June 30, 2003

Rafael Flores In Remembrance

Raphael Antonio Flores (1947-2003)
Eulogy & Remembrance by Kelly Vilar

When the son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right. Come, you who are blessed by my father take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me. Mathew 25: 31-36

He was the Ralph who cared.

He'd travel to the ends of the earth to help souls in need….

Raphael Antonio Flores was born March 10, 1947. His mother Carmen Delia Araujo Flores keeps the fondest memories of his childhood. At about 8 years old Ralph was attached to his little red wagon. He took it everywhere with him. He would carry it up the five flights of stairs of 1559 Lexington Ave, the tenement where he grew up in El Barrio right between 99 and 100 Street. He brought it down the stairs to help his mom carry bags home from the supermarket…to his mom, he will always be the little boy with his red wagon. Even up to his last days Raphael and his mom had such a closeness…She became his personal secretary taking care of all the papers and things he carried around with him…just like he did in his little red wagon.

Ralph is also survived by his father Vladimiro Flores who like Raphael was a man who stood tall, broad and proud in stature. His brothers and sisters were Richie, Vladimiro, Jr. also known as "Blado", Orlando, Paula, Juana and Ramona. Each had a special place in Ralph's heart who they affectionately called "Fello." In addition, to simply being their "Bro" Orlando recalls they always had good times as kids as long as Ralph stayed on his sloppy side of the room. Juana remembers how Fello was always ready to help anyone who asked.

As Ralph takes his journey with the lord, he leaves us his favorite person in the whole world…His beautiful daughter Monique…who had many special moments including achieving a recent dream her dad always had for her…to earn her Master's degree and graduate from college which was just days before his passing. Working side by side with Monique and raising their two beautiful children is Ralph's son in law Mike. Ralph's grandchildren Sean and Madison were yet another joy in Ralph's life. He loved spending time with them and making them laugh.

Additionally, Ralph was survived by several cousins, nieces, nephews and hundreds of friends and adopted family members who each shared special times with him.

Ralph enlisted in the United States Army in 1966 where he served as a SPEC4 (a specialist in equipment repair and inventory). He was stationed in Colorado and then over 15 months in Fairbanks, Alaska, which happened to be where his brother Richie was working on the pipeline. Ralph received an honorary discharge in 1968.

One of Ralph's loves was his Barrio. The land he loved so much. Ralph loved everything about El Barrio….the café con leche, the congas playing on hot summer days, even the six floor walk up to his old apartment on 105 street and let's not forget to mention the brick walls…To Ralph this was nature and the great outdoors.

While Ralph was not one to sit in a classroom, he did eventually take various college courses and certifications in substance abuse treatment and counseling. Raphael graduated from Harran High School and always boasted how he had perfect attendance. He also attended Commander Shea right on 111 Street…a school he was so proud to be a part of. But no degrees or certifications could put a value on the vast amount of information and knowledge he had when it came to getting down to the nitty gritty in helping people and doing what no one was doing….touching the hearts of people! Helping people right where they were, not behind a desk. He made countless trips to escort drug addicted teens to out of state drug treatment facilities to get clean; walked for miles to help someone find housing; or spent nights and days counseling and listening to homeless HIV positive people deal with the realities of getting medical care or shelter. So Ralph may not have had a PhD from Harvard or Yale….but hands down he was the Doctor of Crisis Intervention, the Master of Counseling, the Professor of Substance Abuse Treatment, the Dean of Streetwork Outreach and the Rhodes Scholar of Eliminating Red Tape.

Not a story could be told about Raphael Flores without mentioning his compassion for others. In the 1970s Ralph founded and was the executive director for more than 25 years of the first and only crisis intervention center run by youth and for youth. He, along with a group of teenagers from El Barrio created Hot Line Cares in response to the growing need for drug addicted youth to gain access into drug treatment programs. Raphael led the way and for many years Hot Line Cares using a youth development through youth involvement approach helped thousands find drug treatment and become drug free; counseled hundreds of runaways who gained access to housing; removed red tape allowing many people to get medical care, entitlement services or simply a hot meal. Raphael paved the way for new corridors for poor people to get services…He touched so many lives…broke up so many bureaucratic channels…and set trends in human services in so many ways. As a result Raphael leaves behind an incredible legacy in the volunteers, staff, clients and board members of Hotline who were also called "la familia," a term Ralph used often when talking about the people Hotline touched…

Unlike anyone else we'll ever meet in our lifetime, Raphael believed with all his heart that anything was possible; he had a childlike enthusiasm; was authentic in character and always said what he believed. He took tireless action to help others and loved people endlessly.

Raphael was a believer.

He believed in the lord, in El Barrio, in its people, in salsa, in Hotline, in helping others, in good cuchifrito, in laughing, in crying, in listening, in praying, and most of all He believed in you.
Raphael Antonio Flores
La Pana Del Barrio
We'll miss you

To my loving Father…
from Monique Flores

My father was a man who gave his life for others, putting his needs to the side. As a child growing up all I knew was my father's work at Hot Line Cares…the countless days and nights that were spent helping people in need. He had a certain charisma about him, one that drew people to him. He had a way of making people laugh.

I will never forget my father for he taught me how to love others and put God first. To never forget who I am and to always give back.

Dad was a dedicated man not only to his work but to his family as well. I truly believe he was a godsend to people in need and now god has called him back home to continue his journey.

Dad, your work, dedication, and perseverance will never be forgotten. The many lives you touched, make you alive in us everyday.

The love he shared with his grandchildren Sean & Madi will forever be an imprint on who they become when they grow up.

You dad, are one of the very few people who get a chance in life to know their purpose and to truly be remembered forever. I have been blessed to have you as my father and best friend whose memory and purpose will always live within me.

So friends and loved ones do not be saddened by his departure. Let's celebrate the life of my dad for he would not want any of us to grieve, but to rejoice for he is with our heavenly lord. He's only resting and I look to the day when we will be together again.

Te Quiero,


Posted by Jose at 05:21 PM

January 01, 2000

Oscar Garcia Rivera

It takes great pleasure and pride to include Oscar Garcia Rivera, the first Puerto Rican to hold elective office in the continental United State, as the first Inductee in the East Harlem.com Hall of Fame.

This writer learned about Oscar Garcia Rivera quite by accident. I happened upon the unveiling of a historic exhibition during Hispanic Heritage Month on September 14, 1987 on a day off while stationed in Albany, NY (U.S. Navy). I sat fascinated as the late assemblyman's life was told by those were close to him.

A small ten page booklet was handed out to those in attendance and this writer was lucky enough to get one. It was promptly carefully stored away. Throughout the years I have pulled the booklet out and marveled at the life that Assemblyman Rivera led. It seemed unfortunate that most of today's generation knows little about him. When the idea of having a Hall of Fame for East Harlem Online occurred to me, Oscar Garcia Rivera seemed like the right person to the first inducted.

East Harlem Online hopes you enjoy reading about the history of this truly extraordinary person
(This history is totally taken from the small booklet handed out during the unveiling of a historic exhibition at the Empire State Plaza on Monday, September 14, 1987.)

State Assemblyman Oscar Garcia Rivera
Oscar Garcia Rivera served in the New York State Assembly from 1937 to 1940. He was the first American of Puerto Rican heritage to be elected to public office in the continental United States.

Born November 6, 1900 in the City of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Garcia Rivera demonstrated at an early age exceptional scholarship and leadership qualities. These were evidenced by his selection as valedictorian at the Escuela Central Grammar (Junior High School) and his subsequent election as President of the High School of Mayaguez in 1925.

In 1917 an event occurred that had a profound effect on Garcia Rivera's life. President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Jones Act, granting United States citizenship to some 1,800,000 residents of Puerto Rico, This act also opened the doors for Puerto Ricans to hold public office in the United States mainland.

Soon after his graduation from the High School of Mayaguez, Garcia Rivera traveled to New York for the first time. While there he became concerned with the needs of the poor and working class of the city. Although the son of a wealthy family that owned a coffee plantation in Puerto Rico, Garcia Rivera left that life and returned to New York in 1926. This time he would stay, determined to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer and representative for the poor and working class.

In 1926 he held a part-time job at the Boerum and Pease Binder factory in Brooklyn, while waiting for the results of a Postal Clerk's examination. Scoring 98.4% on that test, Garcia Rivera immediately was appointed to the City Hall Post Office which was considered to be a prestigious assignment.

While there, he organized the Puerto Rican and Hispanic employees and encouraged them to become active in the Postal Clerks' Union of America. As this previously untold story unfolds, it will unveil his labor activities, which earned him the respect and support of the most prominent labor leaders in the country.

In 1930, Oscar Garcia Rivera became one of the pioneer law graduates from the St. John's University School of Law, which had been established three years earlier. Several decades later, that prestigious institution would become the Alma Mater of many prominent and influential lawyers, including the Honorable Mario M. Cuomo Governor of The State Of New York.

After his graduation from St. John's, Garcia Rivera practiced his legal profession before State and Federal courts. He established his own law firms at Wall Street, Mid Manhattan and in the Spanish Harlem section of the City. "Spanish Harlem" was the nickname for the upper east side of Manhattan County, where approximately 20,000 Spanish speaking Americans lived during the early 1900's At his law office in Spanish Harlem, he often offered pro-bono representation to the poor who could not afford to defend themselves in the courts.

During the Great Depression, employment opportunities were scarce across all of the United States, but in Spanish Harlem joblessness was devastating. The high rate of unemployment gave rise to a high crime rate. Frustration and resentment were increased by the fact that public service jobs created by Tammany Hall were not offered to the Puerto Rican community. Schools in Spanish Harlem were overcrowded, housing was severely limited, and the residents of the area were the objects of police brutality and discrimination by neighbors and government officials. To compound all of these problems, the language barrier made communication and representation a constant difficulty for residents of Spanish Harlem.

Hoping that he could eliminate these conditions, Oscar Garcia Rivera launched his candidacy for public office. His leadership qualities were demonstrated by the diverse and bipartisan support which he mustered for his campaign. (Fun fact; Oscar Garcia Rivera was a Republican).

The list of supporters included: New York City's Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, New York City District Attorney Thomas Dewey (later Governor of the State), and Union leaders like Michael J. Quill, TWU, George Meaney, AFL/CIO, Alex Rose and Benjamin MacLauren.

In 1937, Garcia Rivera was elected to the New York Assembly becoming the first Puerto Rican in history to be elected to public office in the continental United States. He was reelected in 1938 and continued to serve in the state Assembly until 1940.

A review of some of the historic correspondence from The Oscar Garcia Rivera files reveals the way in which his candidacy was held by labor and other significant organizations. We include some of the quotations of the day:

October 27, 1938

"We are extremely happy that you decided to become a candidate for reelection ... (our) ... endorsement comes with profound feeling that in your election, we shall have in Albany a true and tried representative of Labor"

Michael J. Quill
International President,
Transport Workers Union of America

September 29, 1938

"...after a careful analysis of the records of the candidates running for Member of The Assembly .. a favorable report on your record ... entitles you to Labor's support."

Thomas OLeary, Chairman
Central Trades and Labor Council-AFL

August 24, 1938

"(We) have the pleasure of informing you ... (that) by unanimous vote (we) ... extend (our) sincere appreciation and thanks...for your earnest and constant support of Labor legislation."

George Meany, President
New York State Federation of Labor

September 27, 1937

"I am delighted on behalf of the State Executive Committee to officially inform you of your nomination by the American Labor Par- public office.

(Our) active campaign in your behalf by our membership .. will result in your victory .. on November 2, 1937."

Alex Rose State Campaign Director American Labor Party

Assemblyman Oscar Garcia Rivera was a tireless supporter of Child Labor and labor services and protective laws. On February 3, 1939 his Unemployment Insurance Bill was accepted by the Assembly. The provisions of the bill would:

1. Make all employers, instead of those employing four or more persons, liable for contributions to the unemployment insurance fund.

2. Provide for payment of full 16 weeks' insurance benefits to claimants qualified by 18 weeks employment in any one year.

3. Reduce the necessary unemployment period, after application for benefits, from five to two weeks.

4. Make benefits available to anyone earning less than $5.a week instead of $2 a week.

His other labor related bills, although not adopted at the time, provided for:

* Penalties for violators of the State's Labor Relations Act;

* Establishing minimum wages and minimum hours for men, women and children;

* Establishing a division of hours and wages (within the Labor Department) and

* The creation of a Wage Board.

* Bill calling for two days rest in seven for certain (Government) employees was also submitted by Assemblyman Oscar Garcia Rivera in January 17, 1939. Other labor related bills submitted by Garcia Rivera provided for:

* Certificates of Incorporation of Labor Organizations

* The right of employees to organize and negotiate on grievances, and

* An appropriation to The State Labor Department for its responsibilities of certifying private employment agencies.

Quite a small district, wasn't it.

The Assembly Chamber at the time Oscar Garcia Rivera served as East Harlem's representative. Click on the image to see a larger version of this map

The New York State Department of Labor and the Office of General Services, together with the Governor's Office for Hispanic Affairs, take great pride in presenting this publication in recognition of the late New York State Assemblyman Oscar Garcia Rivera.

His tireless and excellent work on behalf of the underprivileged and the working class is worthy of such recognition.

Upon his death in 1969 in his hometown of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Assemblyman Oscar Garcia Rivera left us with an enviable record of achievement for all of labor to emulate.

The information provide in this biography was written and compiled by Mr. Jose Angel Noriega, President, Committee to Commemorate Oscar Garcia Rivera, for the New York State Department of Labor, 1987. East Harlem Online would like to thank the family of Oscar Garcia Rivera and Mr. Noriega, for the information provided herein. We proud to have former Assemblyman, the late Oscar Garcia Rivera as our first inductee into the East Harlem Online Hall of Fame.

Editor's Note:
On February 22, 2002 the East Harlem "Hellgate" post office was renamed the Oscar Garcia Rivera Post Office. Below are links to pictures of El Diario's newspaper coverage of the event.
El Diario Picture Caption - March 6, 2002
El Diario Article Page - February 22, 2002

Posted by Jose at 02:52 PM