a party celebrating the 20th anniversary of a Latina women’s group.

Voices of NY regularly published her weekly columns for El Diario-La Prensa, which she has translated herself from English to Spanish since September 2012. Her last column, “Gun Control, It’s Our Turn,” was published January 18.

El Diario’s José Acosta reported about her memorial service on January 24 at the Ortiz Funeral Home in East Harlem where she lived for three decades.

Lourdes Diharce, Prida’s sister, said she will be remembered as “a very kind person with a big heart, who helped artists that were starting their careers and fought for women’s rights.” (…)

[Gabrielle] Diharce, Prida’s niece, described her aunt as “a bohemian, proud of her Latino people, and proud to live in El Barrio, the community that inspired her to write, think, and ponder.”

Prida, who died at age 69, was also known for having written 12 plays dealing with feminism, racism and bilingualism, many of them musicals.

Her niece’s favorites include “Coser y Cantar” and “4 Guys Named José and Una Mujer Named María,” “because of the way that my aunt taught people about our culture from within her plays, and the courage she gave to female characters.”

Among people attending the funeral was Wilda Rodríguez, former columnist for El Diario-La Prensa and head of the Association of Puerto Rican Journalists, who traveled from Puerto Rico.

“Prida is the Cuban-Puerto Rican par excellence of El Barrio. She was an outstanding writer, and above all a marvelous, skeptical, wise human being with an incredible sense of humor,” said Rodríguez.

Prida spent her last night at a party in East Harlem that was attended by Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor. “Dolores was a visionary. As a writer she inspired us to think deeply about our culture,” Sotomayor wrote in a statement.

Last Saturday, January 26, friends and family members paid Prida a tribute with music, dancing and poetry at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, also in East Harlem.

At the event, relatives and friends read condolence letters from President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“With conviction, compassion and humor, Dolores used her gifts to connect with people across the Latino community and around our country,” Obama’s letter read. “Her words illuminated her vision for a fairer, more just America, and they helped unite others behind the future she knew was possible.”

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito was among the speakers at the tribute, where singer and actress Olga Merediz sang “Estás en mi corazón” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona and “Olas y arenas” from Puerto Rican Sylvia Rexach. Other speakers included fellow journalists Carolina González, senior producer of Latino USA; El Diario-La Prensa’s publisher Rossana Rosado;  New York Times reporter Mireya Navarro and Maite Junco, editor of Voices of NY.

“Dolores was a pioneer of theater, feminism, and poetry in New York,” Merediz told El Diario. “I always admired her and her death will leave a huge emptiness in the Latino community.”

Friends, relatives and family members fondly recalled her humanity, love of cats, and memorable food and mojito-fueled gatherings at her patio in El Barrio. Prida, who was gay, was eulogized by former partners Rita Prats, Hortencia Amaro and Anna Veltfort.

“Dolores would want us to carry forth the wonderful community that she created,” Amaro, who has known Dolores since the 1970s and lives in Los Angeles, said. “I Look forward to that journey.”

Dolores Prida was born Sept. 5, 1943 in the coast town of Caibarién, Cuba. Her parents fled the island after the Revolution and settled with their three daughters in New York City in 1961.

Prida’s work as a playwright started in 1977 with “Beautiful Señoritas.” Other titles include “The Beggars Soap Opera” (a musical comedy set among South Bronx “poverticians,” 1979), “La era Latina” (1980), “Coser y cantar” (1981), “Savings” (a musical comedy about gentrification, 1985), “Pantallas” (a black comedy dealing with TV soap operas, 1985), “Botánica” (1990), and “Hola Ola!” (a collaboration with Anita González and the Bandana Women, 1996).

She also penned two books of poetry: “Treinta y un poemas” (1967) and “Women of the Hour” (1971), and was the screenwriter for various television projects, including “El Beauty,” a comedy series that aired on Telemundo in Puerto Rico in 1989-90. She was an editor and translator who in 1999 did the English to Spanish translation of Julia Alvarez’s novel “¡Yo!”

As an academic, she gave more than 40 lectures and presentations in universities like Yale, Brown, Smith and Hostos College. She also taught playwriting workshops across the country and in Guatemala, and a class on Latina literature at Darmouth in 1995. Among other awards, she received an honorary doctorate from Mount Holyoke College in 1989.

Her journalist work also included a monthly column that ran in the Viva section of the Daily News from 2006 to 2012, and “Dolores Dice,” a monthly advice column in Latina Magazine that would have celebrated 15 years this summer.

Weeks before her passing, Prida wrote what she said was the first poem she had written in a decade. She wrote it after hearing about the young victims of the December 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and posted it on her Facebook page:

Take me to the weeping house
That ramshackle shelter on the side of a road
Reserved for observers and by-standers
Take me there and let me weep
Far away from the children still alive
Far away from the parents wailing
For their own flesh and blood
In their own houses of tears
Deep in the forest of grief
Take me there
… Leave me there
I don’t want anybody
To see me weep and bend
Like a willow in the wind

Prida was buried next to her mother at the First Calvary Cemetery in Long Island City, Queens. Besides her sister Lourdes Diharce, Prida is survived by sister Maria Aristizabal, niece Gabrielle Diharce and nephew Andre Diharce.

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