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Erasmo Vando Rodríguez Papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS 37

Scope and Contents

This collection while small in volume is rich in content. The Erasmo Vando Papers are an important resource for studying the evolution of the Puerto Rican community in New York from 1919-1945. The Papers, consisting of correspondence, writings, flyers, programs, photographs, news clippings and publications, can support research on organizational development and cultural and socio-political activities. The Papers also shed light on the life and contributions of individuals such as political leader Gilberto Concepción de Gracia, chronicler and activist Bernardo Vega, and poet/dramatist Gonzalo O'Neill.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1920-1979
  • Creation: 1917-1996


Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by Centro.

Biographical / Historical

Erasmo Vando was an activist, writer, actor, producer, and journalist who made important contributions to the New York Puerto Rican community during its formation in the decades before World War II. In the twenty-seven years that he lived in New York (1919-1945) he was a tireless promoter of theatrical and musical productions as well as founder of and participant in many political and civic organizations.

Born on June 2, 1896 in Ponce Puerto Rico, Vando moved to San Juan to the home of his maternal aunt in 1902. His uncle was employed as a barber for the army and the family moved frequently between bases in San Juan and Cayey. Beginning early in life, Vando was outspoken on behalf of the Puerto Rican struggle for independence. In an autobiographical sketch, Vando described an incident in a school he attended in Cayey in 1910 where he was reprimanded for refusing to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag. In deference to young Vando's views, the director of the school gave him permission to enter the classroom after the pledge from then on. In 1912 he was expelled from the Escuela Superior Central in Santurce for the same protest. There are no records indicating that Vando graduated from high school or that he went on to post secondary education, but it is obvious that he pursued intellectual interests his entire life.

Before migrating to the U.S., Vando tried his luck in business as owner of a grocery store and the Cafe Havana in Santurce. These ventures were not successful and in 1918, during World War 1, he joined an expedition of laborers contracted to work at Camp Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. In keeping with Southern practice, Puerto Rican workers were separated by color. Vando organized a protest where it was decided to draft a letter to the President of the U.S. denouncing this practice and declaring that the Puerto Rican workers refused to be segregated. Vando's stay at Camp Jackson was brief; eleven days after his arrival, the war and the contract ended. Some of the laborers were contracted to work in construction projects elsewhere, but the majority returned to Puerto Rico on a U.S. carrier ship. Vando chose not to return and went to work first in Missouri, and then in Mobile, Alabama.

In 1919, Vando arrived in New York by train from New Orleans. Like many other Puerto Rican migrants he found work as an unskilled laborer in factories, on the docks, and in the hotels. Initially he moved from job to job, but eventually he found work in a candy factory where he remained for twenty-three years.

Like his friends and contemporaries, Jesús Colón, and Bernardo Vega, Vando soon became involved in the activities of the early Puerto Rican "colonia". He moved easily from cultural to political activism assuming leadership in both areas. With Colón and Vega he shared a life-long commitment to the fight for Puerto Rican independence and used his talents for this cause. In 1919, for example, he co-founded the Juventud Nacionalista Puertorriqueña and organized assemblies, meetings, and marches. Together with Lorenzo Piñeiro, Gilberto Concepción de Gracia, Gonzalo O'Neill, Arturo Jiménez and others, he founded the Asociación Pro Independencia de Puerto Rico. The list of organizations in which he played a role is long and diverse. Some of these are: the Porto Rican Brotherhood of America where he served for a period as president; Club Pomarrosas Atlético y Social (ca. 1935); Comité Pro Presos Políticos de Puerto Rico (1937); Centro Obrero Español, Club Obrero Chileno and the Cuban Club, Antonio Mella.

As an actor, playwright and director, Vando devoted much of his energy to the production of plays and musical programs. He was an early producer and promoter of Puerto Rican theater in New York establishing companies, acting in productions, and encouraging actors. Often these productions doubled as fundraisers to support the work of the political clubs and were staged at places like the Park Palace, the Audubon Ballroom, Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall. Vando drew from the works of Puerto Rican writers and had a preference for dramas with political themes. Some of these included: Bajo Una Sola Bandera by Gonzalo O'Neill; El Grito de Lares by Luis Lloréns Torres; and Tiempo Muerto by Manuel Méndez Ballester. However, Vando did not limit himself to Puerto Rican subjects and performed in shows based on works by other Hispanic groups in the city. One example is Los Campesinos, a zarzuela about Asturian traditions performed by the "Artistas Unidos" theater company of which Vando was a member. He was also prominent in La Asociación de Escritores y Periodistas Puertorriqueños (1939) and Puerto Rico Literario.

Vando was a chronicler of his times as is evident in the columns he wrote for newspapers published in New York, such as La Voz and Gráfico, where he commented on a variety of topics, both social and political. He often expressed himself through poetry and was encouraged to write by friends like the poet, José Dávila Semprit, who occasionally recited Vando's works at public events or other gatherings. Although during his lifetime a dream to publish his poetry was never realized, in fulfillment of his wishes, a collection of the poems has recently been published by the Vando family in a book titled Amores (San Juan, 1996).

In 1945 Vando returned to his hometown, Ponce, Puerto Rico. He earned his living writing for El Mundo, a major national newspaper, and the major Ponce local newspaper, El Día. True to his combative style, his daily columns for El Día were openly critical of Ponce's longterm mayor, Andrés Grillasca Salas. After 1946, with his wife Emelí, he became extremely active in the newly formed Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP). In 1948 he actually quit his job at El Día to dedicate himself completely to the party's electoral campaign against the Partido Popular Democrático. In addition to traveling throughout Ponce and other parts of the Island making speeches, Vando used his dramatic skills on behalf of the PIP by writing and transmitting brief radio dramas exposing the miserable conditions under which many Puerto Ricans lived.

After the Partido Popular's victory, Vando continued his involvement in the political arena, working with different pro-independence groups. In the 1950s, he worked as an organizer for the PIP and occupied various leadership positions in the party. In 1959, dissatisfied with the direction of the PIP, he left the party, and was among those who helped found the Movimiento Pro Independencia (MPI), which in 1971 became the Partido Socialista Puertorriqueño (PSP). His involvement in the PSP included a role as a member of the delegation to meetings of the United Nations Decolonization Committee. Eventually he became less active in the organization, but he and his wife, Emelí Vélez, remained at the center of the circle of activists involved in the independence movement and their house often served as a gathering place.

Vando's political activism did not keep him from remaining creatively involved in the cultural scene in Puerto Rico. His play, Amor en el Batey: Melodrama de Costumbres Puertorriqueñas premiered in the Teatro La Perla in Ponce on January 22, 1950. He also worked as an actor, notably in the film Tres vidas en el Recuerdo, the first full-length feature film produced completely in Puerto Rico.

Erasmo Vando died on October 31, 1988. Fortunately, during his lifetime he preserved his papers and his family continued to do so after his death. Researchers will find them to be a rich resource for the study of the Puerto Rican community in New York City from the 1920s through the 1940s along with other collections in the Centro Archives, particularly the Jesús Colón Papers. Vando resembled Colón in his wide-ranging interests and in his commitment to and advocacy for the community in New York and for Puerto Rican independence. The Papers testify to his enthusiastic promotion of theatrical and other artistic activities in New York and help fill a gap in the cultural history of New York Puerto Ricans in the decades before World War II.


3.0 Cubic Feet (This collection has been microfilmed and is available on 4 reels. Researchers interested in purchasing microfilm copies should contact IDC Publishers Inc.)

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian

Metadata Rights Declarations

  • License: This record is made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Creative Commons license.


Activist, writer, actor, producer, and journalist. The Erasmo Vando Papers are an important resource for studying the evolution of the Puerto Rican community in New York from 1919-1945. The Papers, consisting of correspondence, writings, flyers, programs, photographs, news clippings and publications, can support research on organizational development and cultural and socio-political activities.


The collection is divided into the following series:

I. Biographical and Personal Information

II. Correspondence

III. New York - Organizational Activities - Publications

IV. Puerto Rico

V. Writings

VI. Photographs

VII. Carpetas

Other Finding Aids

English / Spanish bilingual finding aid is available, see External Documents.

Processing Information

The Erasmo Vando Papers were initially surveyed by Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, Director of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project. It was at his recommendation that the Papers were donated to the Centro Library and Archives. The Papers are also available on microfilm thanks to the generous support of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project.

Processing Information

At some point in time before 9/21/2022, three folders of materials that were originally in the Emelí Velez de Vando Collection were migrated into the Erasmo Vando collection. After reviewing the materials, these three folders were renamed "Biographies, Identification Cards, and Court Documents", "Identification- Medical and Political", and "Personal Documents- Family, Friends, and Medical" respectively, and then added to a half-hollinger with materials from a second donation to the collection. While donated by Emelí Velez de Vando, the materials pertained specifically to Erasmo Vando Rodríguez.


Arjona Siaca, Sergio (1:6) Arroyo, Angel Manuel (5:4, 6, 7) Avilés, Juan (4:15) Benítez Rexach, Félix (4:22; 5:4, 6) Bloch, Peter (1:7) Bosch, J.P (1:5) Ceide, Amelia (3:15) Colón, Jesús (4:1, 5:4) Colón, Joaquín (5:4) Concepción de Gracia, Gilberto (1:5, 6; 2:16, 19; 3:1; 5:4, 7) Córdova Chirino, J. (1:5-7) Dávila Semprit, José (4:15; 5:6) Ickes, Harold Z. (1:5) La Guardia, Fiorello H. (1:5) Labarthe, Pedro Juan (1:5) Manrique Cabrera, Francisco (1:7) Marcantonio, Vito (1:5, 6; 2:2,4, 16, 19; 4:2; 5:4, 6) Méndez Ballester, Manuel (1:5) Moret, Roberto (1:6) O'Neill, Gonzalo (padre) (1:5; 2:5, 6, 11; 4:15; 4:18,19;5:6) O'Neill, Gonzalo (hijo) (1:6; 2:l; 5:6) Perea, Juan Augusto (4:22) Pérez-Marchand, Rafael (1:6) Piñeiro Rivera, Lorenzo (1:4; 2:19; 3:1) Quintero, Luisa (1:6) Ramos Antonini, Ernesto (1:7) Ríos Ríos, Max (1:5) Rivera Santiago, Rafael (1:6) Rojas Garces, Sergio (1:6) Taronjí, Jaime (1:5; 4-15) Vando, Emelí (1:1; 5:2, 4) Vando, Gloria (1:7) Vega, Bernardo (1:7; 3:1; 5:4) Vélez, Anita (3:1; 4-15; 5:3)


Agrupación de Puertorriqueños Ciudadanos de EUA Group of Puerto Rican Citizens of the USA (2:7) American Committee for the Defense of Puerto Rican Political Prisoners (1:5) Asociación Anti-Imperialista Puertorriqueña (2:8) Asociación de Periodistas y Escritores Puertorriqueños (2:1, 5, 9) Asociación Fraternal Hispano Americana (2:5) Asociación Nacionalista Puertorriqueña (2:5) Asociación de Independentistas Puertorriqueños (2:1) Asociación Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico (2:2, 5, 10; 4:22) Ateneo Obrero Hispano (5:4) Centro lnternacional de Auxilios Mutuos, Inc. (2:20) Centro Social Hispano (1:5) Club Cubano de la Ciudad de Nueva York (1:5) Club Hijos del Sol (2:18) Club Hispano de Bellas Artes (1:5) Club Los Jíbaros (2:1, 5, 6) Club Obrero Español (2:11) Club Pomarrosas Atlético y Social, Inc. (1:5; 2:5) Comité Antifascista Española (2:5,18) Comité Pro Diario Popular Hispano (1:5) Comité Pro-Democracia Española (2:1,6) Comité Pro Huelga Puerto Rico (No Partidarista) (2:12) Comité Pro-Presos Políticos de Puerto Rico (2:18) Congress of Spanish Speaking Peoples (Congreso de Organizaciones de Habla Española en Nueva York) (1:5) Council for Pan American Democracy (1:5) Cuadro Artístico de Puerto Rico (2:3, 11) The Good Neighbors Center of New York (Liga Internacional de Acción Bolivariana) (1:5, 6) Gran Unida Orden de Hijos de la Verdad (2:2) Grupo Interamericano de la Sociedad Roerich (1:5; 2:6) Hispano America Lodge No. 233 (1:5; 2:3, 5) Institución Peñolana, Inc. (1:5) Institute Cívico Literario de Nueva York (1:5) Instituto José De Diego (5:4) Junta Nacionalista de Puerto Rico (2:1, 6, 8, 13, 16; 5:4) Juventud Nacionalista de Puerto Rico (2:5, 13; 5:4) Liga Puertorriqueña e Hispana, Inc. (2:6, 15) Liga Puertorriqueña de Nueva York (2:14) Office of the Identification Service (Government of Puerto Rico) (1:2) Porto Rican Brotherhood of America, Inc. (2:2, 5, 6, 17, 25; 5:5) Porto Rico Relief Committee (1:4) Puerto Rico Democratic Social Union, Inc. (1:6) Puerto Rico Literario (2:1) Unión de Ciegos Hispanos de Nueva York (1:5)
Erasmo Vando Rodríguez Papers
Pedro Juan Hernández, Nélida Pérez
June 1995
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
The Erasmo Vando Papers were initially surveyed by Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, Director of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project. It was at his recommendation that the Papers were donated to the Centro Library and Archives. The Papers are also available on microfilm thanks to the generous support of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project.

Revision Statements

  • 2005: Guide was revised in 2005 by Pedro Juan Hernández and Nélida Pérez.
  • September 2022: Addendum Box (now Box 8) integrated into the rest of the collection by Brendan Enright.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Repository

Silberman Building, Hunter College
2180 Third Ave. Rm. 122
New York New York 10065

About the Collections

Our collections consist of personal papers from prominent Puerto Rican artists, elected officials, social activists, writers, as well as the records of community-based organizations. Our largest collection, the Offices of the Government of Puerto Rico in the United States (OGPRUS) Records, measures approximately 2,900 cubic feet and contains an extraordinary amount of information regarding Puerto Rican migrants and the government institutions established to assist them. The collections date from the 1890s to the present, and document Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, California and Hawaii.