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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Dear Dolores: I enjoy reading your column and try to take your advice on how to be an empowered Latina. But it’s not working. I am 34 years old, am divorced, have no children, am good-looking, own my own home and have a great career as a police officer. The problem is el machismo. The men around here can’t handle my independencia. I have to be tough at work, but I still want to be treated like a girl when I’m not working. —Ms. Independencia in El Paso, Texas
Dear Ms. Independencia: Armed women give men the heebie-jeebies. That’s why they sing, “I’ll be your reg’lar daddy if you’ll put that gun away.” Maybe if you stop trying to find a daddy to treat you like a girl and begin looking for a man to treat you like a woman, then you’ll have better luck. —Round up the unusual suspects, D [August 2006]
Dear Dolores: My brother is dating a Latina of mixed racial background. She looks black but is really Puerto Rican, Dominican and Jamaican. Is it okay for my 100-percent Mexican brother to date her? —Chica on the Net
Dear Chica: I can’t believe I’m answering this question again… What’s the matter with you? How can we, as Latinos, expect respect for diversity from society at large if we are unable to respect it and celebrate it among ourselves? If your brother loves this beautiful girl and wants to date her, he doesn’t need your—or my—okay. Thank God love is still blind. —Enough already, ¡caramba! D [June 2005]
Dear Dolores: I am 26 years old and still a virgin. Everyone’s been telling me that I can’t wait till marriage because by then “it won’t work anymore,” and worse, virginity can give me cancer. —Nere in Palm Springs, Calif.
Dear Nere: ¡Ay Virgen de los Dolores! Mija, stop hanging out with all those dumbbells: they can be dangerous to your health. Virginity does not give you cancer. That’s probably a line used by some horny, rejected boyfriend in a moment of desperation. Cancer does not make any distinction between a woman’s sexual experience, age or marital status. Also, there’s no expiration date for idle vaginas. So don’t base your decision to have sex or not on fear and ignorance. And when in doubt, always ask your ob/gyn. —By the way, there’s no Santa Claus either, D [April 2005]
Dear Dolores: My boyfriend and I have been together for a year. We make love all the time. I believe that our relationship is fine without making love every day of the week. I don’t appreciate sex anymore because we have been at it like rabbits since the beginning. Could I have just gotten tired of it, or do I need time to relax and feel comfortable again? —Angel on the Internet
Dear Angel: Some of our readers, I’m sure, would love to trade places with you. But too much of anything, even a good thing (and I hope it’s been good for you), can be tiring and ho-hum after a while. And if only one partner is enjoying the ride, well, it will sooner or later come to a dead end. Just talk it out with your conejito and negotiate both of your cuchi-cuchi needs. —Hop, hop, Dolores [February 1999]
Dear Dolores: I was wondering if you could help me. About two years ago, when I stayed at the Homewood Suites in Lewisville, Texas, I met a nice maid by the name of Gabriela. I never caught her last name. She didn’t speak much English, so she might have been an immigrant or a guest worker. We both had fun talking in broken English/Spanish. She had a real pleasant disposition. I would like to track her down, and I thought that maybe you know her. Any advice? —Traveler in NE
Dear Traveler: You must be kidding… This may come as a surprise to you in Nebraska, but all Latinos don’t know each other. We don’t even all look alike or eat exactly the same food. For all I know, Gabriela could be the CEO of Homewood Suites by now. I don’t keep track of hotel maids or facilitate dating services, but if I were you, I’d contact the Hollywood producers’ association. Judging by the abundance of Latina maids in the movies, I’d say they are the true experts on the subject. Just tell them what your dream maid looks like: Paz Vega in Spanglish? Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan? Elizabeth Peña in Down and Out in Beverly Hills? Lupe Ontiveros in…oh, God! —You have some nerve! D [March 2006]
Dear Dolores: I’ve been married for seven months, but my husband and I see each other only on weekends. I still live with my mother. She gets mad at me because she thinks he’s using me, but when I talk to him about it, he gets mad. He says he loves me and that it is better to live this way because he doesn’t want me to change on him and hurt him like his ex-novia. I love him and want us to be together for a lifetime. —Confused in TN
Dear Confused: Now I am confundida myself… Where does he live during the week? Where do you stay together on the weekends? Why did you marry this…thing? What day is today? Where am I? —Tell him to move in or stay out, D [February 2004]
Dear Dolores: I’m very confused. I can’t get over my ex, even though I know it’s the smart thing to do, especially now that he’s just had a baby with a former amiga. On top of that, he always tells our mutual friends bad stuff about me. It gets very annoying but for some reason I can’t officially let go. What should I do? —Bunny in CA
Dear Bunny: Write the following and print it out on a regular letter-size sheet of paper: “To Whom It May Concern: I (insert full name), of (insert name of town), California, am hereby physically and emotionally disengaged from (insert ex-boyfriend’s full name). The reasons for this termination are as follows: (insert ex’s first name) cheated on me, disrespected me, stopped loving me; he bad-mouths me among our friends; he now has a baby with a woman who used to be my friend; he has made me cry and suffer and has disrupted my life (insert as many reasons as necessary). I will now move on and live happily ever after.” Sign it, take it to a notary public for stamping and then mail it to yourself. When you receive it, open it, read it and put it away. Read it every time you think of him. Eventually this document will gather dust and turn yellow, forgotten at the bottom of a drawer. —There you go, D
Dear Dolores: What was your first kiss like? —Geni in NJ
Dear Geni: Hmm….The thing with first kisses is that you have nothing to compare them to. Growing up in a small town where everybody knew everybody else, and the metiche neighbors went straight to your mother if they saw you just walking with a boy, you had to do the kissing in some “secret” place…like the movies. El Cine Cinema was just the spot. Back row against the wall. He had a long nose; I wore glasses. It was clumsy and kind of messy, but I got the butterflies anyway. I can’t remember the name of the movie I didn’t watch and was so relieved that my mom didn’t ask me about it. But I still remember his name. A few years ago he was in New York and looked me up. We met for drinks. His nose looked bigger than I remembered. While I was sipping margaritas and he kept babbling about his success in business, one question kept going around in my head: What was I thinking back then? —But you have to start somewhere, right? D
Dear Dolores: A female friend is wooing me, and I don’t know what to do. Could I fall in love with another woman? —Klaudia in Louisiana
Dear Klaudia: Of course you can. The heart knows no prejudices. And fortunately, society is becoming more tolerant of same-sex partnerships to the point, where couples can get married in several states—though surely not in Louisiana. If you feel attracted to this woman and want to explore an intimate relationship, make sure to go at it in a sincere manner, as you would in any other relationship, and not just as an exploratory lark. Gay hearts break as easily as straight ones. —TK Dolores sign-off