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Robert García Congressional Papers

 Collection — Box: 62
Identifier: MSS 110

Scope and Contents

This collection documents Roberts Garcia’s work in Congress as New York Representative of the South Bronx. The materials range from 1976-1994, with the bulk of materials ranging from 1978-1989. The papers chronicle his work on the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, the Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, and his legislative work on issues of interest, such as immigration reform, bilingual education, and teen pregnancy. The collection also contains administrative files from Garcia’s Bronx and Washington offices, some personal and biographical information, records pertaining to his reelection campaigns, public relations materials, and subject files. Materials are largely textual, comprised of correspondence, memoranda, speeches, statements, financial and legal documents, congressional bills, minutes, agendas, clippings, publications, and ephemera. The collection also includes photographs, artifacts, and audio and video recordings. The folders are arranged alphabetically and the documents are arranged primarily in reverse chronological order, with exceptions.


  • Creation: 1976-1994
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1978-1989


Language of Materials

Collection materials are primarily in English, with approximately ten percent in Spanish.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers, with the exception of several restricted files.

Physical Access

Certain audiovisual formats are inaccessible at this time due to the lack of playback equipment.

Biographical / Historical

Robert A. Garcia (1933-2017) was a member of the New York State Assembly (1965-1967), the New York State Senate (1967-1978), and represented the South Bronx in the U.S. House of Representatives (1978-1990). He was the first New York-born Puerto Rican to serve in the U.S. Congress. His political career exhibits a commitment to civil rights, ethical foreign policy, humane immigration reform, and bilingual education. Throughout his career, Garcia was an advocate for the needs of Hispanic and minority communities.

Robert Garcia was born on January 9, 1933 in the South Bronx, New York. Garcia and his three older siblings, two sisters and one brother, grew up in Mott Haven, a predominantly Irish neighborhood in the Bronx. Both his parents were born in Puerto Rico and came to the U.S. in 1924. His father, Rev. Rafael Garcia, was a Pentecostal minister at the Thessalonica Christian Church, and his mother, Ramona, was a housewife. His sister, Aimee Cortese, became the first female chaplain for the New York State Department of Corrections. Garcia attended local grade schools and graduated from Haaren High School in 1950. He served in the U.S. Army from 1950 to 1953, and was awarded two Bronze Stars for his service with the 15th Regimental Combat Team of the Third Infantry Division during the Korean War. After the war, Garcia attended the City College of New York and Brooklyn Community College. In 1957 he trained as a computer programmer at the R.C.A. Institute, and worked as a computer engineer with IBM and Control Data. Garcia’s first marriage was to Anita Teresa Garcia, the stepsister of Bronx Assemblyman Frank Torres. Robert and Anita had two sons, Robert William and Kenneth Ralph. His second marriage was in 1980 to Jane Lee Matos, born in Puerto Rico. She moved to Washington, D.C. in 1979, and served as Administrative Assistant to Congressman Garcia. Jane’s talent and experience as a public relations consultant led to a strong partnership with Garcia, particularly in her contributions to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Garcia served in the New York State Assembly from 1965-1967 and the New York State Senate from 1967- 1978. He was the first person of Puerto Rican descent to be elected to the New York State Senate. From 1975 until his election to Congress, he served as Senate Deputy Minority Leader. As a Senator, Garcia served on the Education and Cities Committee and the Crime and Correction Committee. Throughout his career as a public servant, Garcia was a strong advocate for prison and correctional reform. He served on the Attica Observers’ Senate Select Committee on Correctional Institutions, appointed after the Attica Prison riot to recommend improvements in the correctional system. Garcia was on the Board of Directors of the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Council of La Raza, the National Criminal Justice Advisory Council, the National Urban Coalition Committee of Hispanics and Blacks, the NAACP (Life Member), and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Garcia was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1976. That same year, Garcia helped to found the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) with U.S. Representative Edward R. Roybal and others, establishing a national network of Latino office-holders.

In 1978, Herman Badillo, the first Puerto Rican to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, resigned his South Bronx seat to become deputy mayor of New York City. A special election was held on February 14th to fill the vacancy. Reform Democrats, joining with the Liberal Party and the Republican Party, chose Garcia as their candidate. With Badillo’s endorsement, Garcia carried the district with 55% of the vote. Garcia won reelection that November with 98% of the vote, with high percentages of the vote in successive elections. Despite being elected on the Republican ticket, Garcia caucused with and thereafter ran as a Democrat. Garcia took his seat with the 95th Congress on February 21, 1978, becoming the first New York-born Puerto Rican to serve in the U.S. Congress. When Garcia took office, the South Bronx was the 21st congressional district. However, by 1980 the district’s official census population shrank to less than half of its 1970 count. In order to meet population requirements, the district was redrawn and doubled in size, becoming the 18th district in 1983. The district was 51% Hispanic, and according to the 1980 census, the poorest district in the country. The South Bronx had a lower per capita income than any other in the country, with the highest rate of people living below the poverty line.

Garcia was a strong advocate for the release of four Puerto Rican Nationalist Prisoners. In 1978 and 1979, he petitioned the White House and the Justice Department to issue an official pardon for Lolita Lebron, Irving Flores Rodriguez, and Rafael Cancel Miranda, imprisoned for their involvement in the 1954 shooting in the U.S. House chamber. He also pushed for the release of Oscar Collazo, imprisoned for his 1950 assassination attempt against President Truman. Garcia and his staff visited the Nationalists in prison and corresponded with them and their families. The four nationalists were pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

During his first term in Congress, Garcia was assigned to the Post Office and Civil Service Committee and the Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Committee. In February 1979, he was elected Chairman of the Subcommittee on Census and Population. Under his leadership, the Subcommittee held more censusrelated hearings outside of Washington, D.C. than at any other time in its history. Garcia was an outspoken advocate for the importance of an accurate census count. He argued that the census undercount of blacks and Hispanics, especially in districts like his own with a large minority population, deprived communities of political representation and their fair share of federal funding. Garcia gained national attention in 1979 by introducing a bill to establish a national holiday in honor of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. His version of the bill was signed into law in 1983. In 1979, Garcia sponsored several bills to issue commemorative stamps in honor of notable Hispanics, including Mexican lawyer and politician, Benito Juarez, Catalan cellist and conductor, Pablo Casals, and Puerto Rican baseball player, Roberto Clemente. Garcia’s amendment to the Civil Service Reform Act, one of the most sweeping civil rights measures passed by Congress, aimed to rectify the underrepresentation of minorities in civil service employment. On the Banking Committee, he served on the Housing and Community Development Subcommittee, the Economic Stabilization Subcommittee, and The City Subcommittee, where he concentrated on urban housing problems. In the 100th Congress he chaired the Subcommittee on International Finance, Trade, and Monetary Policy. In 1980, Garcia and New York Republican Jack F. Kemp introduced legislation to create urban “free enterprise zones,” where businesses could receive tax breaks and other incentives for locating and investing in depressed urban areas, such as the Bronx. Garcia persisted with the project until 1988, when a plan for inner-city development was enacted.

From 1981 to 1984, Garcia was Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). The CHC was formed in 1976 as an organization through which legislative action, as well as executive and judicial actions, could be monitored to ensure the needs of Hispanics were being met. During the 98th Congress, Garcia led the opposition against the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and International Law. He strongly denounced government sanctions against employers who hired undocumented workers, insisting it would result in discrimination against minorities. Garcia fought against such sanctions in 1975 while in the State Senate. He also urged that foreign policy figure in the solution to immigration reform. Being the only voting Puerto Rican in Congress, Garcia served as an unofficial representative for the Puerto Rican community. His offices in New York and in Washington served Puerto Rican constituents residing both stateside and in Puerto Rico. Garcia was part of the CHC delegation to Spain and Israel in 1985, with the aim of improving relations between the two countries. Garcia labored to establish diplomatic ties between Spain and Israel, and contributed to its success in 1986.

In 1984, Garcia took a temporary seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and gained a permanent seat in his next term. He became a vocal opponent of the Reagan administration’s interventionist policy in Central America, particularly in Nicaragua and El Salvador. During the 1986 debate on the president’s $100 million aid proposal for the Contra rebels, Garcia objected to the claim that Nicaragua posed a communist threat to the U.S. He and ten other House Democrats signed a letter addressed to the Nicaraguan general, Daniel Ortega, stating their opposition to U.S. funding of the Contras. This controversial letter generated a national outpouring of both criticism and support. He also spoke out against human rights violations by certain Central and South American governments. Garcia was appointed to the House of Representatives delegation to the North Atlantic Assembly, the inter-parliamentary organization of member countries of the North Atlantic Alliance.

The fiscal conservatism of the 1980s was characterized by large scale budget cuts, particularly to social welfare programs. Garcia charged that the Reagan cuts would hurt the Bronx more than any other urban area in the country. He also decried the disproportionate affect these policies had on the Hispanic community, with the lowest level of educational attainment, a higher than average unemployment and poverty level, and high incidences of housing discrimination. Garcia also fought the Reagan administration’s efforts to restructure and take control of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Garcia introduced legislation to reduce teenage pregnancy, a nationwide problem reaching epidemic proportions in New York, particularly the South Bronx. Garcia was also an outspoken advocate for bilingual education. He helped to establish the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs (OBEMLA) in the new Department of Education, charged with helping school districts meet their responsibility to provide equal education opportunities to limited English proficient children.

In 1988, the Wedtech Corporation, a South Bronx company who received millions of dollars in no-bid government contracts, became the object of a major scandal. About twenty local, state, and federal government officials were convicted of crimes in connection to the scandal, including Robert Garcia and fellow Bronx congressman, Mario Biaggi, who were forced to resign from Congress. In 1989, Garcia and his wife Jane were convicted of two counts of extortion and one count of conspiracy, being acquitted of the lesser charges of bribery and accepting illegal gratuities. While the Garcias appealed, Robert served three months of his sentence at the Federal Prison Camp at Eglin, Florida. All charges against Garcia and his wife were overturned in June 1990. In the fall of 1991, Garcia and his wife were retried on charges of conspiracy and extortion in Manhattan’s Federal District Court. The jury found Garcia guilty of extortion but was undecided on the conspiracy charge and a second extortion count. Jane was convicted of conspiracy and one count of extortion, and the jury remained undecided on one count of extortion relating to an interest-free loan. Because of the partial verdict, Garcia and his wife faced a third trial if the government decided to proceed with the case. In September of 1993, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White declined to retry the Garcias in connection with the Wedtech scandal. As a prominent Latino official, Garcia’s involvement with the scandal was viewed by many as a significant loss and disappointment to the larger Hispanic community.

After leaving Congress, Garcia served as a paid consultant with Prison Fellowship Ministries. In this role he helped to develop a program to match released inmates with churches in their communities and to lobby members of Congress on prison issues. Garcia then served as Senior Advisor at Venable LLP, where he represented clients on issues pending before Congress. He later served the U.S. State Department as an electoral observer for the Organization of American States (OAS) and participated in OAS electoral observation missions in Peru and Panama. In 2003 Robert Garcia was honored with a Life Achievement Award from the National Puerto Rican Coalition, Inc. He was a partner at Garcia and Associates, a firm specializing in government consulting and business development, with a specialty in Latin American/U.S. business relationships. He died in San Juan, Puerto Rico on January 25, 2017.


Barbanel, Josh. “A Streetwise Son of the Bronx Undergoes a Transformation on Capitol Hill.” New York Times, November 22, 1988.

Fried, Joseph P. "Robert Garcia dies at 84; Bronx Congressman Undone by Scandal." New York Times, January 26, 2017.

Jonnes, Jill. South Bronx Rising: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of an American City. New York: Fordham University Press, 2002.

Library of Congress. “Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995 - Robert Garcia.”

Note: Biographical information primarily derived from the collection.


60 Cubic Feet


This collection documents Roberts Garcia’s career as U.S. Representative of the South Bronx (1978-1990), at the time, the poorest congressional district in the country. The papers chronicle his work on the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, the Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, and his legislative work on issues of interest, such as immigration reform, bilingual education, and teen pregnancy. The collection also contains administrative and case files, personal and biographical information, records pertaining to his reelection campaigns, public relations materials, and subject files. Also included are photographs, artifacts, and audio and video recordings.


The collection is divided into the following series and subseries:

I. Biographical and Personal Information

II. Legislative Files

1. Committees 2. Caucuses and Associations 3. Congressional Record 4. Legislation 5. Miscellany

III. Administrative Files

1. Financial 2. Office Management 3. Schedules 4. Staff

IV. Correspondence

1. General 2. Issues

V. Public Relations

1. Publicity 2. Correspondence 3. Schools

VI. Subject Files

1. Organizations 2. Topical Files 3. Miscellaneous

VII. Political Campaigns

1. Robert Garcia’s Re-Election Campaigns 2. Democratic National Committee 3. General

VIII. Wedtech Litigation

IX. Audiovisual Materials

1. Audiocassette Tapes 2. Audio and Video Tapes 3. Beta Cassettes 4. Photographs 5. Umatic Cassettes 6. VHS Cassettes X. Artifacts

Other Finding Aids

English / Spanish bilingual finding aid available (see external documents).

Separated Materials

Books donated with collection transferred to Centro Library.

Cultural context




Robert Garcia Congressional Papers
Rebecca Machado, Cicely Mulcare, Ruth Lizardi, Mario H. Ramirez, with assistance from Jonathan Morales and Ana Rosa Perez. Project Supervisor Pedro Juan Hernández.
July 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Documentary Heritage Program of the New York State Archives, a program of the State Education Department.

Revision Statements

  • February 11, 2021: Biographical Note updated by Lindsay Wittwer to include information on Garcia's death.

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.