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Title Transcript of interview of Ivonne Ballester of Hoboken; for El Centro Puerto Rican History Project, 2009.
Object Name Transcript
Catalog Number 2010.019.0001.06
Collection Puerto Ricans & the Catholic Church in Hoboken, NJ 1945-1975
Credit Museum Collections.
Scope & Content Transcript of oral history interview of Ivonne Ballester of Hoboken; for El Centro Puerto Rican History Project, Dec.28, 2009. Transcription on file: print copy; word document (doc & rtf); PDF. Text is in notes.

Date: December 28, 2009
Single cassette tape; dubbed to digital file: WMA & WAV formats.
Interviewer: Christina Ziegler-McPherson
Interviewee: Ivonne Ballester, 252 11th St., Hoboken, N.J.
Place: 252 11th St., Hoboken, N.J.
Transcription made by Chris Ziegler-McPherson, 2010.

Project: Role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Development of the Puerto Rican Community in Hoboken 1945-1975.

Notes archives catalog 2010.019.0001.06

Centro oral history interview protocol
Ivonne Ballester, December 28, 2009

Interviewer: Christina Ziegler-McPherson
Interviewee: Ivonne Ballester, 252 11th St., Hoboken, N.J.
Place: 252 11th St., Hoboken, N.J.
Transcription made by Christina Ziegler-McPherson, 2010.

Consent: do you give your consent to record this interview/conversation for the purpose of preserving the history of the Puerto Rican community in Hoboken?
Ballester: Yes, yes.

Where we you born?
Ballester: I was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. It's like you have San Juan, the old San Juan, Ok, I still consider it that way, then there's two bridges and Santurce. But now it's all San Juan, but I always say Santurce.

May I ask when you were born?
Ballester: I was born October 30, 1944.

How old were you when you arrived?
Ballester: I was nine years old. I came May 29, or 27th, I think it was 29th, yeah, the following day was the 29th, then it was Memorial Day, 1954. I was nine years old.

Did you come directly to Hoboken or did you go to New York or somewhere else?
Ballester: Yes, the Bronx. My aunt, who passed away a little after Thanksgiving, she was the first one here. She was the first one here, she came here when I was like a year and a half. So she always, you know, kept sending me things, sending to other family but especially to me, I was the first one, the first niece, so she wanted, she wanted to see me at the age of nine. But what I think, now thinking when I get older, is because things over there in the Fifties weren't, my father wasn't much working, out of a job, we moved from Santurce to my mother's home town, which is Cupey, Cupey Avo, which is part of Via Rios? Which is same thing, metropolitan area, San Juan, everything. So, I was seven. And then when I was nine, I came here, like I told you, that about everything when we were in the country. And my grandfather had a lot of property, grandfather on my mother's side, and OK, so they even built a house there. I didn't even, it was a little house, I didn't even get to live there much and neither did they. So I come here with my aunt and then, hello, in August, I can't go back
So you came by yourself?
Ballester: I came, I came, no, I came by myself, because I was the first niece and it was only on vacation, and my father was very attached me to and my sister, we're the two girls, there were three of us, and this aunt was like tough, she was very strict, Feli, Aunt Feli in the Bronx, and so then after that, they sent for him. Almost to the day he came, that's why I'm confused as to which was the 29th and the 27th. So they sent for him, and right away he had a job, in those days. Now to Hoboken. I go to the Bronx, my aunt, she died in the Bronx, no one would take her out of the Bronx, she died there. And then another aunt, Aunt Anna, she moved back to Puerto Rico. So I come, I live there a year and then I come here when my father comes from Puerto Rico, to Hoboken, to 12th Street, 1209. I already had an aunt, two of them, 1215 and 1209 [12th Street, Hoboken].

Where did you live in the Bronx?
Ballester: I lived on Vice Avenue, Vice Avenue at the corner of 167 Street . Vice and then West Farmers Road, around Simpson. It was so different then, we used to go, there was the markets in those days, so we used to meet my aunt like with the shopping cart and she used to work in Manhattan and we would go shopping in the market, no supermarkets, OK? And sometimes it was cold in those places, but I was there a year. I mean, you can stop me and ask me questions. I was there a year and my father was here and that was in 1955, in May, and in November of '55 my mother and my sister and my brother came. So then we were living, my father and my aunt's house and when they came they went to the same area, that's why I love Hoboken, it's like my childhood and I've been here practically all my life. So, I went to Garden Street, just for a little bit, just a little furnished room with a little, kind of a little kitchen, kind of like that (gesturing to the kitchen), and people knew we had just come, and I remember, people leaving bags with dolls and stuff like that. And then we come back, over here to 1209, and after 2 months there, and from there I went to Wallace School, old Wallace School. I have very good memories, I really do.

What kind of work did your father do when he came to Hoboken?
Ballester: My father was working at, when he came, in 10th Street, 1000 10th Street by the park in 10th Street, there was a factory there, I think they made lamps. So he did that for a little bit, and then they moved to Passaic, and he went out to Passaic and then he bought a grocery store, right on the corner on 10th Street.

What was the name of the grocery store?
Ballester: La Cocora.

Was it a Spanish grocery store?
Ballester: La Cocora, yeah, I think it was the second or third on this side (gesturing to the street), a Spanish grocery store. There were Spanish people but not that many. So I went to Brandt School, after that we moved, after we moved to Garden Street, I went to Brandt School for two months. I did a lot of changing, which is no good for a child.

Why was that?
Ballester: Because I like school but I'm a slow learner, but I like to learn, to capture everything so I went to school in Puerto Rico until the fourth grade but by Grade First I lived in Santurce, two years, from there we moved, another two years in another school, and believe me, these people saying things to you, and especially when I came here, I didn't have no proper clothing, because I wasn't going to stay here. But anyhow, it was like, you don't know the language, the language was, I didn't learn it, but I picked it up quick, and you know what? I'm glad I did come and I'm glad I did come at that age, my accent is not that bad. I have friends who came when they were 13 and 14 and you can detect the accent.

Did your mother work when you lived here?
Ballester: Yes, here, not in Puerto Rico.

What did she do?
Ballester: She used to work in a factory right around the corner from my father, sweaters. In those days, there were a lot of factories here, you name it, everything was here, you know? She worked. And then we moved around from here, after moving like that, like I told you. Then we moved down to- always looking for a warm, a heated apartment, because of my aunt, you know, because they were cold. So we moved to 122 Hudson Street, and that was all like bars, a lot of bars, between First and 2nd Street, on Hudson. If you have River Street, between First or before, so 4th Street, bars, every building had a bar. Back in the Sixties, early Sixties, so I lived there also. And then we moved back over here right on 12th Street. And that was also so different.

When you think of the Puerto Rican community in Hoboken in the 1950s and 1960s, what kinds of things come to your mind?
Ballester: A lot of prejudice. Yeah, I used to get over, I guess, because they thought I was Italian, yeah, and they even told me I didn't dress like a Puerto Rican. You know, in those days, I guess, coming here, like other people, the dressing, especially if you come in the winter, it's tough, and there were three of us. So, what else is there to say? Yeah, I remember one time in school right over here, you know my hair is like dry? Sort of like that but there was a girl in the back, I felt so bad, 'look at that, her hair is like a broom,' you know, and that bothered me, and I couldn't turn around, I'm not the kind of person to turn around and argue because I guess in those days, I must have been about 12, I was just learning the language, I couldn't defend myself, but I went through a lot, because in those days, you didn't have bilingual, which in way I think is better because you did learn the language like I did, better than some other people I know with accents.

I want to ask you some questions about church. What church did your family attend in Hoboken?
Ballester: St. Joseph's. Down by Monroe, you know, you live here, Monroe, I still go there. It was the first Spanish-speaking Mass, at 10 o'clock, it's still there. That was in like 1955 and my mother was always in church, my mother forgets it, almost until when her mind started going, prayer meetings and everything. Then, of course, I stray away. Yeah, you do.

So when you were young, you went every Sunday?
Ballester: Yeah, oh yeah. We had to until I was 18 years old. It was a must. After that, yeah, you know. I went off and on. When I moved back, oh, I don't know, you asked me the question, because I could keep on, I talk a lot. Because, at the age of 18 I met my husband, and was from the Bronx, but he was related to his cousin, my cousin's husband, and that's how we met. So I moved to the Bronx in '65 when I get married and was ten years over there. And when the neighborhood started going, I says, 'I gotta get out of here,' so thank God, I came back. I had to lie and everything, you know, to get into Applied Housing. Because I couldn't get in here with two kids into Hoboken, and the money, the rents, in those days, it was cheaper but I don't know, it was just the kids, I tried. But somebody told me to do this and that and the other and lie about it and came by myself and I did.

Was this in the Seventies or Eighties?
Ballester: In the Seventies, '75, December 15, 1975, I got into Applied Housing, not here, 915 Clinton Street by the park. Three rooms but it was smaller than here, this is only two bedrooms, that was smaller, like half of this. So when my son - I have four boys - I stayed with one so they moved me right away, they take one room away and relocated me here but now that I'm a senior citizen they don't take one away and they won't move me.

You said your family was religious, in what ways was your family religious?
Ballester: My mother was very Catholic, OK, going to church, to Mass every Sunday, they have retreats, spiritual retreats, they started in '73, '72, she was always there, prayer meetings on Wednesdays, which they still have and I do go and on Wednesday I'm going. OK, like that.

Did she do rosaries and saint's days, things like that also?
Ballester: Yeah, all that. I'm not that much for the rosary, though. Are you Catholic?

Ballester: OK, I'm not much for the, my mother wasn't that much for the rosary, my aunt on my father's side was. So I never, you know, I found it boring.

When you think back to your childhood in Puerto Rico, how was attending church in Hoboken different than attending church in Puerto Rico?
Ballester: I did go all the time. Of course, I was young when I left there, and from the time I was born until I was seven, I went in Santurce, which was like right down the block and around the corner for me. I just have little bits of memories, not much. I made my first communion there, I remember that day, I remember also when my mother, the parents would go to Mass, there was somebody in front of the church, I remember this very huge tree, it must have been smaller but I was small, and the nuns, there were lots of nuns, they would play with us, when we were little, while they attended to Mass. That's the only thing I remember. Then when we moved to the country, to my grandfather's place, then we also went, but it was in the country, it was like a chapel like, and it was only like, like once a week that the priest would come and like that. So, we attended to Mass there too and catechism sometimes in different houses, although I … my mother ….

Did you ever attend the Fiesta of St. John the Baptist in New York in the 1950s and 1960s?
Ballester: San Juan Baptista, yes, of course. The first one I think I attended too. And Socorro [Rivera], she was there too, because it was in Randall Island. I remember, we starved. We were starving. There were a lot of people from all over. We were dressed in white, because we were like, we were like, the Hija de Maria, the mothers, I mean the Daughters of Mary, with the medal and all that stuff. I was like 13 years old, something like that. Yeah, and then they stopped. They did it for a little while longer and then they wanted to do it in Central Park, if I'm not mistaken, right. Then I was getting older, so I didn't want to go. But as a child.

Was there a group of people from St. Joseph's who went?
Ballester: Yes, yes, yes, because St. Joseph's was the only Spanish-speaking at the time. The others, OLG, started in like 1966, '66, '67, something like that. OK, so now I'm talking about '50 something, and then the other ones came after that, that's why everybody split, but before St. Joseph's, there was naught.

Do you recall any tensions between Puerto Ricans and other ethnic groups in Hoboken about attending church, conflicts in terms of using church resources, conflicts with Italians at St. Joseph's.
Ballester: I don't think so. As a matter of fact, the American Mass at St. Joe is so little, so very few people and some Spanish people too and American. I don't know how it is now, because I go to the 10 o'clock and that's small and we're really, really like family, and we go in the basement and we have like coffee and things, even soup, you know, and then we sell, for funds because St. Joseph is like kind of poor and everybody is always saying, they close, they're closing, but they're not because of the moola, you know, because of the funds.

I'm wondering about any memories you have of Father Eugene at St. Joseph's.
Ballester: Of course, Father Eugene, Father Eugene was the first, the first, our first priest, Spanish-speaking priest, oh yeah, a nice man. Well, us girls would be in the back (whispering) watching Father Eugene and he would be looking at us, watching, you know, little things like that. But he was good, he did a lot, like a center, Centro Catholico, I don't know if you know about it, you do, OK? On 2nd Street? I remember there was always like a mirror there and everybody was always looking (laughing). And it was like a big place, a big hall with big benches on the side and we used to have, they used to have meetings, little dances, like that.

Did you go to the Center regularly?
Ballester: Yeah, yes, yes, for meetings and dances, especially, you know, but that was on Second Street. I wasn't allowed to leave the block without [a chaperone]. My parents, God forbid. My friends, OK, 'walk me around the block,' it was a way of talking to, just around that block there, 12th Street.

Your mother wouldn't let you go by yourself. Would you have to have a sibling go?
Ballester: No, no, it was just friends, you know? My friend Martha, Socorro, because they were the first, especially Martha, Socci, I call Socci instead of Socorro, Socci, she used to live there and she was just like a mother hen (laughs), she still is, you know, she's cool and everything, it's like, 'Socci, come with me.' So Martha, which is her cousin, and I were a little crazier, and Martha, she's recuperating, she's moving here, thank God, I'm glad. It is very interesting because I grew up with them and they were my friends when I first came here and Lucy Crespo too, that's another one, I don't know if she mentioned it but it was Martha, Lucy, Socci, me, and there was Maria, Mary, they used to call her in Spanish Maria Loca, she was so nice, but she's still around, she's married, she's in Maywood, yeah, Maywood. Yeah, it was like three or four of us that would (unintelligible).

Why do you think Hoboken didn't develop its own St. John's Feast at St. Joseph's or somewhere else?
Ballester: I don't know. Maybe, I don't know. Right, we do have other things but in the churches, you know. We celebrate other things, no especially, especially St. Joe's, when we do something, it's like fun and Father Alex, he comes over and he sees, and everybody (unintelligible) with the food, a lot of food, dances, lot of people there.

Was anyone in your family, like your father, involved in the Cursillos?
Ballester: No, my mother, no, me too, oh, yes. I did the Cursillo with my mother in 1976. I had just moved from the Bronx, I needed to get out of there desperately, I was seeking for God and stuff like that but now I'm more involved (unintelligible). Yeah and my mother and we did it together, yes, the Cursillo, that, yes, in '76, and then retreats.

Was your father religious?
Ballester: Yes, yes, yes, he was. Although they separated when I was 17 and he moved back to Puerto Rico and he remarried again. Yeah but he was. He would go to church here, because his mother and his family Catholic, and but then when he moved back, he got more into it.

I'm wondering about anybody else in your family in terms of doing the Cursillos or the Daughters of Mary, did your sister do any of these things?
Ballester: My sister didn't do it, neither did my brother. It was, my mother was I think the most religious of them, she was the oldest, my aunt Mary also, but she went Pentecostal, and then other, she only went to church but my mother was the one, my mother was always in church, my mother was always there. Now, everybody, I sit, I sit where she sits, with her friends, and everybody used to say that when they get old, they wanted to be like my mother, because my mother was always like, her hair was always done and I always made sure it was done because I didn't want to have to …, and now I sit there, and the girls, when they were young, and they used to always say, 'when we grow up we want to be like my mother, and now that we met you we want to be like you.' And it's nice because like I am, I'm stupidly too friendly, too friendly sometimes, but it's OK, it's better to be friendly than right?

I'm curious about other Puerto Rican social or cultural organizations in the 1950s and 1960s outside of the Church or was everything through the Catholic Center and through St. Joseph's?
Ballester: No, I don't think so. There were a lot of clubs and bars and stuff like that, sometimes they made trips, and even from the church we used to go on trips, maybe two a year, but the others, I don't, since I was younger, I wasn't. There was Danny's? Danny's? Danny's club, I think it was on Adams. Everybody who got married celebrated there, so that was the big thing. It was just I can remember that, maybe the Club House on Hudson Street, it was like a bar and in the back they had a band stand, you know, for bands and stuff like that also, so we celebrated a lot. But there was a lot going on here in those days and it started sort of in the Fifties. I know Socci, they came way before me, they came like in, I don't know, 1952 or something. They weren't the first Puerto Ricans here, because you have to talk to everybody. I think Tommy has something written whatever, and people say, 'no, no, I was here before that, you know, I was here before that,' except they were scattered and then we boomed like in '55, between '55 and '60, a lot of Puerto Ricans started coming and then by the Sixties, a lot of them moved back to Puerto Rico. Oh yeah, there are lot of people, there's a lot of people over there that their kids, for instance, there's this guy I was watching in a show yesterday, his name is Michael Stor, OK, I think he was born here, probably, I don't know, we have different names in Puerto Rico, like Ballester, Wolf, stuff like that, you know, because there were immigrants there. Yeah, so I was telling somebody, you see, he was probably born here and then moved back. Like this guy, Elvis Crespo, same thing, he was born in New York and moved back. And a lot of us, a lot of us moved back.

Did you know any non-Catholic Puerto Ricans?
Ballester: Yes, yes, yes, right on top of my aunt's house was the Vargas family, I'm still friends with them and Heidi is my friend, who married Juan, who passed away, but yes, they were Pentecostal. But, but some of it, it was like three or four weren't, so I think they weren't born Pentecostal, started Catholic and then they changed, the mother changed when she came here, I think. And the others, three of them are still Catholic, so obviously, right. But there were other people, yeah, went to the First Street, that church on First and, on First and Jackson, Jackson, I always get them mixed up, that was always and still is Pentecostal.

I know that Hoboken has several Spanish language Protestant churches now, and I'm curious if they were always Puerto Rican or if they were created by other Spanish-speaking groups.
Ballester: You know, I think the first ones who flocked here were us Puerto Ricans, because, I came in, '54, I spent the first summer, the first summer and the first weekend here in '54 and there was, on 12th Street it was mixed but it was more American, OK. I don't know if I should call it American, because we are Americans, a lot people you know, but I hate that term "white," or you know? Yeah, Americans are born here, Anglo Saxons, that is the word, right? Although I guess we are Anglo Saxons, from Europe, everybody, but yeah, there wasn't too many Spanish people but we were scattered but then like three, four years, a lot of people, a lot of Puerto Ricans started coming and Cubans too, it was Cubans and Puerto Ricans because you know because in the Fifties, Castro. So I remember, we dominated, it was Puerto Ricans and Cubans.

Were there any issues between those two groups?
Ballester: No, I don't think so, I don't think so. I guess the issue sometimes is with the Dominicans, I don't know why, I get long with everybody, I don't know, I can't tell you but in Puerto Rico, there's a big issue. Because they go there and then they come here posing as us and I guess that's what it is. They stopped me at the airport one time in 1985 or something like that. Here I was, walking along and they stop me and they go, 'citizen?' And I was like, 'yes,' 'from where?' And I said, 'from Santurce,' I guess they want to see the accent because there is an accent, there is an accent. But there are a lot of Dominicans in Puerto Rico now, especially where I'm from, yeah.

I'm curious about the kinds of things the Church in St. Joseph did for Puerto Ricans when you were growing up.
Ballester: I can't, I was too young, I was just going, but we did have a lot of activities and stuff like that, I remember, right now, I can't, like I said, I was ten to maybe 14, 15, then I stopped going.

And the schools you attended, were they all public schools here, did you go to any parochial schools?
Ballester: No, I went to public school. They were all, ones I went to, I went this one, I went to Brandt, David E. Rue, because of the learning, and I went to Demarest, Demarest was a high school then, at Bridge School and then I went back and I went to Hoboken High.

Did you go to parochial school in Puerto Rico?
Ballester: No, no, no. No, well, the first one, it wasn't Catholic, but was like, it was in Santurce, I think it was Baptist or something like that, because I was, I don't know what happened, but then, for the first grade my mother took me put me in public school.

Do you remember any other Puerto Rican festivals, Puerto Rican Day parade here in Hoboken?
Ballester: Yeah, they started the Puerto Rican Day Parade, I can't remember exactly when because I never got into them but I don't know when they started, but yes, they started but I can't remember if it was in the Seventies, it had to be in the Seventies, it wasn't in the Sixties, it had to be in the Seventies, closer to the Eighties.

I'm curious also, everyone talks about St. Joseph's, why St. Joseph was the place where the Spanish Mass was held, given that most Puerto Ricans didn't live anywhere near that neighborhood. I'm curious why that became such a magnet for-
Ballester: Because it was, I don't know. I don't know, Father Eugene was the first one but they tell me that it was in 19-, I should give you somebody else's name, Padilla, Angel Padilla? He's really, because he's older than me like by a few years and he really knows the history and he still comes there too and he knows a lot and he has pictures, because he was always the photographer, so he has pictures of those days and a lot of them. So if you want to, talk to him. I don't have it right here now but I have your number and I can call him. Yeah, he would be glad to, he's a really nice guy.

People talk about how knowledgeable he is.
Ballester: Yes, yes, he should be the one, I don't know, Socci gave you my number but he would be really good, I don't know who else but I think right now him.

Are there any other memories you have about growing up in Hoboken, about going to church or just growing up in Hoboken that you'd like to share?
Ballester: Not with the Church. You know, my memories like when we have the piers here, the piers, and we have them down there in 1959 when we were in (unintelligible) and we have the piers still and what we had a lot of the navy guys, sailors, they were sailors but they were mainly from Europe, yeah, from Holland and oh my God, on Fridays and Saturdays, on Fridays and Saturdays, it was like, it was like, especially Saturdays, it was a lot of people and this and that, a lot. I was right there, on 222 Hudson and we would see them until 2, 3 o'clock in the morning. There was this lady, she would start, nicely dressed and everything, on one corner about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and at the end, she was like (acting drunk) and there was another one, an older lady who would walk in there with an old suitcase but she wasn't drinking, she was in and out, and we used to wonder, what does she sell there? You know what they told me? Condoms and stuff like that (laughs). Because the sailors, it makes sense.

Do you think that's maybe why your parents were so strict?
Ballester: Well, it was my father, my father was too strict, I guess especially with me, because I was always friendly since I was a little girl, they told them, 'you gotta watch that girl.' But I was like, no, no, I wasn't going to do anything wrong, I used to love to dance and stuff like that, like parties or something like that.

But you got married young.
Ballester: I was 20, it wasn't all that young, 20. when I moved to the Bronx. And you know what, I'm so glad I came back to Hoboken, because it's not nice over there now. Not where I lived.

Hoboken is nice.
Ballester: Now, especially now. You say you live in Hoboken, but you see, I didn't make much money, and I was by myself, so I was forced to resign, I'm a pattern maker too, yeah, I was working patterns and I had to resign because I was here, (unintelligible). I have one of two sons, he's still a pain in the butt, he's with me again, he likes this place, he's 42. Anyway, what else.

When you moved back here, where did you work sewing?
Ballester: When I moved back I was not working, because of the kids. I was with my husband over there, so I was unemployed, I was unemployed and he was going to school, so since I had to come here, you know, by myself, so somebody told me what to do, collecting unemployment. I tried to (unintelligible) but she told me what to do, she said, 'you're not working, just go from there, go to your mother's house, put the kids in school here, right? And use my address,' that's what she went, and 'go to welfare.' And I did. And I got the apartment because I'm low income, and that's the best thing I did. After that, my husband, I kicked him out, because he wasn't really doing much for me or us.

Hoboken Historical Museum catalog information.
6. archives catalog 2010.019.0001.06
Date: December 28, 2009
Single cassette tape; dubbed to digital file.
Interviewer: Christina Ziegler-McPherson
Interviewee: Ivonne Ballester, 252 11th St., Hoboken, N.J.
Place: 252 11th St., Hoboken, N.J.
Transcription made by Chris Ziegler-McPherson, 2010.
People Ballester, Ivonne
Date 2009-2010
Year Range from 2009
Year Range to 2010
Search Terms 252 Eleventh St.
Spanish American Catholic Center
227 Washington St.
El Centro
Classification Ethnic Culture
Social & Personal Activity
Domestic Life
Parades & Pageants
Cultural Activities
Courtship & Weddings