Río Grande de Loíza!…Great River. Great flood of tears.
The greatest of all our island’s tears,
save those greater that come from the eyes
of my soul for my enslaved people...
They found her in the middle of the street. A nameless woman--no identification. They took her to the hospital and she died of pneumonia. They buried her in the infamous potter’s field and it wasn’t until weeks later that her family began to suspect the worst.
Julia De Burgos, one of the greatest Puerto Rican poets, died a paupers death in an unknown city of concrete.
She wrote about identity, about being a mestizo, about being a person of mixed race. She had radical ideas about women, identity, and her island of Puerto Rico in a time when women had no voice, especially women of color.
She was the oldest of thirteen, born into poverty and became a teacher at nineteen. She married at twenty, divorced and then became involved with Juan Isidro Jimenes Grullón, a Dominican political exile and an intellectual from a prominent family.
Uncomfortable in these upper social circles, intellectuals were not yet ready to embrace Julia. She was a feminist and a radical a forward thinker, mover, and shaker. Her ideas about Puerto Rico and about identity were not accepted at the time, but her poems were beautiful and touching. They are timeless and anyone can relate. Here are some:
"El Rio Grande de Loiza"
"Poema para Mi Muerte (My Death Poem)"
"Yo Misma Fui Mi Ruta (I Was My Own Path)"
"Alba de Mi Silencio (Dawn of My Silence)"
"Alta Mar y Gaviota"
Julia died July 6, 1953, a relatively young woman at only 39 years old. Her last years of life were spent suffering. She had cirrhosis of the liver and her death was complicated by her alcoholism. Her remains were found and sent to her beloved island. She was given a hero’s burial.
In 1986, the Spanish Department of the University of Puerto Rico posthumously honored Julia de Burgos by granting her a doctorate in Human Arts and Letters.
I leave you with this poem:
What shall I be called when all remains of me
is a memory, upon a rock of a deserted isle?
A carnation wedged between the wind and my own shadow,
death’s child and my own, I will be known as a poet.