Moving Forward...Honoring Our Legacy


Historical Summary of the Friends of the HRIC

The Friends of the HRIC is the most recent incarnation of the Organizing Committee, a community group established in January 2001, to help secure the establishment, development and operation of the New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center at the Newark Public Library (NJHRIC @ NPL). By 2007, as the NJHRIC was already in operation at the NPL, the Committee renamed itself the Hispanic Support Network of NJHRIC and labored under that name from 2007-2010. In December 2010 it opted to incorporate itself under the broader name of Latino Archives Supporters (DBA Friends of the HRIC), drafted new by-laws and applied for non-profit status. But regardless of which name the group took, many of the initial members have remained on board for most of the last ten years and have worked very hard to help make the NJHRIC a reality.

From its inception the group has played several important roles.  Originally, it acted as an advisory group to those in the Newark Public Library who showed interest in developing the New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center, an institution devoted to the rescue and preservation of the Latino historic legacy in the state. It helped the Center’s co-founders Olga Jiménez Wagenheim and Ingrid Betancourt to identify potential candidates for oral history interviews and seek donations from among the various Latino groups.  It organized several yearly activities to help spread the word about the need to establish an archival repository, to collect historical data on various Latino communities in New Jersey. It fundraised for the establishment and operation of the Center through letter campaigns, social activities and its signature event, the María De Castro Blake Community Service Awards Dinner.  The community service award, created in María Blake’s name, has been presented to many Hispanic leaders who, like her, help to empower others and thus contribute to New Jersey’s society. It created a Latino Lecture Series, premiered several films on Latinos and sponsored workshops on oral history.  Through these activities and its ongoing collaboration with the NPL and other groups in New Jersey, the Friends also helps to disseminate information about the work being done at the NJHRIC.  

 The NJHRIC offers a variety of services. The Sala Hispanoamericana, the earliest of the Center’s three tiers, has the largest Spanish-language collection of books and materials in the state. For more than twenty years the Sala staff has been providing library and information services as well as programs to the Latino community of Newark and its surrounds.   Since 200l thanks to the collaboration of the Friends, the Newark Public Library has been able to develop the Puerto Rican Community Archives (PRCA), the NJHRIC’s second tier. The PRCA, under the direction of archivist Yesenia López, has a growing collection of thousands of cubic feet of historical documents, all of them donated by Puerto Ricans from various settlements throughout the state.  Since 2005, the Friends have also supported the development of the Hispanic Reference Center, the third tier of NJHRIC, a unit devoted to documenting all Latino groups in New Jersey via oral history and traditional research methods.  With the Friend’s help, the NJHRIC was able to secure a grant from the New Jersey Legislature in 2005, to train several archival assistants for the PRCA and to document the historic legacy of four Latino groups in New Jersey (Cuban, Colombian, Dominican, Ecuadorian) as part of the ongoing work of the Hispanic Reference Center.  One of those projects, a profile of Cubans in New Jersey, was recently completed and is now slated for publication later this year.  When completed, all four Community Profiles will become part of the growing collection of the Hispanic Reference Center. The grant also made it possible to conduct dozens of oral history interviews with Latino leaders from various groups.  Most of the taped interviews have been transcribed and archived. The data obtained through each of these means are being processed so that they can be made available to students, scholars and researchers interested in the New Jersey Latino experience.       

Yet, as hard as the Friends of the HRIC have worked, their efforts would have yielded meager results had it not been for the steadfast support they have received from the Latino community and many others throughout New Jersey.  Without their encouragement in the form of donations and attendance to the Friends’ activities the goal of establishing a NJHRIC at the NPL would still be a dream.  To them, our most sincere thanks. 

 Remarks by Olga Jiménez Wagenheim