Celebrating Jose de Diego Day

There are a few people in the history of Puerto Rico that stand out from the rest. These are people who have bravely fought for the rights of the Puerto Ricans, enriched their literary world, brought color to the island with their arts and have created beats and rhythms for dance, escape and celebration. One of the most celebrated and fondly remembered Puerto Rican advocates has always been and still remains, Dr. Jose de Diego.

The road to success and greatness started on 16 April 1866, when Jose de Diego was born in the town of Aguadilla. Throughout his life he was respected as a poet, film supporter, a journalist, orator and lawyer, but his greatest impact on Puerto Rico was his position as statesman. In 1898, in the midst of the Spanish-American War, Spain was forced to sign the Philippines, Cuba, Guam and Puerto Rico over to the United States, under the Treaty of Paris. As a ferocious advocate against the Spanish rule over Puerto Rico, Jose de Diego found himself being appointed as the Executive Council of Puerto Rico by President of the United States at the time, William McKinley. But de Diego was far more interested in the independence of Puerto Rico, and decided to resign his appointed position to assist Antonio R. Barcelo and Luis Munoz Rivera in founding the Unionist Party in 1904.

Throughout all his career positions and his life, Jose de Diego worked for the independence of the island, which led to him being affectionately referred to as the Father of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. On 16 July 1918, Dr. Jose de Diego died suddenly during a poem recital in New York; just two years after he lost his right leg to gangrene. His body was taken back to Puerto Rico where he was laid to rest in the Old San Juan Cemetery in San Juan.

His legacy lives on in street names, school names and highways, and in the celebration of Jose de Diego Day. Jose de Diego Day is celebrated annually on the third Monday in the month of April. The day is so important to the island that everything from businesses to schools close for the day, so that all can join in on the festival of music and dance. This year, the Jose de Diego Day takes place on 21 April 2008, and visitors to the festival can look forward to a colorful and rhythmic festival of traditional food, dance and culture.