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Felita Oyola: Remembering A Puerto Rican Powerhouse

This article is more than 12 years old.

You may not have heard of her, but Felita Oyola was, for half a century, among the most important cultural and political figures in Boston. At least, in Puerto Rican Boston.

Jose Masso, host of WBUR's Con Salsa, remembers her Boston roots.

"She was here when the first wave of Puerto Ricans arrived to Boston in the 1950s, early '60s," Masso said.

After she arrived, she became a touchstone for many recent immigrants.

"Her house became the epicenter of anything and everything that was cultural expression," Masso said. "That was where many of us gathered with her to talk about our culture, and the activities, and how we can manifest it. If there is an icon in this community that she can be compared to, I'd say it would be Elma Lewis for the African-American community."

Felita Oyola was born in 1924 in the Puerto Rican town of Naranjito. She was already an accomplished singer by the time she came to Boston at age 41.

After she arrived, she started Estrellas Tropicales, a performing group that has taught traditional music, dance and folklore to about 5,000 young Puerto Rican girls.

Oyola also helped found Villa Victoria, the affordable housing complex in the South End, where her daughter Reinelda still lives today.

"My mother, she loved her music, her folklore — she was an artist — everything," Reinelda Oyola said.

Reinelda said her mother made one thing very clear.

"When I die," Felita said, according to her daughter, "I don't want nobody crying, I want everybody dancing, everybody playing my music and remembering my life."

Oyola passed away on Monday and her family buried her on Thursday. She was 86.

This segment aired on December 9, 2010.


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