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Blase Camacho Souza Papers

 Collection — Box: 24
Identifier: MSS 86

Content Description

The Blase Camacho Souza Papers are a significant resource for Puerto Rican migration studies and shed light on the life of plantation laborers in Hawaii in the 1900’s and their descendants. The papers provide an intimate portrait of family life and work as well as the social and cultural networks created by migrants in their efforts to preserve Puerto Rican traditions.

The inclusive dates of the materials range from 1899 to 2003. Included among the documents are letters, photographs, manuscripts, notes, programs, flyers, newspaper clippings, publications, posters and artifacts. Folders are arranged alphabetically/chronologically.

Dates

  • Majority of material found within 1970-2000
  • 1899-2003

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restriction.

Biographical / Historical

Blase Camacho Souza is a second generation Puerto Rican Hawaiian, the granddaughter of contract laborers who emigrated from Puerto Rico in 1901 to work in Hawaiian sugar plantations. Trained as a librarian and educator, she has extensively researched, lectured and written on the migration experience of Puerto Ricans in Hawaii and on Hawaiian culture and history. Camacho Souza is a co-founder and first President of the Puerto Rican Heritage Society, which seeks to maintain, promote and document Puerto Rican traditions through such activities as exhibits, festivals and publications. In efforts to reconnect Puerto Rico and Hawaii, Camacho Souza organized trips and exchanges between the two “archipelagos.” She participated in the “Plantation Village Project,” a museum re-creation of plantation life, by setting up La Casita: The Puerto Rican House, a replica of the houses used by Puerto Rican plantation workers.

The U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898 adversely impacted the island’s economy which was largely based on agriculture production. The economic situation deteriorated further when on August 8, 1899, Puerto Rico was struck by the devastating hurricane, San Ciriaco. Agricultural laborers were especially hard-hit, many becoming homeless and jobless. These conditions and other factors, along with a campaign to recruit contract laborers, persuaded workers to leave for countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Venezuela and to the far away island of Hawaii. Blase Camacho Souza’s grandparents were among those who left in the Hawaii emigration of 1901.

Blase Camacho Souza was born in Kohala, Hawaii on February 3, 1918 to Mary (Rosa Maria Caravalho) and Lawrence (Lorenzo) Ramos Camacho. She was named Santo Blasias by the French priest of the town, for St. Blase, the patron saint of that day. Showing her sense of self at age three, she requested of her parents not to have a masculine name so they called her Blasina until the New England teachers at the grade school she attended registered her as Blase. She was raised in a small plantation house along with five siblings. With her parents support and her sense of self, Camacho did not let tradition keep her from pursuing an education. She was the second Puerto Rican to graduate from Kohala High School and the first Puerto Rican Hawaiian to graduate from the University of Hawaii, earning a bachelors degree in education in 1939. To finance her studies, Camacho took various jobs including domestic work, factory work at a pineapple cannery, and clerking at the University of Hawaii Teachers’ College library. After graduation she worked as a teacher for some years, but then decided to shift careers. Once again showing determination and independence, she left Hawaii for New York City to study library science at Pratt Institute obtaining a degree in 1947 in Library and Information Science. Despite the gray skies of the East Coast, Camacho loved the style and pace of the large city and was much too busy with her studies to miss the islands. However, almost guaranteed employment was waiting her upon graduation and so she returned to enter the educational field, accepting a job as a librarian with one of the island’s public schools. As she progressed upwardly in this field she made her mark, becoming a co-founder of the Hawaii Association of school Librarians and President of the Hawaii Library Association. In 1949, Camacho married Alfred Patrick Souza with whom she had two daughters, Michelle Louise and Patricia Ann.

In the course of her career, she nurtured a deep interest in her roots and the history of Puerto Ricans. After retirement from the Department of Education she dedicated herself wholeheartedly to promoting and preserving the history and culture of Puerto Rican Hawaiians. In the 1970s, she contributed chapters to books, such as, Legacy of Diversity, and Montage: An Ethnic History of Women in Hawaii. She published De Borinquen a Hawaii: Nuestra Historia/ From Puerto Rico to Hawaii: Our Story and co-edited a recovered work by Carlos Mario Fraticelli titled A Puerto Rican Poet on the Sugar Plantations of Hawaii.

In 1982 she founded the Puerto Rican Heritage Society (PRHS) to preserve the cultural heritage of Puerto Ricans of Hawaii and became its first President. PRHS played an important role in her life and under her leadership, the Society flourished. From 1980-1983, Camacho Souza was the Director of “Puerto Ricans of Hawaii: Reflections of the Past and Mirror of the Future,” a ground-breaking project of the Hawaii Committee for the Humanities. This traveling exhibition focused on the experiences of Puerto Rican migrants in Hawaii including life on the sugar plantations, family values and traditions.

Blase Camacho Souza’s tireless efforts to preserve Boricua Hawaiiana culture is richly documented in her papers. Her collection is a unique resource for anyone interested in understanding this aspect of the Puerto Rican diasporic experience. It contains an unpublished manuscript Puerto Ricans of Hawaii: 100 Years. Blase Camacho Souza died in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2008 at the age of 90.

Extent

13.0 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials

English

Spanish; Castilian

Abstract

Boricua-Hawaiana activist and educator. Her papers are an important source of information on the experience of Puerto Ricans who emigrated to Hawaii. Included in the papers are letters, manuscripts, notes, programs, flyers, photographs, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia.

Arrangement

The collection is divided into the following series:

I. Biographical and Personal Information

II. Correspondence

III. Puerto Rican Heritage Society

IV. Organizations

V. Writings

VI. Photographs

VII. Subject Files

VIII. Conferences and Conventions

IX. Plantation Life

X. Clippings

XI. Artifacts

XII. Publications

XIII. Audio Tapes

Other Finding Aids

English / Spanish finding aid available (see External Documents).

Title
Blase Camacho Souza Papers
Status
Completed
Author
Marisol Cordero and Kimberlly Irizarry. Spanish translation by Nadya Rodriguez.
Date
2005
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Sponsor
Funding for processing was provide by the Council of the City of New York and Phillip Reed as well as a congressional directed initiative sponsored by Congressman José Serrano and administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, and the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico.

Revision Statements

  • 2014: Guide was revised by Juber Ayala and Pedro Juan Hernández.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Repository

Contact:
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.