Executive Assistant to the President for External Affairs, New Jersey City University
Chair, New Jersey Historical Commission
Michael Fernández was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1948. He moved to the mainland in 1950 with his mother, joining his grandmother in Spanish Harlem. Mr. Fernández and his mother moved to New Jersey a few years later, finally settling in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Mr. Fernández pursued higher education, against the advice of his guidance counselor, receiving an associate’s degree from Union Community Junior College, a Baccelaureate from Rutgers–Newark and a Master of Arts in Latin American History from Rutgers–New Brunswick. It was during his two tenures at Rutgers that Mr. Fernández got deeply involved in the political aspects of Latino higher education, eventually leading him to his current position as Executive Assistant to the President for External Affairs at New Jersey City University. During his time at Rutgers–New Brunswick, Mr. Fernández was one of the first students to sit on the Puerto Rican Congress and helped establish the Puerto Rican Organization for Community Education and Excellence Development (PROCEED). Because of these experiences, Mr. Fernández was asked to serve as a special assistant to the governor of New Jersey, Brendan Byrne; he was the first Puerto Rican to hold this position. Mr. Fernández also served as the chair for the New Jersey Historical Commission.
Prepared by Elizabeth Parker, Associate Archivist.
Hear Michael Fernández discuss how his mother helped him assimilate into Anglo–American culture at the expense of his Puerto Rican heritage:
“I grew up in a household where my mom was very concerned that while I was a decent student, my language skills were lacking. And so at a very early age, my mom decided, for whatever reason, [that] this is how people assimilated, adjust… into these [Anglo–American] communities: she decided to take away [my Spanish books]. I used to read picture novels, la novela, and I read El Cid [The Lord Master], I mean, the classics, the Spanish classics and I read them in picture novels and I could read Spanish. She took that all away from me and replaced them with Archie, Little Lulu comics, Batman, Superman comics, so those became my picture [books] and that became part of my world and got me involved in [Anglo–American] communities. I got myself involved—as we typically did in urban communities—in baseball and so I started collecting baseball [cards]. I started becoming an American kid. I grew up in primarily a minority community up until about the time I was 14. At which point my mom literally, and again… my sense is she felt that the school systems were better, [she] moved us out of the lower socio–economic community in Elizabeth to a little more affluent community. And I… was fortunate enough to befriend Italians, Irish, and Jewish kids who now became my cohort. What it did to me, though, was, it precluded me from the opportunity to continue evolving as a Puerto Rican male in New Jersey, in the North East, and it wasn’t until I got into Rutgers–Newark, that I went back to those roots.”
Text edited for clarity. For a full verbatim transcript of the quote, please see p. 4-5 of the complete interview transcript.
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