Anthony Villanueva was born in New York City in 1945. His father was born in Isabela, Puerto Rico, and his mother was born in Santurce. They migrated to the mainland separately and settled in New York City, where they met and then married in 1944.
Anthony Villanueva grew up in El Barrio, also known as Spanish Harlem, in East Harlem, Manhattan. In the interview, he discusses speaking Spanish during his early childhood and learning English in grammar school. After his family moved to Jersey City, he relates that he experienced discrimination for the first time. In Jersey City, he went to St. Peter's Grammar School and then Ferris High School. As a child, he traveled frequently to Puerto Rico, which he has continued throughout his life.
He went to college at the Rutgers Newark College of Arts and Sciences (NCAS) from 1963 to 1966, when he enlisted in the Navy. He completed basic training at Great Lakes, Illinois, advanced training with the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune, and naval corpsmen training at St. Albans Naval Hospital. He served as a naval corpsman attached to a Marine unit in Vietnam in Quang Tri Province from 1967 to 1969. He discusses transitioning back to civilian life after his service and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder at a time that it was not recognized by society.
After the war, he finished his undergraduate education, obtaining his bachelor's degree in history at NCAS in 1973. He worked as a police officer for eighteen years, after which he worked in finance, county government and banking and then as a surgical technician in a hospital. Now a resident of Illinois, he has been pursuing graduate studies in Caribbean and Puerto Rico history at Northern Illinois University.
This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.