Oscar García Rivera Papers

Held by the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY



Biographical Note

Scope and Content

Related Information

Use of Records

Administrative Information

Access Terms

Detailed Description

Overview of the Records


Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY

695 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10021

Politician, lawyer, community activist. First Puerto Rican elected to public office in the U.S. An important source for study of early Puerto Rican political life in New York. Collection consists of correspondence, speeches, articles, photographs, subject files, and printed matter pertaining to the political career of Oscar García Rivera.
García Rivera, Oscar, 1900-1969
Oscar García Rivera Papers
3.0 cubic feet
Inclusive Dates:
Bulk Dates:
Series Number:
Processed with a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Funding was also provided by a congressional directed initiative sponsored by Congressman José Serrano and administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. This collection description was enhanced as a part of Ventana Al Pasado: Building a Latino/Hispanic Online Research Collection. The New York State Archives and Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños received funding for this project from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


The collection is divided into the following series:

I. Personal and Biographical Information

II. Correspondence

III. Political Campaigns

IV. Subject Files

V. Photographs

VI. Clippings

VII. Publications

VIII. Artifacts.

The folders are arranged alphabetically and the documents are arranged chronologically.

Biographical Sketch

Oscar García Rivera was the first Puerto Rican to be elected to public office in the continental United States. Serving in the New York State Assembly from 1937 to 1940, he represented the 17th Assembly District that included East (Spanish) Harlem and was a member of both the Republican and American Labor parties.

García Rivera was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico on November 6, 1900 to a relatively prosperous family who owned a coffee farm (Some documents cite his date of birth as February 26, 1902). There he attended the Escuela Central Grammar (Junior High School), where he was valedictorian of his graduating class in 1921, and graduated from Mayagüez High School, as Class President, in 1925. Traveling to New York shortly after his graduation, García Rivera eventually moved to the city in 1926 where he initially held a part-time job at the Boerum and Pease Binder factory in Brooklyn. Upon successfully passing his Postal Clerk examinations, he was appointed to a position in the City Hall Postal Office. Here, García Rivera became active in the Postal Clerks' Union of America and helped encourage other Puerto Rican and Hispanic employees to participate in the union and advocate for higher wages and better working conditions.

In 1930, García Rivera was among the first graduates of the newly inaugurated St. John's University School of Law. Admitted to the Bar in April of 1935, he established a law practice in his apartment on West 110th Street and would later relocate to 113th Street and Fifth Avenue. In the latter location, he provided pro-bono representation and legal advice to mainly working-class and poor Puerto Rican and Latino clients. García Rivera would later move his practice to Wall Street. Motivated by the ongoing racism and apathy towards issues concerning the Puerto Rican community by the political machine at Tammany Hall, García Rivera ran for public office as a Republican in 1937 with the support of a coalition of Independent Democrats, leftists, fusionists, labor unions, and Republicans. Successfully attaining office that same year, he was re-elected to successive terms in 1938 and 1939, serving a total of three years in the New York State Assembly; the latter of which he served under the auspices of the American Labor Party. During his terms in office, García Rivera emphasized issues of child labor, protective laws for workers, labor services, and anti-discrimination legislation. In 1939, the Assembly passed his "Unemployment Insurance Bill." Subsequent bills sought to establish minimum hours and wages for working people, the creation of a Wage Board within the Labor Department, and the right of employees to organize and negotiate grievances.

Towards the end of his terms in office, García Rivera continued to be politically active and served as a delegate to the National Republican convention in Philadelphia in 1940. He also served as Executive Secretary of the New York Puerto Rican Republican Association. In 1956, he committed another first by becoming the first Puerto Rican to be nominated as the Republican candidate for Justice of the City Court. Since his admittance to the Bar, García Rivera was an active member of the legal community and served as President and Board Member of the Puerto Rican Bar Association of New York.

In 1930, García Rivera married Eloísa Rivera also of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and a distant cousin. They had one son, Oscar García Rivera, Jr., who also practiced law and was involved in the creation of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and served as its Executive Director from 1974-1977.

Oscar García Rivera died in 1969 in his hometown of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.

Scope and Content Note

The Oscar García Rivera Papers are an important source for the study of early Puerto Rican political life and of the existent conditions of the East (Spanish) Harlem community in the first part of the twentieth century. In addition, it provides a viewfinder into labor politics and the political and social alliances created amongst emerging ethnic communities in New York City.

The materials in the collection span the years from 1921 to 1987 with a concentration on the late 1930's and early 1940's. They consist of some personal documents, correspondence, photographs, politically related handbills, flyers, and other ephemera, clippings, and artifacts related to García Rivera's political campaigns. There are both Spanish and English documents.

Related Information

In tandem with the Felipe N. Torres Papers, the Oscar García Rivera Papers can aid researchers in the search for communal history that pre-dates the "Great Migration" of the 1950’s and that witnesses the important contributions of the pioneros to New York history and civic life. Moreover, along with the Frank Torres Papers, the above mentioned collections can help in the research and documentation of Puerto Rican participation in the judiciary and track the trajectory of the community’s elected officials.

Other finding aids

A Spanish version of this finding aid is available.

Use of Records

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions regarding access to or use of the material.

Available Alternate Formats

This collection has been microfilmed and is available on 1 reel. Researchers interested in purchasing microfilm copies should contact Centro.

Use Restrictions

Copyright: Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY. Please contact repository for more information.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

The Oscar García Rivera Papers, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

Processing Information

Processed by Mario H. Ramírez, March 2003. Guide reviewed and actualized in 2005 by Pedro Juan Hernández and Nélida Pérez.

Blank and undated postcards were transferred to the Centro's General Postcard Collection.

Acquisition Information

Gift of José Noriega as obtained from Eloísa Rivera Rivera

Access Terms

Personal Name(s):

Colón, Ramón

Marín, Rafael Angel

La Guardia, Fiorello H. (Fiorello Henry), 1882-1947

Curran, Joseph

Lyons, Thomas

Desmond, Thomas C. (Thomas Charles), 1887-1972

Wenning, Henry W.

Meany, George, 1894-1980

Heck, Oswald D., 1902-1959

Issacs, Stanley M.

Monserrat, Joseph, 1921-2005

Steingut, Irwin

O’Leary, Thomas

Quill, Michael J., 1905-1966

García Rivera, Oscar, 1900-1969

Marcantonio, Vito, 1902-1954

Nuñez, Emilio

Corporate Name(s):

New York (State). Legislature. Assembly

Comité Hispano Americano del Bronx

United Puerto Rican Republican Committee

Geographic Name(s):

New York (N.Y.)--Politics and government

East Harlem (New York, N.Y.)

New York (State)--Politics and government


Political participation--United States

Puerto Ricans--New York (State)--New York

Political participation--United States--History--19th century

Occupation and Labor

Politics, Government, and Law

Major historical events and milestones in Hispanic history






Detailed Description

Note: These records are held by the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY

Series I: Personal and Biographical Information
Dates: 1921-1988
Scope and Content Note:

This series contains several biographical sketches on García Rivera's life and career, his high school yearbook, a commencement program from St. John's University, as well as a handful of related personal documents. Although scant, these materials help mark some of the more significant events in García Rivera's life and shed light on the evolution of his politically active and socially committed persona.

Dates Contents Box Folder
undated, 1988 Biographical Information 1 1
1921 Escuela "Central Grammar" – Octavo Grado: Ejercicios de Graduación -Program 1 2
1925 "Iris": Mayagüez High School, Porto Rico, Yearbook 1 3
undated, 1940-1987 Personal Documents 1 4
1930 St. John's College School of Law: Third Annual Commencement – Program 1
1987 State of New York Legislative Resolution OS 1

Series II: Correspondence
Dates: 1937-1964
Scope and Content Note:

This series is divided into folders containing incoming and outgoing correspondence, telegrams, postcards, and the correspondence of colleagues. Of special note are the telegrams that are concentrated around the years 1937 to 1938, García Rivera's initial electoral years, and the letters that contain García Rivera's personal and professional correspondence from the years 1937 to 1964.

Dates Contents Box Folder
1937-1964 Incoming and Outgoing 1 6
1938-1961 Others 1 7
1961-1963 Postcards 1 8
1937-1938 Telegrams 1 9

Series III: Political Campaigns
Dates: 1937-1965
Scope and Content Note:

Divided into Assembly Bills, speeches, handbills, flyers, poetry, and programs, invitations and tickets, this series includes materials from García Rivera's two electoral campaigns in the 1930's, his bid for the City Court in the 1950's, a published account of the Assembly Bills proposed by García Rivera in 1939, two poems dedicated to García Rivera's campaign and victory, copies of the New York Redbook from 1938 and 1939, and documents from politically related interests and individuals.

Dates Contents Box Folder
1937 Certificates 1 10
undated, 1938 Flyers 1 11
undated Handbills 1 12
undated, 1937-1956 Handbills and other programs 1 13
1938 The New York Redbook 1 14
1939 The New York Redbook 2 1
undated Poetry 2 2
undated, 1938-1965 Programs, Invitations, and Tickets 2 3
undated, 1933-1940 Related Political Documents 2 4
undated Sample Letterhead 2 5
undated Speeches 2 6
1939 State of New York Assembly Bills (copies) 2 7
1939 State of New York Assembly Bills (originals) 2 8
1937 Certificate of Election OS 1
1938 Certificate of Election OS 2
1939 Diagram of 17th Assembly District, New York OS 3
1938 Diagram of New York State Assembly Chamber OS 4
1937 Official Ballot for the Primary Election of the Republican Party/ Watchers Certificate OS 5
undated, 1937 Political Flyers OS 6
1956 Statement of Treasurer of Political Committee OS 7

Series IV: Subject Files
Dates: 1937-1983
Scope and Content Note:

This series contains clippings about and the correspondence of Rafael Angel Marín, M.D. President of the New York City Fusionist Party (1937), co-founder of the Instituto de Puerto Rico, campaign organizer, and colleague of García Rivera. The bulk of the assembled materials are comprised of letters from 1947 that are addressed to the Health Commissioner of New York City and are critical of published comments attributed to his office regarding the health status of Puerto Ricans. Also included is a personal note from Marín to friends written in 1983, but never mailed, and two clippings that point to the different facets of Marín's professional and political activities.

Dates Contents Box Folder
1937-1983 Correspondence and Clippings 2 9

Series V: Photographs
Dates: 1912-1956
Scope and Content Note:

This series contains photographs of García Rivera from his late adolescence until his later years in New York. Notable are early photographs of his family in Puerto Rico and of García Rivera in his first year as an Assemblyman, as well as with various political figures.

Dates Contents Box Folder
undated, 1928-1945 García Rivera, Oscar 3 1
undated García Rivera, Jr., Oscar 3 2
undated, 1912-1956 García Rivera with Family and Friends 3 3
undated, 1938 García Rivera with Political and Community Figures 3 4
undated Photographic Metal Plate 3 5
undated, 1956 Social Gatherings 3 6
undated García Rivera, Oscar - 40 x 30 Colored Photograph OS 1
undated García Rivera, Oscar - Portrait on Matte Board OS 2

Series VI: Clippings
Dates: 1937-1976
Scope and Content Note:

This series contains clippings that track García Rivera's political and legal career, and document the evolution of the Puerto Rican community in New York. Includes both English and Spanish language media.

Dates Contents Box Folder
undated, 1937-1959 García Rivera, Oscar 3 7
undated, 1937-1959 García Rivera, Oscar 3 8
undated, 1937-1959 García Rivera, Oscar 3 9
undated, 1937-1976 Puerto Rican/Latino Community 3 10
undated, 1937-1976 Puerto Rican/Latino Community 3 11
undated, 1937-1976 Puerto Rican/Latino Community 3 12

Series VII: Publications
Dates: 1938-1974
Scope and Content Note:

This series is inclusive of an eclectic array of materials relating to García Rivera's political involvements and his continuing engagement with issues in Puerto Rico. Publications include a copy of the Republican Legislative Record, the Plan de Desarrollo de Puerto Rico, the United Nations Migration Bulletin and a copy of René Marqués’ play "The Oxcart." Oversized materials of note are copies of Nueva York Al Día and El Anunciador Semanario Neoyorquino that feature García Rivera.

Dates Contents Box Folder
1956 The Association of the Bar of New York 3 13
1959 The Challenger 3 14
1964 The Circle: The Magazine of Omicron Delta Kappa 3 15
1940 Constitución y Estatutos del Colegio de Abogados Pan-Americano 3 16
1936 La Convención Constituyente 3 17
1944 A Development Plan for Puerto Rico 3 18
1973-1974 Escuela 3 19
1940 El Foro 3 20
undated The Hurricane of September 13, 1928 in Porto Rico 3 21
1938 Informe de la Comisión Interamericana de Arbitraje Comercial 3 22
1953 The Oxcart – René Marqués 3 23
1948-1949 Puerto Rico: A Bulletin of the Office of Puerto Rico 3 24
1937 The Republican Legislative Record 3 25
1949 United Nations Migration Bulletin no. 18 3 26
1937 La Acción OS 1
1939, 1940 El Anunciador; Semanario Neoyorquino OS 2
1941 La Defensa OS 3
undated La Hoja de Nueva York OS 4
1945 El Mundo OS 5
1940 Nueva York Al Día OS 6
1956 La Prensa (partial) OS 7
1956 El Semanario OS 8

Series VIII: Artifacts
Dates: 1937
Scope and Content Note:

Contains García Rivera's election victory hat from 1937. Signed by supporters and colleagues, such as Erasmo Vando, this hat serves as a memento of García Rivera's inaugural triumph at the polls and attests to the broad political coalition that contributed to his gaining of the State Assembly seat. Also includes an American flag, a New York State flag, and a Puerto Rican flag.

Dates Contents Box Folder
undated American Flag (48 Stars) 4 1
1937 Election Victory Hat 4 2
undated New York State Flag 4 3
undated Puerto Rican Flag 4 4