Maria T. Centeno, Honorary Ad Hoc President

My mother known by her maiden name, Maria T. Vazquez, started her piano lessons at 4 years old under the tutelage of Maria Luisa Del Comté. On November 11, 1941 when my Mom was 11 Madame Comté rented one of the rooms alongside the Main Auditorium of Carnegie Hall where my mother played the "Military Polonaise" by Chopin winning the gold Technical Excellence Medal awarded by the Figueroa Brothers of Puerto Rico. During my own life, I was very fortunate to hear her play this same piece many times for various audiences where each performance was moving and inspirational.


While she was still 11 my Mom entered the Julliard Institute of Music (now simply known as Julliard) which then was located near Columbia University. My Mother was assigned to be in a top tier class of musicians in which only she and one other (Leonard Bernstein) were the top two elites amongst elites as they were the only musicians determined to have the gift of "perfect pitch" meaning that from within any phrasing, or arrangement of notes, they both could correctly identify the key, timbre, identity and beat of each note from merely hearing it played by any instrument.   At 15 yrs old, she received the degree from Juilliard which allowed her to teach elementary and intermediate piano, music theory, sight/singing and reading.  I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Bernstein (much later of course) who kindly reminisced their shared experiences of their school years at Juilliard and personally observed the joy and warmth of their interaction and friendship.


Mom also played "No Me Toques", "Recuerdos de Borinquen" and "Mis Amores" at the Teatro de Puerto Rico when it was administered by Chu Chu Montalbán (Mom's first Manager, whose brother was Ricardo Montalbán). Mom was 15 yrs old when she received top billing at the Teatro Puerto Rico engaging in her first professional contract performing 3 shows daily for one week. Also at 15, she was awarded a degree from Juilliard which allowed her to teach elementary and intermediate piano, theory and sight singing/reading. She also played at the Palladium with Tito Puente, Charlie Palmieri, Machito and other great orchestras. She also auditioned as a conductor for Cesar Concepción and was to tour with the 18 piece male orchestra but her mother felt her daughter was too young, at 15 years old, to travel with the group. The Maestro, for his part, thought she was 18-19 years old.


Around the time of my early childhood she was the Choirmaster of St. Paul's Catholic Church in which she wrote and prepared original music integrating a variety of Spanish songs from Puerto Rico, Cuba and many other countries throughout Spanish America for her Choir then known as "Las Hijas de Maria" for Spanish Mass. This was a radical move and development in the early-1960's. She played the church organ then and instructed the young ladies in song and music. I still recall the music produced then as nothing short of heavenly singing of angels.


In her later years, during my early teens I had the opportunity to see her be spontaneously invited to play on the stage and jam with the band whenever she was spotted within a venue amongst the crowd by Tito Puente, Machito or another musical colleague. She also was also invited by Bobby Capo to accompany him in several venues whenever he spotted her in the audience. My mother also had a standing invitation from Myrta Sylva herself to play at The Alameda Room (which she owned) and at La Bodequita del Medio, whenever my mother felt in the mood. Watching my mother play was always an education in Music.


Her work life included working for the Federal Government's Air Force, then the Navy Department, and then the U.S. Department of Education - Office for Civil Rights. After 18 years as a Federal Investigator, she transferred to Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Fair Housing and later Equal Opportunity. It was during her employment with Equal Opportunity when she investigated a complaint based on disability against the Co-op City complex. My Mom and the Attorneys for Co-op City (Riverbay Corporation) argued the case based on the no-pets policy of the complex. My Mom won the case based on the mental disability of the tenant affected by this discriminatory policy. It was the first winning legal argument of it's kind within the U.S. and was later made into Law. This case was presented in front of an Administrative Law Judge and published as a new Law, in the Prentice Hall Legal Library.  A copy is available here for anyone who is interested in the details.  Basically, the complainant (who suffered a mental disability) could keep her dog because she had medical documentation supporting her need to keep it.


After her retirement from the Federal Government (October 1994), she became a volunteer for Lenox Hill Neighborhood House which resides in the same neighborhood she resided within since 1960. She taught English for 13 years in the "English as a Second Other Language" (ESOL) Program. Later she became involved with the Lenox Hill Senior Center where she worked as a Receptionist and at times taught Spanish Class whenever a Spanish instructor would go on vacation. As her health began to fail she chose to work only on weekends as a Receptionist serving on the Advisory Council of her building.


My Mom belonged to a variety of organizations that paved the way for women to reach their goals.  Out of all of them, however, only NACOPRW NY survived.  She was especially aware that role models for Puerto Rican and Hispanic youth, but especially girls, would be a helpful inspiration towards encouraging their continuing education.  


Awards:

  • Distinguished Service and Contribution to the All Nation's Women's League - May 1974
  • Certificate of Honor - All Nations Women's Club - May 1974
  • El Comité Pro Niños y Adultos Lisiados de Puerto Rico - NY Chapter. Certificate of Merit. In Recognition of Your Many Years of Untiring Care, Concern and Love for the Handicapped Children of Puerto Rico. 12/10/1989.
  • NACOPRW Certificate of Recognition for Excellence in the Preparation of Chapter Reports, 18th Annual Conference, Washington, DC November 199
  • NACOPRW Certificate of Recognition, #1 Treasurer.. in recognition of her continued commitment and dedication as Treasurer of the NYC Chapter of NACOPRW. Washington, DC, 21st Annual Conference, November 1993.
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development... Award (presented upon the occasion of her retirement) in Recognition of Faithful Service (36 years) to the U.S. Government and her individual contribution to the Mission and Goals of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.


My Mom asked me to share the following poem she found meaningful with all who miss her. 

To Those I Love and to Those Who Love Me
Anonymous

When I am gone release me: let me go.
I have so many things to see and do.

You mustn't tie yourself to me with tears,
Be happy that we had so many years.

I gave you my love - you can only guess
How much you game me in happiness.

I thank you for the love you each have shown.
But now it is time I traveled on alone.

So, grieve a while for me, if grieve you must;
Then let your grief be comforted by trust.

It's only for a while that we must part,
So bless the memories with your heart.

I won't be far away, for life goes on.
So if you need me, call.  I will come.

Though you can't see me or touch me, I'll be near;
And if you listen with your heart you will hear 
All of my love around you soft and clear.

And then, when you must come this way alone,
I'll greet you with a smile and wave, 
"Welcome Home."

Derick Centeno

Carmen Delgado Votaw, NaCOPRW National Parlimentarian

CARMEN DELGADO VOTAW- LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS LEADER, MEMBER OF THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR COMMISSION, CO-CHAIR (WITH BELLA ABZUG) OF PRESIDENT CARTER'S NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON WOMEN, PRESIDENT OF THE INTERAMERICAN COMMISSION OF WOMEN


An only child, I was not born a feminist on September 29, 1935, although as I look at my 76-year-old life I keep wondering where I got the instincts to become the lifelong feminist I have become. It came through exposure to injustice and contact with outstanding women like Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Millie Jeffries.


I was born in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico in a small town on the southeastern coast, Yabucoa, among sugar cane fields, lovely rivers and streams, gentle mountains and a seductive sea. Hurricanes, which accost the island often, traditionally hit land along that coast and my parents used to say that my volatile, frisky personality derives from the influences of those hurricanes.


After I graduated from elementary school

with high honors in a school system where my mother, Candida Paz, was my third and fifth grade teacher and my father, Luis Oscar Delgado, was about to become my seventh grade teacher, I went to junior and high school in San Juan, our capital city, old in history and charm and modern in its cultural manifestations and splendor. There I acquired leadership skills through the Girl Scouts, the Juvenile Red Cross and continued to excel educationally, writing poetry and essays and developing my English reading skills through comic books and Mickey Spillane detective stories.


Two years at the University of Puerto Rico in 1952 -54 launched my working career at the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico in 1955, then the hub of the rapid industrialization effort to lift up the island by its own bootstraps. In 1960 I married a "mainlander," Gregory Votaw, who worked for the Economic Development Administration; shortly thereafter we embarked on a life of international dimensions by going to live in Tehran, Iran for two years. While Greg worked on the development plan for Iran, I learned about Muslim culture, visited orphanages, organized women to have play days at their homes for the orphans in their homes and petitioned the Government and the Mullahs for authorization of adoptions of Iranian kids by foreign persons.

That was my initial "advocacy" effort that launched my second career in lobbying for worthy causes as a professional and volunteer advocate. Returning to the United States in 1962, my husband was employed bythe World Bank and I started my half a century checkered journey into advocacy for causes related to civil and human rights and continued my engagement and fascination with the international affairs field. The Martin Luther King March on Washington in 1963 sealed my commitment to justice issues.


By 1972 I was heavily involved with the League of Women Voters Overseas Education Fund under whose banner we helped organize and strengthen women's organizations in Latin America. As its Vice President, I traveled wide and far in the hemisphere to help women organize to protect their rights and institute practices similar to those the League promoted in the U.S. I was a member of the first committee, under the aegis of the League, who organized and oversaw the first presidential debates in the United States.


So naturally, in 1972 I also joined and soon led the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women to advance Latina women's rights. Pretty soon thereafter President Jimmy Carter appointed me a member of the International Women's Year Commission (IWY) and then later as Co-Chair (with Bella Abzug) of the National Advisory Committee for Women. His Administration also appointed me to represent the United States in the Inter-American Commission of Women of the Organization of American States and eventually I was elected unanimously by the countries of the hemisphere as President of that Commission for 1978-80, exactly 50 years after it had been initially presided by another U.S. citizen, Doris Stevens.


Needless to say, this heady and fruitful engagement with women's rights allowed me to play key roles during the Decade for Women, starting in 1975 with the first United Nations World Conference on Women in Mexico City and all the ensuing U.N. Conferences (1980 Copenhagen, Denmark; 1985 Nairobi, Kenya; 1990 Beijing, China). Always straddling the "official" and NGO (non-governmental) Forums, I was entranced with the progress women united had been able to forge. Also our U.S. Commission was instrumental in organizing the 1977 Houston, Texas national conference and the energizing state conferences that had preceded it.


My concern with women's rights also led me to gravitate toward action on human rights, serving for more than a decade on the Board of the Inter American Institute of Human Rights located in Costa Rica.


Professionally, I became the first Hispanic female Chief of Staff for a Member of Congress, Representative Jaime Fuster, serving the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico for seven years and being his staffer for international affairs in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. During these years I attended The American University, getting a B.A. in International Studies. My career in government relations culminated with service as director of government relations for the Girl Scouts of the USA (after serving 9 years on its national board of directors, as Chair of the Western Hemisphere Organization and chairing the triennial conference of the World Organization of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in Kenya, United Way of America, and the Alliance for Children and Families. My retirement at the end of 2006 kicked me back to my never-abandoned field of citizen advocacy which keeps me busy doing political, gender and religious advocacy for the same causes that have engaged my attention for five decades: women's rights, civil and human rights, and all issues of inequity.

The between years found me listed in the leadership or the ranks of the National Women's Political Caucus, the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the Independent Sector Government Relations Committee, the Human Services Forum, the Maryland Women's Heritage Center, the Pan American Liaison of Women's Organizations (PALCO), the National Urban Institute. As a long-time member of the Veteran Feminists of America, I was honored with the VFA Medal of Honor on May 6, 1999 at a Sewall Belmont House celebratory event.


Currently I preside the Public Members Association of the Foreign Service (PMA). I have also helped, as George Santayana advised, to recapture "herstory" by writing a bilingual book in English and Spanish, "Puerto Rican Women" (now in its third edition), with biographies of women we should all emulate, and by writing chapters in books such as Notable American Women, To Ourselves Be True, and other publications.


My personal life has been full with two outstanding sons, Stephen and Michael, and an equally outstanding daughter, Lisa, as well as six grandchildren. The four girls, Alexandra, Anna, Taylor and Abby, have benefitted from my advocacy on Title IX of the Education Amendments (the Equity Act) with their excellent academic records and sports achievements in soccer, basketball and softball; the two males, Daniel and Michael Todd, are doing exceptionally well in science. Michael, the younger one, on lacrosse and Daniel, the eldest, on soccer and softball.


Oh, the memories my life as a mother, professional and feminist has given me.


Carmen Delgado Votaw has received many awards and recognition for her work, including the Hispanic Heritage Award for Education, Las Primeras Awards from the Mexican American Women's National Association, (MANA). She was inducted into Maryland Women's Hall of Fame and received an Honorary Doctorate in the Humanities from Hood College in Maryland.


A Memorial Video with Carmen Delgado Votaw follows below.


We are sad to announce that Vivian Ortiz passed away on April 18th, 2017.  The Philadelphia Chapter of NACOPRW would like to extend our sincerest & deepest condolences to the family, friends, and community of our former Chapter President and NACOPRW National President, Vivian Ortiz.


She was a respected leader, a woman of motivation, a positive mentor and role model to all women, specifically of the Puerto Rican community and culture.


She dedicated over 10 years of service to The National Conference of Puerto Rican Women and has become an icon of her times.

We take with us Vivian's strength, as she fought for so long and hard, wisdom, as she enjoyed speaking of tackling the weaknesses of our community around women's issues, loyalty, as all knew they could count on Vivan to be an open mind and a listening ear, and her passion and dedication to the human race, as she loved all whom she welcomed into her space.

Remembering Alice Cardona, one of our Founders

Alice Cardona, a leader in the New York Puerto Rican and Latino community who advocated for women’s rights, minority rights, and bilingual education, died 

November 1, 2011 at her Queens home. She was 81.


The author of “Puerto Rican Women Achievers in New York City” (© 1995) and “Rambling on random thoughts” 

(© 2004) Alice was the first Latina to receive the Susan B. Anthony Prize, awarded to her in 1983 by the National Organization for Women. Through the years, she was presented with numerous community awards for her tireless work with women and children.


Her legacy also lives on at The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College also known as El Centro.  She donated her papers twice to the El Centro Library and Archives. It is one of their more resourceful feminist collections.


During the 1960s, she served as Program Coordinator for United Bronx Parents, overseeing programs that facilitated parental involvement in the school system and youth programs. She was also involved with the first Head State program in New York.


Her career flourished in the 1970s when she worked at ASPIRA as a Counselor for youth and as Director for ASPIRA's counseling program for parents and students. ASPIRA inspired her to go back to get her bachelor’s degree through an independent student program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.


From 1983 to 1995, she served as the Assistant Director of the New York State Division for Women during the administration of New York Governor Mario Cuomo. This position allowed her to advocate for bilingual education and women, including those in prison. She also worked to fight HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, and domestic violence.


She was either a founder or member of several organizations. She was the Director of the Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs and cofounder of Atrévete, a voter registration and political participation program. She served on the Boards of several organizations, including the National Women’s Political Caucus, the National Association for Bilingual Education, and the Puerto Rican Educators Association.


Although she is sorely missed we stand and work in her stead with a firm - ¡Presenté!


If you would like to explore her other contributions, legacy and research, you will find them here at El Centro.