Image from EnciclopediaPR, enciclopediapr.org.
Puerto Rican, Folklore
María Cadilla de Martínez, PhD
María Cadilla de Martínez was born in 1886 in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, thirteen years before Puerto Rico’s official independence from Spain in 1898. Cadilla’s life and career focused on promoting Boricua (an indigenous term often used to refer to Puerto Rican-ness) folklore, literature, and culture through her teaching, publications, and civic work. Her legacy is felt today in the study of Puerto Rican narrative on the island, Latin America, and the Puerto Rican Diaspora.
Cadilla’s early academic preparation included a teaching certificate and an undergraduate degree from the University of Puerto Rico. She went on to receive a doctorate in philosophy and literature from the Universidad Central, Madrid, in 1933. Her doctoral thesis La poesía popular en Puerto Rico became a classic that is still taught in literature courses all over the Americas. Folklorist Lisa Lekis noted that “Were it not for her La Poesia Popular en Puerto Rico and her Recordando el Pasado Histórico, there would be little to guide her successors to the folklore of her country.”
Cadilla taught and wrote first in Arecibo, and later in San Juan, where she held a post at the University of Puerto Rico. Her exploration of the African-inflected sounds of bozal in her poems, “Yo soy un negrito angolo,” “Décima de negros,” and her story “Tate,” became important literary contributions to the study of Afro-Puerto Rican speech. Her Cuentos a Lilian (1925) is another work of great pedagogical value that continues to be anthologized throughout Latin America. With over eight published studies of folklore, history, and traditional narrative to her name, Cadilla was a pillar of strength in the formation of Folklore Studies in Puerto Rico.
Cadilla actively fought for women’s rights in her native land. She formed part of the Puerto Rican Suffrage Association, and subsequently became active in the Insular Association of Women Voters on the island. Cadilla was the only female member of the Academy of History of Puerto Rico. She received many international honors for her intellectual and social contributions, including the St. Louis Medal from France, and honors from the Folklore Society of Mexico. Her civic engagement, therefore, illustrated a deep passion for social progress that matched her tireless enthusiasm for the culture and people of Borinquen (Puerto Rico).
María Cadilla de Martínez had a full personal and professional life that left a legacy of inspiration for future Puerto Ricans interested in studying their rich traditions, histories, and stories.
Among her publications of interest to folklorists are:
Cantos y juegos infantiles de Puerto Rico (1938)
Costumbres y tradicionalismos de mi tierra (1939)
La poesía popular en Puerto Rico (1953)