Emelí Vélez de Vando Papers
Scope and Contents
This collection is valuable for examining the history of the independence movement, especially the history of the Nationalist Party, the Partido Independentista de Puerto Rico and Movimiento Pro Independencia. It is of particular importance for the insight it offers on the role of women in the independence movement and of women activists. The collection also contains significant information about political repression and the persecution of political activists in Puerto Rico. Like many other proindependence sympathizers Emelí Vélez de Vando was subjected to years of police surveillance. Among her papers is a voluminous carpeta, the secret file on her compiled by the Police of Puerto Rico. In it are detailed accounts of all her activities including her speeches at different forums and demonstrations.
The collection consists primarily of letters, articles, photographs, police reports, audiotapes, programs, and flyers. The folders are arranged alphabetically and the documents in chronological order.
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1940s-1970s
- Creation: 1919-1999
Conditions Governing Access
Open to researchers
Biographical / Historical
Emelí Vélez de Vando was one of the pioneers of the colonia puertorriqueña in New York. Not long after her arrival in the early 1930s from Puerto Rico, she immersed herself in the cultural and political activities of the Puerto Rican community, supporting early efforts to build organizations. Vélez took part in theatrical productions and acted in some of the first Puerto Rican plays to be presented in New York. However, she is mostly recognized for her extraordinary dedication to the cause of Puerto Rican independence, her organizational skills, and her talent for public speaking. Upon her return to Puerto Rico in the late 1940s, she joined the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño and in 1960 was the Party’s candidate for Mayor of San Juan. Vélez remained active in the independence movement until the end of her life, tireless in her efforts to transform Puerto Rico into a Republic.
Emelí Vélez Soto was born in the Canas barrio of Ponce on January 2, 1917 and was one of the nine children of José Dolores Vélez and Beatriz Soto Medina. She moved frequently, making it hard for her to get a formal education. Her early schooling took place in her hometown school. She then lived with her sister Genoveva in Santurce where she completed the eighth grade. Later, Veléz moved to the home of her older sister Otilia in Arecibo and was briefly employed by the Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration.
At the age of seventeen, faced with economic hardships, Emelí Veléz decided to leave Puerto Rico in search of better opportunities. In 1934 she traveled on the S.S. San Jacinto to New York where she intended to live with her brother José. Once in New York she moved in with her sister Adela in Brooklyn instead. Velez’ first job in the city was at the Pilsen Brothers Curtain Factory located on 23rd St. and Madison Avenue in Manhattan where she earned ten dollars per week.
On March 21, 1937 unarmed members of the Nationalist Party in Puerto Rico were fired upon by the insular police as they attempted to carry out a peaceful march. Twenty people were killed and more than one hundred were wounded in what came to be known as the Ponce Massacre. When the news reached New York, Emelí Vélez was deeply saddened and worried about her younger brother Fernando, who was a member of the Nationalist Party and believed to be among the marchers. As it turned out, he was unharmed, but she was suddenly made conscious of Puerto Rico’s political reality and shortly thereafter joined La Junta Nacionalista de Nueva York, an organization linked to the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico. From then on she became committed to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence devoting a good deal of her time to the activities organized by the Nationalists. As she ventured out, she gained a reputation as a good public speaker and “declamadora” and was called upon to be the master of ceremony for events, often opening for the main speakers. The young Vélez honed her skills amidst a group of freedom fighters and leaders from Puerto Rico and Latin America who worked together in New York.
Emelí Vélez’s enthusiasm for her new found cause created tensions within her family in Manhattan and they presented her with an ultimatum. In order to stay with them, she would have to give up her political work. She chose her political activities and the adventure of being on her own. With just small change in her pocket, Vélez decided to leave her brother’s home. Although still quite young, she became part of a circle of women experienced in political organizing who formed a women’s group called “El Comité Femenino del Partido Nacionalista” (Women’s Committee of the Nationalist Party).
Some of the women who became Vélez’ friends and mentors were closely connected to the Nationalist Party leadership. Among them was Lolín Quintana who took Vélez in, and was a goddaughter of Nationalist Party President, Pedro Albizu Campos; Rosa Collazo, wife of nationalist militant, Oscar Collazo; Consuelo Lee, wife of renowned poet and revolutionary leader, Juan Antonio Corretjer; Juanita Arocho, community activist and organizer; Laura Meneses, wife of Pedro Albizu Campos; and Julia de Burgos, considered one of the greatest poets of Puerto Rico and Latin America. Apart from these extraordinary women, some of the men she met who influenced her political thinking were the Cuban journalist and scholar, Juan Marinello, the fiery Puerto Rican nationalist leaders, Pedro Albizu Campos and Juan Antonio Corretjer, and Gilberto Concepción de Gracia, who was to become a founder and President of the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño.
It was through the activities of the Junta Nacionalista that she met her husband, Erasmo Vando. He was an activist, an actor and a playwright who became captivated with her beauty and invited her to join his acting troupe. Vando was in fact the first to present Puerto Rican theater in New York. The productions, which included some of his own plays and those of writers like Gonzalo O’Neill, were usually fundraisers for political events. Emelí Vélez became one of Vando’s favorite actresses and soon his wife. They were married on June 11, 1942 and from then on pursued their numerous political and artistic interests together. For example, they helped create La Asociación de Escritores y Periodistas (Association of Writers and Journalists) and the Asociación Pro Independencia de Puerto Rico en la Ciudad de Nueva York (The Pro Independence Association for Puerto Rico in New York City). Together they also participated in the political campaigns of Vito Marcantonio in East Harlem.
In the midst of WWII, in 1944, Vélez de Vando left New York with her two young children, Bertha Borinquen and Gabriel, to visit her ailing parents in Puerto Rico. In 1945, ErasmoVando joined her there. However, she had to return to New York for medical reasons, but was back in Puerto Rico by 1948. In 1949, she had her third child, Emelí Luz. Vélez was briefly employed as a host for a radio program on station WPRP in Ponce, but she resumed her political work and, with her husband, participated in the founding of the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP). Distinguishing herself as a leader of the PIP for more than twelve years, she became the Party’s candidate for Mayor of San Juan in 1960.
Years later disenchanted with the PIP, Vélez played a role in the founding of the Movimiento Pro Independencia (MPI) where she served as the Secretary of Acción Femenina, the women’s division of the organization. She was also the coordinator of public events for the MPI and organized major activities such as the celebration of Pedro Albizu Campos’ 75th birthday, as well as demonstrations against the Vietnam War. The MPI became the Partido Socialista Puertorriqueño in 1971 and Emelí and Erasmo Vando continued as active members. Their home in Santurce, Puerto Rico served as a central meeting place for many of the Party’s members including its leader, Juan Mari Brás. Additionally, Emelí Vélez de Vando represented her political organizations and the case for Puerto Rico’s independence in international forums such as at the United Nations Decolonization Committee. In the 1970s, she organized tours to the Soviet Union and Cuba.
She died in Puerto Rico on November 10, 1999. Her collection is an excellent resource for Puerto Rican political history and the development of the Puerto Rican community in New York. Above all, it has a strong focus on women leaders in political movements. The Erasmo Vando, Juanita Arocho and Jesús Colón Papers in the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora are complementary collections.
5.44 Cubic Feet
Language of Materials
Political activist and community leader. Collection documents the history of the independence movement, especially the history of the Nationalist Party, the Partido Independentista de Puerto Rico and the Movimiento Pro Independencia. Provides insight on the role of women in the independence movement and women activists. Contains significant information about political repression and the persecution of political activists in Puerto Rico. Consists of letters, articles, photographs, police reports, audiotapes, programs and flyers.
The collection is divided into the following series:
I. Biographical and Personal Information II. Carpetas III. Correspondence IV. Writings V. Organizations VI. Subject Files VII. Clippings VIII. Photographs IX. Audiovisual Materials
Other Finding Aids
English / Spanish finding aid available, see External Documents.
Other version of this finding aid was created as part of Ventana Al Pasado: Building a Latino/Hispanic Online Research Collection. The New York State Archives and Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños received funding for this project from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
- Albizu Campos, Pedro, 1891-1965 (Person)
- Arocho, Juanita, 1910-1998 (Person)
- Burgos, Julia de, 1914-1953 (Person)
- Collazo, Oscar, 1914-1994 (Person)
- Collazo Rosa, 1904- (Person)
- Corretjer, Juan Antonio (Person)
- Lee Tapia, Consuelo, 1904- (Person)
- Marcantonio, Vito, 1902-1954 (Person)
- Mari Bras, Juan (Person)
- Marinello, Juan, 1898-1977 (Person)
- Meneses de Albizu Campos, Laura, 1894-1973 (Person)
- Vando Rodríguez, Erasmo (Person)
- Vega, Bernardo, 1885- (Person)
- Asociación de Escritores y Periodistas de Saltillo (Organization)
- Movimiento Pro Independencia de Puerto Rico (Organization)
- Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (Organization)
- Partido Nacionalista (P.R.) (Organization)
- Asociación Pro Independencia de Puerto Rico en la Ciudad de Nueva York (Organization)
- Junta Nacionalista (Organization)
- Quintana, Lolín, 1912-1968 (Person)
- Comité Femenino del Partido Nacionalista (Organization)
- Emelí Vélez de Vando Papers
- Ismael García with the assistance of Izzy De Moya, Damary González, Myrna Tinoco and Noelia Urbano.
- March 2003
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Processed with a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Funding was also provided by a congressional directed initiative sponsored by Congressman José Serrano and administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
- 2005: Guide was revised in 2005 by Pedro Juan Hernández and Nélida Pérez.