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René Valdes Papers

Identifier: Tretter-481

Scope and Contents

This collection of materials documents the life of Cuban immigrant René Valdes, a linguist, activist, writer, and long-term HIV/AIDS survivor. Materials are either dated between 1980-2018 or are undated. Highlights from the collection include: scripts and photographs of a play that René performed at Patrick’s Cabaret about his experience at a refugee camp located in Fort McCoy; journals that René wrote in spanning over 30 years; photographs depicting René with his lover Bruce Brockway and his lover David Powers; and Valdes’s Immigration and Naturalization Service File which documents a denial of citizenship to the United States of America.


  • 1980 - 2018

Conditions Governing Access

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.

Conditions Governing Use

Please contact staff regarding copyright status of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under fair use provisions of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code).

Biographical / Historical

The following passage was written by Alan Lessik, the donor of these materials:

“My former partner who died in 2012 was René Valdes, a Cuban refugee who came to Minnesota in 1980 as part of the Mariel Boatlift. He was assisted by a group of Gay Men who came to the camp in Fort McCoy, WI to sponsor gay men. One of the men involved was Bruce Brockway, a gay activist and later one of the first persons in Minnesota to be diagnosed and die of AIDS. Bruce and René became lovers, and René believed that he contracted HIV likely in his first night in freedom in the US. Although I also lived in Minneapolis from 1973-86, I didn’t know René at the time. But after he and I met in 2000, we often went back to Minnesota to visit friends. René was a linguist and his first job in the US/MN was with Control Data. He later worked in computational linguistics in other companies as well as in San Diego and finally at Microsoft in Seattle. As a refugee, he fought the US Immigration Service, as told them he left Cuba to come to the US because he was oppressed as a gay man. This was still at the time when being gay was an excludable “disease” in the eyes of immigration. His court case lasted for years until the case law changed. He studied at the University of Minnesota and received a Masters in Hispanic Linguistics, during the worst part of the AIDS crisis when the disease was affecting him the most. And he brought over his twin sons from Cuba to live with him and a later partner, also during these difficult times. He was a long-term HIV survivor and died in 2012 from a terminal mental illness, something afflicting many AIDS survivors. René was a diarist and kept diaries from before he left Cuba in 1980 up to the day he died... he wrote about his life as a gay man, an immigrant, a linguist, an athlete and gay activist. They also present some challenges as he wrote them in a combination of languages including English, his native Spanish, as well as in Esperanto, German and Russian. In addition to the diaries, there are albums of photos of the gay life (including photos and a video of Bruce), his immigration records and other historical information.”


7 boxes : 4 Paige boxes and 3 Hollinger boxes

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian







This collection is organized into three series with various sub-series, separated by material type and subject matter.

Physical Description

Box Level Description

Box 1 is a Paige box comprised of correspondence and other paper-based records.

Box 2 is a Paige box comprised mostly of photographs and journals.

Box 3 is a Paige box comprised almost entirely of journals and planners.

Box 4 is a Paige box comprised mostly of journals and planners, but also some photographs and other paper-based records.

Box 5 is an oversized Hollinger box comprised entirely of newspapers and clippings.

Box 6 is a Hollinger box comprised entirely of audio/visual materials.

Box 7 is a Hollinger box comprised entirely of books.


This collection was processed by a person who is fluent in English; has low-level knowledge of Spanish and German; and has no experience with Esperanto, Italian, French, Russian and Portuguese. Languages were identified for the finding aid via typing excerpts of text into Google Translate, and thus are subject to error, especially in regards to the Esperanto and Portugese language materials.

Processing Information

René Valdes’s name is documented in several different ways with this collection, including: “René Valdés”, “René Jesús Valdés López”, “René Jesús Valdés-López”, and “René Jesús de la Caridad Valdés López”. The original processors of the collection chose to stylize his name in the finding aid as “René Valdes”, because that was how it was recorded by the donor via email.

Processing Information

Series Description

Series 1: Audio/Visual Materials This series is arranged physically by material type into three sub-series, based on the donor’s original order. Sub-Series 1: Cassette Tapes This sub-series contains an assortment of cassette tapes spanning a variety of topics and languages. 986-2004, Box 6.

Sub-Series 2: DVD This sub-series contains a single DVD related to Bruce Brockway and policing. 1982, Box 6.

Sub-Series 3: VHS Tape This sub-series contains a single VHS tape recording of a Spanish course that René taught at the University of Minnesota. 1997, Box 6.

Series 2: Photographs This series is arranged into two sub-series, based upon René Valdes’s original order. Sub-Series 1: Photo Album 1 This sub-series contains photographs disassembled from a photo album, mostly containing photographs of René Valdes with Bruce Brockway. 1976-1987, Boxes 1, 2, and 4.

Sub-Series 2: Photo Album 2 “Europe” This sub-series contains photographs disassembled from a photo album containing photographs of René Valdes, David Powers, and friends from their travels in Europe. 1989, Box 4.

Series 3: Written Words This series is arranged into eleven different sub-series based upon topic, material type, and the donor’s original order. Correspondence related to specific topics can be found in the corresponding sub-series.

Subseries 1: Journals and Daily Planners This sub-series contains journals and daily planners in English, Spanish, Esperanto, Italian, French, German, and Russian languages. 1980-2011, Boxes 2-4.

Sub-series 2: Writing by René This sub-series contains pieces of writing by René. For a piece of writing from René about his experiences in Fort McCoy, please see the “Fort McCoy” sub-series. 1986-2000, Box 1.

Sub-series 3: Writing and Publications Collected by René This sub-series contains essays, books, lyrics, and newspapers collected by René in English, Spanish, and Esperanto languages. 1981-2010, Boxes 1, 2, 4, 5.

Sub-series 4: Sándor and Franco Valdes This sub-series contains documents related to René’s relationship with his twin sons in Spanish and English languages. 1994-1995, Box 1

Sub-series 5: Bruce Brockway This sub-series contains English language materials about Bruce Brockway largely related to Brockway’s death. For other materials related to Bruce Brockway’s life, please refer to René’s journals, photographs, and audio/visual materials. 1979-1992, Boxes 1, 3.

Sub-series 6: Education (University of Minnesota) This sub-series contains English language materials related to René’s education at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities including course evaluations, membership documents to educational groups, and diplomas. 1987-1999, Box 1.

Sub-series 7: Control Data This sub-series contains materials related to René’s work for Control Data, a corporation for which he did computational linguistic work. This sub-series contains materials in English, Spanish, Russian, French, and German languages. 1980-1992. Box 1.

Sub-series 8: Fort McCoy This sub-series contains materials related to Fort McCoy including newspaper clippings, newsletters and pamphlets given to refugees at the Fort, and a piece of writing about René’s experiences there. For more materials about Fort McCoy, please see René’s journals in the “Journals and Daily Planners” sub-series. This sub-series contains materials in English and Spanish languages. 1980-2005, Box 1.

Sub-series 9: Correspondence This sub-series contains correspondence between René and friends, family, and organizations in Spanish, English, and German languages. 1971-2018, Boxes 1 and 4.

Sub-series 10: State and Immigration Records This sub-series contains documents, correspondence, notes, petitions and records related to René’s naturalization process in the United States of America as well as notes that accompanied René’s later applications for social security benefits. 1980-2012, Boxes 1 and 4.

Sub-series 11: Miscellaneous This sub-series contains various documents related to René’s life and death. 1984-2012, Boxes 1, 3, and 4.

Raye O Shiel
July 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Jean Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies Collecting Area