New York City

Don Pedro In New York City

While so much more can be written about Don Pedro’s time in New York City between the time he left Columbus Hospital and when he returned to Puerto Rico, the oral history of Ruth Reynolds provides a number of details. As far as where he took up residence, Reynolds pointed to a few places, the first being an apartment in the South Bronx on 173 Brook Avenue where Oscar Collazo, a Nationalist later known as a participant in an assassination attempt on President Truman, also lived. From there he moved to an apartment in El Barrio near Lexington Avenue and 114th Street that was rented by fellow Nationalist leader Ramón Medina Ramírez. Apparently, a son of Medina Ramírez who also lived there did not keep a schedule that allowed Don Pedro to properly rest, influencing him to eventually move to the Village around the Fall of 1946. Reynolds gives no indication why he moved from the South Bronx to El Barrio, but she does make very clear that every time Don Pedro left the island of Manhattan he was violating the terms of his parole that required him to remain there.

After leaving Columbus Hospital, one consistent activity of Don Pedro was attending Catholic Mass on Sundays, most probably in La Milagrosa Church that was located on 114th Street and Seventh Avenue. He also enjoyed taking the Staten Island Ferry for the sea breezes that reminded him of home and he felt was good for his recovery. Don Pedro and Reynolds would sometimes grab food in Staten Island, or during a quick stop in Brooklyn. He is also said to have gone occasionally to operas and ballets. For his protection, Don Pedro almost always had somebody with him, the exception being when he was living in the Village and walked to the home of Lolín Quintana, who lived near West 13th Street and 8th Avenue. At Quintana’s house Don Pedro would receive visits on the weekends from various people — apparently, one of these visits included members of the Irish Republican Army that he had known from his time in prison.

Even on parole, Don Pedro was clearly unafraid to continue, even if discreetly, working with adherents of Puerto Rican Nationalism and to challenge the conditions of his parole. One time Don Pedro even tested the travel limitations placed upon him by crossing the border into Canada with Reynolds, without anything of note happening. He also oversaw a monthly publication ran by Medina Ramírez — La Revista de Puerto Rico — even though he was not supposed to be politically active. Depending on his physical condition at the time, Don Pedro also accepted invitations to give lectures at various cultural centers in the city.

Remaining Committed To Puerto Rico

Despite spending so much time recovering in Columbus Hospital and while living in Manhattan, Don Pedro maintained his influence over the Nationalist Party. In particular, as was evident in his work with Ruth Reynolds and the American League for Puerto Rico’s Independence (ALPRI), Don Pedro would ensure efforts were made to continue bringing international attention to Puerto Rico’s colonial situation. A significant moment of this took place in 1945 at the founding meeting of the United Nations, where Julio Pinto Gandía, a close associate of Don Pedro and the first interim president of the Nationalist Party, had traveled in order to gain support from delegates of the countries of Latin America. Pinto Gandía was able to receive verbal recognition from a number of representatives of Puerto Rico’s colonial situation, only to be arrested upon his return from the meeting on draft violation charges.

The Nationalist Party, whose second interim president would be Medina Ramírez, also put in an official request to be recognized by the UN as a non-governmental organization able to observe all future proceedings of the international body. This request was obliged and the Party chose Thelma Mielke, a North American pacifist/activist and member of ALPRI, as their permanent observer. At one point, Oscar Collazo was also a UN observer. As the Nationalist Party attended these UN meetings they also shared with delegates from other countries information on Puerto Rico that was in contrast to the narrative put forth in the information given from U.S. officials. Don Pedro was updated on the proceedings of the UN and saw the forum as an opportunity to reinvigorate international interest in and to gain support for Puerto Rico’s anti-colonial struggle.

Don Pedro’s absolute commitment to Puerto Rico was also shown in his resolve to return there once his parole was complete. Nowhere is this resolve more clear than when taking into account the offers for political asylum that were extended to him by other countries. Specifically, both Cuba and Mexico extended offers to reside in their countries instead of returning to Puerto Rico, where Don Pedro would most certainly be targeted again by every level of political repression. In a 1948 speech he would speak to the sense of duty he had in his commitment to Puerto Rico, declaring, “Albizu Campos has sworn that he will never lower his guard in defense of the freedom of his country.” On December 11, 1947, with his parole complete and the FBI still surveilling him, Don Pedro and a few compatriots boarded a steamship in Brooklyn. The steamship made it to port and Don Pedro finally returned to Puerto Rico following ten years of exile on December 15.


References:

  • Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).
  • The Ruth M. Reynolds Papers, Center for Puerto Rican Studies Library and Archives (Hunter College, CUNY).
  • Transnational Freedom Movements: A History of the American League for Puerto Rico Independence, 1944-1950, by Manuel Antonio Grajales, II (Texas A&M Thesis, 2015).

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