Latino New Jersey History Project
Latinos make up nearly twenty percent of the Garden State’s population. Professor Lilia Fernandez and Rutgers students have spent several summers exploring and documenting this population’s history through the Latino New Jersey History Project, a student-led, community-based research project. Launched by Professor Fernandez in 2016, 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. Since the summer of 2017, Rutgers undergraduate and graduate students have been receiving training, doing preliminary research, and conducting oral histories with community members in New Jersey. (Under Interviews, click on the participant's name and then select the HTML or PDF version of the transcript to read.)
Jenesys Alicea was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1981. Her maternal grandparents were born in Puerto Rico and moved 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.
Luis Calvache was born in Quito, Ecuador on October 20th of 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. He eventually had to join the Ecuadorean military at eighteen, which he mentions was a typical rite of passage for eighteen-year-old men at the time. What he remembers most from his childhood was the typical food and his favorite music, dancing, and soccer. Luis completed his basic education and then continued on for an additional 3 years; he eventually gained his license to drive cars, taxi cabs, and trucks, in Ecuador and he was able to sustain himself this way. During this time, he met his wife and married her when they were in their early twenties. He mentions that after a few rough years in his young adult life, he decided to take a chance and go to the U.S. In 1990, he arrived in Los Angeles, then to New York City, and eventually arrived in Plainfield, New Jersey at a friend’s home. The job he held the longest in the U.S. was in the construction industry. Here, Luis discusses having struggled with adapting to the language barrier and finding that Latinos were sometimes problematic in the workplace against other Latinos. However, he recognized the small groups of Latinos that did offer him and his family a hand during their first years in the country. He yearns to go back to his country someday but continues to live in the U.S. to stay by his wife and children’s side.
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.
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.
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.
Madai Cruz Poole was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey on September 12, 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 project is ongoing, and new interviews will be added periodically.