Vela Rubio was born in Puente Genil, Andalusia, Spain on 29 October 1901 as the eldest child of Pedro Vela Carrasco and Carmen Rubio Becerra. She had six siblings, four of whom died in infancy. Her mother died when she was 16; she later ran away to Málaga, and met her partner, Antonio Padrón Valderrama, there while working as a seamstress in a haberdashery.
Vela Rubio had four children with Padrón Valderrama out of wedlock due to the fact that his parents did not approve of their relationship. Their daughter Carmelita died aged 10, their sons, Antonio and Juan, lived to 82 and 86 respectively. Their eldest daughter, Ana, was the only one to outlive her mother, being 90 years old in 2017.
In 1950, Vela Rubio moved with her family to Barcelona, Catalonia. While there, she worked as a seamstress at a tuberculosis sanatorium. Vela Rubio and her eldest daughter moved into a property in La Verneda, a neighbourhood of Barcelona, and stayed there for over 30 years.
Vela Rubio became Spain’s oldest living person upon the death of 112-year-old Francisca García Torres on 25 February 2014. On 6 June 2016, she became Spain’s oldest resident ever after breaking the 22-year record held by María Antonia Castro. Following the death of Emma Morano on 15 April 2017, she became the oldest resident of Europe.
Vela Rubio died on 15 December 2017 at the age of 116 years, 47 days. Her daughter Ana was living in the same nursing home. Spain’s oldest living person after her death was Magdalena Oliver Gabarró, then aged 114.