Asturian by birth and Puerto Rican by adoption, he was a journalist, a man of literature, an educator and a political leader. His poetry was mainly Romantic in nature and his stories celebrated traditional customs. His political ideals followed the conservative line of autonomist thinking. He was Secretary of the Treasury in the Puerto Rico Autonomous Government (1898). He wrote the lyrics of La Borinqueña, Puerto Rico’s official hymn. He was also a passionate defender of the Spanish language.
Manuel Fernández Juncos was born December 11, 1846, in the town of Tresmonte in Asturias, Spain. He moved to Puerto Rico with his family in 1857, when he was 11 years old. His first home on the island was in Ponce. He arrived on the island with the primary education he had received in his hometown, but he continued to educate himself.
In 1865, he settled in Vega Baja, where he married Dolores Náter Marrero. There, he also met the poet and journalist José Gualberto Padilla, who encouraged Fernández Juncos to try journalism. His first writings were published in El Porvenir, a San Juan periodical founded by José Julián Acosta, and he later contributed to El Derecho in Ponce, La Razón in Mayagüez and El Clamor del País, an autonomist periodical, among others.
In 1877, after settling permanently in San Juan, he founded El Buscapié, a weekly literary publication. Later, in 1877, he founded the Revista Puertorriqueña. It was in these publications that he published his traditional local tales – mostly satirical and humorous – poetry, biographical and historical essays, and works of social, political and cultural criticism, as well as studies and literary criticism of new Puerto Rican authors. He also promoted new literary talents by publishing their works for the first time in the pages of the weekly.
Much of the writing related to the customs of Puerto Rico that was published in his periodicals was collected, later, in his books, Tipos y caracteres (1882) and Costumbres y tradiciones (1883). The biographical essays he had previously published were collected in Semblanzas puertorriqueñas (1888).
In politics, he joined the Liberal Reformist Party and, later, the Puerto Rican Autonomist Party, which was created in 1887. That year was known as “The Terrible Year” because of the political persecution that he and other autonomists suffered, he was jailed several times. He supported the political approach of Rafael María Labra and José Julián Acosta, who promoted an administrative, but not political autonomy that would maintain the ties with Spain.
In 1897, the Autonomist Party split apart and José Celso Barbosa and other dissidents formed the Orthodox, Liberal or Pure Autonomist Party. That same year, after Puerto Rico obtained autonomy from Spain, he was named Secretary of the Treasury and joined the autonomist cabinet.
After the Spanish-American War of 1898, he withdrew from political life. He continued working on behalf of the Puerto Rican culture in the cultural and philanthropic arenas, however. With the process of Americanization beginning on the island, he fervently defended the Spanish language. He wrote primary school textbooks in Spanish, including Los primeros pasos en castellano (1901), Libro cuarto de lectura (1902), Canciones escolares (1903), Compendio de moral para las escuelas (1904), Antología portorriqueña (1907) and Lecturas escogidas (1910).
His concern for the social well-being of the island led him to become a delegate of the Spanish Red Cross in Puerto Rico, one year after it was founded in 1895. He supported and contributed to the founding of other institutions such as the San Juan Municipal Library, the Civil Institute of Secondary Education and the Popular Education Institution. In 1906, he also created the Home for Children, which provided food, clothing and shelter. It was initially established on the ground floor of the San Juan Council House and in 1926 was moved to a building in Miramar.
He was president of the Puerto Rican Athenaeum and director of the Antillean Academy of Language. He was also a member of the Spanish Cervantes Academy, the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, the Geographic Institute of Argentina, and the Liceo Hidalgo in Mexico. In 1907, he received medals from the Puerto Rican Athenaeum and the Spanish Casino. In 1916, the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras awarded him an honorary doctoral degree.
He died on August 18, 1928, in San Juan. In 1954, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico adopted his poem, “La tierra de Borinquen”, as the official hymn, titled La borinqueña.
Rivera de álvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña: su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Partenón, . Impreso.
Alegría, Ricardo y Eladio Rivera Quiñones, eds. Historia y cultura puertorriqueña: desde la época pre-colombina hasta nuestros días. San Juan, P.R.: Fundación Francisco Carvajal, 1999. Impreso.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico. Impreso.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 17, 2014.
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