Adult Life In Puerto Rico

Living A Life With Dignity

When Don Pedro left Puerto Rico in 1912 for his university studies he was 19 years old. Finally returning to Puerto Rico permanently in 1921, Don Pedro was a full-fledged 28 year old adult that had gone through a series of deeply formative experiences over the course of nine years. His first responsibility was to find a way to make a living.

When 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 in a U.S. corporation. Upon returning to Puerto Rico, Don Pedro was also offered a position as a judge in the town of Yauco. For reasons that were never directly addressed in public, he turned down all of the jobs offered to him and decided instead to open up his own law practice in Ponce. Essentially practicing poverty law, Don Pedro’s clients were by and large made up of the working class poor who could only afford to pay for his services in chickens, vegetables, and other items in their possession, or, on occasion, a simple ‘thank you.’

Taking on only civil cases — except divorce cases due to his embrace of Catholicism — Don Pedro refused to take on criminal cases no matter how petty or potentially lucrative. When asked by one person to take on a case that could result in a ten thousand dollar settlement, half of which would go to Don Pedro, he refused and stated that he does not devote his services to such cases. He explained 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 very little earnings.

In her biography on Don Pedro the historian 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. It was in these years following his permanent return to Puerto Rico that Don Pedro earned his later title of “el maestro“, or “the teacher”, due to his practice of speaking every Sunday on a podium in Ponce’s town square to anyone interested in hearing his thoughtful analysis of current events, history, local/national affairs, and more. He was also invited to take part in conferences and other events both in Ponce and in neighboring towns, in addition to his alma mater Ponce High School.

The Family And Children Of Don Pedro

As Don Pedro is establishing himself as a lawyer, he is also forming a family. Towards the end of his time at Harvard, in December 1920, Don Pedro met and immediately established a serious relationship with Laura Emilia Meneses del Carpio, a Peruvian who was the first Latina accepted into Radcliffe College, the all-female section of Harvard. When Laura traveled to Ponce in July 1922 they both took the opportunity, on the 10th of that month, to exchange vows in a civil marriage. They were later married through Catholic rites on June 10, 1923.

With Don Pedro not earning much in terms of an income, life as a married couple was difficult — Laura Meneses reminisced in her book about the community having to share the little they had amongst each other. To make the situation more challenging, they would go 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. Their third child was born in Peru as Laura Meneses had moved there while Don Pedro went on a political tour of Latin America.

While the family lived in Puerto Rico they were very much stressed financially, the children even having to share clothing. On a number of occasions Don Pedro had to ask 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 and not being to afford the bus for their son.

On August 30, 1932 the fourth child of Don Pedro — Héctor Manuel — was born as a result of an extra-marital affair with Carmen Aponte Roubert, a woman he had known long before he met Laura Meneses. Developing a closer relationship with Carmen after returning to Puerto Rico from Harvard 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 would often have lunch at his mother’s home, and when he could not leave his law office she would leave food with his secretary.

Don Pedro and his son Héctor did not get to know each other until after Don Pedro returned to Puerto Rico in 1947 from a 10-year exile. While many tried to hide Héctor’s relationship to Don Pedro due to his prominence as a patriotic figure, Héctor maintained a positive view of his father even if at a distance. In any case, the genuine affection that Don Pedro had for his family meant that he would visit Héctor and provide him with support when he could. In one instance, following a serious accident playing baseball that resulted in doctors saying Héctor would need an arm amputated, Don Pedro stepped in and was able to secure a medical operation that saved his arm.


References:

  • 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).

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