Short story writer and social worker who was part of the 1945 generation. Through his work, he sought to understand the island’s reality. He cultivated the literary genre known as costumbrismo, which emphasizes local customs.
Abelardo Díaz Alfaro was born in Caguas on July 24, 1916. As an adolescent, he helped his father, the pastor of an evangelical church, to write the magazine Puerto Rico Evangélico. He began his university studies at the Polytechnic University of San Germán and later transferred to the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus, where he graduated with a degree in social work and psychology.
He began working in the legal research division of the Department of Labor in the rural areas of the municipalities of Arroyo, Cidra and Comerío, which allowed him to observe nature and the social and economic situation of the Puerto Rican rural people. Following the norms of his generation, he aesthetically recreated with humor and irony the life and concerns of the rural people: the replacement of what was local by things from the United States; the bitterness of the cane cutter grown old working in the sugar cane fields; the economic ruin of the tobacco plantations and the takeover of the land by large, absentee corporations from the north.
With the publication of his work Terrazo (1947) – a collection of stories and traditional illustrations – Díaz Alfaro depicted the uncertainty that dominated the social scene in Puerto Rico in the middle of the 20th century. Terrazo was translated into English, Italian, Russian and Czech, among other languages.
In some of the stories in this book, he represented the conflicts and values of human beings, particularly those of Puerto Ricans, through animals. In “Josco,” the best known story from Terrazo, the struggle by Puerto Rican rural people against the United States presence on the island is represented through the characters of bulls. In other stories, Díaz Alfaro portrays with irony and humor the public’s unease with the United States educational system through the character of teacher Peyó Mercé.
In the short story “Los perros,” published in the magazine Asomante (1956), he departs from costumbrismo to embark on a metaphysical reflection on the heroic and unequal struggle by humans against the forces of evil. In this story, he returns to his religious roots.
In 1959, Díaz Alfaro worked for the publicly owned television station, WIPR TV-Channel 6. He developed two programs for the station which won a big following: Estampas de Teyo García and Retablos del solar. He was a scriptwriter and host for both programs.
In 1967, he published Mi isla soñada, a selection of the illustrations presented in both programs, which won an award from the Society of University Journalists.
In 1997, Díaz Alfaro was awarded the Intellectual Merit prize granted by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. He shared the honor along with painter Myrna Báez, opera singer Justino Díaz, cardiologist Raúl García Rinaldi, and violinist José “Pepito” Figueroa.
Terrazo was brought to the stage for the first time in 1980 at the Tapia Theater under the direction of Victoria Espinosa and with a star-studded cast of Rafael Conde, Moncho Conde, José Arnaldo González and Carmen Nydia Velázquez. The work was also adapted to the cinema under the title Cuentos de Abelardo, a trilogy consisting of “Don Propicio,” “Don Peyo Mercé enseña inglés” and “Bagazo.” The production was directed by Luis Molina Casanova.
Abelardo Díaz Alfaro died on July 22, 1999. As his final wish, after his wake at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, his body was carried to the Old San Juan Cemetery in an ox cart, symbolizing “Josco,” the representation of the Puerto Rico he had known.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 15, 2014.
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