Lola Rodríguez de Tío (1843-1924) is a revered figure in both Cuban and Puerto Rican history. She is considered to be Puerto Rico's premier nineteenth century lyric poet and one of Latin America's most important early feminists.
Rodríguez de Tío was born September 14, 1843, in San Germain, Puerto Rico. Born into the island's ruling class, she was the daughter of Don Sebastian Rodríguez de Astudillo, Dean of the Magistracy of Puerto Rico, and Doña Carmen Ponce de León, a descendant of Ponce de León, the explorer and first governor of the colony. Rodríguez de Tío was a bright child who showed early promise as a poet. Her education in religious schools and by private tutors was guided by her mother, who was described in the Enciclopedia Puertorriqueña Ilustrada as "an educated, well-read woman with a fine spirit and the wide-awake intelligence of a child." It was rare for women to be educated in Puerto Rico; most women, especially poor women, were illiterate. It was rarer still for a woman to be an intellectual, but Rodríguez de Tío was supported and encouraged in her progress as a poet by poet Ursula Cardona de Quinones. Her understanding of the disparity of opportunity for women made her one of Latin America's most influential early feminists.
Rodríguez de Tío married at age 20; her husband, Bonacio Tío Segarra, was a respected and influential journalist and poet. Partners in life and politics, the couple were a thorn in the side of the government. As a colony, Puerto Rico had been long abused, suffering corruption and brutality under Spain's colonial governors. Puerto Rico's visionary patriot Eugenio María de Hostos was an important influence on Rodríguez de Tío. Hostos spent most of his life in exile. His eloquent writings inspired many others to call for independence from Spain. Rodríguez de Tío's home in Mayaguez became a salon where the leading intellectuals, including Hostos, discussed politics and called for revolution. Forthright in her opposition, she boldly challenged the government.
The work for which Rodríguez de Tío is best known, and which caused her to be deported, was "La Borinquena." In 1868, she composed a fiery lyric for a traditional melody; she read it aloud at a literary gathering at her home to immediate acclaim. It begins: "Awake, Borinquenos, for they've given the signal!/Awake from your sleep, for it's time to fight!" "La Borinquena" became Puerto Rico's national anthem, but Rodríguez de Tío's lyrics were later replaced with the more sentimental lyrics of Manuel Fernandez Juncos. The Lares Uprising of 1868 brought about a repressive response from the government— Rodríguez de Tío and her husband were given hours to leave the island. They went into exile in Caracas, Venezuela, where Hostos was already living. They grew closer to Hostos during their time in Venezuela; Rodríguez de Tío was a bridesmaid at his wedding in 1878.
Finally, the family was allowed to return to Puerto Rico in 1885, but once again, Rodríguez de Tío's writing infuriated the government. "Nochebuena," a tribute to political prisoners, was published in 1887, the "terrible year" of the "Componte." Rodríguez de Tío and her family were exiled in 1889 to Cuba, never again to live in Puerto Rico. However, she devoted the rest of her life to achieving independence for both her homeland and Cuba.
Their political activity for Cuban independence caused Rodríguez de Tío and her husband to be expelled from Havana in 1892. They joined a group of Cuban exiles in New York City, where Rodríguez de Tío met José Martí, the legendary Cuban patriot and poet. This period in her life was one of intense political activity—the group of political exiles created the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1895. Martí regarded Rodríguez de Tío as an equal in art and in politics. When Martí was killed in Cuba in 1895, the exiles carried on their efforts through political clubs. Rodríguez de Tío was elected president of "Rius Rivera" in 1896, and secretary of another club, "Caridad," in 1897. She and her family returned to Cuba in 1899 after the Spanish-American War, and she devoted the rest of her life to social justice and the betterment of the condition of women in Cuba.
Rodríguez de Tío is considered a leading literary figure and a national hero: she was named to the Cuban Academy of Arts and Letters in 1910 and Patron of the Galician Beneficent Society in 1911. She continued to be active in politics and served as inspector general of the private schools in Havana, as well as in the Ministry of Education. Like many other feminists of her time, Rodríguez de Tío also sought to reform women's fashions. Federico Ribes Tovar described her attire in Enciclopedia Puertorriqueña Ilustrada: "This strange woman with her radical thoughts, wore a skirt of a very peculiar design, like an Amazon's, and wore a blouse with a high neckline and a wide bow tie, and her hair was cut like a man's." He also reported that she was considered to be devout, a fine wife and mother, and an "exemplary friend."
Rodríguez de Tío's importance as a poet is a matter of dispute among literary critics, but her place in Puerto Rican letters is not. Referred to in the Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature as that country's "most distinguished 19th-century lyric poet," her style is sometimes dismissed as derivative, but her verses are well known and very influential. No less an authority than Ruben Dario, considered Spanish America's greatest modern poet, praised Rodríguez de Tío, calling her "the Daughter of the Isles."
As a disciple of Romanticism, Rodríguez de Tío was influenced by Spanish Golden Age poets and the traditional stanza. She published three books: Mis Cantares, in 1876 (My Songs); Claros y Nieblas, in 1885 (Bright Intervals and Mist); and Mi Libro de Cuba, in 1893 (My Book on Cuba One of her most famous verses, "Cuba and Puerto Rico," was quoted by Fidel Castro in a 1966 speech: "Cuba and Puerto Rico are/of one bird, the two wings;/they receive flowers and bullets/in the same heart." However, he mistakenly attributed it to Jose Marti. Rodríguez de Tío's poem does capture her affection for both Puerto Rico and her adopted homeland: it concludes: "What a lot if in the illusion/that glows red in a thousand tones,/ Lola's muse dreams/ with fervent fantasy/ of making one single homeland/ of this land and of mine." She died on November 10, 1924, in Havana, Cuba, at the age of 81.
Babin, Maria Teresa, and Stan Steiner, Borinquen: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Literature, Vintage Books, 1974.
Marques, Rene, The Docile Puerto Rican, Temple University Press, 1976.
Smith, Verity, ed., "Puerto Rico," Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
Tío, Carlos F. Mendoza, Contribución al Estudio de la Obra Poetica de Lola Rodríguez de Tío, 1974.
—, "Lola Rodríguez de Tío," Investigaciónes Literarias, 1974.
Tovar, Federico Ribes, "Lola Rodríguez de Tío," Enciclopedia Puertorriquena Ilustrada, Plus Ultra Educational Publications, Inc., 1970. □