Living A Life With Dignity
When Don Pedro left Puerto Rico in 1912 for his university studies, he was a 19-year-old with incredible potential. When Don Pedro returned to Puerto Rico permanently in 1921, he was a full-fledged 28-year-old young adult that had gone through a series of deeply formative experiences over the course of nine years. Now his responsibility was to find a way to make a living in his homeland.
After graduating from Harvard Law School, several job offers were extended to Don Pedro: as an assistant in the U.S. Supreme Court, a U.S. diplomat to Mexico, and an executive position in a U.S. corporation. Upon returning to Puerto Rico, he was also offered a position as a judge in the town of Yauco. For reasons never directly addressed in public, he turned down all the jobs offered to him and decided instead to start a law practice in Ponce. Of course, the reason he refused these jobs was his decision to serve the people of Puerto Rico, a commitment that also meant avoiding collaboration with the colonial regime.
Essentially practicing poverty law, Don Pedro’s clients were by and large the working-class poor who could only afford to pay for his services in chickens, vegetables, and other items in their possession. On occasion, a simple ‘thank you’ was Don Pedro’s only form of compensation.
In his law practice Don Pedro only took on civil cases, except for divorce cases due to his embrace of Catholicism. He refused to take on criminal cases no matter how petty or potentially lucrative. When asked to take on a case that could result in a ten-thousand-dollar settlement, half going to Don Pedro, he refused and stated that he does not devote his services to such cases. The point he made was that, instead of being given five thousand dollars for his services, he was being used by the perpetrator to gain five thousand dollars for themselves. Don Pedro’s insistence on having a dignified law practice based on the principle of being in service to the poor and oppressed of society meant that he had few clients and even less in the way of earnings.
In her biography on Don Pedro, author Marisa Rosado wrote, “the great profession of Albizu is that of Patriot.” The secretary for Don Pedro’s law practice, Víctor Bonó Rodríguez, said that most of his time during this period was spent giving lectures. Don Pedro made a routine of speaking every Sunday on a podium in Ponce’s town square to anyone interested in hearing his analysis of current events, history, local/national affairs, and more. It was in these years following his permanent return to Puerto Rico that Don Pedro earned the title and nickname El Maestro, the teacher. During this time, he was also invited to take part in conferences and other events in Ponce as well as neighboring towns, including one in his alma mater of Ponce High School.
The Beginnings Of Married Life
In this period, Don Pedro is building both a law practice and a family. Towards the end of his time at Harvard, in December 1920, Don Pedro met and very quickly established a serious relationship with Laura Emilia Meneses del Carpio, a Peruvian and the first Latina accepted into Radcliffe College, the all-female section of Harvard. Doña Laura traveled to Ponce in July 1922 and, on the 10th of that month, exchanged vows with Don Pedro in a civil marriage. They married through Catholic rites on June 10, 1923.
Author Marisa Rosado describes in her biography an interesting period in the life of the newly married couple. Urged by Don Pedro to continue her studies at Radcliffe College in part due to the financial challenge of maintaining a family home, Doña Laura made her way to New York City and, instead of going directly to Boston, made an unplanned visit to her sister-in-law Filomena. Feeling forced to leave Puerto Rico, Doña Laura questioned Don Pedro’s love for her and fell into a depression that affected her health. Following two letters sent by Filomena explaining the situation, Don Pedro wrote a letter to Doña Laura on August 8, 1922 asking her to return to Ponce. By the time it reached its destination, Doña Laura had left to be with her family in Peru.
Continuing to write her husband from Peru, Doña Laura eventually decided to go ahead and continue her studies at Radcliffe College and arrived on campus in October. However, Doña Laura’s desire to be with her husband was so great that she immediately wrote to him and explained her desire to discontinue her studies again and wait for him in New York City so they can travel to Puerto Rico together. Don Pedro boarded the SS Ponce on October 25 and arrived in New York City on October 30—when asked for his address in the U.S., he provided 233 West 115th Street. Spending a short time together in New York City, they boarded the SS Porto Rico on November 11 and arrived in San Juan on November 16.
Life As A Family In Puerto Rico
With Don Pedro not earning much in terms of an income, life as a married couple was difficult. In her book Albizu Campos y la Independencia de Puerto Rico, Doña Laura reminisced about the community they belonged to sharing the little they had with each other. Don Pedro and Doña Laura went on to have three children together: their son Pedro on March 26, 1924; their daughter Rosa Emilia on August 31, 1925; and their second daughter Laura Esperanza on October 16, 1927. Laura Esperanza was born in Peru after Doña Laura moved there temporarily for about two years.
The family was very much stressed financially, the children even having to share clothing. On several occasions Don Pedro asked friends for money and other items to sustain his family. After one “terrible night with the little girl,” he wrote a letter to a friend asking for “a jar of milk of magnesia, a packet of lactose, and five cents of bicarbonate,” in addition to “ten dollars, or whatever you can.” Other examples of their financial hardship include not being able to host visitors for dinner for lack of food to prepare, and not being able to afford the bus for their son.
On August 30, 1932, the fourth child of Don Pedro—Héctor Manuel—was born of an extra-marital affair with Carmen Aponte Roubert, a woman he had known even before he left Puerto Rico for college. Developing a closer relationship with Carmen after returning to Puerto Rico in 1921, Don Pedro ended their relationship amicably when Laura Meneses arrived in Ponce the following year. Their son Héctor said in an interview that, when he first returned from Harvard, Don Pedro often had lunch at his mother’s home. Carmen sometimes left food for him with the secretary at his law office.
Don Pedro and his son Héctor did not really get to know each other until after Don Pedro returned to Puerto Rico in 1947 following a 10-year exile. Many tried to hide Héctor’s relationship to Don Pedro due to his prominence as a national figure, but Héctor maintained a positive view of his father even if from a distance. Don Pedro occasionally visited Héctor and even supported him at times. In one instance, following a serious accident and injury playing baseball that doctors initially said would result in the amputation of Héctor’s arm, Don Pedro stepped in and was able to arrange a medical operation that saved his arm.
- Albizu Campos y la Independencia de Puerto Rico, by Laura de Albizu Campos (Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, 2007).
- Episode 2: El Maestro, by whoisalbizu (2011).
- Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).
- War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror In America’s Colony, by Nelson A. Denis (Nation Books, 2015).