Evelina by ADAL.

Para Español

EVELINA ANTONETTY was many things to many different people: precocious child, model student, generous and caring neighbor, labor organizer, meticulous strategist, master diplomat and tactician who could analyze any situation and move people thoughtfully and spiritually, charismatic advocate of bilingual education and parents’ rights, mentor to a cadre of young people who would impact New York in the arts, politics and social service…and she was a patriot.

She was formally known as Evelina Antonetty, but she answered to different names. To the members of her household she was “Titi”; to her nieces and nephews – she was also “Titi”; to her devoted staff, she was “Mrs. A”; to the Puerto Rican community, she was “The Mother of the Bronx”; to her children, she was appropriately just “Ma.” And to one member of the New York police department brass, she was the “Hell Lady of the Bronx.”

Indeed, she was a force to be reckoned with, one of the most effective and impactful leaders of the Puerto Rican diaspora of the twentieth century. She started her public life as a union organizer and aide to progressive elected officials. Then, as a mother, she immersed herself in parental oversight of schools and founded United Bronx Parents, a parent advocacy agency that gained national attention serving as a model for other efforts from coast to coast.


Evelina Antonetty lived through perhaps the most pivotal period in Puerto Rican history, often acting as one of the principal movers and agents of change in her time. Consider the following:

  • She lived her early childhood in the 1920’s on the southern coast of Puerto Rico where the sugar industry, with its cyclical nature and volatile market, shaped the lives of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans. At that time, she witnessed and lived in the midst of a flowering of Afro-Puerto Rican culture.
  • She was one of the pioneers of New York’s fabled Barrio (East Harlem) where, as a teenager, she expertly navigated the shoals of the Great Depression helping fellow Puerto Ricans weather the economic storm and the shock of confronting an alien culture.
  • The forties and early fifties saw her become a labor leader honing her skills as an organizer and developing an informal but highly effective approach to activism, crafting a style and persona – an aura – uniquely hers.
  • In the sixties, she developed close relations with Martin Luther King, Jr and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, establishing important links between Puerto Rican and African-American communities. (Appropriately, UBP’s logo included two shaking hands–one brown, one black.) Also during the sixties, she founded and built United Bronx Parents (UBP) into a social service agency of national repute. Indeed, UBP’s programs, publications and special projects became models emulated throughout urban America. Finally, in the sixties, Evelina Antonetty was the principal force behind the founding of the first fully bilingual school in the nation.
  • And, in the seventies, she witnessed a great crisis threatening the American inner city, especially her beloved South Bronx. In the process, she became a national voice for urban America, the conscience of urban America.

In an interview/photo session with photographer Frank Espada in 1980, she proclaimed: “We will never stop struggling here in the Bronx even though they’ve destroyed it around us. We (will) pitch tents if we have to rather than move from here… And, after me, my children will be here to carry on… I have very strong children…and very strong grandchildren.”

Her life was cut short, much too short when she passed away in 1984. The loss, bitter as it was, turned out to be much greater than originally realized. Indeed, there is a sense even today, forty years after Evelina’s passing, that things might have gone differently had Evelina given us twenty more years of her activism.

As Dr. Ignacio Olazagasti, distinguished scholar at the University of Puerto Rico and Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, said recently at the defense of a doctoral dissertation, “I confess I didn’t know much about Evelina Antonetty until I became a member of this panel. Now it’s clear to me that, if Puerto Rico had had ten Evelina Antonetty’s, all its problems would be solved.”