Dolores Prida, Columnist and Playwright, Dies at 69

January 23, 2013 | Students

By BRUCE WEBER

January 23, 2013

Dolores Prida, a Cuban-born journalist and playwright who wrote candidly and wittily about local and national politics, romance and other personal matters, and the joys and vexations of the Hispanic experience in America, died early Sunday in Manhattan. She was 69.

Ms. Prida was returning to her home in Spanish Harlem from a Saturday night party celebrating the 20th anniversary of a women’s group she belonged to when she began feeling ill, her sister Lourdes Diharce said. Ms. Diharce accompanied her to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she died. An autopsy was performed on Tuesday, but Ms. Diharce said she had not yet been informed of the cause of death.

Ms. Prida wrote several plays and the book for “4 Guys named José… and Una Mujer Named María!” a high-spirited musical that appeared off Broadway in 2000. But she was more prominent as a journalist. She wrote a monthly column in English for The Daily News in New York from 2005 until 2012; at her death she had been writing a weekly column for El Diario/La Prensa, the New York Spanish-language daily, since 2009 and translating it into English for the Web site VoicesofNY.org, which is affiliated with the City University of New York school of journalism.

In addition, for more than a dozen years she wrote the column “Dolores Dice” — Spanish for “Dolores Says” — for Latina magazine, dispensing romantic advice, mediating family disputes and counseling mutual respect among factions in the Hispanic world.

A self-confessed media hound who devoured newspaper and television news reports across the political spectrum, Ms. Prida was frustrated by the lack of coverage of Hispanic Americans by mainstream news outlets.

“She was always perplexed at the idea that there was so little news about Latinos, this incredible sector of the U.S., and that what there was so often negative,” said Maite Junco, a former editor of Viva New York, a section of The Daily News aimed at Latino readers, and now the editor of VoicesofNY.org. “She’d say, ‘If I have to see the video one more time of people jumping the fence in Mexico when they’re talking about immigration …’ ”

Her newspaper work was aimed at correcting that gap. Her subjects — gun control, immigration, parenting, education — were approached from a Hispanic perspective. A recent column about censorship and freedom of speech focused on a Puerto Rican television show featuring a gossiping puppet known as La Comay with a penchant for homosexual slurs.

“The type of humor represented by La Comay and those mental adolescents of Spanish-language radio morning shows are repugnant to me, and worse yet, they don’t make me laugh,” Ms. Prida wrote. “But since I have the freedom to move my radio dial, I never listen to them.

“That is the only type of censorship I can tolerate.”

Dolores Obdulia Prida was born in Caibarién, Cuba, on Sept. 5, 1943. Her father, Manuel, who ran a clothing business, fled the island by boat shortly after the revolution led by Fidel Castro; his wife, the former Dolores Prieto, and their three daughters joined him two years later, in 1961, settling in New York City, where young Dolores attended Hunter College and worked at a bakery. During the 1970s and 1980s, Ms. Prida worked for the Spanish-language daily newspaper El Tiempo and a short-lived English-language monthly, Nuestro.

In addition to “4 Guys Named José,” a genial revue of popular Latin songs with a plot concocted by Ms. Prida about four men putting on a show in Omaha, Ms. Prida’s plays include “The Beggar’s Soap Opera,” a musical satire with a score by Paul Radelat that sets a tweaked version of the Brecht-Weill “Threepenny Opera” in the South Bronx of the 1970s; “Botanica,” about cultural and generational conflicts in East Harlem among an old Puerto Rican woman, her daughter and her granddaughter who has just graduated from an Ivy League university; and “Casa Propria” (“A House of Her Own”), a comedy set in motion when a woman realizes her life’s wish and buys a house in East Harlem, much to the displeasure of her lazy, philandering husband.

In addition to her sister Lourdes, Ms. Prida is survived by another sister, Maria Aristizabal.

The women’s group Ms. Prida was celebrating with on the night of her death was formed 20 years ago by Latina journalists and other professionals; Sonia Sotomayor, the newest Supreme Court justice, has attended their gatherings over the years, including the one Saturday night.

“Dolores was a treasured friend,” Justice Sotomayor wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday night, “a pioneer in championing the cultural identity of Latinos in the United States. I saw and hugged her hours before she died.”

The group itself is known informally as LIPS, though it was originally LIP, for Latinas in Power, Ms. Junco said. It was Ms. Prida who added the “S” — for “Sort of.”

Originally published by The New York Times