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Oscar García Rivera Papers

Identifier: MSS 53

Scope and Contents

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. The folders are arranged alphabetically and the documents are arranged chronologically. There are both Spanish and English documents.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1937-1950s
  • Creation: 1912-1988


Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers

Biographical / Historical

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 antidiscrimination 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. The papers in this collection attest to his significance as a pioneering political presence in New York and help document early efforts at political organizing and involvement by the Puerto Rican community. They also provide an example of the ongoing accomplishments of Puerto Ricans in the legal realm in New York City. In tandem with the Felipe N. Torres Papers, the Oscar García Rivera Papers can aid researchers in the search for communal history that predates 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.


3.0 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



Politician, lawyer, community activist. First Puerto Rican elected to public office in the U.S. 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. Collection consists of correspondence, speeches, articles, photographs, subject file, and printed matter pertaining to the political career of Oscar García Rivera.


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

Other Finding Aids

see External Documents.

Existence and Location of Copies

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

Separated Materials

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

Oscar García Rivera Papers
Mario H. Ramírez
March 2003
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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.

Revision Statements

  • 2005: Guide was revised in 2005 by Pedro Juan Hernández and Nélida Pérez.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Repository

Silberman Building, Hunter College
2180 Third Ave. Rm. 122
New York New York 10065

About the Collections

Our collections consist of personal papers from prominent Puerto Rican artists, elected officials, social activists, writers, as well as the records of community-based organizations. Our largest collection, the Offices of the Government of Puerto Rico in the United States (OGPRUS) Records, measures approximately 2,900 cubic feet and contains an extraordinary amount of information regarding Puerto Rican migrants and the government institutions established to assist them. The collections date from the 1890s to the present, and document Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, California and Hawaii.