Adiós, Dolores: Celebrating The Life And Work Of The Extraordinary Woman Behind 'Dolores Dice'

These pages were supposed to host a virtual quinceañera — a celebration of Dolores Prida’s 15 years as Latina’s advice columnist, with a special piece by the veteran writer herself. It was to be a toast to her witty, on-point, irreverent and unabashedly feminist advice on everything from getting rid of cheating boyfriends to reconnecting with Latin culture.

Now this space is our tribute to her, celebrating Dolores’s life as she lived it on — and off — the written page. That’s because on January 20, as we were planning the May issue of Latina, we got the news that Dolores had collapsed while walking home from a party in her New York neighborhood of El Barrio. Suddenly, cruelly, she was gone — and so was a voice synonymous with Latina.

You — Dolores’s biggest audience — know that voice well. Every month it urged you to take your power back from deceivers and detractors, told you to be as real with yourself as you expect others to be with you and encouraged you to let no one but you define what it is to be Latina.

But behind the words and the sassy illustrated character was also a gifted playwright, poet, essayist and opinion columnist for publications like El Diario la Prensa, whose work highlighting Latino experiences and advocating for our issues deserves to live on; a mentor who was a backbone to our magazine; and most of all, a fearless mujer who loved to joke, dance and eat, and who truly knew how to live. Wholly without pretense or BS, Dolores looked nothing like her illustration: a child of the bra-burning ’60s, she always wore pants, button-down shirts and sneakers, and kept her hair in a short, boyish cut. And like the old-fashioned writer’s writer she was, she chain-smoked.

Dolores was born in Caibarién, a little seaside town in Cuba, and was every inch a caribeña, raised on arena y sol, crema de cangrejo and pernil, which she invariably volunteered to carve every Noche Buena when celebrating the season with family and friends.

Soon after her family emigrated to the U.S. in 1961, settling in Miami, Dolores broke out on her own, traveling to New York to stay with an uncle and make her mark as a writer. It was in theater that she found a home, writing and producing plays with Latinas at the center (still taught at colleges nationwide and available on amazon.com): Beautiful Señoritas, which poked fun at Latina stereotypes, Four Guys Named Jose and Una Mujer Named Maria, which explored the commonalities among Latin cultures, and Coser y Cantar, which tackled Latinos’ bicultural reality.

That she tackled those subjects long before it was fashionable or profitable to do so makes her writing and her voice ageless, relevant—and, of course, perfect for Latina. It’s no wonder that when she started writing Dolores Dice while working as a translator at Latina in 1998, it caught fire. She used to call it “Latin-style tongue-in-cheek advice for the lovelorn, the forlorn and the just torn,” but it was more than that. It was indispensable.

Beyond the page, Dolores held court at home, an old townhouse in El Barrio, which, with its collection of Latin American masks, an old piano and decades’ worth of pictures and books, was the definition of soul. She had a garden called Lola’s Patio, after one of her nicknames. There she grilled churrasco, puerco and fish and sat with what always seemed the constant presence of good friends.

Many a night Latina staffers would show up with a bottle of tequila and some cuchifritos from the corner store and talk the night away, asking Dolores for advice, sharing stories of work, men and life. The idea that we will never do that again with her is one of the deepest cuts caused by her death.

But sadness is not the emotion that Dolores would want attached to her memory. On the night she died, Dolores had attended a party for a Latina group that she helped found (LIPS, or Latinas in Power, Sort Of — the “Sort Of” was Dolores’s idea) and which included Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She danced, ate, drank, chatted and laughed for hours. She was excited about Dolores Dice’s 15th anniversary; she joked about her upcoming 70th birthday.

As Dolores was being rushed to the hospital after her collapse, her sister said Dolores told paramedics that she’d “just been at a party, dancing from happiness.” For those of us she left behind, it’s both a heartbreaking and comforting last line. There’s no doubt that’s how she’d want to be remembered.

This story by Latina's Editorial Director Damarys Ocaña Perez appears in the May 2013 issue of Latina magazine, on newsstands now. Read on to read 9 of Dolores' best letters to her readers:

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About this author

Damarys Ocaña Perez,

Damarys Ocaña Perez is Director of Editorial Content at Latina Media Ventures. She leads its magazine, Latina, the pre-eminent beauty, fashion, culture and lifestyle magazine for acculturated U.S. Hispanic women and is responsible for maintaining Latina’s voice, vision and mission across all LMV platforms. Born in Havana and raised in Miami, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

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