PRdream mourns the passing of Gilberto Gerena Valentin, Puerto Rican political activist and labor organizer.
Gilberto Gerena Valentín is a key figure in the development of the Puerto Rican community in the United States, especially from the forties through the seventies. He was a union organizer, community leader, political activist and general in the war for the civil rights recognition of his community. In his memoirs, Gilberto Gerena Valentín takes us into the center of the fierce labor, political, civil rights, social and cultural struggles waged by Puerto Ricans in New York from the 1940s through the 1970s.
FROM CENTRO VOICES
Centro’s publication Soy Gilberto Gerena Valentín: memorias de un puertorriqueño en Nueva York was presented last Thursday, May 23, at El Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe.
An energetic, enthusiastic and overtly cheerful Gerena (age 94) shared his memories at the presentation. He stressed “Un pueblo que se moviliza cambia. Y yo voy a seguir dando la pelea hasta que me muera.” (Tweeted by GracielaRodzMar). Translated as, “a nation that moves, changes, and I’m going to keep giving the fight until I die.”
Dennis Rivera, member of the advisory board of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, who was also at the event, addressed Gerena’s involvement in community issues. Rivera told how he had met Gerena when Rivera moved to New York in the 1980s, at a time when the Bronx Lebanon Hospital was about to be shut. Gerena encouraged protesters to join a massive march, which they did. Rivera shared this experience to emphasize that “with Gerena any problem was a collective one. That’s how good he was as a leader.”
Xavier Totti, editor of Centro Publications was there to introduce the book. Totti stressed the contributions of this publication to the history of Puerto Ricans in New York. He mentioned that “this book opens a new page in the history of Puerto Ricans in New York by highlighting the importance of union and community organization in the civil rights movement. The history of the fights for civil rights has been untold and is revealed in Gerena’s book.”
Miguel Rodríguez López, provost of El Centro de Estudios Avanzados, was pleased to welcome the large group of attendees and host at the institution the type of debate unveiled by Gerena’s book. Located in historic Old San, El Centro de Estudios Avanzados is a higher education institution with a graduate program whose objective is to develop individuals committed with Puerto Rico and its culture. Edwin Meléndez, director of el Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños emphasized how events like Gerena’s book presentation encourages a dialogue about the diaspora in Puerto Rico.
The grande dame of Puerto Rican belles lettres has died! Rosario Ferré was born in 1938 in Ponce, Puerto Rico. In 1960 she graduated from Manhattanville College in New York as an English major. She obtained her Masters degree in Spanish and Latin American literature from the University of Puerto Rico in 1985 and her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 1987. She began writing in 1970, when she edited and published a literary magazine called Zona de carga y descarga in Puerto Rico. This magazine published the works of young Puerto Rican writers, many of whom have later become well-known in the literary landscape of the island. In 1976 she published her first book of short stories, Papeles de Pandora (Mortiz, México). That same year she received a prize at the Ateneo Puertorriqueño and at Casa de las Américas, in Cuba, for her short stories. In 1978 she published El medio pollito, a book of fables (Huracán, P.R.); in 1981 La mona que le pisaron la cola and Los cuentos de Juan Bobo (Huracán, P.R.), children’s stories.
From 1977 to 1980 she wrote a column of literary criticism in the Puerto Rican newspaper, El Mundo, called “Carga y Descarga.” In 1982 she published a book of feminist essays, Sitio a Eros (Mortiz, México), and re-edited in an expanded version in 1985; in1984 she published her first book of poems, Fábulas de la garza desangrada (Mortiz, México). Her novel Maldito Amor (Mortiz), was published in 1985 and has been re-edited many times, by editorial Hispanoamericana in Argentina, and Huracán in Puerto Rico; in 1987 she published El acomodador, una lectura fantástica de Felisberto Hernández (Fondo de Cultura Económica, México). A book of critical essays about the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar, El romántico en su observatorio, was published in 1990.
Ferré did a version of Maldito Amor in English, and it was published as Sweet Diamond Dust in January 1989 by Ballantine Books, N.Y.. It was reprinted by Dutton Plume in 1996. A book of fables, Sonatinas, was published in August 1989 by Huracán in Puerto Rico. A book of literary essays, El árbol y sus sombras, was published in November of 1989 by Fondo de Cultura Económica, in México. Her book of essays, El coloquio de las Perras, was published by Editorial Cultural in PR in1991. A book of short stories, The Youngest Doll, (an English version of Papeles de Pandora) was published in 1991 by the University of Nebraska Press. Editorial Cultural in Puerto Rico published her book on Julio Cortázar ‘s short stories, El romántico en su observatorio (1992).
In 1992 she published Las dos Venecias, a book of poems and short stories, with Mortiz, Mexico; as well as Memorias de Ponce, a biography of her father, Luis A. Ferré, with Editorial Norma, in Colombia. In 1992 she received the Liberatur Prix in Frankfurt, Germany, for her novel Kristalzucker, a translation of Sweet Diamond Dust into German, published in Switzerland by Rotpunkverlag. Her children’s stories have also been translated into German as Die Halbe Hunchen, and were published in Frankfurt. In1996 she was invited to participate as an honorary guest in the Grinzane Cavour prize in Turin, Italy, as a Puerto Rican writer. La batalla de las vírgenes, a novella, was published in1994 by Editorial Universitaria, in Río Piedras, P.R. Her anthology of poems, Antología Personal, was published by Editorial Cultural that same year. In 1997 Editorial Santillana-Alfaguara has published her children’s stories in Puerto Rico.
The novel, The House on the Lagoon, came out published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux in New York, in September,1995, and was picked as one of the five finalists for the National Book Award in the U. S. It also received the Critic’s Choice Award and was selected for the Book of the Month Club in 1995.
The Spanish version of this novel was published 1997 by EMECE in Spain. It was also published in Germany, Britain, The Netherlands, France, Poland, Italy and Greece. Her novel, Eccentric Neighborhoods, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in March, 1998, and has recently been published by Editorial Planeta in Mexico and Vintage Español in the U.S. in Spanish. It was also published in Germany, with Krüger Verlag, in 1999, and in Italy, Holland and France.
Her most recent book of essays, A la sombra de tu nombre, was published by Alfaguara and is currently on sale in Puerto Rico and the United States. Her latest novel, Flight of the Swan, has was published by Farrar Straus and Giroux.
© Rosario Ferré, All Rights Reserved
The poet, playwright, stage, screen and cabaret performer not only set records in the entertainment world, but also through the numerous accolades garnered for her writing. Ana (Anita) Vilia Vélez was born in Vieques, Puerto Rico, on February 21, 1916, but did not set foot in New York until 1929 when her mother sent for her.
Vélez -Mitchell went from living a life of luxury to cold water tenements in Spanish Harlem. Working as a movie house usherette the precocious fifteen year old learned dance routines, acting and singing from watching Hollywood movies. At seventeen she entered Puerto Rican theatrical circles and married playwright, activist Erasmo Vando. The marriage dissolved and Vélez-Mitchell supported herself and young daughter, Gloria Vando, through a series of jobs. She appeared in the film, Mexican Hayride, toured with the Ringling Brothers Circus as an aerialist, landed roles in Broadway musicals, and television commercials. In the1950s she formed the Anita Vélez Dancers; performed on The Ed Sullivan Show and in Carnegie Hall; and acted in “A Night of García Lorca.”
Her most notable Broadway role was as “Anita” in West Side Story. Vélez-Mitchell also wrote stories, plays, poetry and essays, receiving the coveted Julia de Burgos prize for her bilingual book-length poem, Primavida: Calendario de Amor. In 1999 she performed her songs at Lincoln Center in a tribute given to her by the Panamerican Symphony Orchestra.
In 2000 she was the subject of a documentary, “Anita Vélez: Dancing through Life”, which follows her early career in theater. Directed and produced by her daughter, Jane Vélez-Mitchell, it won four awards at the New York and Los Angeles Film Festivals. In 2002 Vélez-Mitchell costarred in the film Voice of an Angel, which won Best U.S.A. Short Film Award from the Silver Image and Los Angeles film festivals. A nonagenarian, Vélez-Mitchell is the matriarch of a talented, artistic family and remains active in all facets of her artistic endeavors.