SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Ricardo Alegria, a Puerto Rican scholar known for his pioneering studies of the island’s native Taino culture and who is credited with preserving the capital’s colonial district, died Thursday. He was 90.
Alegria died at the Cardiovascular Center of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean from complications of heart disease, said his son, Ricardo Alegria Pons. The elder Alegria had been treated for two weeks at the hospital in June and then was hospitalized again Sunday with chest pains, his son said.
“Thanks to his long life of 90 years, he has had a major impact on all aspects of the culture of all Puerto Ricans,” his son said. “That work and dedication and love of his country does not disappear with his death.”
Gov. Luis Fortuno declared five days of mourning in the U.S. territory, ordering American and Puerto Rican flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of one of the island’s leading cultural figures.
Alegria in 1955 helped found and later served as executive director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, where he was long a passionate advocate of preserving the island’s artistic and archaeological heritage. He went on to launch the Graduate Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in 1976 and received the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Picasso Medal in 1993.
Born April 14, 1921, Alegria studied at the University of Puerto Rico before earning a master’s degree in anthropology and history at the University of Chicago and a doctorate in anthropology at Harvard University, according to a biography from the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.
He returned to Puerto Rico and focused on the island’s indigenous cultures. He also fought to preserve historic buildings and walls of the capital’s historic Old San Juan, where he was born and lived for most of his life, and of other parts of Puerto Rico.
In addition to his son, Alegria is survived by his wife, Mela Pons.