I met Dolores Prida shortly after I joined Latina as associate editor, in 2004. She worked mostly from home but had a cubicle in our Times Square office, and she would come in about once a week, usually unannounced, to work and catch up with everyone. I was one of the many young Latinas who read her column in the magazine religiously and wondered what the woman behind the witty and wise advice would be like in person.
I don’t know what I expected but whatever it was, Dolores was nothing like it, nothing like the moño-wearing woman whose cartoon picture ran with her column. The real-life Dolores had short hair, always wore pants and crew neck shirts, and smoked almost constantly. I loved her from the start—loved hearing her stories about growing up going to the beach and eating cangrejos in her hometown of Caibarien, in our native Cuba, about how her passion for writing had manifested early and about her career in theater. Aside from weighing in on everything from politics to social issues, she loved to laugh (she had a wicked sense of humor) and eat, both of which I would do with her as often as I could. I would miss entire deadlines talking to her.
She quickly became one of my biggest mentors. Coming from Miami, most of the Latinos I knew were Cuban like me. I had little real knowledge about the rest of the Latino community. Dolores had not only been writing about our Latino experience for decades in plays like Coser y Cantar and Las Beautiful Señoritas and later, in newspaper columns for the New York Daily News and El Diario, among others, but she’d lived it as an immigrant who arrived in Miami in the 1960s and made her way to New York City.
When I started working at Latina, it was Dolores who gave me an eye-opening understanding of our shared history in this country, of how our different cultures, traditions and foods, our language, our presence—which stretched back hundreds of years, she’d remind me—had made an indelible mark on the United States.
It was she who told me that the first Thanksgiving actually took place between Native Americans and Spanish conquistadores, long before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. It was she who told me about Cesar Chavez’s life and work. It was she to whom the entire staff would turn when we had doubts as to the origin of a Latin slang word, phrase or tradition and she whom we asked where the accent went in Spanish words. I may have had respect for my editors but what I feared most was disappointing Dolores by getting something wrong. She was our elder stateswoman and our treasure.
“She was the original wise Latina,” Betty Cortina, former Latina editorial director, told me, when I broke the news that Dolores was gone, and it’s not an overstatement. Soon after meeting her, I asked Dolores what books by Latino authors and about Latino culture I should read, and she not only gave me titles and names of writers but invited me to her Spanish Harlem home to pick the books out of her library. I still have them. Over the years, other staffers and I would head to her home to share a bottle of tequila, some empanadas from the corner store and hours-long conversation and advice on everything from relationships to careers. Those are some of my favorite memories.
What she did for me, she did for many others at Latina, throughout her time here. She started working at Latina as a translator, back when we printed every article in two languages. When then editor-in-chief Sandra Guzman was looking for an advice columnist, the answer seemed obvious: The person everyone poured their hearts out to—Dolores, the office’s older, wiser tia.
Dolores Dice, with Dolores’ distinctive voice—unabashedly feminist and Latina to the core in pointing out our flaws and our strengths—at the center of it, was an instant hit, an anchor for a magazine throughout redesigns, leadership changes and industry ups and downs.
“It was one of the best decisions of my tenure at the magazine,” Guzman said. “Dolores touched, healed and inspired many hearts through the column.”
Last week, when she and I were talking about how to celebrate the column’s 15th anniversary, Dolores simply asked if she could have an extra page. I felt proud to tell her that we were planning much more. Now, it seems inconceivable to have to do that without her.
Last night, she was at a party celebrating the 29th anniversary of a women’s group—the hilariously named Latinas in Power Sort Of, which includes mujeres in media and beyond and counts Sonia Sotomayor among its members. Dolores brought a pernil, danced, talked and joked about turning 70 this year, Maite Junco, journalist and the night’s hostess, told me. Guzman, also present at the party, remembers her sharing thoughts on her latest project, a book tentatively called How to Become an American in 100 Films, highlighting movies that showcase immigrant experiences.
At around 10 p.m., Dolores told a few people she wasn’t feeling well and left quietly. Walking to her nearby home, she collapsed in the streets and called her sister Lourdes, with whom she lived, for help. It’s not clear whether she suffered a stroke or massive heart attack but by 2:30 this morning she was gone.
On her way to the hospital, she’d told paramedics that she’d “just been at a party, dancing out of happiness,” Junco told me.
I’m heartbroken she’s gone, but I’m happy that someone who spent her life working to highlight the accomplishments and power of the Latino community had one last night celebrating just that.