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Puerto Rico Profile: Sonia Morales Puopolo

September 14, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Among the thousands killed in Tuesday’s terrorist attack on New York and Washington was Sonia Morales de Puopolo, 58, a Puerto Rican-born ballet dancer and arts patron. She was likely one of the first victims of the day to die as her Los Angeles bound plane was diverted to New York by hijackers, to end in a fiery crash at the north tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. It was the first of the twin buildings to be purposefully struck by aircraft, both to later collapse to the ground with most of the inhabitants trapped within a gigantic pile of rubble.

According to her husband, Dominic Puopolo, she was on her way to attend the Latin Grammy Awards, which was moved from Miami to Los Angeles last month amid controversy over a planned demonstration by Cuban exile activists. She also planned to spend some "quality time" with her son, Mark Anthony, 29, who lives in Los Angeles, he said. In addition, the couple have another son, Dominic, 35, and a daughter, Tita, 28, who accompanied her mother to Boston’s Logan Airport to begin her fateful flight.

Mrs. Puopolo and her husband divided their time between Boston and Miami where they were well known in social and philanthropic circles in both cities. She was an activist in the Democratic Party and, according to its chairman, Terence R. McAuliffe, was a "great supporter of the Party." He said that she helped organize events in Puerto Rico and Miami and was active in letter writing and grass roots political organizing. " She stuck with us in good times and bad," he said. " She was a spectacular woman who will always be in our thoughts and prayers and we will miss her dearly." Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts told the Puerto Rico Herald that "Sonia Morales Puopolo was greatly admired and respected for her extraordinary contributions to the Hispanic-American community. I have known her and her family for many years and she has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to the Democratic Party and to my re-election campaigns."

Among Mrs. Puopolo’s interests was advancement of The Miami City Ballet. A statement from the organization identified Mrs. Puopolo as a board member since 1998, involved in countless philanthropic efforts on behalf of the ballet, including the Hispanic Artistic and Scholarship fund and the capital campaign fund for its new building. The "Sonia and Dominic Puopolo Costume Shop," part of the company’s new Miami Beach headquarters, was made possible by the couple’s gift of $250,000. The new facility is only the second in the nation to be built expressly for ballet, the other being home to the San Francisco Ballet in the Golden State. She also funded most of the costumes worn by the company’s dancers.


"I know that I speak for everyone at the Miami City Ballet when I say that we are deeply saddened by Sonia’s death," said Edward Villella, Founding Artistic Director of the group. "There are no words to express our sorrow." A former dancer, she loved the work of Resident Costume Designer Haydée Morales and would often come in to discuss designs of ballet costumes with her. "She was a wonderful woman with such dedication to the ballet," said Morales. "We will all miss her very much."

Marialuara Leslie, presently Cultural Projects Administrator of the Miami Dade Department of Cultural Affairs, met Mrs. Puopolo when she was Director of Development for the Miami City Ballet and they became close friends. In remembering her, she told the Puerto Rico Herald, "Sonia was a beautiful person, full of life and joy. We will miss her." She recalled that her friend danced with her mother, Aurea Moreda, some forty years ago in Puerto Rico with the Madam Herta Brauer Company, a community dance troop that performed in the mountain towns and hamlets, bringing cultural enrichment and dance instruction to local youngsters.

Mrs. Puopolo was born Sonia Morales Raices in Lares, Puerto Rico, in 1948 where she lived until the age of nine, at which time she moved with her parents to the continental United States. She was never a stranger to the island, however, returning frequently to study, perform and visit with her large extended family there. Her uncle, Juan Rivera Raices, told El Nueva Dia that she returned to the island last Mother’s Day to place flowers on the grave of her mother, interred in the Lares cemetery. She also shared a meal with her uncle that included some of her favorite Puerto Rican dishes, "arroz con gandules, tostones and bistec (rice with beans, deep fried plantains and criole-style beef)." He pointed out that she never stayed in the luxury hotels when she visited the island, always coming to stay with her "poor relations," he said, referring to himself.

"I feel that I’ve lost my soulmate," said Dominic Puopolo, who remained composed throughout a telephone interview with the Miami Herald from his home in Massachusetts. "Sonia and I have been married for 38 years. She was an inspiration to very many women in Miami. She was a giver, not a taker. She gave and gave and gave. She went to the airport this morning very happy," he mused. "There’s nothing like a Latina mother going off to visit her son."

To the Boston Globe, Dominic Puopolo spoke of the irony of her violent death at the hands of terrorists. "She loved the Red Cross," he said, "because its always there for people in times of disaster. My wife was a very , very, spiritual woman. Her whole life was about nonviolence."

"We were like soulmates," he concluded, "we spent our whole lifetime together. I loved her very, very dearly."

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