While working my way through the 1943 Puerto Rican newspaper Pueblos Hispanos, I was struck by “Madre es Aquella… En Recuerdo de Krupskaya” as a piece of literature and a historical artifact emblematic of Consuelo Lee Tapia, Pueblos Hispanos, and the cultural front. While the poem holds firm to its support in communism, it is also representative of Lee Tapia’s work and its relation to feminism. After all, the poem frames communism through its most central female figure, the wife of Lenin. I had never heard of Krupskaya before researching this poem, the name only stood out to me as something that felt out of place in a poem written in Spanish. Yet as I learned about Krupskaya it became clear that she was the perfect symbol for Consuelo Lee Tapia and what she believed in. Communism, as described by the poet, is not only for militants, nor is it for the common man alone. In “Madre es Aquella…” communism is an answer for the common woman. While the poem relates to communism, it is also an excellent example of the forms of writing the editors of Pueblos Hispanos utilized to complete its nine-pronged mission. The poem supports communism, but also calls for world unity. Consuelo Lee Tapia’s poem accomplishes the goals of the paper she founded and the goals informally shared by all members of the cultural front; she used her art to argue for the political and social world she believed in, a world of equality and a world in which a mother could be viewed as the protector of all.
In 1943 Juan Antonio Corretjer and Consuelo Lee Tapia Corretjer founded Pueblos Hispanos: Semanario Progresista. The paper only ran for a single year, but every week the publication announced the nine points of its mission: 1) the unification of all Hispanic colonies in the United States to fight nazi-fascism, 2) to defend the rights of all Hispanic minorities in the United States, 3) to battle for Puerto Rican independence, 4) to combat prejudice against Hispanic individuals as well as all others, 5) to fight Spanish falangists and unite all Spaniards, 6) to fight for the freeing of all political prisoners in the world, 7) to improve relations among the Americas, 8) to make the independence of the Philippines a recognized fact, and 9) to promote labor unity across the Americas. Needless to say, the paper was attempting to accomplish a lot and it tried to do so through a variety of editorials, essays, poems, short stories, and crónicas written by some of the most famous Spanish writers of the time (such as Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca). While each issue tackled some, if not all, of these issues, some were more at the forefront. Pan-Hispanism and Soviet sympathy were both major topics throughout the publication’s existence and the paper was affiliated through its founders with both the Puerto Rican Nationalist and Communist parties. The sections of the paper were not only dedicated to Peru, Cuba, Mexico and Ecuador, but also the Soviet Union. At times Pueblos Hispanos appeared paradoxical; it simultaneously preached the participation of Puerto Ricans in American local and national politics while also arguing for Puerto Rico’s separation from the United States. The paper also actively campaigned for FDR (Jesús Colón wrote a three-part series on the life of the president) but was fundamentally understood to be a Communist publication.
Both Juan Antonio Corretjer and Consuelo Lee Tapia Corretjer, along with the two other main editorial staff members of Pueblos Hispanos, were members of the Communist Party and may be understood as part of the “cultural front” that defined American political commentary in the 1930s and onwards. The “cultural front,” a term popularized by Michael Denning in his book The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century, represents the increase in cultural production that reflected the pro-labor, anti-fascist, and socially democratic ideals of the popular front. Members of the American cultural front included the likes of Duke Ellington, Orson Welles, and Billie Holiday. Although the cultural front does not have to represent the support of communism, many members were communists or subject to the red scare because they supported socially democratic ideas. The cultural front represented the intersection of political activism and cultural production.
Juan Antonio Corretjer and Consuelo Lee Tapia Corretjer were not only the founders of Pueblos Hispanos, but writers themselves. Juan Antonio Corretjer was a prominent poet and pamphlet writer. In 1976 a compilation of his poetry was collected, most of which was centered on the revolution and the fight for Puerto Rican Independence. Corretjer not only voiced his political beliefs through his writing, but was considered a militant member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. In 1936 Corretjer was named the secretary of the party and in 1937 was sentenced to time in prison for refusing to hand over to the police the minutes of party meetings. Following Corretjer’s release he was exiled and spent several years in New York City, where he met Consuelo Lee Tapia and founded Pueblos Hispanos.
Consuelo Lee Tapia was a writer and militant nationalist in her own right. Lee Tapia was born into a famous family of intellectuals. Most notably, her grandfather Alejandro Tapia y Rivera is considered the father of Puerto Rican literature. Lee Tapia grew up in Puerto Rico, but received her formal education in the United States where she began to write about Puerto Rico’s mass poverty and the nationalist movement. In the 1930s she joined the Communist Party. Lee Tapia’s writings, especially those published in Pueblos Hispanos, reflect her political ideologies and she often wrote about workers and women’s rights. In Pueblos Hispanos Lee Tapia carved out a space for Hispanic feminism and her writings often infused her political ideology with the language of maternity and homemaking. Through her writings Consuelo Lee Tapia argues for communism and Puerto Rican nationalism by making it available to the common woman of 1940s America.
“Madre es Aquella…En Recuerdo de Krupskaya” appeared in the October 24, 1943 issue of Pueblos Hispanos. The poem, which on the outset appears to be an ode to mothers is written in memorium of Nadezhda Krupskaya– the wife of Vladimir Lenin, who coincidentally never had children. “Madre es Aquella” begins “Madre es aquella que es madre de todos: / Niño por niño…” (mother is she who is mother of all, / child by child). Yet the poem does not detail motherhood or a woman’s relation to children in further detail, its emphasis is instead on equality. For Lee Tapia, a mother is she who is a mother to all children without discrimination. The ultimate figurehead of motherhood is the maternal figurehead of communism: Nadezhda Krupskaya. The fact that she had no children is irrelevant. The first stanza ends with the line “niño por niño” and this model of total equality, child for child, is replicated throughout the poem. The next instance is more specific to the poet’s life and the second stanza begins “Como la ola / amamanta la playa,” (like the wave I nurse the beach). The reader is removed from the world of Krupskaya and instead finds themselves in the world of Consuelo Lee Tapia. The communist metaphor is extrapolated to the setting of Puerto Rico. Yet, the poet is quick to make her love of the beach into a universal truth; her love of the beach extends to all of the beaches in the world, grain of sand for grain of sand: “grano de arena por grano de arena.” The metaphor of the grain of sand may take the same structure as child for child, but lends itself more easily to the image of a collective. A grain of sand may exist on its own, but it is only a beach once it is viewed along with other grains of sand.
Although Consuelo Lee Tapia’s poem is framed around motherhood, the two central stanzas of “Madre es Aquella…” use natural imagery to describe communism rather than family life. The third stanza uses a similar structure to the second to describe the way the sun nourishes a tree to allow it to extend its branches “hoja por hoja… rama por rama,” (leaf by leaf… branch by branch). The sun may be interpreted as a mother who ensures the nourishment of the family, but given the context of Krupskaya as a historical figure, the sun can also be understood as the communist government that provides for its people. In the communist analogy each leaf is one piece of a whole tree that can only fully succeed through the sun’s nourishment. Only with assistance can the leaves be transformed into a bouquet. The poem ends by reiterating the message outlined in the first stanza: mother is she who is mother of all, child by child. The final line reads “Madre es Krupskaya!”; the mother of all is the communist image.
Consuelo Lee Tapia and Nadezdha Krupskaya are in many regards similar figures. Both women were from upper class origins who, given their moments in history, witnessed tremendous suffering in their respective countries of origin. Lee Tapia and Krupskaya both married politically significant men who were imprisoned for their political beliefs. Krupskaya, like Lee Tapia, also moved with her husband as a result of his imprisonment as she followed him to Siberia. Both women also helped found communist periodicals. Krupskaya was the secretary of Iskra, the official organ of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Although Krupskaya is often overshadowed by the work of her husband, Leon Trotsky described her as “the loyal companion of Lenin, an irreproachable revolutionist and one of the most tragic figures in revolutionary history,” Krupskaya was a political activist in her own right. In 1920 Krupskaya became the Chairperson of Education Committee and was the Deputy Education Commisar from 1929-1939. She was also vocal in banning abortions in the USSR, a battle that she said was paramount to “a strong Soviet family”. It is not surprising that Consuelo Lee Tapia would be drawn to the figure of Krupskaya. The women had a lot in common and shared many of the same goals and Krupskaya, like Lee Tapia, used the rhetoric of family life to convey her political ideals. Nadezdha Krupskaya and Consuelo Lee Tapia were both the women behind radical men; in her writing Lee Tapia immortalized Krupskaya as the maternal heroine.