Julia de Burgos

1914 –

Julia Constanza Burgos García was born in a rural section of the northeastern municipality of Carolina, Puerto Rico, on February 17, 1914. Her father, Francisco Burgos Hans, was a farmer of German descent. Her mother, Paula García de Burgos, was Afro Puerto Rican. De Burgos was the eldest daughter in a family of thirteen. However, six of her siblings died during childhood. Though she suffered from poverty during her youth, De Burgos was an ambitious student. In 1931, she earned a scholarship to study at the University of Puerto Rico. De Burgos graduated with a degree in teaching and became an elementary school teacher. De Burgos later adopted “de” to her name, which indicates marital status or possession, after divorcing her first husband. The name change symbolized a repossession of her identity.

In response to both widespread poverty, which worsened during the Great Depression, and frustration over American occupation in Puerto Rico, De Burgos the joined the Nationalist Party in 1936. She rallied women, particularly, to advocate for Puerto Rican independence. Meanwhile, De Burgos wrote scripts for a children’s radio program under the sponsorship of Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Instruction. She was terminated, however, due to her political affiliations. De Burgos published her first poetry collection Poema en veinte surcos (Imprenta Venezuela) in 1938. She experienced difficulty fitting into Puerto Rican intellectual circles, due to being both a divorced woman in a conservative Roman Catholic society and a person of African descent. At the time, most intellectuals working toward reform were neither interested in feminism nor civil rights for Afro Puerto Ricans. Moreover, De Burgos’s poetry dealt frankly with the violence that both the island’s Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans suffered during the colonial period. De Burgos left Puerto Rico for New York in 1940, never to return. She lived with her lover, Juan Isidro Jimenes Grúllon, a Dominican intellectual and son of former president of the Dominican Republic, Juan Isidro Jimenes Pereyra. Later that year, De Burgos and Grúllon relocated to Cuba, where they remained for two years. In 1943, De Burgos became a columnist for Pueblos Hispanos, a New York-based Hispanic newspaper. Her poems appeared there and in other Spanish-language New York periodicals.

De Burgos, who suffered from alcoholism and, eventually, cirrhosis, collapsed and died on a Harlem street on July 6, 1953. She was thirty-nine. De Burgos, whose literary legacy has been reexamined in recent decades, is often regarded as a forebear of the literary Nuyorican movement. In 1995, Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos (Northwestern University Press), was released.