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Elba Cabrera Papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS 109

Scope and Contents

Collection chronicles Elba Cabrera’s personal and professional life, spanning the years 1924-2015, with the bulk of materials ranging from the 1970s-2014. As a dedicated arts and culture advocate, her papers are a rich resource for insight into New York City’s Puerto Rican and Latino arts scene from the 1970s-2000s, particularly the 1970s-1980s. Throughout her career with organizations including AHA (Association of Hispanic Arts), Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, Center for the Media Arts and Hostos Community College, Cabrera developed intimate and supportive relationships with many important Puerto Rican and Latino artists and writers, including Piri Thomas, Tato Laviera, George Aguirre, Pura Belpré, Pepón Osorio and Nicholasa Mohr; those relationships are documented here. Cabrera also collected materials relating to Puerto Rican art, history and culture, with particular interest in the African and Caribbean roots of the diaspora. Also documented are Cabrera’s early years and family life, offering unique insight into her pioneering sisters, activist Evelina Antonetty and library administrator Lillian López. Collection consists of correspondence, audio and video recordings, photographs, posters, artwork, ephemera, publications, awards, artifacts and news clippings.


  • Creation: 1924-2015
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1970-2014


Conditions Governing Access

Open for research without restriction.

Biographical / Historical

Elba Cabrera (née Maria Elba Cabrera) was born September 10, 1933, in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Her mother, Eva Cruz López (1905-1970) was from Salinas, a small city in the south of Puerto Rico, as were Elba’s two older sisters, Evelina Antonetty (1922-1984) and Lillian López (1925-2005). After becoming widowed, Eva had a relationship with Elba’s father, Sixto Cabrera. Elba was born at the height of the Great Depression, which devastated Puerto Rico even more than the mainland. Eva struggled as a single mother, cleaning houses, sewing and doing embroidery work. In 1933, the same day Elba was born, ten-year-old Evelina moved to New York City to live with her aunt, Vicenta Godreau.

In May 1935, Eva and her daughters came to New York City on the steamship Ponce. They reunited with Evelina in El Barrio (East Harlem), settling at 118th Street and Fifth Avenue. Eva found work as a laundress at the upscale Hotel New Yorker. At age 18, Evelina got married and left East Harlem for the Bronx, a move the rest of the family made in 1944. Elba was raised in a lively house with extended family, including aunt, uncle, cousins, and occasional boarders. Her uncle, Enrique Godreau, Sr., worked as a dance promoter and bolitero (numbers runner). Because of his involvement with music and dancers, the house was often full of musicians, including Mario Bauza, Alberto Iznaga, Machito and Bobby Capó.

Cabrera attended elementary and junior high schools in the Bronx. She graduated in 1951 from Bronx Vocational High School, where she was trained in secretarial work and bookkeeping. Through the hiring hall at District 65 of the United Retail and Office Workers, where Evelina was currently working, Elba secured a secretarial position with L&B Hosiery on Orchard Street. She continued working as a secretary for nine years. In 1953, Elba met Anthony Mondesire at the Palladium Ballroom, and they married the next year. They had two sons, Anthony (b. 1955) and Paul (b. 1960). In 1956, Elba and her family moved to Gun Hill Houses, and in 1969 became residents of the newly-opened Co-Op City in the Bronx.

The women in Cabrera’s family had a strong tradition of social and political activism. Her mother was involved with the Socialist Party in Puerto Rico during the 1920s, and in New York became shop steward for the Hotel Workers Union. Elba’s aunt was a committed Liberal Democrat, who worked for La Guardia’s mayoral campaign. As teenagers, Lillian and Evelina joined the Young Communist League. Evelina founded United Bronx Parents, Inc. in 1965, a grassroots organization dedicated to community development and educational reform in the South Bronx. Lillian became Bronx Borough Coordinator for the New York Public Library, where she established innovative outreach programs and services for Puerto Ricans and other Latinos. Elba worked with United Bronx Parents from 1966-1978 as a secretary, office manager and program director for their summer feeding program, and she went on to become a lifelong arts, culture and community advocate.

In the 1970s, Elba proofread for film producer and director Amilcar Tirado, who at the time was working with United Bronx Parents and teaching at SUNY at Old Westbury. He encouraged her to register at Westbury, and in 1978 she graduated with honors and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics, Economics, and Societies. Later that year, Cabrera became an administrative assistant for the Association of Hispanic Arts, Inc. (AHA), a not-for-profit arts service organization founded in 1975. Elba quickly became their Assistant Director, a position she held until 1987. She coordinated special events and conferences, promoted the activities of over 100 arts organizations, created the Directory of Hispanic Arts Organizations, edited AHA’s bi-monthly “Hispanic Arts” newsletter, and hosted a weekly television show called “Hispanic Arts” on WNYC-TV. She was particularly interested in the African and Caribbean roots of the Puerto Rican diaspora, often collaborating with Marta Moreno Vega and the Caribbean Cultural Center.

After leaving AHA, Cabrera became Marketing Director at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts (1987-1988). From 1988-1991, she was Director of Hispanic Affairs/Admissions at the Center for the Media Arts, where she hosted a weekly radio show called “Media Arts” on WNYE-FM. From 1992-2002, she worked with Girl Scouts of the USA in several positions, including Membership Outreach and Diversity Consultant, Pluralism and Adult Development Consultant, and Council Self Evaluation Consultant. In 1991, Cabrera became Community Coordinator for the New York City Department for the Aging.

Although officially retiring in 2003, Cabrera continued being active on numerous boards and panels throughout the city, including Hostos Community College Foundation, Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, Comité Noviembre, and All Care Provider Services. Her previous board affiliations include Marymount College, ASPIRA of New York, New York Metro Committee of UNICEF, UNIFEM, New York Women’s Agenda, The Association of Hispanic Arts (AHA), Bronx Council on the Arts, 100 Hispanic Women, and Council Member at Advent Lutheran Church in Manhattan. From 2004-2014, Cabrera also worked part-time with the New York City Department for the Aging’s Alzheimer’s Unit.

Affectionately known as “La Madrina de las Artes,” Cabrera received numerous awards and honors for her long and dedicated service to the Bronx, the arts, and the Puerto Rican and Latino communities of New York. Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer awarded her a Citation of Merit in 1987 for her contributions to the arts, and another in 1995 for her contributions to the community. She also received a City of New York Proclamation from Council Member June Eisland (1995), the Network of Bronx Women Laureate Award (1995), and was honored in El Diario/La Prensa’s Tribute to Fifty Outstanding Latinas (1996). She received another Citation of Merit in 2003 from Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, a City of New York Proclamation from Council Member Marcos Jose Serrano (2003), the Comité Noviembre Award (2007), the Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo Community Award (2008), a Special Recognition award from the New York League of Puerto Rican Women (2013), was named one of the Bronx Times 25 Bronx Influential Women (2014), and in 2015 was given the Guapa Award by DeAlmas Women’s Institute and the Latino Plus 50 Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the Latino community.


Visiones, “Tres Hermanas,” 1983

Note: Biographical information primarily derived from the collection and a phone interview with Elba Cabrera.


15 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


Pioneering advocate for Puerto Rican and Latino arts and culture, affectionately known as “La Madrina de las Artes.” Sister of activist Evelina Antonetty and library administrator Lillian López. Collection chronicles career with organizations including the Association of Hispanic Arts (AHA), Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, Center for the Media Arts, Hostos Community College, Bronx Council on the Arts and Girl Scouts of the USA, as well as her relationships with Puerto Rican and Latino artists, musicians and writers. Collection also contains biographical and personal information, and consists of correspondence, news clippings, publications, programs, artifacts, prints, posters, photographs, and audio and video recordings.


The collection is divided into the following series and subseries:

I. Biographical and Personal Information

II. Correspondence Files

III. Subject Files

IV. Audiovisual Materials

1. Audio Cassettes 2. Photographs 3. U-matic Cassettes 4. VHS Cassettes V. Posters

Custodial History

Some publications and commercial music and film have been transferred to the Centro Library.

Related Materials

Interview, “Tres Hermanas,” Visiones (Video, 1983); Interview, “Elba Cabrera on Evelina Antonetty,” Latino Educational Media Center, (Audio, 2007); The Lillian López Papers, 1928-2005; The Association of Hispanic Arts (AHA) Records, 1944-1994; The United Bronx Parents, Inc. Records, 1966-1989.

Processing Information

This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Documentary Heritage Program of the New York State Archives, a program of the State Education Department.

Elba Cabrera Papers
Rebecca Machado and Project Supervisor, Pedro Juan Hernández, with assistance from Eddy Colloton.
June 2015
Language of description
Script of description
This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Documentary Heritage Program of the New York State Archives, a program of the State Education Department.

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.