National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
Hispanic Heritage Month
Casa Dra. Concha Melendez Ramirez, San Juan, Puerto Rico

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

 

photo
Casa Dra. Concha Melendez Ramirez
Photograph courtesy of the Puerto Rico Historic Preservation Office

Concha Meléndez Ramírez (1895-1983), Puerto Rico’s renowned educator, poet, essayist, literary critic and intellectual, suggested that the great Latin American novel which would encapsulate the American experience would be conceived in urban areas, “the space where the typical Latin American would achieve an ideal state of consciousness and intellectual capabilities.”

As early as 1931, the famous Chilean poet, diplomat, feminist and educator Gabriela Mistral (1885 - 1957) commented about “the talent, the culture and the profound and mature critic of the Puerto Rico essayist,” referring to Concha Meléndez Ramírez.

The work of Concha Meléndez Ramírez took her into direct contact with some of the most renowned literary figures of her time, producing a personal epistolary of great relevance. These personal letters have become a valuable piece of literature by themselves.  Among her literary correspondents were writers like the Nobel Prize winners Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and the above-mentioned Gabriela Mistral; also Alfonso Reyes, one of Mexico’s most distinguished men of letters, Ecuadorian poet and historian Jorge Carrera Andrade, Argentine philologist and literary critic Raimundo Lida, liberal philosopher and Vice-President of Cuba Enrique José Varona, Cuban writer and attorney Jorge Mañach and Peruvian politician and novelist Ciro Alegria, among others. They all considered the work done by Meléndez to be an extremely significant contribution to the understanding and analysis of American literature.

Casa Dra (Spanish abbreviation for Doctor) Concha Meléndez Ramírez, in San Juan, Puerto Rico was the residence and workplace of Concha Meléndez Ramírez for 44 years until her death on June 26, 1983, at the age of 88. One of the most significant intellectuals in Puerto Rico’s history, she was a co-founder of the Hispanic Studies Department at the University of Puerto Rico and founder of the Chair of the Hispanic American literature.   The home named after her is located in el Condado, one of the oldest and most prestigious suburbs in Puerto Rico.  Designed in a sober Spanish Revival style, the most significant architectural elements on the building’s exterior façade includes the repetition of arches. The presence of balconies and the double-sided wooden windows crowned with concrete canopies roofed with clay tiles add detail to the house.

photo Dra. Concha Melendez Ramirez
Image courtesy of the Puerto Rico Historic Preservation Office

Concha and her older sister, Rafaela Meléndez, acquired the lot in el Condado in August 1939; the two-story house was recorded as built in January 1940. Rafaela, like Concha, never married, and the ownership of the house was shared by the two sisters. When Rafaela died in May 31, 1969, she left her share of the property to her younger sister, and Concha transformed the house into her personal library, collecting over four thousand books; which she referred to as “my children.”  The residence became her place for social gatherings.  Almost every interview done for magazines and newspapers, including the recording for the Library of Congress, were either conducted at the gardens, surrounded by the plants and her dogs that she loved so much, or at her sanctuary, the studio where she worked. In every way, the property is associated with the productive life of Dr. Meléndez, one of the most significant and influential academians in Puerto Rico’s cultural history. Casa Dra. Concha Meléndez Ramírez was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on June 30, 2011.

Concha Meléndez Ramírez was born in the city of Caguas, Puerto Rico, on January 21, 1895.  At the age of seven, her family moved to San Juan. After graduating from the Normal School at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Miss Melendez became a teacher at the UPR High School.  In 1926, Concha Meléndez obtained a Masters in Arts from Columbia University in New York and by 1932 completed her doctoral degree in Philosophy and Letters at the Universidad Autonóma de Méjico. Dra. Meléndez became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. from the prestigious Mexican school. A lifetime bachelorette, Miss Meléndez dedicated her entire life to the cultural and academic world.  She became an essential member of what was later known as the Thirties’ Generation, a group of academics that molded and guided the cultural life of Puerto Rico for generations to come. In the 1930s, the economic crisis created by the Great Depression also caused a crisis in Puerto Rican culture that, among other things, questioned the political relationship with the United States and the lack of a position to define the national identity of Puerto Rico.

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Dra. Concha Melendez Ramirez
Image courtesy of the Puerto Rico Historic Preservation Office

Meléndez was also a strong supporter for the defense and proper use of the Spanish language in an island politically and culturally intervened by an Anglo-Saxon power, the United States of America. Meléndez believed that Puerto Rico’s cultural history (with emphasis on the literature) had to be seen as part of the wider Latin American whole. According to her, the insertion of  Puerto Rico within the Latin American cultural network, along with the strong defense of the Spanish language, was the best defense against what many of her generation saw as the ideological attack coming from the United States’ policies regarding Puerto Rico, which was ceded from Spain to the United States after the Spanish-American War of 1898.  While limited local representation existed, and Puerto Ricans became citizens of the United States in 1917, there was a real fear that their Spanish/Latino cultural heritage, including the Spanish language, would be lost to the cultural invasion of the English-speaking Norte Americanos, prompted by the imposition of the English language as a primary educational tool in the local schools.

After completing her Ph.D. in Mexico and coming back to Puerto Rico, Melendez’s intellectual life transitioned over two principal lanes: her work as an educator at the University of Puerto Rico for 34 years and her literary production, mostly as an essayist. She influenced many generations of students, emphasizing the study of Latin American literature, and was a co-founder of the Hispanic Studies Department. Meléndez established the Chair of Hispanic American Literature and was the Dean of the Hispanic Studies Department from 1940-1943.

photo Casa Dra. Concha Melendez Ramirez
Photograph courtesy of the Puerto Rico Historic Preservation Office

Throughout her life, Dr. Meléndez received numerous local and international recognitions for her great intellectual contributions.  Her publications received medals and awards from the Atendo Puertoriqueňo and Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueňo.  In 1971, Dr. Meléndez became the first woman ever to be invited to formally lecture at the Real Academia de la Lengua Espaňola in Mexico. She was also the first woman member of the Puerto Rico Academy of the Spanish Language. In 1971, Dr. Meléndez received from the government of Venezuela the prestigious award Andrés Bello, the first time that the recognition was bestowed upon a non-Venezuelan woman.  That very same year, she was designated Woman of the Year by the Union of American Women.  Also in 1979, the Puerto Rican writer was selected to be recorded as part of the Library of Congress’ program Archives of Latin American Literature.  Initiated in 1942, by 1979 the archives consisted of the voice recording of 265 carefully selected Hispanic writers, among who were great masters like Miguel Angel Asturias, Juan Ramón Jiméz, Pablo Neruda (world famous poet but probably more familiar to American audiences as the subject of the Italian film Il Postino), Gabriel Mistral, Nicolás Gullién and Jorge Gullién. Concha Meléndez earned her place among the greatest.

Written by Juan Llanes Santos/ Historian for the Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office, and compiled with additional information by Rustin Quaide, National Register of Historic Places, and edited by Blaise Farina, National Conference of state Historic Preservation Officers.  Most of the above is taken verbatim from Santos’ National Register documentation.
Dabbson, Deborah
“Diversity, Identity, and the American Dream.” Houston Teachers Institute Web. 2008 < http://hti.math.uh.edu/curriculum/units/2008/07/08.07.03.php> quoted from 
Henriquez, Marilyn Fay. "The Dynamics of Movement: Toward a Definition of a Latin American Identity in Contemporary Fiction." 2003. Florida International University.
  Juan Llanes Santos, Casa Dra. Concha Meléndez Ramírez NRHP Nomination, Puerto Rico SHPO, May 10, 2011
Latin American writers (3 Volumes) / ed. Carlos A Solé, 1989

Hispanic Heritage Month

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