Book Review: Puerto Rican volunteers in Spain

June 11, 2015

José Alejandro Ortiz Carrión with Teresita Torres Rivera, Voluntarios de da Libertad. Puertorriqueños en defensa de la República Española 1936-1939 [Freedom Volunteers: Puerto Ricans in defense of the Spanish Republic 1936-1939] (San Juan: Ediciones Callejón, 2015).

Voluntarios_LibertadIn 1999, José Alejandro Ortiz Carrión contacted ALBA requesting information on Puerto Rican volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. His letter and the response, which included a list of the known Puerto Rican volunteers from the ALBA database, were published in the Spring 2000 edition of The Volunteer. In the ensuing years, Ortiz Carrión continued his research, broadening his definition of volunteer which resulted in the identification of numerous additional Puerto Ricans involved in the Spanish Civil War. In his most recent work Voluntarios de la Libertad, Puertorriqueños en defense de la República Española 1936-1939 Ortiz Carrión identifies 73 Puerto Ricans participants in the Spanish Civil War.

Ortiz Carrión defines Puerto Rican participants primarily as individuals who were born in Puerto Rico; born in New York of Puerto Rican descent; and select individuals who had lived in Puerto Rico at some point prior to going to Spain. Most participants served in a military capacity in the militia, the Republican Army, the International Brigades or medical services. Others served as civilian volunteers, government employees or civilian exiles.

Most of the 73 Puerto Ricans served in the militia, the Republican Army, the International Brigades, or the medical services.

Voluntarios de la Libertad is divided into five parts, or themes, including the reaction to the war in Puerto Rico and New York; early volunteers on the Madrid Front; Puerto Rican volunteers from New York in the International Brigades; POWs and other prisoners; and Puerto Rican participants in postwar concentration camps and exiles. Within these subgroups each participant’s biographical information is presented along with supporting documentation. Numerous photographs of volunteers and primary source documents reproduced within the text. An extensive notes section ends each part, providing additional supporting information.

Back matter includes a chronological table comparing events within the Second Spanish Republic with parallel events worldwide. An appendix lists the 73 Puerto Rican volunteers and presents key information including date and place of birth, education, battalion, repatriation and times and places of death, and a comments field.

Although Voluntarios de la Libertad is written in Spanish, much of the primary source material is in English. ALBA will update its biographical database to include additions and corrections presented in the book.

Christopher Brooks is director of ALBA’s biographical research project and database, which can be consulted online at