Skip to main content

Dolores Prida, Latina 'Dear Abby,' dies

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 11:39 AM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
Dolores Prida, left, who died Sunday at age 69, was a well known Latina advice columnist.
Dolores Prida, left, who died Sunday at age 69, was a well known Latina advice columnist.
  • Dolores Prida, who penned a popular advice column in Latina magazine, died Sunday
  • Prida was also a playwright and an opinion columnist
  • Friend: "She said what had to be said and said it with humor most of the time"
  • Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor calls her a "visionary" who "inspired us to think deeply"

(CNN) -- For nearly 15 years, Dolores Prida was the Latina answer to "Dear Abby."

The Cuban-born writer penned columns -- as she once put it -- with "Latin-style tongue-in-cheek advice for the lovelorn, the forlorn and the just torn."

Prida died in New York on Sunday, leaving behind a loyal following of readers. She was 69.

Many knew her popular "Dolores Dice" column in Latina magazine. But Prida was also an opinion columnist who tackled tougher topics such as gun control and teen pregnancy in New York newspapers and a playwright who won international recognition for her work.

The night before she died, she was at a party in New York with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and others celebrating the 20th anniversary of a close-knit network of Latina journalists, lawyers and other professionals.

Opinion: Latina 'Dear Abby' brought wit, wisdom, light

Prida had no training in writing advice when she took over Latina magazine's column in 1998. But her "wit, humor, tender poet's heart and commitment to empowering young women" made her a perfect fit for the job, said Sandra Guzman, then the magazine's editor in chief.

"She delved in with passion and gusto," Guzman said. And her wry humor quickly made the column a hit.

O'Brien interviews Justice Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor: I was an alien
Vice Presidential oath administered

The questions poured in -- hundreds every month, according to the magazine. Should I tell my ex-husband not to bring his new wife to our daughter's quinceanera? Should my undocumented immigrant husband and I hold off on buying a house? Why can't Latinos be a strong community rather than lashing out at people from different parts of Latin America?

Readers regularly said "Dolores Dice was the first feature they turned to," Damarys Ocana Perez, Latina's executive editor, said in a tribute to Prida posted on the magazine's website.

"She said what had to be said, and said it with humor most of the time," said Maite Junco, a longtime friend of Prida. "She always had a light touch. She always believed that you're going to get people with humor more than anything."

Prida was known for her witty responses telling young Latinas to focus on themselves, not boyfriends or looks. Her answers to their questions -- written in English with a bit of Spanish sprinkled in -- made readers laugh, but also pushed them to think.

To a woman wondering whether her skinny figure was making her boyfriend lose interest: "Before you dive into those lardy tamales again, make sure his lack of attention is actually related to your slimmed-down curvas."

To a 17-year-old whose older boyfriend wanted her to stop wearing makeup, plucking her eyebrows and going out with friends: "Your boyfriend may not want to be seen as robbing the cradle, but it sounds like he wants to rob you of your youth. Why would you want to stay home in a muumuu, sporting pale lips, blushless cheeks and hairy, Frida Kahlo eyebrows while your amigas are out having a ball looking fabulosas?"

To the reader who asked about whether she and her undocumented immigrant husband should buy a home: "Stop fretting. Maybe you should wait a while to buy your casita. Instead, put your energy into prodding Congress to come up with humane legislation to solve the undocumented workers crisis."

Prida once said she enjoyed working with young Latinas at the magazine.

"Younger Latinas today are more self-assured. They have opportunities we didn't have 30 years ago," Prida said in an interview with New York's Repertorio Espanol theater company. "With the boom of Latino popular culture we're experiencing, they feel it's 'cool' to be a Latina -- and they rejoice in it. As an older Latina, it makes me proud that in my lifetime I can see a magazine of such quality for and by Latinas."

Dolores touched, healed and inspired many hearts.
Sandra Guzman, former editor-in-chief of Latina magazine

Hiring Prida "was one of the best decisions of my tenure at the magazine," Guzman said. "Dolores touched, healed and inspired many hearts."

Exploring 'how we see ourselves'

But she didn't save all her advice for lovelorn readers. Friends said she was also quick to recommend books and movies, to mentor younger writers and to offer constructive critiques.

"She would take the time to work with people," Junco said, "to share what she had learned and what she knew with all types of writers."

Prida was a teenager when she immigrated to the United States from Cuba with her family in 1961. She began working in the theater in the 1970s and won widespread recognition for her work, including an honorary doctorate from Mount Holyoke College.

She wrote more than a dozen plays and musicals, including the critically acclaimed "Beautiful Senoritas." They stood out, in the eyes of reviewers, for their sensitive portrayal of the immigrant experience and the humor of balancing two cultures and two languages.

Throughout her career, she pushed for more cultural exchanges with Cuba -- a position that was so unpopular with some that there were bomb threats when one of her plays was set to be performed in Miami in 1986.

Being a woman and being bicultural are threads that run through many of her plays, according to Repertorio Espanol's guide to her work.

"My intention as a writer is to explore, in many different ways, our being here," Prida told the theatrical company. "Being from a different culture. Trying to fit in or not fit in. How other people see us, how we see ourselves."

'An important voice'

The night before her death, Prida excitedly talked about future projects with Sotomayor and other friends at the party.

"As always, she was filled with life and plans for the engaging work she was involved in," Sotomayor said in a statement after learning of Prida's death Sunday. "Dolores was a visionary. As a writer she inspired us to think deeply about our culture."

In 2009, Prida printed T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Wise Latina" -- a phrase Sotomayor had used that drew sharp criticism from some lawmakers during her confirmation hearings. For Prida, the description was a point of pride. She gave the T-shirts to Latina leaders and wrote a column about Sotomayor's success.

"We thank her for the term 'Wise Latina.' It is going to stay around for a long while," Prida wrote in the New York Daily News. "For the first time, Latinas who, for close to a century, have been stereotyped as temperamental hot tamales or inarticulate maids and cooks, have a label they want to hold onto."

New York's El Diario newspaper, which ran a regular opinion column by Prida, called her "an important voice for the Hispanic community in the Big Apple."

"She was ahead of her time in the sense that she's been making the case for Latinos in the U.S. for a long time. Now it's sort of in the news, but 20 years ago Dolores was already writing about Latinos," said Junco, who for years edited columns Prida wrote for the New York Daily News. "She always made the case that we, the Latinos, were an important part of America today, and that was only going to grow."

Her death was unexpected, and the cause was unclear, Junco said. Prida left Saturday night's party because she didn't feel well, then called her sister, telling her she had chest pain.

According to Junco, as paramedics took her to the hospital, Prida described the night's festivities.

"I was at a party," she told them. "I was dancing of joy."

People we've lost in 2013: The lives they lived

CNN's Rose Arce contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:30 PM EST, Sun January 5, 2014
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
updated 7:55 PM EST, Wed January 1, 2014
Actor James Avery, who played the beloved Uncle Phil on the hit 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," has died. He was 67.
updated 2:59 PM EST, Wed January 1, 2014
Dr. John W.V. Cordice, the surgeon who operated on Dr. Martin Luther King after he was stabbed in Harlem in 1958, died in Iowa. Cordice was 95.
updated 8:28 PM EST, Wed January 1, 2014
Joseph Ruskin died of natural causes in a Santa Monica, California, hospital. He was 89.
updated 4:19 PM EST, Wed January 1, 2014
Jeffrey Ian Pollack, who directed the popular 1990s films "Booty Call" and "Above the Rim" and produced "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" has died. He was 54.
updated 6:00 PM EST, Mon December 23, 2013
Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian gun designer whose AK-47 rifle became the weapon of choice for many national armies and guerrillas around the world, died.
updated 6:53 AM EST, Sun December 22, 2013
Ned Vizzini, who shot to fame at a young age for his teenage novels focusing on youth depression and anxieties, committed suicide at age 32.
updated 4:37 PM EST, Thu December 19, 2013
Al Goldstein, the foul-mouthed publisher of Screw magazine and pornography pioneer died in New York. He was 77.
updated 3:53 PM EST, Tue December 31, 2013
Actor Daniel Escobar, who played a teacher in "Lizzie McGuire," died from complications of diabetes in Los Angeles. He was 49.
updated 7:41 PM EST, Wed December 18, 2013
"Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs -- one of the most notorious British criminals of the 20th century -- has died, his publisher told CNN. He was 84.
updated 8:17 PM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
Ray Price, the Nashville star whose trademark "shuffle" beat became a country music staple, has died at age 87, his agent said.
updated 9:23 PM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine died, her longtime friend Noel Beutel said. She was 96.
updated 7:40 AM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
Actor Peter O'Toole died peacefully in a hospital at 81 years old.
updated 7:38 AM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
Tom Laughlin, the actor who wrote and starred in the "Billy Jack" films of the 1970s, died at age 82.
updated 7:56 PM EST, Wed December 11, 2013
Jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who played with the jazz greats of the 20th century and influenced the younger ones, has died, his family said. He was 83.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue December 10, 2013
Actress Eleanor Parker, nominated for three Oscars and known for her "Sound of Music" role, died Monday at 91, her family said.
updated 11:40 PM EST, Thu December 5, 2013
Freedom fighter, statesman, moral compass and South Africa's symbol of the struggle against racial oppression.
updated 9:18 PM EST, Wed December 4, 2013
Bill Beckwith, who co-hosted HGTV home-improvement show "Curb Appeal," has died. He was 38.
updated 9:58 AM EST, Mon December 2, 2013
Actor Paul Walker, who shot to fame as star of the high-octane street racing franchise "Fast & Furious," died in a car crash in Southern California. He was 40.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Sat November 30, 2013
Paul F. Crouch, co-founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, died at age 79.
updated 6:42 PM EST, Fri November 29, 2013
Jane Kean, who played diverse roles during a long career but was best known as Trixie on the TV revival of "The Honeymooners," has died. She was 90.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Mon November 25, 2013
Singer Wayne Mills, whose "outlaw country" songs center on honky-tonk life, died in a Nashville bar shooting.