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Figueroa Mercado, Loida (1917–) - History of Puerto Rico

university rican college studies

Loida Figueroa Mercado was born on October 6, 1917, in Yauco, Puerto Rico, the daughter of Agustin and Emeteria Mercado Figueroa. Her father was a cane seed cutter, her mother a domestic worker. Neither of her parents had any formal education, but they urged their children to study. Her father had a good knowledge of Puerto Rico and other nations despite his lack of schooling. Her mother gained an understanding of the history of Puerto Rico while working as a servant in well-to-do homes. In her childhood, Loida was greatly influenced by the Baptist Church, which her family attended regularly.

Loida Figueroa Mercado attended the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico’s San German campus, where she majored in French and history, earning a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in 1941. After a career as an elementary and high school teacher, and then an acting school principal, she did graduate work at Columbia University, earning a master’s degree in history in 1948. Figueroa Mercado then attended the Universidad Central de Madrid, focusing on Puerto Rican studies and earning the Ph.D. in 1963. Both her master’s degree and her Ph.D. were made possible by funding, first from the Puerto Rican government and then from the University of Puerto Rico.

Figueroa Mercado taught at the Mayaguez campus of the University of Puerto Rico, at the City University of New York’s Lehmann College and Brooklyn College, and at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico. She taught courses on the history of Puerto Rico, Spain, Latin America, and the West Indies. She taught at the University of Puerto Rico until 1974, then taught at Brooklyn College from 1974 until her retirement in 1977. She came out of retirement a second time in 1992 to teach at the San German campus of the Interamerican University.

Figueroa Mercado was at Brooklyn College during a very difficult time, politically, for the Puerto Rican studies program, which was founded in 1971. The college administration imposed a new, and largely unwelcome, administration on the program. After a two-year battle for autonomy, the Puerto Rican studies program won its case. Loida Figueroa Mercado, who was by then a full professor, joined with the students and took to the streets to protest unfair administrative practices. She is still remembered warmly for her unfailing commitment for Puerto Rican people, as she put it in the introduction to Brief History of Puerto Rico , to have “the opportunity of studying their own history in an adequate fashion.” Her political involvement did not begin in New York, however. Loida Figueroa Mercado had a marked interest in Puerto Rican politics since age seven, and as an adult she became a militant of the pro-independence movement in Puerto Rico.

Figueroa Mercado published the first two volumes of her planned three-volume work, Brief History of Puerto Rico , in 1968 and 1969. In 1972 they were translated into English and published as one volume. She dedicated that work “To the generation of Puerto Ricans who are absent from their native soil, lest they become a lost generation.” She published the third volume in 1976. She also served as editor of Atenea . Figueroa Mercado has been a member of Ateneo Puertorriqueno, Sociedad de Autores Puertorriquenos, Latin American Studies Association, and Phi Alpha Theta. She was also initiated, in 1993, into a Masonic lodge in Puerto Rico, as the first Puerto Rican woman to be admitted into a male lodge.

In the invitation to the reader at the beginning of Brief History of Puerto Rico , Maria Teresa Babin states that Loida Figueroa Mercado has been valued by many for “her human warmth, her faith in youth, her uplifting political ideology and her deep love for Puerto Rico.”

Loida Figueroa Mercado was married and divorced three times. Since 1956 she has remained single. She is the mother of four daughters, Eunice, Maria Antonia, Rebeca, and Avaris. She also has twelve grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She currently lives in Puerto Rico, where she plans to write the fourth volume of her work, focusing on the twentieth century in Puerto Rico. She is resident historian at the American University of Puerto Rico’s Bayamon campus.

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