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N.Y. Encyclopedia of Famous Puerto Ricans    


                                                             Bernardo Vega

Vega was born in the town of Cayey (same town my father’s family is from) in 1885, thirteen years before the United States invaded the island.  Vega arrived in New York City in 1916, a year later in 1917 the Jones Act made Puerto Ricans citizens of the United States of America.  Vega, describes when he first landed on the shores of New York City Harbor near the Hamilton Pier.  “Finally the Coamo docked at Hamilton Pier on Staten Island.” “There, gaping before us, were the jaws of the iron dragon: the immense New York City metropolis.”  “The skyscrapers seemed like tall gravestones.”

One of the most important contributions in the Latin American Community at that time, was the role of the Tabaqueros (Tobacco workers).  Vega describes very clearly, what a Tabaquero would do, “There would be times when a tabaquero would get so worked up defending his position that he didn’t mind losing an hour’s work trying to prove his point.”  He goes on to add, “He would quote from the books at hand, and if there weren’t any in the shop he’d come back the next day with books from home, or from the public library.”  “The main issues in these discussions centered around different trends in the socialist and anarchist movements.”  Vega also points out that it was a tradition for one worker to have an encyclopedia right there on their worktable.  Vega mentions in the Tabaquero shops  “The official reader would often times read in the morning for an hour and in the afternoon for an  hour.”  In the morning they would read current news and events for the day and news they would receive from information bulletins.  The readers would also read novels from Jules Verne, and Victor Hugo.  But as Vega pointed out “The more political they got! “The workers had more and more to say in what to read.” “From then on the readings were most often from books by Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, and James Darwin. Vega states “I never knew a single tabaquero who fell asleep.”

From the year 1916, when he came to the United States, Vega was a non-stop worker.  In Puerto Rico he was already a member of the Partido Socialista, and would be active in many trade union and political movements.  In the year 1926, along with another community activist and tabaquero Jesus Colon (Who also deserves a street named after) they founded the Liga Puertorriquena e Hispana, which overlooked the growing Puerto Rican community in New York City.  The following year, he was one of the founders of the magazine “GRAFICO” and would serve as it’s editor for many years to follow.  In addition, he would contribute articles to newspapers (Nuevo Mundo and Liberacion)
which reflected on Latin American struggles.  During the next following years he would focus his energy on the Puerto Rican independence movement.  From 1961 until, the year 1965 the year in which he passed away, he would serve as the organizational secretary of the national office.

During this period, in the 1950’s like his friend Jesus Colon, Vega was brought up in front of House Un-American Activities Committee, on investigations of Puerto Rican Communists.  Vega would stand tall and never give in and was not afraid to give them an argument.


LINKS: Memoirs  Essay about Memoirs

Boricuas Hall of Fame Home Page

National Masters Encyclopedia

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