College Center & Archives
She didnt know much
about her father. After all, she was only five years old when her
parents divorced, and she was barely 11 when he died in his native
But Paulette Zalduondo-Henriquez
was always curious about him. What was his birth date? Where did he
grow up? Where did his family live?
|Nelida Perez and Felix Matos Rodriguez
So when Centroas the Center for Puerto Rican Studies
is familiarly known on the Hunter College campusrecently made
some 45,000 personal ID cards from the government of Puerto Rico available
to the public, Zalduondo-Henriquez decided to search for her roots.
After combing through the Centers voluminous record books, she
asked for three or four files on people whose last name was Zalduondo,
hoping that one of them would contain information about the man she
had always known as George Zalduondo.
I hit Eureka, she says excitedly, adding that she found
his file during her first search. I only vaguely remembered
him. I had seen some pictures of him, but there were things I didnt
know and that my mother didnt know.
What she discovered
added important information to her family history. According to the
ID, which was dated 1955, Jorgenot GeorgeZalduondo came
to New York City from Fajardo, on the northeastern tip of Puerto Rico.
The man who would marry Paula Sanchez-Reyes, a seamstress who came
to Manhattan from Puerto Rico in 1946 when she was 14, was a maitred
in a restaurant, and his people came from Luquillo, not far from Fajardo.
| A casita
in East Harlem.
I never even knew he had a middle name, she says, or
that he changed the spelling of his first name.
Zalduondo-Henriquez, who works part-time in the office of Hunter College
President Jennifer Raab, is one of hundreds of people of Puerto Rican
heritage who have used the ID cards to find missing ancestors.
is moving to see people connect with their history, says Nelida
Perez, head librarian and archivist for Centro. The IDs have
photos, and this is sometimes the first time they have ever seen one
of their relatives.
The IDswhich were issued by the government of Puerto Ricos
Migration Division Office from the 1930s to the 1990swere used
as proof of U.S. citizenship. In addition to a black-and-white photograph
of the applicant, each ID includes name, birth date, birth place,
physical description including weight and height and eye, hair and
skin color, occupation, New York City address, Puerto Rican address,
fingerprints, and the name of a sponsor. A variety of documents, including
birth certificates and baptismal certificates, are also attached.
Dr. Felix V. Matos
Rodriguez, director of Centro, says that the IDs, which were billed
as a service to migrants, actually helped them get jobs. They
were voluntary, he says. It is significant that they began
in the 1930s, when there was a massive campaign of deportation of
Mexicans from the U. S. This was also a time of anti-immigrant sentiment
in the nation, and these IDs allowed the Puerto Ricans to prove who
In addition to helping visitors to the Centro archives fill out the
branches on their family trees, the IDs, Matos Rodriguez says, document
the rich variety of people who came to New York, the regions they
came from, and their work backgrounds. They offer rich testimony to
how complex the Puerto Rican migration was.
Centros archival holdings include about 90 discrete collections
and more than 5,000 cubic feet of material, including records of such
major institutions and community organizations as the Puerto Rican
Legal Defense and Education Fund and the United Bronx Parents Association.
Also in Centros archives
are papers of elected officials, community activists, labor leaders,
writers, and artists. Notable among these personal collections are
those of Oscar Garcia Rivera, the first Puerto Rican in the nation
to be elected to public office, Pura Belpré, a writer and
folklorist and the first Puerto Rican librarian to work for the
N.Y.P.L., Antonia Pantoja, an educator and founder of several local
and national Puerto Rican organizations, and Clemente Soto Velez,
a leading 20th-century Puerto Rican poet.
The jewel in Centros crown are its records of the Migration
Division of the Government of Puerto Rico, probably the largest
collection of migration-related materials in the U.S. These records,
which Centro is nearly finished processing, document more than 60
years of Puerto Rican activity in New York and other regions.
In addition, Centro houses more than 25,000 images, including the
Justo A. Martí collection, which consists of more than 10,000
images of Puerto Rican and Latino life in New York City during the
1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Martí was a Cuban photographer who
captured life in the city for El Diario/La Prensa from his studio
The Center for Puerto Rican Studies is reached through the main
entrance to the Hunter College Library, on the third floor of the
East Building, at Lexington and 68th Street.
Documenting the diaspora is the mission of Centro, which, with its
5,000 linear feet of archival materials and 40,000 vintage photographs,
is the worlds only repository dedicated exclusively to the
subject. It also is the third largest Latino repository in the country
(the two larger ones are at Stanford University and the University
of Texas at Austin).
The migration, which started in the 19th century and accelerated
after World War I, peaked after the Second World War, which is when
Zalduondo-Henriquez parents came to New York. There
were economic factors that led to this, Matos Rodriguez says.
The U.S. economy was able to absorb laborers, and there also
was a restructuring of the economy in Puerto Rico, where traditional
agricultural jobs were disappearing.
Added to these incentives, Matos Rodriguez says, were the lifting
of air travel restrictions after World War II and the government
of Puerto Ricos beginning to take an active role in linking
U.S. factory owners with farm workers on the island.
Perez says that it is important for people like Zalduondo-Henriquez
to use Centro to uncover their heritage because our migration
experience serves as a comparison with other migrant and immigrant
groups. We laid the groundwork as a Latino group for migrants who
came after us. We made contributions economically and culturally.
Its important for people to know what we are about.
year, Centros archivesthe IDs, plus reports, correspondence,
photos, posters, news releases, radio broadcasts, brochures and
circulars, fliers, files of organizations, case files and various
publicationswere used by more than 500 researchers and its
library by more 12,500 visitors.
In addition to making the community more aware of Centros
resources, Matos Rodriguez is working to make the documents more
accessible by putting them
on the Internet. He hopes visitors to the Centro web site will be
able to search its files and download copies. There is a huge
need in the public school system for access to this information,
he believes. Its a real tragedy that they dont
Having the records on the Internet also will make it easier for
Centro to expand its work with and strengthen its bonds with Puerto
Rican organizations, many of which have donated their records to
For instance, Centro is providing research assistance to Community
Works, a non-profit group that has an after-school program in which
students are producing a videotape and booklet to celebrate the
70th anniversary of Casita Maria, the oldest Latino/Puerto Rican
social services organization in the city.
Its crucial that Centros records be used or be
available, Matos Rodriguez says. Projects like Casita
Maria are music to my ears.
Garners State Archives Award
Early in September, the Board of Regents and the New York
State Archives announced from Albany that the Center for Puerto
Rican Studies has received the second annual Debra E. Bernhardt
Archives Award for Excellence in Document-ing New York History.
The 2002 award commends the library for ensuring that the
history of the Puerto Rican community in New York is preserved
and also recognizes the Centers strong outreach program.
The award is named after the former director of the Wagner
Labor Archives at NYU, an advocate for documenting the history
of groups traditionally omitted from the historical record.
Dr. Felix Matos Rodríguez and Nelida Perez accepted
the Centers award at the State Education Department
in Albany on October
of Centros outreach is the Clement Soto Velez Cultural Center,
a consortium of cultural organizations on the Lower East Side. (It
is named for one of the 20th centurys most famous Puerto Rican
poets.) Centro was able to help out the Velez Center by donating
redundant copies of the poets works to the group to be sold
at a fund-raiser.
But of all the services the Centro library and archives provide,
it is the genealogical research that really hits home. Every story,
and there are hundreds each year, is a moving, personal bit of history
that Centro has made come alive.
In fact, Matos Rodriguez, like many who make Centro visits, is piecing
together his familys story through the ID files. So far, he
has discovered three of his mothers uncles there. They
were all Merchant Marines, and I guess needed to prove that they
were citizens to get jobs during World War II, he says.
As for Zalduondo-Henriquez, the rest of the story of her past has
yet to play out fully. The next time she goes to Puerto Rico, she
will see the cities of Luquillo and Fajardo with new eyes. Although
she had to wait a half century after her birth to find out the answers
to questions about her family history, her children are far luckier.
At 16 and 12, they have a clearer picture of Jorge Zalduondo, the
grandfather they never knew and the father that their mother barely
knew. They were fascinated to see a picture of him,
she says, and I can see where there is some resemblance that