Dr. Mercedes Valle was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Her father moved to Connecticut to work in the tobacco industry, and later, when she was six, she moved with her mother and two siblings and joined her father in Newark, New Jersey.
Growing up in Downtown Newark in the late 1950s and 1960s, she went to public schools and to Catholic School for two years. In the interview, she describes the challenges of learning English, adapting to the culture, experiencing discrimination in the predominantly Italian area, and connecting with the few Latino families in her neighborhood. She was drawn to St. Columba Church, where she became involved in youth activities. As a teenager, she worked part-time jobs.
After graduating from high school, she worked as a secretary, until a co-worker encouraged her to go to Essex County Community College. Then, through ASPIRA, she transferred to Livingston College at Rutgers University. At Livingston, she connected with Puerto Rican students and professors. She became a student-activist in the Puerto Rican Student Organization. She joined Guazabara, a theater troupe that performed plays about issues affecting Puerto Ricans in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. She was active in La Casa de Don Pedro, the community-based organization founded by Ramon Rivera in Newark.
Following graduation from Livingston College in 1973, she continued her education at Seton Hall and the University of Massachusetts, earning her doctorate. She spent her career as a school psychologist. She has been active in relief efforts in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
In the photograph, Dr. Mercedes Valle participates in a panel discussion at “Remembering the Rutgers Puerto Rican Student Movement of the 1970s,” a part of Rutgers’s 250th anniversary celebration. (Photo by Nick Romanenko)
This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.