Project Description

Dr. Lilia Fernandez founded the Latino/a New Jersey History Project in partnership with the Rutgers Oral History Archives. The project aims to document the histories of New Jersey’s diverse Latino/a communities by identifying archival materials and conducting oral histories with local residents. Beginning in the summer of 2018 as a student-led, community-based research project, Rutgers undergraduate and graduate students received training from the Rutgers Oral History Archives, conducted preliminary research, and interviewed community members throughout Rutgers University and New Jersey. The project continues at the Rutgers Oral History Archives with staff and undergraduates conducting interviews to add to the growing collection. To email the staff of the Rutgers Oral History Archives, click here.

(Under Interviews, select the participant's name and then read the HTML version of the interview transcript or select the PDF version.)

Latino NJ Project Students

Rutgers School of Arts and Science students participating in the Latino/a New Jersey History Project in 2018 (From Left: Aracely Ortega, Luz Sandoval, Tania Mota, Laura Sandoval, Carie Rael, Aziel Rosado, Amy Castillo. Front: Kevin Rosero) Photo courtesy of Kara Donaldson


This project is ongoing, and new interviews will be added periodically.

Sarah Acevedo

Description: Sara Acevedo was born in the 1950s in Cuba in the Province of Cienfuegos. She lived under the Batista regime in her early childhood and witnessed the Cuban Revolution. Her father was involved in activites against the new Castro regime and ultimately had to flee the country, migrating to Spain and eventually ending up in the United States. Ms. Acevedo and her family would not be reunited until much later when she was able to legally migrate to the United States in the 1980s.    The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2017-2019 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.

Marta R. Alcon

Description: Marta R. Alcon was born in Cuba in 1931. She grew up in a rural area. At the age of nineteen, she moved to the United States with her husband, while the rest of her family stayed in Cuba. After living in New York, she and her husband settled in Hoboken, where she has lived since then. She raised her four children speaking Spanish as well as English. In the interview, she describes the demographics of Hoboken in the early 1950s and the availability of factory work and traces changes in the community in terms of demographic shifts and economic development. She discusses the impact of the Cuban revolution in 1959 on her family members in Cuba. She spent her career as a seamstress and worked other various jobs. In the interview, she also discusses the impact of 9/11 on Hoboken. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Jenesys Alicea

Description: Jenesys Alicea was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1981. Her maternal grandparents were born in Puerto Rico and migrated to the mainland U.S. early in their lives. Jenesys grew up in North Newark and then Belleville. Her father worked in factories and in shipping and handling, and her mother eventually worked for Essex County. Jenesys went to Elliott Street School, Ridge Street Annex and Broadway Middle School in Newark and then, after moving to Belleville, to Belleville High School, graduating in the Class of 1999. She attended cosmetology school at Concorde in Bloomfield and has spent her career working in cosmetology. After first coming out as gay, she began transitioning in her mid-twenties with the help of an organization in Jersey City dedicated to helping trans youth. She identifies as a transgender woman. In the interview, she discusses her family history, childhood and life experiences, focusing in on topics including her Puerto Rican heritage, Latinx communities in Essex County, the process of transitioning, LGBTQ activism, trans-related health care, working as a freelance cosmetologist, and traveling to Puerto Rico.This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Carmela Becerra

Description: Carmela Becerra was born in Cali, Colombia in 1964. She grew up in Cali along with her three siblings. Her father worked as a foreman at a construction company, and her mother was a homemaker. She discusses the diversity of her ancestors with Afro-Colombian and indigenous roots and notes an absence of racism and colorism during her upbringing in Colombia. She remembers the rise of cartel-related violence. After completing a two-year college degree, she was motivated to move the U.S. for job opportunities. With family members living in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she decided to settle in Elizabeth. She describes the large Colombian community in Elizabeth and her family connections in the city, notably an aunt who owned a travel agency. She planned on returning to Colombia, but she met and married her husband, who is Puerto Rican, and decided to stay in the U.S. She compares and contrasts language and cultural practices of Colombians and Puerto Ricans. After going back to school, she became a teacher and has worked as an English as a second language teacher. She visits Colombia frequently and plans on retiring in Colombia. In the interview, she delves into raising children in America, demographics and immigration, current issues surrounding immigration, and political and economic strife in Colombia. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Luis Calvache

Description: Luis Calvache nació en Quito, Ecuador en 1944. Luis, su hermano y hermana fueron criados en Quito por su padre viudo, Eloy Calvache Pérez. Su padre fue comerciante; vendía ropa en los pueblos de las provincias de Ambato. Luis perdió su madre a la edad de 7. Cuando Luis tenía 14 años, él empezó a mudarse solo; de Guayaquil a Ambato y de vuelta a Quito. Durante este tiempo tuvo que buscar trabajo para mantenerse. Esto incluía vender periódicos, lustrando zapatos, etc. A los 18 años, Luis ingreso al ejército como todos los hombres de 18 años en su país. Sus memorias favoritas de su niñez eran la comida típica, la música, el baile y el fútbol. Luis completó su educación básica y continuó sus estudios por 3 años adicionales; de aquí sacó su licencia para manejar carros, taxis, y camiones en Ecuador, y de esta manera él se sostuvo. Durante este tiempo, Luis conoció a su esposa y se casaron. El menciona haber pasado por unas circunstancias duras y esto lo motivó a intentar emigrar a los Estados Unidos. En 1990, él llegó a Los Ángeles, luego a Nueva York, y por fin a Plainfield, NJ a la casa de un amigo. Durante su tiempo en EEUU, Luis pasó la mayoría de su tiempo trabajando en construcción. Aquí, Luis describe haber tenido dificultad con el idioma y de situaciones difíciles entre los Latinos mismos al no prestarse ayuda en el trabajo. Sin embargo, reconoce que varias personas Latinas les ayudaron a él y a su familia en sus primeros años en este país. Luis añora poder volver a Ecuador algún día, pero por ahora quiere quedarse al lado de su esposa y sus hijos. Luis Calvache was born in Quito, Ecuador in 1944. He, his brother and sister, were raised in Quito by his widowed father, Eloy Calvache Pérez. Luis’ father was a merchant worker; he sold clothing across the towns in the province of Ambato to support his family. Luis lost his mother at the age of seven. At the age of fourteen, Luis began moving alone from Guayaquil to Ambato and back to Quito, where he had to support himself with whatever jobs he could find--selling newspapers, shining shoes, etc.

Lucrecia Dayci Chivukula

Description: Lucrecia Dayci Chivukula was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1953. Her paternal great grandparents trace their roots to India, and she describes her mother’s side of the family as Afro-Cuban. In the interview, Chivukula recalls the impact of the Cuban Revolution on her family. It took her family twelve years to be able to emigrate, first to Madrid, Spain, where they lived for two years, and then to the United States.Initially living in the South Bronx, she finished her high school equivalency, scored high on the test, and earned a full scholarship to City College of New York (CCNY), earning her degree in 1980. She met her future husband at CCNY and they got married, living first in Howell and then settling in Franklin. She pursued graduate studies at Rutgers in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, where she worked as an adjunct professor for over thirty years. She taught at Saint Peter's High School for fourteen years and then became a language teacher at Thomas Grover Middle School in West Windsor-Plainsboro for twenty years. During her retirement, Dayci continues to dedicate time to serve her community. She has shared her experiences as an immigrant at programs at Middlesex County College and at Douglass College at Rutgers. She has been involved in a local diabetes prevention program geared toward South Asian and Hispanic communities. She also participates in Share Your Foodways, which provides food for individuals in need, while celebrating ancestral cooking and food traditions. The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2022-2023 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.

Saskia Leo Cipriani

Description: Saskia Leo Cipriani was born in 1980 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. Her parents were born in the Dominican Republic. In 1981, her family moved to Passaic, New Jersey, where she grew up in a neighborhood that was, at the time, largely Dominican and Puerto Rican. She attended Catholic schools and then Clifton High School. After going to Passaic County Community College for one semester, she transferred to Rutgers University, first to University College and then to Livingston College, where she graduated in 2004. During her undergraduate years, she was involved in Lambda Theta Alpha sorority, Casa Boricua, the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), and the Latin American Womxn’s Association (LAWO). Additionally, her work-study job was at the Center for Latino Arts and Culture (CLAC). Over the course of her career, she has worked in the private sector and in higher education. In 2010, she earned a Master’s in Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers-Newark. At the time of the interview, she was working on her dissertation in the Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership at Rowan University. In 2009, she co-founded the Latino Alumni Association at Rutgers University (LAARU). Since 2012, Ms. Cipriani has served as the Assistant Director of CLAC.  This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Maria Ealey

Description: Maria Ealey was born in Medellín, Colombia in 1981. During her early childhood, she grew up in a middle-class family and attended Catholic schools. In the interview, she describes drug cartel-related violence in Medellín and the impact on her family. Following her aunt and grandmother, her family immigrated to the U.S. in 1995 and settled in Paterson, New Jersey. They lived in South Paterson in what was, at that time, a predominantly Colombian and Arab neighborhood. While working part-time jobs to help support her family, Ms. Ealey went to high school at John F. Kennedy. She discusses the difficulties of transitioning to life in Paterson, learning English, and dealing with financial constraints associated with access to health care and higher education. Initially, she went to Bergen County Community College for nursing, while also working full time. Then, she attended Berkeley College and studied international business, working early in her career for an attorney and a foundation. Currently, Ms. Ealey is a staff person in the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University. She resides in Middlesex County. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

D.H. Figueredo

Description: Danilo "Dan" H. Figueredo was born in Guantanamo, Cuba in 1951. He grew up in Havana, where his father worked for the government. In the interview, he shares his recollections of the Cuban Revolution and the Bay of Pigs invasion. After Fidel Castro's ascent, Figueredo's father came under political pressure, and the family emigrated from Cuba in 1965, first to Spain for a year and then to the United States. With family members living in Union City, New Jersey, Figueredo and his parents settled in Union City, where he spent his middle school and high school years. In the interview, he describes what it was like adjusting to life to Union City, where his parents connected with the Cuban community and he eventually found a close group of friends in high school that included Bob Menendez. After graduating from Union Hill High School, he attended Montclair State University and majored in English and literature. He then earned a Master's in Library Science at Rutgers in 1978 and a Master's in comparative literature at New York University in 1989. He spent his career writing non-fiction and children's books and working in library science at the Union City Public Library, Newark Public Library, where he directed the Bilingual Program, New York Public Library, New Jersey Library Association and Bloomfield College Library. Among D.H. Figueredo's publications are Revolvers and Pistolas, Vaqueros and Caballeros: Debunking the Old West (Intersections of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture) and the bestselling children's book When This World Was New, which is based upon his arrival in Union City in 1966. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Eva Fontanez

Description: Eva Fontanez was born in the Bronx, New York in 1959. Her parents were born in Puerto Rico and moved to the Bronx after having their first child. During her childhood, Eva Fontanez lived in the Bronx, in Elizabeth, Newark and Passaic, New Jersey and in Brooklyn, before returning to the Bronx. She grew up in a Pentecostal household in which her stepfather was a Pentecostal pastor and her mother, a seamstress by trade, raised eight children. After graduating from Bushwick High School in Brooklyn, she briefly attended María Eugenio de Hostos Community College before entering the workforce. In 1980, she and her mother and younger sister moved to Las Piedras, Puerto Rico. After nine years of living in Puerto Rico, she moved to Plainfield with family members. In 1990, she got a three-year grant-based job at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) and spent the rest of her career there in variety of roles, including as staff in Student Activities and Multicultural Affairs. At RVCC, Ms. Fontanez served as the founding advisor of the Orgullo Latino Club and helped to start CRECER, a program that began in 1996 to encourage underserved youth from area high schools to attend college. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, she spent nine months in the San Juan area of Puerto Rico helping in relief efforts and working for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in a call center. Pictured in the photo: Eva Fontanez (front, center), Kevin Rosero (front, right) and students from Orgullo Latino Club attend a Generation 51 march in Washington, DC in support of Puerto Rican statehood.  This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Jaime Gonzalez

Description: Jaime Gonzalez was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico in 1962. His parents moved to Camden, New Jersey when he was a baby. After his father passed away, he dropped out of high school to work to help support the family. He has worked in the scrapyard business during his career and describes starting at the ground level and working his way up to becoming a maintenance supervisor. In the interview, he discusses getting married, becoming a parent and then a grandparent, moving to Pennsauken, visiting Puerto Rico, and being a homeowner.  This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Rosita Hamilton

Description: Rosita Hamiton was born in 1955 in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother and maternal grandmother moved from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico to New York in the early 1950s. Her father grew up in Guánica, Puerto Rico and moved to New York City when he was young. Rosita Hamilton spent her childhood and young adult years in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her mother worked as seamstress and participated in the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Her father was a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). Hamilton attended St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic School and then St. Michael’s High School. She went to Queens College, eventually earning her bachelor’s degree in 1986. She was active in the women's movement, joining the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1972, and in the anti-Vietnam War movement. She began her teaching career at Catholic schools in New York City. After moving to New Jersey, she taught at St. Helena in Edison and then spent the rest of her career teaching history at Linwood Middle School and in the high school in North Brunswick. She was a member of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). Since retiring in 2016, she has stayed active in the women's movement and in organizations such as Indivisible and the ACLU. Currently residing in Monroe Township, she previously lived in Piscataway and South Brunswick. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Edilio Jimenez

Description: Edilio Jimenez was born in San José de las Matas, Dominican Republic in 1971. After the early passing of his mother, he grew up with his father and four siblings, where his grandmother took an active role in raising him. After graduating high school, he planned on following a similar path to his distant cousin who was a military cadet, looking to join the Police Academy. Instead, through his sisters work at the Sierra Plan, a prevalent institution within the San José de las Matas area centered around the promotion of agriculture and livestock, he was offered a scholarship to study for a technical degree in Honduras. He participated in the program for six months out of the expected three years, citing troubles with adapting to the new environment and culture. Instead of returning to the Dominican Republic, he attained a transit visa and went to Miami, Florida for two weeks before being offered a job in East Orange, New Jersey. He describes the community he was able to join as a result of this move and the strong relationships that developed. He worked in masonry and construction, then at multiple wineries, before starting at different milk companies, Perfect and Creamoland, prior to working for Pepsi-Cola in the sales and merchandise departments and as a technician. After obtaining U.S. citizenship, he returned to the Dominican Republic in 1996. He describes that one of the most challenging aspects of acclimating to the United States was not only adapting to the new language but having to start a new life independent of prior relationships and a support system. He later moved from East Orange to Ford, before eventually settling in Piscataway. He speaks on his Dominican heritage (notably El Rubio), the diversity of Piscataway and the country as a whole, the Recession of 2008, the American immigration system and the ramifications of Donald Trump’s election in 2016. He describes the benefits that living in the U.S. has enabled him, especially in regards to supporting his family. He mentions how he would consider moving back to the Dominican Republic or Florida after retirement. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Pedro J. Jimenez, Jr.

The Honorable Pedro J. Jimenez, Jr., J.S.C., was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey in 1966. His parents were born in Puerto Rico and migrated when they were young to New Jersey, eventually settling in Perth Amboy. His father, a tool and die maker by trade, became involved in local politics in Perth Amboy. His mother worked as a beautician and ran her own business, before becoming a school security guard. During his childhood, he went to parochial school during grammar school and then to the public high school in Perth Amboy. He visited family members in Puerto Rico during summers. At Rutgers College from 1984 to 1989, he majored in Puerto Rican Studies (now Latino and Caribbean Studies). He played football for one year, lived in Latin Images for three years, and joined the fraternity Chi Phi. Motivated by his father's political involvement and by the underrepresentation of Latinos in local governance and law enforcement, he decided to go to law school, earning his law degree at Northeastern University. After beginning his career as a judicial law clerk in the Superior Court of New Jersey, he became an Assistant Prosecutor in the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office. From 1998 to 2008, he served as a Deputy Attorney General in the Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice. He has served as a Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, since 2008. In the interview, he discusses the migration stories of his grandparents, demographic changes in Perth Amboy, the treatment of Latinos/as in Perth Amboy during his youth, the development of the Puerto Rican Studies Program at Livingston College, challenges in the legal and judicial professions, notable cases and decisions, and changes in the criminal justice system over the course of his career. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Debora La Torre

Description: Debora "Debbie" La Torre was born in 1982 in Lima, Peru. In the mid-1980s, her father immigrated to the United States, and she and her mother soon followed. The family settled initially in East Newark and then in Kearny. La Torre graduated from Kearny High School in 2000 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. After basic training, she was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii with the 58th Military Police Company as a combat medic. In 2004, she deployed with her unit to Afghanistan to Bagram Air Base, where she rotated between serving as a combat medic on patrols, at the combat support hospital, and in the detention center that held enemy prisoners of war. Following her deployment in Afghanistan, La Torre was stationed in Germany with the 67th Combat Support Hospital in Würzburg and then the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Kaiserslautern, during which time she worked in the emergency room at the military hospital at  Landstuhl. After deciding to get out of the Army, La Torre went to nursing school on the GI Bill at Bloomfield College and then got her Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN). She joined the Army Nurse Corps Reserves and currently serves, at the rank of captain, as a medical readiness officer. She is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) and a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC). During nursing school, La Torre became involved in the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN). In 2020, she became president of the New Jersey Chapter of NAHN. The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2020-2022 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.

Luis Carlos Mendez

Luis Carlos Mendez was born in Panama in 1967. Growing up in Panama City in a family with four children, his father operated a tugboat for the Panama Canal and his mother was a homemaker. He went to public schools and then to a Catholic university in Panama, where he studied philosophy. During his upbringing in Panama, he recalls participating in demonstrations against the military regime of General Manuel Noriega and economic hardships resulting from international pressure on the regime. In 1987, he migrated to Seattle, Washington, where his aunt lived. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve and continued his college education, obtaining a bachelor's degree in psychology. He moved to Stirling, New Jersey in 2000. He is a certified drug and alcohol counselor, currently working at Greystone Psychiatric Hospital. After completing graduate school at the Seton Hall University Diaconate Studies Program, he was ordained in 2000 and serves as a Deacon in the Catholic Diocese of Paterson. In the interview, he discusses diversity in Panama, Latinx cultural celebrations in New Jersey, and U.S. intervention in Panama.  This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Robert Mercado

Description: Robert Mercado, MSW, MPA, was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. His parents migrated from Puerto Rico and settled in Newark. He grew up in a large family in the North Ward and attended Newark Public Schools. Following his brother, he went to Rutgers College, where he pledged Lambda Theta Phi, Latin Fraternity, Inc. and lived in Latin Images. He was in the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program. He majored in sociology and Puerto Rican and Caribbean Studies. During his undergraduate years, he worked at La Casa de Don Pedro Community Center in Newark. In 1997, he began working for the Juvenile Justice Commission, Office of Juvenile Parole and Transitional Services, and currently serves as a Reginal Supervisor. He has been a member of the North Ward Democratic Committee and was elected to his first term as District One Commissioner in November 2017 and re-elected in 2020. In the interview, he describes his upbringing in the North Ward, demographic changes in Newark, student life at Rutgers College, influential EOF personnel, non-profit work, graduate studies at Rutgers, career in social work and juvenile justice, and political involvement. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Antonio G. Pelaez

Description: Antonio G. Pelaez was born in Guerrero, Mexico and grew up in a large family. When he was fourteen, he immigrated to the United States and settled initially in Newark, following four of his brothers who had already come to the U.S. He got a job in a restaurant and describes starting as a dishwasher and eventually becoming a food server. He traveled back and forth to Mexico frequently. Later, he became a cook at a diner. He has lived in several communities in New Jersey, including Newark, Jackson, Elizabeth and New Brunswick. In the interview, he discusses changes in the restaurant business since the 1990s, as well as demographic changes in New Jersey. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Rafael Perez

Description: Rafael Perez was born in 1968 in Havana, Cuba. He grew up in Caibarién. Influenced by family members who worked in health care, he went to medical school at Instituto Superior de Ciencias Medicas de Villa Clara and then worked for two years in social service work at a nursing home. With little economic opportunity available in Cuba, in 1994, he fled by boat to Florida and then settled with family members in New Jersey. He describes starting over in the United States and the support of the Cuban-American community in New Jersey. He continued his education in the health care profession, while working as a critical care technician. He has spent his career as a hospital cardiovascular technologist. In the interview, he discusses the effects of the pandemic and compares and contrasts living in America to life in Cuba. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Madai Cruz Poole

Description: Madai Cruz Poole was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1974. Her mother was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, and her father was born in Salinas, Puerto Rico. Her parents moved to the New Jersey-New York area when they were young, eventually settling in New Brunswick. Her father worked for Suburban Transit, and her mother worked in the Public Defender's Office. Growing up in New Brunswick, Poole attended the parochial schools Sacred Heart and St. Peter's Elementary School. For high school, she went to Rutgers Prep. Poole went to Rutgers College and double majored in Administration of Justice and Puerto Rican and Hispanic Caribbean Studies. She participated in Rutgers Unión Estudiantil Puertorriqueña and spent time in Latin Images Living-Learning Community. After working for many years in the pharmaceutical industry in marketing, she became the department administrator for Latino and Caribbean Studies in the Rutgers School of Arts and Science. In the interview, Poole discusses being an EOF student at Rutgers and then working as an EOF counselor, organizing support for her extended family in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, being a cancer survivor, and returning to Rutgers to work in the department from which she graduated. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Francisco G. Roca

Description:  Francisco G. Roca was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador in 1946. In the early 1960s, when he was fifteen, he came to the United States with his parents, sister and three brothers. The family settled in the Bronx. After graduating from high school, Roca was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served in Vietnam in 1967-'68, eventually obtaining the rank of sergeant. In the interview, he discusses being a part of a platoon that guarded ammunition depots and reflects on the military's use of Agent Orange. After serving in Vietnam, he settled in Brooklyn, where he got married and he and his wife had two children. He conveys how he obtained his citizenship in 1975, instead of immediately upon his return from military service oversees. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration at Baruch College and spent his career working in human resources at an insurance company. In 1989, he and his family moved to Jamesburg, New Jersey. Francisco Roca passed away in April 2022. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Benito Rodriguez

Description: Benito Rodriguez was born in Aguada, Puerto Rico in 1951. He grew up in Aguada in the barrio Rio Grande. He had two sisters and a brother, and his parents worked in agriculture. After going to school until the fourth grade, he worked in sugar cane fields to help support the family. In the interview, he describes growing up in an agricultural area and that work, not education, was emphasized by his parents. He recalls fondly the cuisine he grew up eating and favorite types of music. In 1969, when he was eighteen, he decided to move to the United States for work. Following his sister who had settled in Newark, he first lived in Newark and later moved to Keansburg. He describes the difficulties of adjusting to life in America, which for him was made easier by the fact that his sister was already established in Newark. After working at a flour company and a restaurant, he worked at the Roselle Paper Company for forty-four years. The interview is conducted by his grandson, Aziel Rosado.This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Carmen Salavarrieta

Description: Carmen Salavarrieta was born in Sevilla, Colombia, in November 1950. She moved to Bogotá, where she lived with an adoptive mother, through whom she immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1960s. She settled in Plainfield, met and married her husband, and they started their family. She has worked a variety of jobs over the years, at American Cyanamid, in factory work, childcare, and housecleaning, and in service to the communities around her. Salavarrieta started volunteering at the Plainfield Health Clinic and served on the clinic's board for over thirty years. She joined the board of El Centro Hispanoamericano, a nonprofit organization in Plainfield. Working on disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd led Salavarrieta to challenge Bound Brook’s discriminatory housing policies that were adversely impacting Hispanic residents. Salavarrieta discusses her role in bringing attention to the rash of violent beatings of Hispanic men in and around Plainfield in 2004. In 2009, Salavarrieta and Jody Wood founded Angels for Action, a Plainfield-based nonprofit agency that provides services geared toward immigrant populations. The organization provides social services, immigration services, and computer and language classes, and coordinates special programs. Several such programs include the community ID program and COVID-19 vaccine clinics. She takes yearly trips in which she brings donated goods to children in poverty-stricken communities in Central America. Salavarrieta is the recipient of numerous awards recognizing her service, including the Plainfield Excellence Award for “Service to the Latinx Community,” the Women's History Month Award of the Plainfield Chapter of the NAACP, the Union County Women of Excellence Award, and the Jefferson Lifetime Service Award. The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2021-2022 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.

Candy Torres

Description: Candy Torres was born in Manhattan, New York in 1953. Her parents moved from Puerto Rico to New York City as children in the 1920s and grew up in Harlem during the Great Depression. Torres spent her early life in the Bronx and Newark, before her parents settled in South River. From an early age, she was interested in the space program. She participated in Civil Air Patrol as a teenager. After graduating from South River High School, Torres went to Douglass College, where she designed her own major called individual major-space science. In the summer of 1974, she went to the U.S. Women’s Army Officer College Program at Fort McClellan, Alabama, though she decided against a career in the military. She graduated from Douglass College in the Class of 1976. From 1976 to 1984, Torres worked on the OAO-3 Copernicus satellite project at Princeton University in the Astrophysics Department. In 1983, she produced "Wings in Space" on the Space Shuttle program for a local cable television channel. In 1984, Torres moved to Houston and began working as a software engineer for McDonnell-Douglas in Mission Operation Directorate (MOD) at NASA-Johnson Space Center (JSC). Between 1986 and 1988, she earned a Master’s degree in Studies of the Future at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. From 1988 to 1991, she worked as an engineer in Human Factors at Lockheed Engineering & Sciences Company. In 1992, budget cuts led to her getting laid off, after which she worked various jobs in schools and museums, until returning to the space industry in 1998. At Ron Croston and Associates, Torres worked in configuration management on the International Space Station (ISS). From 2001 to 2005, she worked at Barrios Technology in the Operations Planning group in MOD for the ISS. Since 2006, Torres has been self-employed as a computer expert, speaker, author, researcher and artist. She has forty-four years of experience in informational technology as a software engineer, digital video producer, image editor, 3D designer, and more. Her book Born on the Moon: Living in the Space Age was published in 2020. She terms herself "Technorican" and operates the website  Her research interests include history and technology. She has been featured in The Atlantic and on PBS and has given speeches internationally on the space industry and STEM-related topics. 

Nora Valencia

Description: Nora Valencia was born in Montenegro in Quindío, Colombia. Her father worked a coffee buyer and her mother was a homemaker. She grew up in Montenegro and then lived in Cali. When she was three years old, she contracted polio. She discusses her life as a polio survivor and how living with a disability has impacted her life in both Colombia and the United States. She went to convent schools and conveys in the interview the role that religion played in her upbringing. In 1989, her father came to the U.S., motivated by economic opportunities. The family gradually followed her father, and she moved to America in 2011. In the interview, she discusses types of jobs she has worked, including working at a Casio factory and cleaning offices. She comments on the diversity of Latinx communities in New Jersey. In a separate interview with the Voces of a Pandemic project, Valencia delves into her experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic as a factory worker in a job sector that continued to work during the pandemic shutdowns. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Mercedes Valle

Description: 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.

Marcella Vargas

Marcella Vargas was born in Puerto Rico in 1948. She grew up on a farm and recalls her father selling produce at a market in San Sebastián every weekend. She migrated to New Jersey at the age of fourteen in 1963, along with some siblings and her parents. She lived at first in Edison with an older brother, who had come to New Jersey previously. Soon after, her mother got established in New Brunswick, where the family settled. She went to public schools for one year, eventually getting her GED. She went to work as a machine operator at New Brunswick Lampshade Company. After getting her high school equivalency, she became a teacher's aide and went through a training at Rutgers-Newark. Later, she did assembly line work making air conditioners at Frigidaire. Most recently, she has worked at Rutgers University Dining in Brower Commons, from which she retired in 2018. In the late 1960s, she met and married her husband in New Brunswick, where they lived while raising their family until moving to Somerset. She has been involved in the Reformed Church in New Brunswick. In the interview, she discusses changes in New Brunswick over the years, the Vietnam War era, her relatives who served in the U.S. military, manufacturing jobs and the effects of industries moving overseas, being a part of a union, her remembrances of hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and voting rights. This oral history interview was conducted as a part of the Latino/a New Jersey History Project, directed by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Anthony Villanueva

Description: 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.