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Interpreting the Evidence

Grand Victory Ball for Oscar Garci­a Rivera, 1939

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    The Great Depression and WW II (1929 - 1945)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Elections
    Latinos

  • Primary Source Types:

    Broadside

  • Regions:

    New York City
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Grand Victory Ball for Oscar Garcia Rivera, 1939 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Grand Victory Ball for Oscar Garcia Rivera, 1939 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Flyer promoting Grand Victory Ball in honor of Assemblyman Oscar García Rivera of the 17th Assembly District, New York, NY, February 11, 1939.
Historical Context
Oscar García Rivera was the first Puerto Rican to be elected to public office in the continental United States.  In 1937, when he won a seat in the New York State Assembly representing the 17th District, its 20,000-strong Puerto Rican East Harlem community celebrated for days. When Mr. García Rivera was re-elected the following year in a coalition that included Vito Marcantonio, an activist representing East Harlem’s Italian immigrants in Congress, victory was even sweeter.

During the depths of the Depression, García Rivera ran for public office as a Republican, with the support of independent Democrats, labor unions, and liberal Republicans against the corrupt and racially biased Democratic political machine of Tammany Hall. Indeed, New York City had a tradition of “progressive” Republicanism opposed to Tammany Hall.  For example, Fiorello LaGuardia, the legendary mayor and reform Republican, also ran as the nominee of the American Labor Party, a militant union-oriented group that supported FDR for president from 1936 onward.

Oscar García Rivera was re-elected to successive terms in 1938 and 1939, serving a total of three years in the Assembly as part of the “City Fusion Party” under the auspices of reformist groups, including the American Labor Party.

Born in 1900 in Mayagüez just two years after Puerto Rico was acquired by the U.S. as a result of the Spanish-American War, Oscar García Rivera was the son of wealthy coffee plantation owners. At an early age, he demonstrated exceptional scholarship and leadership qualities. As an adult, García Rivera saw himself as a defender of the poor and an advocate for New York’s Puerto Rican community.

Among the first graduates of St. John's University School of Law, García Rivera emphasized issues of child labor, protective laws for workers, and anti-discrimination legislation. He helped organize the Postal Clerks' Union of America, encouraging Hispanic employees to push for higher wages and better working conditions. As an assemblyman, in 1939, the Assembly passed his Unemployment Insurance Bill. Subsequent bills sought to establish minimum hours and wages. In 1940, he served as a delegate to the National Republican Convention in Philadelphia and as executive secretary of the New York Puerto Rican Republican Association. In 1956, he achieved another first by becoming the first Puerto Rican to be nominated as the Republican candidate for Justice of the City Court.

 
Essential Question
How do political leaders influence the society?
 
Check for Understanding
Identify the purpose of the poster and evaluate the significance of this document in encouraging civic participation by new immigrants.
Historical Challenges
Political vocabulary:
Define or explain five of the following terms or names (you may look them up in a dictionary and/or an encyclopedia).
Tammany Hall
liberal
conservative
reformer
reactionary
progressive
coalition
Republican
Democrat
Socialist
FDR
Great Depression
Spanish-American War
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia
Research other Hispanic elected officials in New York since Mr. García Rivera held office. Make a list of their names, offices, when they were elected, political parties, and accomplishments.
 
Interdisciplinary Connections
Music: Research the popular music of the era. What selections do you think would be appropriate for the victory ball? Create a program for the event.
English Language Arts: Find out who your assemblyman is. Write a short biography of him/her. Create a list of interview questions, contact him/her, and complete the interview.