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HPL project team starting at top-left to bottom-right: Ally Blumenfeld (Community Engagement Manager), Natalie Castillo (Programming Library Assistant), James Cox (Special Collections Manager), Carolyn Hartwick (Business Manager), Bernadette Patino (Reference Librarian), Jennie Pu (Library Director)

CCDI Awardee Hoboken Public Library Explores the Puerto Rican Experience in America

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The Hoboken Public Library (HPL) is one of CCDI’s 2024 Libraries, Archives and Museum Awardees. The team began their project in December 2023 and will be presenting about their work at CCDI’s upcoming Summer Fuse 2024 event in Washington, D.C. 

HPL is receiving $69,449.39 for their project, “The Puerto Rican Experience in Hoboken and America,” which explores the Puerto Rican experience in America, with Hoboken as a paradigm. Using the Library’s digital collections, as well as materials from the Hoboken Public Library and the Hoboken Historical Museum, HPL will produce an interactive timeline that illustrates the histories and relationships between the United States and its territory, Puerto Rico, with an emphasis on 1960s emigration from the island to Hoboken.  

Isabel Brador, a Program Specialist for the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative, interviewed HPL’s project lead and Special Collections Manager, James Cox.  

Congratulations on receiving a CCDI Libraries, Archives and Museums award! Can you tell us about your project? 

James Cox: Yes, of course. The project is a way for Hoboken Public Library to document the Puerto Rican diaspora in Hoboken. Locally, Hoboken is well known for successive waves of European immigration (English, German, Italian and Irish) during the 18th-20th centuries. Less well known and appreciated is the Puerto Rican migration during the mid-20th century. By the 1960s, one out of every four Hobokenites was of Puerto Rican descent, and I think that is really something that should be further explored, documented and celebrated. The migration patterns of Puerto Rican residents into Hoboken can better help us understand both Hoboken and America. Why do people migrate to a certain area? Why do they move out of an area? These are interesting questions to ponder and I think ultimately inform who we are as a nation. 

The project, “The Puerto Rican Experience in Hoboken and America,” aims to illustrate the histories and relationships between the United States and Puerto Rico, legally a U.S. territory, while emphasizing 1960s emigration from the island to Hoboken. What similarities or differences have you found between the national Puerto Rican experience and the experience in Hoboken? 

James Cox: It seems the modern populations have fared quite differently. When you think about Puerto Ricans in New York, you realize that they’ve managed to gain and hold political power in a way that they were never able to in Hoboken. I think this is largely a result of gentrification. Puerto Ricans were often displaced in the 1970s and 1980s because the value of the land in Hoboken was so great. Meanwhile, in New York, Puerto Rican immigrant enclaves were more entrenched, or maybe more durable. Interestingly, Puerto Ricans who came to Hoboken and New York City found work in factories, whereas Puerto Ricans who came to southern New Jersey worked in agriculture. Factory work is year-round work, whereas agricultural work is seasonal. This is rather significant when you consider where robust communities were formed and continue to thrive.     

The team plans on holding four, cross-cultural and intergenerational events celebrating the culture and music of Puerto Rico. What would an attendee at one of these events expect to see and experience? 

James Cox: Fortunately, we’re working with our partners at the Hoboken Housing Authority (HHA) on several of these events, so participants can expect two crucial things: food and music. We’ve held two thus far and they’ve been super fun and well received. Our partners at HHA branded them “Senior Memory Cafe[s]” to celebrate older residents. Future events will be branded differently and may result in different participants. Of course, we’re also holding an event at the Library (HPL) and that will result in an entirely different audience. The events at the HHA have allowed the audience to directly interact with us, and we’ve heard some amazing stories. They’re the closest thing we have to “field work” because we’re meeting people where they are – literally where they live – and they can dictate to us what the relationship between the Library (HPL) and the community will be. It’s been very, very informative.

 

Hoboken Public Library (HPL) staff tabling at one of their community events. Photo by James Cox, HPL Special Collections Manager.

 

The project uses digital materials at the Library of Congress to explore the Puerto Rican experience in America. What surprising or exciting things have you found in the collections? 

James Cox: There’s really so much stuff. I regularly use the maps the Library of Congress holds to research New Jersey history, so it’s fun to look at maps of Puerto Rico created during and after the Spanish American War for a change. I’ve also recently stumbled into WPA images created to entice vacationing on the island. There are also Puerto Rican music recordings made in the early 20th century. I thought it’d be interesting to play these for modern populations and I’ll tell you what – it has not gone over well. As you can imagine, listening to music created 100 years ago has no bearing on modern populations. I’m not an ethnomusicologist, nor are the folks attending our events.     

Poster promoting Puerto Rico for tourism, showing view of park with palm trees. Credit: Discover Puerto Rico U.S.A. Frank S. Nicholson, artist. NYC Art Project, Works Project Administration [between 1936 and 1940]. Posters: WPA. Posters Collection, Library of Congress. https://loc.gov/pictures/resource/ds.08068/?loclr=blogotp
A hand drawn military map of Puerto Rico. The map shows the various, roads and trails across the island.
One of the military maps of Puerto Rico the Hoboken Public Library (HPL) team has used in their research. Military Map, Island of Puerto Rico. W. Morey Junior. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 1898. Puerto Rico, United States of America. Library of Congress, United States History Collection. https://www.loc.gov/item/2021668490/?loclr=blogotp

 

HPL’s project centers on the creation of an Omeka site and interactive timeline. What advice do you have for other organizations that are hoping to create their own interactive timelines and use Omeka for storytelling?  

James Cox: My advice is to work with a team. I couldn’t do anything without assistance, and these tools are a perfect example of something where I need help. I have an idea, but I don’t know enough about user experience to create an online resource that will be readily usable. Said another way, I need an editor and collaborators. I love collaboration, and I like to see what other people think about a work product and see how things evolve and improve with disparate inputs.      

Summer Fuse 2024 

Interested in learning more about HPL’s work or hearing from other CCDI awardees? Register now for CCDI’s upcoming Summer Fuse event on June 24! This virtual event will feature presentations from our 2024 CCDI Award Recipients, a Community-Engaged AI Panel, and our CCDI Junior Fellows and an AHHA intern.    


CCDI is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path program with support from the Mellon Foundation. This four-year program provides financial and technical support to individuals, institutions and organizations to create imaginative projects using the Library’s digital collections and centering one or more of the following groups: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color from any of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and its territories and commonwealths (Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands). Learn more about CCDI here. 

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