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Wednesday, April 30 & Thursday, May 1, 2008

2nd INTERNATIONAL AND INTERDISCIPLINARY
CONFERENCE ON DOMINICAN STUDIES

Dominicans in the U.S. Prior to 1970 - Recovering an Earlier Dominican Presence
Dominicanos en los Estados Unidos antes 1970
Dedicated to Camila Henríquez-Ureña and Tito Cánepa

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Henríquez Urena, Camila (1894-1973)

Camila Henriquez-UrenaThe fourth child and only daughter of two prominent Dominicans, Salome Ureña de Henríquez and Fran­cisco Henríquez Ureña, Camila Henríquez Ureña is one of the finest Latina-Caribbean intellectuals of the twen­tieth century. She was born in the Dominican Republic three years before the death of her mother, the promi­nent poet and educator Salome Ureña de Henríquez. Camila Henríquez Ureña's figure has often been over­shadowed by the presence of her two better-known siblings, the literary luminaries Pedro and Max Hen­ríquez Ureña.

Camila Henríquez Ureña spent a good deal of her life in Cuba, where she moved with her father and his second wife and family in 1904. Henríquez Ureña re­ceived her doctorate in philosophy, letters, and peda­gogy from the University of Havana in 1917. Her dis­sertation was titled "Pedagogical Ideas of Eugenio María de Hostos," honoring the memory of the illustri­ous Puerto Rican educator and her mother's mentor and supporter of her founding the first normal school for girls in the Dominican Republic. From 1918 to 1921 Henríquez Ureña lived in Minnesota, where she stud­ied and taught classes at the University of Minnesota. Returning to Cuba in the early 1920s, Camila Hen­ríquez Ureña became a Cuban citizen in 1926. She lived in Paris and studied at the Sorbonne from 1932 to 1934.

While living in Cuba in the 1930s, she was active in organizing feminists, as well as cultural institutions and events. Most notable among her activities is her role as cofounder and president of the Lyceum, a femi­nist cultural organization, and the Hispanic-Cuban In­stitute. In 1942 she moved to the United States and taught at Vassar College until 1959 in the Department of Hispanic Studies, where she served twice as chair­person and was a tenured professor. During a number of summers in her 1942-1959 residence in the United States, Henríquez Ureña was also on the faculty of the prestigious language and literature summer program at Middlebury College. Her contribution is notable, for she was one of the earliest instances of a Latina­Caribbean academic earning tenure and chairperson­ship at a prestigious academic institution in the United States. Henríquez Ureña, however, gave up her pen­sion as professor emerita at Vassar College to return to Cuba and to participate in the restructuring of the Uni­versity of Havana, where she taught in the Department of Latin American Literature until her retirement in 1970. At the time of her death while visiting her native Dominican Republic, Camila Henríquez Ureña held the title of professor emerita from the University of Ha­vana, as well as Vassar College, a rare if not unique ac­complishment, worthy of note.

The breadth of knowledge to be found in Camila Henriquez Urena's writings gives evidence of her eru­dition and lifelong commitment to learning. Henríquez Ureña was a woman of many and varied interests. Pedro Henríquez Ureña's letters, collected in the fam­ily's Epistolarlo, record his own amazement at his sis ter's capacity for learning and her curious intellect. In several testimonios provided by Mirta Yanez in her "Camila y Camila" one finds how truly diverse Hen­ríquez Ureña's interests were: her knowledge of, par­ticipation in, and even singing of operas in various lan­guages; her ability with music and her fine, distinguished, but very Caribbean way of dancing; her work as an educator and in women's movements; and her ability to learn foreign languages, ostensibly so that she might read works in the original by some of her favorite authors-Dante, Ibsen, Racine, Shake­speare, and others. Furthermore, a selection of her es­says, collected posthumously and edited by Mirta Aguirre, one of her most distinguished students and later her colleague at the University of Havana, gives evidence of a sound liberal education and a serious in­tellect. In brief, her intellectual capacity is evident in the subject matters she chose: her doctoral disserta­tion on Hostos, her introduction to a Spanish version of Dante's Inferno published in Cuba in 1935, her col­laboration with the Spanish poet laureate Juan Ramon Jimenez in the now-classic La poesia en Cuba in 1936, and her studies of the pastoral genre in Spain and on the theater of Lope de Vega, to name just some of her known works.

Camila Henríquez Ureña's most significant contri­bution to the genre of the essay, however, is her now­classic collection of essays on the condition of women, her formidable trilogy: "Feminismo" (1939), "La mujer y la cultura" (1949), and "La carta como forma de expre­si6n literaria femenina" (1951). Mirta Yanez, Daisy Cocco De Filippis, and Chiqui Vicioso, among others, have pointed out the importance of these essays to the history of the feminist essay in the Spanish Caribbean. In "Feminismo" Camila Henríquez Ureña traces the history of the role women have played in societies from prehistoric time to her day. In this essay Hen­ríquez Ureña takes to task the male creation of "excep­tional women" to justify denying women's rights. It is not in these examples or "exceptions" that women are to find the road to moral, spiritual, intellectual, and economic independence. In "La mujer y la cultura," an essay she first wrote in 1939 but did not publish until 1949, she explains that true change comes about as a result of collective efforts:

Las mujeres de exception de los pasados siglos rep­resentaron aisladamente un progreso en sentido vertical. Fueron precursoras, a veces, sembraron ejemplo fructifero. Pero un movimiento cultural im­portante es siempre de conjunto, y necesita propa­garse en sentido horizontal. La mujer necesita de­sarrollar su caracter, en el aspecto colectivo, para Ilevar a termino una lucha que esta ahora en sus comienzos. Necesita hacer labor de propagation de la cultura que ha podido alcanzar para seguir pro­gresando.

(Exceptional women in past centuries represented isolated cases of progress in the vertical sense. They were precursors; at times they planted fruitful ex­amples. But an important cultural movement is al­ways a group effort, and it needs to be propagated in a horizontal sense. A woman needs to develop char­acter, in a collective sense, to bring to fruition a strug­gle that is now in its inception. She needs to work on propagating the culture that she has acquired in order to be able to continue to make progress.)

In a certain sense, in reading "La mujer y la cultura," one finds understanding of why Camila Henríquez Ureña returned years later to Cuba to help out, as she would say, putting in practice the theories expounded in her cited essay. Indeed, this fine intellectual and teacher approached many of her studies and writings as a woman. In her essay "La carta como forma de ex­presion literaria femenina" she chooses four authors whose correspondence served as barometer, expres­sion, and answer to the historical moment they lived. Among them are two writers whose names ought to head any history of the essay written in Spanish: Santa Teresa de Jesus (1515-1582) and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648-1695). Henríquez Ureña's essay is a tour de force in the art of reading and the importance of the reader's response to giving meaning to the literature written by women. Tellingly, today, having gone through various stages of readings as women and as feminists, many people find themselves back where Camila Henríquez Ureña was fifty years ago: under­standing more than ever the importance of reader's re­sponse, de leer con la sensibilidad de las mujeres las obras de ]as mujeres (to read with a woman's sensibility other women's writings), to the creation of a feminine and feminist aesthetic.

Camila Henríquez Ureña earns a place in the history of Latinas in the United States as a pioneer educator, essayist, and thinker who was able to transcend borders and whose work continues to have resonance in the development of new genera­tions of readers, as evidenced by the publication in 2000 of Julia Alvarez's In the Name of Salome, a fiction­alized retelling of Camila's and Salomd's lives.

See also Literature

SOURCES:

  • Alvarez, Julia. In the Name of Salome: A Novel. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
  • Cocco De Filippis, Daisy, ed. 2000. Documents of Dissidence: Selected Writings by Dominican Women. New York: CUNY Dominican Studies Institute; 2001. “La mujer y la cultura.” In Madres, maestras y militantes dominicanas, 116-126. Santo Domingo: Buho.
  • Familia Henriquez Urena. 1995. Epistolario. Santo Domingo: Publication de la Secretaria de Education, Bellas Artes y Cultos.
  • Henriquez Urena, Camila. 1971. Estudios y conferencias. Havana: Instituto Cubano del Libro
  • Yanez, Mirta. 2003. Camila y Camila. La Habana: Ediciones La Memoria, Centro Cultural Pablo de la Torriente Brau.

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