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Oral History Collections

Since Centro’s founding in 1973, it has been capturing the stories and experiences of Puerto Ricans stateside through oral history interviews. The collections and projects listed here represent the work of Centro staff along with material donated to the archives. Many of the collections are available to view or listen to through Centro’s Digital Collections portal, others are available in digital or audio cassette format for listening within the Centro Library & Archives reading room. See the audio indices for each collection to determine the type of availability.

Projects conducted by or in collaboration with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies

CENTRO: 100 Puerto Ricans Oral History Project, 2013-
View interviews in Digital Collections Portal
Number of interviews: 250+ interviewees

Beginning in 2013, the 100 Puerto Rican Oral History project's goal is to interview Puerto Ricans who have made a significant impact in their professional fields and to the Puerto Rican community within the United States. Those interviewed come from Puerto Rican communities throughout the country and are leaders or pioneers in a wide variety of fields, including arts and culture, business, education, economic development, community activism, health and community welfare, military, politics and government, and religion. The interviews capture the life stories of the interviewees from childhood to the present, with a focus on their areas of greatest impact. The project originally aimed to capture oral histories from one hundred significant Puerto Ricans to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Centro, but the nominees for the project quickly exceeded the original mandate. The project is ongoing.

CENTRO: El Barrio Popular Education Program, 1986-1990 (Oral Histories)
Audio Index
Listen to interviews in Digital Collections Portal
Number of interviews: 22 interviewees

The El Barrio Popular Education Program's goal was for adult students to develop their reading, writing and computer skills in Spanish, while learning English as a second language. The program began as a subset of Centro's Language Policy Task Force in 1985 and in 1987 it was incorporated as a non-profit organization, eventually ending operations in the 1990s. The oral history interviews that make up this collection are life histories from people involved in program. Interviewees discuss their childhoods, migration experience, their families, work, education, challenges, hopes and dreams, and reflect on their lives thus far.

CENTRO: New York City Hispanic Labor Documentation Oral History Project, 2000-2001
Audio Index
Listen to interviews in Digital Collections Portal
Number of interviews: 41 interviewees

Between 2000-2001, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, in collaboration with the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University, and with the cooperation of the New York City Central Labor Council’s Hispanic Labor Committee, the Santiago Iglesias Educational Society of Local 3, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), New York City Central Chapter, conducted a one-year records survey project to locate and plan for the permanent preservation of records documenting Hispanic labor in New York City. Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, Central and South American workers have played prominent roles in health care, service (building service, hotel and restaurant employment), garment and other manufacturing. Many people surveyed did not keep records, so the Centro team decided to conduct interviews in addition to or in lieu of records to capture the history of Hispanic labor in New York City. In general, the interviews provide information regarding leadership formation, the role of Latinas in the labor movement, the participation of the various Hispanic groups in different economic sectors, some honest assessments of experiences with labor unions, and the formation of clubs and societies, among other issues.

CENTRO: Puerto Ricans in New York - Voices of the Migration, 1983-1985
Audio Index
Listen to interviews in Digital Collections Portal
Number of interviews: 27 interviewees

Puerto Ricans in New York: Voices of the Migration was a three year oral history project by the Centro Oral History Task Force intent on interviewing, among others, community leaders, garment workers and pioneros (early community settlers) and retrieving primary source materials. It was a multi-pronged project that resulted in several public presentations on the Puerto Rican migration experience, including the Comunidades: Extended Roots from Hawaii to New York, Migraciones Puertorriqueños a los Estados Unidos Conference and Workshop, and in the acquisition of Centro's first archival collections on community activist Jesús Colón and photographer Justo A. Martí. In addition, it spawned a side project on women garment workers, Nosotras Trabajamos en la Costura, which included an award winning radio program and slide show, as well as an environmental installation called "Paisaje de Sudor y Sentimiento."

CENTRO: Centro Oral History Project/Latino Educational Media Center, 2003-2008
Audio Index
Listen to interviews in Digital Collections Portal
Number of interviews: 30 interviewees

The Centro Oral History Project/Latino Educational Media Center (COHP/LEMC) project ran from 2003-2008 and was focused on capturing oral history interviews from members of the Puerto Rican community who participated in institution building during the 1950s to 1970s in New York City. The collection highlights the formation of organizations such as the Puerto Rican Bar Association (PRBA), Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF), and Puerto Rican Association of Community Affairs (PRACA). It also contains several interviews with people who worked for the Puerto Rican government in the Migration Division offices in New York City, as well as people involved in numerous political and activist groups such as The Young Lords, El Comite, and Partido Socialista Puertorriqueños (PSP).

The project was led by Lillian Jiménez, a media arts center manager, independent producer, media activist, exhibitor, funder and educator. She was the head of the Latino Educational Media Center, a nonprofit that produces and distributes educational media on issues by and about the diverse and complex Latino communities in the US.

CENTRO: Research Task Force General Collection, 1980-1995
Listen to interviews in Digital Collections Portal

Interviews conducted by members of Centro’s research task forces independent of a specific oral history project.

Cultural Foundations of Puerto Rican Orlando/ Cimientos Culturales del Orlando Puertorriqueño, 2012 (Centro & University of Central Florida)
Audio Index
Number of interviews: 39 interviewees

An oral history project conducted by a group of Puerto Rican community volunteers in Orlando, FL, with support from staff at Centro, made possible by the Centro Library and Archives Historical Preservation and Research Partnership Program. Taking place in 2012 at two cultural organizations in Orlando, Asociación Borinqueña and Casa de Puerto Rico, the interviews were conducted predominantly in Spanish and are centered around a photograph that accompanies each recording.

Oral history collections in Centro’s holdings

Julio Hernandez-Delgado Oral History Collection, 1972-89
Audio Index
Number of interviews: 16 interviews

The Julio Hernandez-Delgado collection consists of 16 interviews with 10 people donated by the Hunter College Archivist in the field of Latin American and Puerto Rican Studies. Among them are interviews and book readings, several with children’s books writer, Pura Belpré.

Luis A. Cardona Oral History Collection, 1976-1989
Finding Aid
Audio Index
Listen to interviews in Digital Collections Portal
Number of interviews: 32 interviewees

The Luis A. Cardona Oral History Collection is comprised of interviews with leaders in the New York Puerto Rican community during the 1950s through 1980s. The collection documents Cardona’s interests in the Puerto Rican community of New York and the diaspora as a whole. The topics of the interviews and Cardona’s interests include: migratory history, education, culture, and the arts, among many others. The collection serves to understand Puerto Rican experiences in the United States, primarily in New York. These experiences are told through the interviews of leaders such as Antonia Pantoja, who describes her childhood in Puerto Rico, her education and her migration to the United States. In addition, the interview of Frank Bonilla serves to place New York as a center of Puerto Rican studies and delves into the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, which he was director of from 1973 to 1993.

Marithelma Costa Literary Interview Collection, 1985-86
Audio Index
Number of interviews: 10 interviews

Dr. Costa is a Medieval Spanish & Modern Latin American Literature Professor at Hunter College, CUNY. This collection is comprised of 10 audiocassettes of interviews with the poets Clemente Soto Vélez and Carmen Valle, scholar and essayist Nilita Vientos Gastón and the visual artist and essayist Antonio Martorell.

Michael Lapp Migration Division Oral History Collection, 1984-85
Audio Index
Listen to interviews in Digital Collections Portal
Number of interviews: 13 interviews, 5 interviewees

The collection consists of interviews conducted by Michael Lapp with several Migration Division officers, including Luis Cardona, Joseph Monserrat, Director from 1951 to 1969, and Alan Perl, the lawyer responsible for the seasonal farm workers’ contracts negotiated by the Division. This collection complements the OGPRUS Migration Division Records.

Puerto Ricans in Central Florida 1940s-1980s: A History
Inclusive Dates: 2008-2009
Audio Index
Project site at the University of Central Florida
Number of interviews: 73 interviews

A collection of interviews of Puerto Ricans living in Central Florida. The project was produced by the University of Central Florida Digital Ethnography Laboratory. This collection is only available on site in the Centro Library & Archives reading room.

Ruth Glasser Musicians Oral History Project, 1988-1993
Audio Index
Listen to interviews in Digital Collections Portal
Number of interviews: 28 interviewees

This collection consists of 40 interviews with 28 interviewees conducted by Glasser while writing her book/ dissertation, My Music is My Flag. The collection contains interviews of prominent musicians, such as Bobby Capó and Johnny Rodríguez, and their relatives, such as Victoria Hernández, sister to composer Rafael Hernández and owner of Almacenes Hernández in East Harlem, now known as Casa Amadeo, possibly the first Puerto Rican-owned music store in New York City.

Ruth M. Reynolds Papers (Series X: Oral Histories, 1985-86)
Finding Aids: PDF - EAD:English - EAD:Spanish
Audio Index
Number of interviews: 111 hours of interviews with Ruth Reynolds

There are one hundred and eleven one-hour interviews, with corresponding transcripts, conducted by Centro’s Cultural Task Force staff member Blanca Vázquez from June 11, 1985 to May 29, 1986. The tapes include  Ruth Reynolds' personal and family history as well as an exposition of her religious beliefs and philosophy. They contain detailed accounts of Reynolds' participation in Nationalist Party activities and such events as the October 1950 Nationalist uprising. The tapes are rich in information on many other themes especially the life of Pedro Albizu Campos and the 1948 student strike at the University of Puerto Rico.

Audiotapes 28, 29 and 46 are missing; and there are no transcripts available for tapes 24, 28, 29, 46, 47 and 108.

West Coast Puerto Rican Elders / California Oral History Project, 2008
Audio Index
Listen to interviews in Digital Collections Portal
Number of interviews: 24

An oral history project documenting 24 interviewees from California and Hawaii conducted by the California Puerto Rican Historical Society with funds from the Western Region Puerto Rican Council and Hayward Area Historical Society. Centro provided assistance reformatting the original audio cassettes into digital format.

Puerto Rican Oral History Project (Long Island Historical Society)
Finding Aid (Brooklyn Historical Society)
Listen to interviews at Brooklyn Historical Society
Number of interviews: 80+

This collection initiated by the Long Island Historical Society in 1973, includes recordings and transcripts of over eighty oral history interviews documenting the experiences of Brooklyn residents who arrived from Puerto Rico between 1917 and 1940. While the collection was on loan to Centro in 1984, Centro staff transcribed the interviews. Over 50 of the interviews are available online through the Brooklyn Historical Society, along with all the original audio and copies of the transcripts. Centro holds copies of the transcripts.