Puerto Rican poet, Julia de Burgos was more than a master writer and poet. She was also a tireless advocate for Puerto Rican independence. The oldest in a family of thirteen children, Julia de Burgos was born to a farming family in Carolina, Puerto Rico, though her father also served in the National Guard. Per Burgos, her childhood played a large part in her writings. She said, “My childhood was all a poem in the river, and a river in the poem of my first dreams.”
Her family eventually relocated to Wiedras, where she won a scholarship to University High School. Following that graduation, she attended the University of Puerto Rico intending to become a teacher. She graduated at only nineteen years old with a degree in education and taught elementary school. She retired from teaching when she married Ruben Rodrigues Beauchamp in 1936. Sadly, this marriage ended in divorce after only one year.
Crediting influential writers and leaders such as Rafael Alberti, Luis Lloréns Torres, and Clara Lair with inspiring her start in writing, she worked as a writer for a public radio sponsored children’s program in addition to teaching school. Already a staunch politico, her refusal to remain silent about her political views eventually caused her to be terminated from that position.
De Burgos was an active and vocal member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. She was a civil rights activist for women and writers of African/Afro-Caribbean descent. She went on to be elected as the Secretary General of the Daughters of Freedom, the women’s branch of the Nationalist Party. De Burgos received numerous awards and recognitions for her writing and advocacy. Her written works include I Was My Own Path, Dawn of My Silence, El Rio Grande de Loiza, Yo Misma Fui Mi Ruta, and Alta Mar y Gaviota.
She later traveled to New York City working as a journalist for Pueblos Hispanos, a progressive Hispanic newspaper. After a failed attempt at a long-term relationship with Jimenes Grullón, De Burgos settled in New York alone. Once again on her own, she supported herself with a series of menial jobs for meager pay. In 1943, she married a second time to musician, Armando Marín. Unfortunately, this marriage soon ended in divorce as well, which caused Julia to fall into alcoholism and depression.
She penned one of her final poems, Farewell in Welfare Island, while hospitalized. It is one of only a handful of selections originally written in English and revealing the darker side of the poet’s life. She later died of pneumonia. Because she had all but faded into obscurity by this time, her family was unaware of her death and did not claim her body, leading to her burial in an unmarked grave in a potter’s field. Her fate was eventually discovered and her remains were reclaimed and reburied following an appropriate funeral in the Puerto Rican Atheneum.
De Burgos lived a life of freedom, although one marked with many tragedies and hardships. Despite all this, she left behind a legacy that will ensure her place in the history of women for years to come.