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Gilberto Gerena Valentín Memoir


My life as a Community Activist, Labor Organizer and Progressive Politician in New York City

By Gilberto Gerena Valentín, edited by Carlos Rodríguez Fraticelli, translated by Andrew Hurley, with an introduction by José E. Cruz

Published 2013

316 pages; notes, index; 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-878483-79-9  (paperback) 

Price: $25.00 paperback


About this book

Gilberto Gerena Valentín is a key figure in the development of the Puerto Rican community in the United States, especially from the forties through the seventies. He was a union organizer, community leader, political activist and general in the war for the civil-rights recognition of his community. Gerena Valentín played an active part in the founding and development of all the major Puerto Rican organizations in the postwar period, including the Congreso de Pueblos, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the National Association for Puerto Rican Civil Rights, the Puerto Rican Folklore Festival  and the Puerto Rican Community Development Project. During this period he was also a member of the New York City Human Rights Commission and a New York City councilman. Gerena Valentín was also a pioneer in the creation of coalitions with the principal African American civil rights organizations, playing a central role in the mobilization of Puerto Ricans for the famed marches on Washington in 1963 and 1968 and in the New York City school boycott of 1964, the largest in the nation’s history.

In his memoirs, Gilberto Gerena Valentín takes us into the center of the fierce labor, political, civil-rights, social and cultural struggles waged by Puerto Ricans in New York from the 1940s through the 1970s.


Table of Contents


Editor’s Note

Introduction: The world in context that Gilberto Gerena Valentín lived by José E. Cruz

1. The Beginning

2. My Mother and I

3. Back to Lares

4. Perseverance Pays

5. My First Grito

6. Lares-San Juan-New York via Caracas?

7. Dishwasher and Skullcracker

8. A Cup of Coffee Opens Many Doors

9. What a Penny Means to Me

10. El Barrio

11. Better Three Stripes Than a Bar

12. On the Pacific Front

13. Back in New York City

14. Blackballed in the Hotels

15. The American Labor Party

16. Organizing Workers at the Emerson Plant

17. The Puerto Rican Community Loses Its Strongest Ally: The Death of Marcantonio

18. My Relationship with the Reform Democrats

19. At the Adams Plant

20. The Origins of the Congreso de Pueblos

21. How the Congreso de Pueblos Functioned

22. It Wasn’t All Work. . .

23. The Campaign Against the Literacy Test in English

24. Freehold, New Jersey

25. The Origins of the Puerto Rican Day Parade

26. Fidel’s Visits to New York City

27. Marching with Martin Luther King

28. The School Boycott

29. Stretching Puerto Ricans to Make Them Cops

30. How They Tried to Take the Presidency of the Puerto Rican Day Parade Away From Me

31. The Prettiest Flag in the World Measures 50 Feet by 35 Feet

32. Boycott as a Weapon

33. Commissioner of Human Rights in New York City

34. Mayor for a Weekend

35. A Short but Fiery Visit to the Windy City

36. From the Fires of Chicago to the Folklore Festival in New York

37. The Puerto Rican Community Development Project (PRCDP)

38. The “Wednesday Club”

39. My Radio Programs in New York City

40. “Saul’s Ladies”

41. Marching Against Fear in the South

42. Marching with the Poor In Washington, D.C.

43. Operation Jimmy Shine

44. Red Eggs and Stink Bombs

45. From City Hall to the Jail on Rikers Island

46. A Huge Health-Care Corporation

47. It Takes a Sledgehammer: Opening Doors in the Construction Industry

48. One Good Turn Deserves Another

49. Solidarity with Culebra

50. Sham Civil Rights Hearings

51. Culebra and the Puerto Rican Independence Party

52. How We Got Humberto Pagán Released from Prison in Canada

53. My Debut on Public Television

54. From Republican Cadet to Air Pirate

55. Back to Unionizing

56. City Councilman for the South Bronx

57. Swank

58. The Peoples’ Parliament for Peace

59. My Visit to Tehran

60. A Short-Lived Branch of the Independence Party in New York

61. Yellow Cabs and Gypsy Cabs

62. Five Billion—Not in Rubles, But in Dollars

63. My Initiatives on the City Council

64. Defeated by Gerrymandering, but I Sued Them and Won

65. The New Alliance Party and I

66. Taxi Organizer in Miami

67. Three Years with Governor Cuomo

 68. Farmer

69. Puerto Rican Citizenship

70. A Soldier in the Battle of Vieques

71. Ramón Vélez and I

72. Organizing the Diaspora on the Island

73. Grito Cultural and the Literary Contest

74. The “Don” Free School

75. My Beloved Son Joey

76. The Tamarind Tree



About the Author

Gilberto Gerena Valentín was a central figure in the labor, political, civil-rights and social struggles of Puerto Ricans in the United States. He marched with Martin Luther King in The March on Washington, promoted the boycotting of industries in order to face them to higher minorities, founded the Congreso de Pueblos to unify all Puerto Rican organizations, and was elected to the New York City Council.

Carlos Rodríguez Fraticelli is a professor of social sciences at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras.

Andrew Hurley is Professor Emeritus at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras.

José E. Cruz is an associate professor of political science at the University at Albany, SUNY.