Written by Carly Miller, Special Collections Intern
It would be impossible to discuss Puerto Rican literature without mentioning the distinguished poet, Trina Padilla de Sanz. Born in 1864 in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, Padilla de Sanz was the daughter of the poet, medic, and political activist José Gualberto Padilla, also known as “El Caribe.” Following in her father’s literary footsteps, Padilla de Sanz developed an impressive career in poetry, editing her father’s works as well as publishing her own collections. Writing under the moniker “La Hija del Caribe,” many of her poems were laced with powerful imagery of nature to celebrate the beauty of life, while her style reflected a harmonious and musical touch.
During her lifetime, La Hija’s passions extended beyond poetry. She was also a gifted pianist, a beloved and dedicated piano teacher, a writer, a suffragist, a social activist, and a crusader for Puerto Rican independence and cultural preservation. She was a regular contributor to many publications, writing essays on an array of topics including Puerto Rican politics, women’s rights, education, religion, the plight of the poor, and the defense of the Spanish language. In an era when expectations for women revolved around the domestic sphere, Padilla de Sanz was a woman ahead of her time, voicing her strong opinions without apology.
As a crusader for social justice, La Hija believed in fighting for change with her pen. In the poem below entitled “Ana Roque de Duprey,” she honors her recently deceased friend, the accomplished suffragist Ana Roque de Duprey. Although Roque de Duprey fought for decades for the women’s suffrage movement, she died without ever voting in her native Puerto Rico. As La Hija eloquently states:
“Y al no poder votar aquí en su suelo,
se fué a la Democracia de los astros
para dejar su voto en la urna del cielo…”
“And upon not being able to vote here in her land,
she went to the Democracy of the stars
in order to leave her vote in the urn of the heavens…”
In just a few lines, she captures the essence of her friend and the supreme injustice of the exclusion of women from the voting process. Women’s suffrage was a long struggle, one that La Hija fought for with immense passion and dedication.
Padilla de Sanz expands upon the particular injustice suffered by Roque de Duprey at the end of her life in a note below the poem:
“…ya octogenaria, cuando éste se instituyó en la isla, salió ella a votar por primera vez y, aunque murió con la ilusión de haber votado, su voto fue anulado por ciertos tecnicismos…”
“…now an octogenarian [Roque de Duprey], when this [women’s suffrage] was instituted on the island, she went out to vote for the first time and, although she died with the illusion of having voted, her vote was voided for certain technicalities…”
While it may be a blessing that Roque de Duprey departed this life thinking she achieved her lifelong goal of casting a ballot, the bitterness that La Hija feels for her friend is glaringly evident. It is not only a tribute to her friend’s suffering, but also reflects the struggle that women faced even after reaching major milestones in their movement.
Padilla de Sanz possessed an unparalleled passion for life, finding beauty and joy in every day despite various hardships. Well into her old age, she continued writing, playing and teaching piano, engaging with her community of Arecibo, and spending time with her cherished children and grandchildren. La Hija died at the age of 93 in Arecibo in 1957, leaving behind an impressive legacy, which cemented La Hija’s place among the most significant literary figures of the twentieth century.
The Trina Padilla de Sanz collection is now available for research at The Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center. Click here to view this collection’s finding aid.