|Title||Transcript of interview of Ines Garcia-Keim of Hoboken; for El Centro Puerto Rican History Project, 2009.|
|Collection||Puerto Ricans & the Catholic Church in Hoboken, NJ 1945-1975|
|Scope & Content||
Transcript of oral history interview of Ines Garcia-Keim of Hoboken; for El Centro Puerto Rican History Project, Dec.16, 2009. Transcription on file: print copy; word document (doc & rtf); PDF. Text is in notes.
Date: December 16, 2009
Single cassette tape; dubbed to digital file: WMA & WAV formats.
Interviewer: Christina Ziegler-McPherson
Interviewee: Ines Garcia-Keim, Hoboken, N.J.
Place: 921 Garden Street, Hoboken, N.J.
Transcription made by Christina Ziegler-McPherson, 2009.
Project: Role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Development of the Puerto Rican Community in Hoboken 1945-1975.
archives catalog 2010.019.0001.05
Centro oral history interview protocol
Interviewer: Christina Ziegler-McPherson
Interviewee: Ines Garcia-Keim, December 16, 2009.
Place: 921 Garden Street, Hoboken, N.J.
Transcription made by Christina Ziegler-McPherson, 2009.
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?
Garcia-Keim: I do.
Where we you born?
Garcia-Keim: I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In an area called Rio Piedras.
May I ask when?
Garcia-Keim: June 15, 1956.
How old were you when you came here?
Garcia-Keim: I came here as a freshman, well, you mean, on a permanent, on a semi-permanent basis? I came here to go to college, I was a college freshman. I had traveled, I had relatives here, I traveled as a child but had never stayed for more than a couple of weeks, just visiting.
When did you come to Hoboken?
When you first came to the mainland, where did you go?
Garcia-Keim: New York City, Barnard College. I lived in student housing for four years, except for six months, when I was in Paris. I was a French major.
So from there you came to Hoboken?
Garcia-Keim: Right. From Manhattan I moved to Hoboken.
Where did you live in Hoboken when you first came here?
Garcia-Keim: 314 Monroe Street, above an art gallery that was called the Monroe Art Gallery and that's interesting, because at the time I was an assistant buyer at Macy's and I used to dress in my little suits and my pumps and hose and the woman who ran the gallery was very suspicious of me, because, you know, this was still a pretty tough time in terms of, you know, the newcomer versus the older timer and some of the earlier arrivals from outside of Hoboken, and I guess I was immediately painted as a yuppie because of the way I dressed to go to work. Until I started talking, you know, making friends with her, and she was also friends with Paul Drexel, which is interesting, because Paul now works in City Hall and he's back in Hoboken. I guess, I always say that when they found out I was different, that I was Puerto Rican, that all of a sudden I was OK. I wasn't a regular yuppie, I was a yuppie with a twist.
A Puerto Rican yuppie.
Garcia-Keim: Right, right. So at that point I became, they started inviting me to their little events at the gallery and it became a lot friendlier between us, you know, because she used to look at me. But it was a bit of a rough neighborhood, you know, it was very different from what it is today. In fact, as a single woman, I made friends, I spoke a lot of Spanish, made friends with the bodega guy that was next door, with the Laundromat guy on the corner, and just about everybody on the street. And again, because I dressed in such a professional manner when I left for work, and I didn't want people to feel that there was lots of money in the place or, you know, it was a sort of protection. Plus, it was a way to make friends in the neighborhood.
Was the neighborhood mostly Puerto Rican then?
Garcia-Keim: A lot of it, sure, a lot of it, and minority. There were some condos down the street but most of the block was tenements. It was a cold water flat, I had space heaters and you know, that heat that's on the side of the stove, and I used to come home from work and wear my coat for about 20 minutes until the place warmed up. I loved it because it was cheap, it was mine, I was paying less for my own place than what I was paying for a share, and I was really happy.
How long did you live there?
Garcia-Keim: About a year and I was dating a guy that lived in Hoboken at the time who is still my husband and when we got engaged we moved in together at 337 Park Avenue, much nicer place.
And that neighborhood, how would you describe that then?
Garcia-Keim: That was very Italian and somewhat mix of Italian, old Italian, old Hoboken and some newer people that bought some of the houses. It was down the street from Onieal's [343 Park Avenue, Hoboken], there was a pizzaria across the street called La Scaliata and the lady that, I guess, was the matriarch spoke only Italian. It was a different neighborhood, it was nicer, it was down the street from Church Square Park.
When you were growing up in Puerto Rico, what kinds of schools did you go to, public schools, parochial schools?
Garcia-Keim: Public schools. My parents did not go to college but they valued education tremendously so I went to magnet schools all my life. I went to a magnet school for elementary school and I went to a magnet school for middle and high school. I went to really good schools, thanks to my mom, who really researched the places and did a great job doing that.
You said your family is Episcopalian.
That's kind of unusual for Puerto Ricans.
Garcia-Keim: Yes, yes, it is. I'm culturally Catholic. I always describe myself as being culturally Catholic, because my parents converted.
About how old were you?
Garcia-Keim: I was born, baptized Episcopalian, so they did it before I was born. They used to live a couple of blocks from the Episcopal cathedral in San Torse. And for a variety of reasons they were, they were unhappy with the Catholic Church, they felt very welcome in the Episcopal Church, and they became very active there, they were very, very active in the Puerto Rican Episcopal Church.
Did they attend church regularly?
Garcia-Keim: Oh sure, every Sunday.
Would you call your family religious?
Garcia-Keim: Oh yes.
In what ways?
Garcia-Keim: Church going, my parents were part of the vestry, my mother worked in the alter guild, she was a delegate for the Episcopal Convention, they did all that kind of activist stuff. I grew up in an environment where I knew just about every priest that would come into the cathedral and it was, it was, I was very comfortable there. I was, the first Puerto Rican bishop, Episcopal bishop, born in Puerto Rico [Francisco Reus Froylán], baptized me, confirmed me, and married me, he was a friend of the family, he passed away, it's going to be two years, it was two years this last month in November. And the current bishop [David Andres Alvarez] I've known since he was a young priest, and in fact, he's my Facebook friend (laughs). Nice guy, I like him a lot.
When you came to Hoboken, did you attend Episcopal church here?
Garcia-Keim: I've always gone to All Saints [Episcopal Church, 707 Washington Street, Hoboken], and I've had my ups and downs there but in terms of religion, I always look, I like tradition where it comes to religion. I like the old rituals, and that's one of the things in fact that I don't like about All Saints, it's a little bit too, too out there for me. But it's still, it's an interesting mix, some of the things that they do would be considered "high church," you know, they do the incense and the vestments and the whole thing, so you know. I'm not a regular church-goer, unlike my parents and unlike the environment I was raised in. I always go to church when I need comfort and even though I'm not raising my kids as I was raised, I have always taught them that that is where good people are. You know, which, when I think of Catholic people with the scandal of the priests and the abuse, the child abuse and stuff, it's got to be a very tough thing, you know, it's got to be really challenging people's whole concept that I have as all those people being good people. Fortunately, we haven't had, at least, you know, not in such a widespread and well-publicized fashion like the Catholic Church has had to deal with this whole mess. Then again, Episcopal priests can marry, they don't have make the vow of celibacy and all that.
When you say you consider yourself culturally Catholic, what do you mean by that?
Garcia-Keim: My mother was pretty devout growing up Catholic and she taught me the rituals, and you grow up surrounded by it. There's a real mix of Church and State down there that everyone kind of lives with, there isn't that real goal that we have here of keeping the two things separate. I remember public events where there were always a prayer, an opening prayer. That was common. It's such an overwhelmingly Christian country that people, you know, nobody raises an eyebrow, it's pretty standard, and I think it's, to this day it is. I don't know, I haven't lived there permanently in a long time but I would say that for the most part it's still like that. You have religious displays at Christmas time in public schools and we have pageants, you know. I'm a little older, I don't know if those things still happen but every school had a Christmas pageant, you know, with Mary the Virgin and Joseph and the angels and the whole thing, and you would have the crèches and all that on display in city hall.
When you came here did you meet many non-Catholic Puerto Ricans? Or weren't there many?
Garcia-Keim: That wasn't a criteria in terms of finding friends. And since I was in Barnard the church I went to during holidays and when I went to church was St. John the Devine, which is a huge place that, and you know, I just went to services and went back to school, I never became active there.
I know Hoboken has several Spanish-language Protestant churches, when you first came here, were there many? Were they primarily Puerto Rican or were they other people from other parts of the Caribbean, Cuba, etc?
Garcia-Keim: The history as I know it, is that the majority of Hispanics in Hoboken were of Puerto Rican descent and there were a fairly large number of Cubans. The Dominicans are much more recent arrivals, and obviously, Mexicans just got here.
I'm curious about, growing up in Puerto Rico, presumably you observed the Feast of St. John's.
Garcia-Keim: You mean the tradition with the jumping in the ocean?
Garcia-Keim: Oh yes, I remember going as a kid. Yeah.
I'm curious, if you have any ideas why Hoboken has never developed a Feast of St. John's here, we have several Italian Catholic feast, the Feast of St. Ann's…
Garcia-Keim: There was no access to the waterfront.
What do you mean?
Garcia-Keim: Well, when the majority of the Puerto Ricans moved here in the Fifties, the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, the waterfront was all industrial, so there was no real access, public access to the waterfront, it was all shipyards and warehouses and docks and there was no public access to the water, it was very difficult for anyone to have any water-based recreational activity.
So the practical element of doing it.
Garcia-Keim: It was all transportation or industry related, it wasn't recreational. That came after, that actually came in the Nineties, when the shipyards closed down, and the last big industrial concern on the waterfront was the Maxwell, Maxwell House coffee plant and that closed in the Nineties, I can't remember, I was here.
I was also wondering about the Puerto Rican Day parade, that Hoboken at least used to have a Puerto Rican Day parade until recently.
Garcia-Keim: Well, they still make an effort to put one together every once in a while. Unfortunately, the group that is carrying that flag, sort of speak, is not terribly well organized. They have the best intentions in the world but they are not, they are not very well organized and I don't think they are very savvy in terms of dealing with all the bureaucracy of government and permits and things of that sort, which in today's Hoboken is necessary, because you can't shut down the street, you know, you have a lot more people to deal with, you know, with cars and places to go and stores and it's been a real challenge for them. I can give you a name of the lady that has that organization.
Do you know when the parade started?
Garcia-Keim: Again, this is what I have heard from other people. The first Puerto Rican parade in New Jersey was in Hoboken, I believe back in the Fifties, and that morphed into a state organization and now they have a parade down in Trenton, I believe, or, is it Trenton? I think it's Trenton, it might be in Newark, I'm not sure. But I know there is a state parade organization but the original one in New Jersey was here in Hoboken. This lady feels very strongly that that tradition should be continued. And she really wants to do it, but she just doesn't have the ability to put it together.
So when you moved to Hoboken, did it have a parade in the mid-80s?
Garcia-Keim: The first parade that I recall was in the mid-Nineties and Tom was involved in that, Tom Olivieri, and that was the beginning of the Puerto Rican Cultural Committee, which still exists to this day. Tom at this time was working at City Hall, he was the director of, I don't know exactly what his title was, but he was the officer of Hispanic Affairs, and he also worked as a tenant advocate and as part of his responsibilities of officer of Hispanic Affairs, he put together this organization that did the parade, and we did a festival and we did a number of things and that has also grown, where it has a the scholarship program now, there's no parade though. A decision was made pretty early on that the parade was just way too much work. I mean, if you're going to do it right and you're going to have floats and you're going to have pageants and you're going to have all of these things, it's a huge undertaking and we just felt it that it was not something we really wanted to do. So that's when Hilda Musarra, a few years later, decided she was going to take that on and do the parade.
So what kinds of things are the Cultural Committee doing now?
Garcia-Keim: We still have the scholarship program, there's a flag raising ceremony that's been going on for over four years, and essentially people get together, they have it in other towns too, here in Hudson, you raise the [Puerto Rican] flag along side the American flag. In Hoboken, there's only one flag pole so it's down beneath it. And when we started the scholarship program, we present the scholarships to the kids, and we have, it's a little civic thing. There's a lunch that's put together for the senior citizens. I remember the first year we cooked everything, it was amazing. There was a woman who was a member of the committee who was simply incredible, she knew how to cook for a large-, that's a real skill! And she knew how to do it and she put the whole thing together and she organized the women that put it together but now it's catered. And then we just had, we recently had a Christmas version of the same thing that we do in the summer, it was a lot of fun, it was at the Elks Club, with live music, and it was fun.
When did you first start up, the first year you did this?
Garcia-Keim: I would say it was around '96, '95, '96, probably '95, '96 was when we started the scholarship program.
I'm curious about other Hoboken Puerto Rican cultural or social organizations.
Garcia-Keim: Well, there's the parade group and other than that they are all church-based. So, you really are onto something, because the parishes that have the Spanish-language services, they all have a small group. There's a gentleman by the name of Foreman. I can't- His son's name is Hobie and I'm blanking out on the old man's name-
Garcia-Keim: Jerry Forman, thank you. He used to be the director of welfare here in town, his wife is Puerto Rican, Elizabeth, and they, he's another person you may want to speak to.
Garcia-Keim: OK. He's full of stories.
When you came here was the Spanish American Catholic Center on Washington still going?
Garcia-Keim: You know, I went to work, I came home (laughs), you know, I was your typical yuppie in some regards, that I was focused on my job in Manhattan and my social life, and it really wasn't until I had kids that I became much more focused on what was going on here.
You've been very politically involved, I'm wondering about Hoboken Puerto Rican political involvement that you've seen over the years. I know there's a Hispanic Democratic Civic Association?
Garcia-Keim: That's Hilda Musarra's group also.
On Jefferson Street.
Garcia-Keim: And her son Tony.
So, I'm wondering if there are other organizations like that or how Puerto Ricans in Hoboken have been organizing themselves politically over the past 30 or so years.
Garcia-Keim: Usually around a candidate. We're not in a very good place in that regard right now. There's only one Puerto Rican elected official in town right now.
And that is?
Garcia-Keim: Carmelo Garcia, he's on the school board and he's only half Puerto Rican, for that matter (laughs). I would say it's usually around a candidate. It was very hard for me to crack that, again, because I wasn't born and raised here and I don't speak with an accent, I have a college degree, I have light skin, I, people didn't believe I was Puerto Rican- it's true! It's the truth. And then I've always used my married name, so people thought I was Jewish. And so it took many years, you know, Puerto Ricans wouldn't vote for me, because they didn't think I was the real deal, they didn't know me, where did I come from? You know, I'm some yuppie from New York. People actually questioned whether or not I was really Puerto Rican. This could be the subject of a whole other project, the subtleties of racism in Puerto Rican and class and color and how it differs from those same dynamics in the United States. You know, we always say, you know, the United States is a very racist country, but that's because racism is very well defined, it's much more subtle in the Puerto Rican community, and it's again it's much more tied to class and skin tone, it's very different. So I think that some of that dynamic was going on with me, and that's why people questioned, you know, whether I was really the real thing or not. And I think that what made the difference was my work for the Puerto Rican Committee. It's taken a very, very long time, but I don't think those questions are hardly out there but it's taken a very long time.
Were there any particular issues that Puerto Ricans tried to organize themselves around, like housing discrimination?
Garcia-Keim: Well, sure, I mean, Puerto Ricans suffered disproportionately during the ugly years of gentrification, of being displaced, they were poor, many of them didn't speak the language, they weren't sophisticated people, so they were very easily manipulated and they also were here in huge numbers. And if you look at the Census numbers between 1990, it was done in 1990, between 1990, actually if you look between 1980 and 1990, you see a drop. But if you look at the Census numbers in terms of ethnicities between 1990 and 2000 it went down, I would say, by more than 30 percent, the number of Hispanic, people that I, identified themselves as Hispanic, it was huge. Some of it was downright displacement, some of it was, as people became more successful, they were able to move out of Hoboken and some people wanted the house with the backyard and the driveway, just like the regular American person, some people moved back to Puerto Rico, some people have moved to other states, Pennsylvania, Florida, to be near family, and many, many of them moved to places that were cheaper to live because as Hoboken became more expensive, it became very difficult for many Puerto Ricans who happen to be blue collar and working class to be able to live here. And that combined with the big push forcing them out, because they could get tenants that could a lot more, the landlords that is, that could get tenants that could pay a lot more, it really had an incredible effect on the number of Puerto Ricans that live here. So, most of them now are concentrated in public housing and senior citizen buildings, the majority. There are home owners, you know, there are people that have homes, but the majority are in senior citizen and public housing.
Were there any Puerto Rican political candidates for mayor or city council in the '80s?
Garcia-Keim: Oh sure, sure. Edwin Duroy and his brother were both very politically active.
Were they from Hoboken?
Garcia-Keim: Yes. I'm not sure if they still live here, they might. He was, he also became superintendent of schools, but he was also a councilman for the Fourth Ward. Nellie Moyeno, who is someone that you might want to speak with, she is a former councilwoman, a city council president, she's still lives in Hoboken. My good friend Lourdes Arroyo, she doesn't live in Hoboken anymore but she also was a councilwoman and school board member. Tom's friend Felix, he lives in Bayonne, he's retired from I believe, the Port Authority Police, he, when he lived in Hoboken, he was on the school board as well. There's Carmelo, before him, in recent years, there were several people. You had Maggie Parada, Juan Alicea, Crespo, Robert Crespo. Oh, Sandra Ramos, the assemblyman's mother, she was on the school board for a while. What we have now is the lowest I have seen in the 14 years I've been active, in terms of numbers, with just having one Hispanic school board member. And the director of public safety, Angel Alicea, Wanda's husband, he's of Puerto Rican descent. That's it, in positions of leadership in public, public concerns. You have obviously a person that's very influential and that's Raul Morales who's the vice president of Applied Housing. Do you know Raul? Are you planning on speaking with him?
Garcia-Keim: He, Applied Housing had, for a while, a formidable voting block. They have lost a lot of people as the buildings have, a lot of Hispanic people have moved out as the buildings have moved off of, their responsibilities to the subsidies that they had. Basically, they took HUD money in the Sixties to rehab all these buildings and commitment was that they have to provide affordable housing. Now a lot of those things only last about 30 years, so as the buildings were coming off those obligations, they cut a deal with HUD where they, I don't know, it's kind of a complicated deal that probably Raul can better explain to you. But I know that the majority of the cases, the apartments go market rent and often times it ends up going to a family or a group of people who are not your stereotypical Puerto Rican family which used to live here, which is, again, blue collar working class.
Did Puerto Ricans organize themselves politically differently from say Italian Americans or Irish Americans or other groups in Hoboken?
Garcia-Keim: They very much try to emulate them. I don't know if you've ever read, "When I was Puerto Rican" by Esmerelda Santiago?
No, not yet.
Garcia-Keim: You will want to at some point. It's a very short book, a quick read, it's less than 200 pages. It goes real fast, and to me, one of the most fascinating passages is when she describes herself going into a high school and, you know, and how she saw herself vis-à-vis her classmates that were not Hispanic, and how she's really driven to the Italians and you know, your comment about the Catholic Church wanting to make Hispanic Catholics sort of like Irish was interesting because we don't look Irish but we could very well look Italian, and she does talk about, you know how some Puerto Ricans, they, they groomed themselves to look Italian. It was a way to, because obviously they were an older immigrant group with longer time here and so most of them were a little bit better off, so the average Puerto Rican person looks more like an Italian person than they look like an Irish person or a WASP, so she has this little, very interesting passage where she talks about how she groomed herself to look Italian and somehow she felt like she could fit in because she could pass for Italian. It was very, very interesting, I wish I had it with you, because it's really nicely done. It made me laugh.
Anecdotally, here in Hoboken, the group that Puerto Ricans describe themselves as having the most conflict were Italian Americans.
Garcia-Keim: It's a love-hate relationship. It really is, as someone who is not part of that, I really think so, I mean, I'm sure, if we had people with strong feelings they both be yelling at me, because again, this is another racially charged thing where the nuances are there but that's how I see it. You know ,I think a lot of Puerto Ricans in Hoboken really wanted to be like the Italians and also because the Italians were the ruling group here. And they still are in many ways, in numbers and in positions of influence.
You think the reason why Hoboken has so few Puerto Rican elected officials is because the numbers are shrinking or because of other reasons?
Garcia-Keim: I think it's because the numbers are shrinking, and I think it's because many of them are disillusioned with the political system, no different from the average voter. Many of them feel that, are starting to think that they have been used in the past, you know, you always hear, 'oh well, nothing ever changes,' you hear that a lot and people in the lower economic groups, lower income groups, because they see the town changing but their lives are not getting any better. And they traditionally have looked at government as being there to help people like them. And when that doesn't happen, they just stop voting, they just stop coming out. And that's how the whole, that's how money has become such a huge incentive, you know, hiring them to work, hiring them to do canvassing, hiring them to distribute flyers, money has become a huge deal and a problem, because it costs a lot of money to run an election in this town because you have to hire all of these people because they are used to that now. And also as jobs became scarce, you know, they anticipated income from working on elections.
It also seems that the Hoboken Puerto Rican community has become much older. Do you see political issues arising out of that, now in terms of a population that is in fact senior citizen?
Garcia-Keim: No different than the aging population of the town. They, they just want a safe place to live, which is one of the reasons why Applied Housing became such an important force here because they rehabbed the buildings and provided clean housing, safe, clean, safe housing for people when they felt threatened. And some people will criticize them because they feel that they used people and threatened them and not only did they own them because they owned their housing but they also gave them jobs, because so many of the supers and the people, the maintenance people, a lot of the people, a lot of the workers in Applied Housing are residents and Puerto Rican. But they, I mean, it's a fact that they feel that Applied Housing is a positive force, that Applied Housing did something good for the community, and in the big picture, they did. I mean, they were a big factor in Hoboken's renaissance. Joe Barry was a visionary, he came here and made money, he's a millionaire, and then he was caught passing bribes and served time, but you know, that's Hudson County. I don't know him very well, by the way, he's, he's an interesting character. I think after he served time he mellowed quite a bit, he doesn't run the company any more, theoretically his son does, but when he was running the company he was a bigger than life kind of guy, very, very hands on. And he also owned the newspaper in town, the Hoboken Reporter.
So when you think about the Puerto Rican community now, compared to when you came here, how would you compare them?
Garcia-Keim: Much smaller numbers, older, the second and third generations are less attached to cultural traditions but they love to hear about them. And they love to wave the flag. I mean, I see it in my son, it's very, it's very funny, he doesn't speak Spanish very well, I failed there, but it's no big deal because none of these other kids speak that much Spanish either, so he's very comfortable, very happy. One thing that I was trying to do when I was very involved in the scholarship program was to try to do more cultural things and try to promote reading of some, some, of history and of some of the writers and stuff, because one of my frustrations was to, you know, sit down with these kids and ask them, 'you know, who do you admire? Do you know any Puerto Rican person that you think was great?' And now again, I'm older and this may be a generational thing, but when I first started doing it, I expected them to say, 'oh, Tito Puente,' or Roberto Clemente, and it never came up. Tito Puente, I think at one point, way back before he died, one kid mentioned him. Never Roberto Clemente, which shocked me, shocked me, you know, but then he's been dead for a long time, but you know, maybe because my father was a big baseball fan and took me to see him and you know, I remember when the plane crashed and all of that, to me, he's a giant, you know, and he's somebody that, when you read about him, I don't know if you've, there's a fantastic biography that came out a few years ago that really paints him as just an extraordinary person. And our kids don't know that history and it's kind of sad.
So you see a kind of cultural illiteracy.
Garcia-Keim: Yes. Then, you know, then you have the kind of pop culture that has come around, like the Jennifer Lopezs and the Marc Anthonys and to a certain extent, Ricky Martin, and that, that's a good thing, that's a good thing. Another person that I was a huge fan of and I felt was taken from us too soon was Raul Julia, the actor, who, go figure, Shakespearean Puerto Rican actor, you know, he worked with Joe Papp in the public theater and was extraordinary, died young.
This is a very broad general question, but when you think of Puerto Ricanness [cataloguers note: Rican-ness], what do you think about?
Garcia-Keim: Well, you know, we have always talked about those of us here and those people on the island, and it used to be two different tribes and they still are to a certain degree but with cable television and the Internet and computers it's become much more mixed and there is a lot more, we're merging much more. And speaking Spanglish is not frowned upon as much as it used to be. For me, it's easy because I have family there, I have the ability to go back and forth all the time, I have friends, you know, I went to high school there and I have those friends. For a kid that was born and raised here it's a lot different, you don't have the historical base, you know, I mean, my son, for instance, is doing a project with his history class about Puerto Rican immigration in Hoboken and he's using in fact the Hoboken Reporter as a resource a lot and he asked me, 'how long as Puerto Rico been a part of the United States?' and I said, 'in what way? Because the relationship has changed?' and I think what he was focusing on is the fact that Puerto Ricans are Hispanic but they are U.S. citizens and what he wanted to know was when did Puerto Ricans, become, start becoming U.S. citizens, and I said, '1917.' Now, I know this because I took a year of Puerto Rico history, a kid from Hoboken High School wouldn't know that unless maybe in college they study history, but you know, these are things that I think in terms of Puerto Ricanness, those of us that were educated on the island perhaps have a much more acute sense of what that is, because we have a broader "historical" and experiential base. Here, it's much more of the culture, the neighborhoods, and the traditions and the food, the food is a huge tie that unites the generations, the music too, although so much is also going off the rap route too with the more modern music styles but one thing that I always mention to my husband is, you go to a party in Puerto Rico and everybody dances salsa, you know, from the grandmothers to the teenagers and that's something you don't have in American culture very much, you don't have a style of pop music that everyone dances to. Well, you know, we dance a lot more than Americans do anyway, but that is something that I think is very unique Puerto Rican is that food and music are something that appeals, broadly, across generations and we communicate that way. If it were up to me, I would love it for the kids to again, to have better knowledge of people that I consider to be great writers or artists or painters, but you know, when I get a kid, again, when I interview one of these kids for the scholarship committee and they tell me they have read "When I was Puerto Rican," (phew), 'at least you've read something.' That's good, and that was written in English, which is another interesting development in the last 10 years, 10, 15 years, is you have Puerto Rican authors writing in English, there are several, Dominicans too, people that were born and raised here, went to college here, a number of them are quite good.
How old is your son?
Garcia-Keim: 16. He'll be 17 next month.
I'd love to read his project when it's finished.
Garcia-Keim: It's just a little PowerPoint thing (laughs).
So, you were talking about these two different tribes, do you see one group becoming more like the other?
Garcia-Keim: Oh yeah, oh yeah, the people on the island are becoming much more Americanized, because of cable TV and the Internet and travel, the access to air travel, becoming cheaper. I would say, most Puerto Ricans except the very bottom economically and even those people, I would say that most of them have traveled by air plane at some point in their lives. It's a small island and you know, and we have, the tribe is spread all over, you know, we are in Orlando, Florida, we are in Chicago, we are in Cleveland, we are in Boston. And also military service, which Puerto Ricans have served in the military in all the 20th century wars, and some say that's the reason they gave us U.S. citizenship so they could draft us. I'm just saying what some people say. Some people question the timing of the Jones Act, which is what gave Puerto Ricans citizenship. We don't pay federal taxes but we serve in the military. So that has allowed a significant number of Puerto Ricans to travel, to be educated. We, at one point, had, and I believe it was during the Korean War going into the Vietnam War, more people in the military per, when you compare it to our population as a whole, than any other state in the United States. And it was in a way because people have always seen it as a way to escape poverty.
I don't have any other questions.
Garcia-Keim: I hope I was helpful.
I really appreciate your time.
Hoboken Historical Museum catalog information
5. archives catalog 2010.019.0001.05
Date: December 16, 2009
Single cassette tape; dubbed to digital file.
Interviewer: Christina Ziegler-McPherson
Interviewee: Ines Garcia-Keim, Hoboken, N.J.
Place: 921 Garden Street, Hoboken, N.J.
Transcription made by Christina Ziegler-McPherson, 2009.
|Year Range from||2009|
|Year Range to||2009|
921 Garden St.
Spanish American Catholic Center
227 Washington St.
Social & Personal Activity
Parades & Pageants
Courtship & Weddings